5 ways to run free Android apps on your PC

Ever wish you could run an Android app or game on your PC so you weren’t relegated to a tiny phone screen? Maybe you need to test a feature on Android but don’t have the right device, or just want that big screen experience in an app that’s otherwise stuck on mobile. Your options depend on what mobile device you own or what version of Windows you’re running, but here are a few ways to run the Android operating system (and its apps) on your computer.

1. Link your phone to Windows

You don’t need anything special for apps that are already installed on your phone. Microsoft’s Phone Link app lets you connect your Android mobile device to Windows to access apps, view photos, check notifications, send messages, change device settings, and more.

You can set this up by installing the Phone Link app on your Windows PC and the Link to Windows app on your Android phone, then connecting the two by scanning a QR code. However, this is not always the ideal solution. While some features work with any Android device, the feature works best with Samsung phones.

If you want to play games, there may be some lag and graphical blur, and you can’t easily share files from your PC directly to an app in Android. But it works in a pinch for quick access to Android apps you’ve already installed.

2. Run your favorite apps with BlueStacks


If you just want to run a few apps and don’t need the emulator Look like Android, you should try BlueStacks. Over the years, it has become the best Android app emulator out there, making it a great solution for games and apps that don’t have a corresponding desktop version.

BlueStacks 5 takes up 5 GB of space on your computer (plus any apps you download). Open the app and you’ll be greeted with a custom home screen and access to the Play Store. Download any apps you want and they will appear on the BlueStacks home screen and on your Windows desktop as their own shortcuts. Double-click an icon to run that app.

If you specifically want to play Android games on your computer, consider installing BlueStacks X, a cloud-based solution that lets you stream games without having to download them first. For this reason, there are no storage requirements with BlueStacks X.

blue stacks x

The emulator has built-in mappings for your mouse and keyboard, which you can adapt to the touch controls found in various Android games. You can also adjust the resolution, DPI, FPS, and amount of CPU or RAM allocated to the emulator to get the best balance between speed and graphical fidelity.

Since BlueStacks uses virtualization to emulate Android, you may want to jump into your computer’s BIOS and enable Intel VT-x or AMD-V, if your computer supports it, for best performance. You may also be able to search for “Turn Windows features on or off” in Windows and check the box Virtual machine platform choice.

BlueStacks unfortunately has some ads and clutter, but it’s not quite as intrusive as it once was, and it’s a small price to pay for the functionality you get, especially considering the Android version options it offers.

3. Emulate the full Android experience with Genymotion

genymotion emulator

If you want to explore the Android operating system itself, rather than individual apps, Genymotion is a good emulator. The main product is designed for developers and costs money to use, but there is a free version of the software that you can download for personal use; you just need to create an account on the website first.

Genymotion uses VirtualBox to emulate Android, so download the version with VirtualBox bundled or install VirtualBox separately on your PC. During the download process, make sure to select the personal use version during the wizard. (And enable Intel VT-x or AMD-V through your computer’s BIOS, if you have one.)

When you launch Genymotion, you will be presented with a list of device templates that you can install. This determines the screen resolution, Android version, and resources allocated to the emulator. Install the desired template and double-click it to open Android. You can then navigate the home screen, launch apps and emulate certain events such as GPS location.

Keep in mind you’re starting with a very basic version of Android that doesn’t even come with many of Google’s apps or modern features, although you can add the Play Store by clicking the Open gaps icon in the sidebar to install it.

Whichever template you choose, you won’t get modified versions of Android. For example, if you choose the Samsung Galaxy S10 template, you won’t get Samsung’s One UI. It only determines the resolution and specifications of the virtual machine. (However, Genymotion supports Android versions from 5 all the way up to 12.0.)

Genymotion works well for exploring Android settings and other built-in features, though I wouldn’t necessarily use it to run individual apps, as it doesn’t integrate as well with your PC as something like BlueStacks. If Genymotion doesn’t suit your needs, Google’s official Android software development kit also comes with an Android emulator, though the setup is more complex.

4. Run Android directly on your PC with Android-x86

android x86 emulator

If you’re looking for something a little more full-featured, the Android-x86 project will get you as close as possible to real Android on your PC. Android-x86 is an open-source project that ports Android to the x86 platform so you can run it on your computer instead of an ARM-based phone or tablet.

To run Android-x86, you have a couple of options. If you just want to use Android as a desktop operating system for your PC, you can download it as an ISO disc image and burn it to a USB drive using a program like Rufus. Then insert that USB drive into the PC in question, reboot and enter the boot menu (usually by pressing a key like F12 during the boot process).

By booting from your Android x86 USB drive, you can run Android in a live environment, without any effect on your PC, or install it on your PC’s hard drive for permanent use (and better performance).

If you want to use Android-x86 on top of your existing operating system, you can also download the disk image and run it in VirtualBox. This, again, is a bit more advanced if you’re not familiar with VirtualBox, but our guide to running Windows on a Mac can familiarize you with the process.

The official site has some tips for getting Android-x86 up and running in a virtual machine as well. It’s more work than using something like BlueStacks, but it’s also closer to pure Android, which is a nice touch.

5. Install Android apps from the Amazon Appstore

amazon appstore

With Windows 11, Microsoft is adding built-in support for Android apps, which is now available to all users who meet the system requirements. To run Android apps in Windows, make sure your operating system and the Microsoft Store are updated, then install the Amazon Appstore (and Windows Subsystem for Android).

You can then download Android apps from the Amazon store. This feature remains in preview, so there may be a limit to the number of apps that can be downloaded.

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