Want to play mobile games on your computer or make it easier to develop your next application? The best way is to go through an emulator. We explain how it works and which are the best emulators on the market.
Who has never wanted to be able to use Android on a PC? His mobile applications or his games on a computer as if his smartphone had become a real computer? Of course, here, it is not a question of a Chromebook but simply Android emulators available on PC, Mac and Linux. At first rudimentary, complicated and much more often practiced by advanced users or developers, these emulators have undergone profound changes in recent years to the point of making them totally mainstream, in particular thanks to the explosion of mobile games.
How does an Android emulator work?
Like the DOS emulators familiar to retro computer enthusiasts, Android emulators work as a virtual machine simulating an Android ROM on a computer. We therefore literally have access to an Android smartphone or tablet with all the application environment that this includes, including Google. We talk about emulation, because Android is not a system natively compatible with the instruction sets of a computer (x86-x64), this one running under ARM, a platform above all specific to mobile devices.
To run Android on a computer, these emulators feature a modified Android kernel that works in tandem with the computer’s operating system. This allows the emulator to manage the inputs and outputs (keyboard, mouse, sound, etc.) of Android applications, as well as communications with the Internet. If in the past you had to trick yourself into installing plugins for everything to work, today’s emulators integrate these elements perfectly without the need to install third-party software.
Note, however, that the Android experience via emulators is quite different from that on a smartphone or tablet. Android ROM is usually raw and Open Source. So don’t expect to get the same navigation quality as on a Samsung smartphone/tablet or a Pixel 7.
What to check before installing an Android emulator on PC, Mac or Linux.
As said above, an emulator works like a hardware interpretation since it is about running an operating system on a machine that is not intended for it. First of all, it is necessary to check that your computer has a configuration capable of running an Android emulator, as these are very often resource-intensive. So be sure to check if your machine has the minimum configuration requested by the emulator. If the latter is too fair, it is possible that the experience is altered or that the emulator simply cannot work.
Another important element: emulators generally need a virtualization engine to function. It is a hardware technology that allows an operating system to run multiple guest operating systems simultaneously. If your machine does not have one, it will be impossible to run an Android emulator, even if some emulators manage to circumvent this restriction. On Intel and/or AMD platforms, here is the procedure to follow:
- Enter your computer’s BIOS (usually the F2, F10, or Del key on startup)
- Look for the virtualization option. This option may be called Virtualization Technology, Intel Virtualization Technology, Intel VT-x, AMD-V, or SVM.
- Activate this option if it is not already done.
- Save and restart the computer
What are the best Android emulators on PC, Mac and Linux?
Undoubtedly the most popular Android emulator given its longevity (its first beta version dates back to 2011), Bluestacks is today one of the most popular emulators, in particular thanks to the fact that it is compatible with almost all Android apps. It is also an emulator offering advanced customization to optimize performance depending on the configuration. It also offers the creation of several instances in multi-windows or in the background (much like the virtual desktops of Windows 10/11). Its side menu is also very practical for accessing mobile-specific options such as displaying in smartphone mode or activating airplane mode. It is also possible to install APK files without going through the Play Store.
Note that if you simply want to launch applications and not depend on the power of your machine, Bluestacks has developed its own cloud App launch platform, Bluestacks X, very practical for launching a game without the need for the install.
We still regret the almost permanent display of a side panel of advertising in its free version as well as a large consumption of resources even in Eco mode on relatively powerful machines.
NoxPlayer uses almost the same interface and the same functionalities as for Bluestacks with an even stronger emphasis on video games. It also offers its own app store as well as full keyboard/mouse support in addition to controller support. During our tests, we noticed that the performance was a bit better than that of Bluestacks with an equivalent configuration. Otherwise the overall layout is broadly the same with the side menu and control conjuration options with own profiles for each game. It currently runs on an Android 9 ROM but an Android 12 ROM has already been announced and is available beta for users with a paid account.
Again, the ads are still present via a side display in the free version of the app.
ME Mu Play
In the Android emulator scene, MEmu Play is relatively new, but has seen some big changes. Today MEmu Play runs on Android 9, which has enabled it to be compatible with the majority of current games and applications. MEmu Play is also able to manage several Android instances with a very good level of performance. We also appreciate the fact that the community around the emulator is very active, which offers many updates, especially around performance.
Again, advertising is still very present in the free version. It should be noted that MEmu Play is not yet compatible with Mac and Linux, only the PC version is available.
Windows can already natively launch Android applications
Since the 22H2 update of Windows 11, it is possible to launch Android applications natively on Windows 11. This update has indeed brought the functionality WSA (Windows Subsystem for Android), which was a promise of the firm during OS announcement. Calm your ardor, however, it is not yet possible to download Call of Duty Mobile or Genshin Impact from the Microsoft Store and launch it from an Android virtual machine,
The easiest way to install this subsystem is to go through the Microsoft Store and download the Amazon AppStore application. The latter contains the famous program allowing the execution of Android applications on Windows. Being currently the only store offering Android games and applications on Windows, the catalog is quite limited. There are only a few dozen games (most of which are of little interest) as well as the most popular applications (Tiktok among others) and especially Amazon applications such as Audible for example.
The Amazon App Store is still very sparse in applications and games worthy of interest
The game Lords Mobile Android version launches directly on Windows
It is above all a way for Microsoft to demonstrate its interest in Android and it is not excluded that the OS could one day completely serve as a platform for running Android applications natively.
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