Run Android apps effortlessly on your computer

Android is a very accessible operating system. You will find Google's operating system on phones, tablets, smartwatches, smart glasses and even in photo cameras. Then why not on computers? In this article we explain how to run Android apps on your PC.

You probably use more apps on your smartphone in one day than you use programs under Windows. Many of those apps have taken a permanent place in your life. Wouldn't it be handy if you could also run them on your PC and not just on your smartphone or tablet? With Android that is possible. In this expert course, we'll show you how to run Android apps on your PC in two ways: virtualized in Windows or even as a standalone operating system.

Why

But why would you want to run Android apps on your PC? On the one hand, you may already be used to those apps and want to run them conveniently on all your devices. On the other hand, a PC also has one big advantage: you have a larger screen. This makes your favorite Android games look a lot more impressive on your PC. And your PC may be connected to your stereo, which also makes the sound more impressive than what comes out of your smartphone.

Also, something that can be both an advantage and a disadvantage is the difference in input devices. If you don't have a touchscreen computer, you'll have to control your Android apps with the mouse, which doesn't always make sense. On the other hand, you have a keyboard on your PC, making apps that require a little more text input a lot faster to use.

Part 1: Virtualize

In this first part, we'll show you how to run Android apps in a virtual machine on Windows. We do this with virtualization software from BlueStacks. This way you can also continue to use Android apps at the same time as your Windows apps.

01 BlueStacks App Player

A beta version of the BlueStacks App Player program (based on Android 4.0.4 at the time of writing) is available for free download from the BlueStacks website and supports Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8. Click the green download button on the home page. Run the installer and click Continue. click on Next. Make sure in the next window App store access and App Notifications be checked. If you are interested, let me know Subscribe to Spotlight checked: then you will be presented with free apps every day. Spotlight is quite intrusive, however.

After installation, the BlueStacks Player will start automatically. You will see a kind of home screen. This is already clear that it is not about the ordinary Android. The App Player has its own interface just to give you access to your apps. At the top you will see the recently run apps, below that popular apps, below that the apps that Spotlight offers today, and below that many categories. At the bottom left you have the three buttons that you are used to from Android: to go back, to go to the home screen and to view the recently executed apps. On the right you see the clock, which also gives you access to the notifications and settings. Then you have a button for social media (with which you take a screenshot and share) and next to it come the buttons to switch to full screen mode and to close BlueStacks.

You can also see in the settings that it is not a standard Android installation. The options are clearly less extensive. At a certain point, the App Player will also show a window with the message that it is best to turn on the App Store and App Sync. click on Continue. Then add your Google account. After that, log into your account to enable App Sync. From now on you can install apps in BlueStacks App Player from the Play Store. You can do this easily by clicking on the home screen Search clicking and typing in a search term.

Other virtualization software

There are still many similar solutions to BlueStacks App Player, but they are not well known because they are often not as complete or not as stable. Nevertheless, it can be useful to view them, because the BlueStacks solution does not work equally stable on all computers. Genymotion is a popular alternative. It offers a more recent Android version and is primarily aimed at Android app developers who want to simulate different devices, but it's perfectly usable for just running Android apps on Windows.

You run Genymotion as a virtual machine in VirtualBox. YouWave and Windroy used to be popular, but they now offer too old Android versions. Another thing you can always do is download the official Android SDK from Google. In the SDK Manager you create a virtual Android device, which you can start and in which you can install apps.

02 Synchronize

In the settings within BlueStacks, click Connect to cloud, then you can sync your Android phone with BlueStacks App Player. You do have to register (for free) with BlueStacks. Enter your email address and the phone number of your Android phone. click on Register, after which you will receive a PIN code by e-mail. Now install the BlueStacks Cloud Connect app on your Android phone. In the BlueStacks Cloud Connect app you enter the pin code that you received via email.

Finch Sync SMS to BlueStacks If you also want to receive notifications on your computer when you receive a text message on your Android phone. Finally, press Login. You will now see all the apps you have installed on your phone. You can check them one by one and then click the button sync to install those apps in BlueStacks App Player on your PC. Or you can go to the settings of the app Sync all apps to cloud check, after which you always have the same apps available on your PC as on your Android phone.

03 Limitations

In practice, apps in BlueStacks App Player are too often slow to respond, which is a shame because the ease of use suffers. In addition, not all apps handle screen size equally well. You can in the settings under App sizemodify you can choose per app whether it should be displayed in the standard format (for a smartphone) or in a tablet format, but many apps appear to be unable to handle the latter. If you right-click on the BlueStacks icon in the system tray and at Rotate Portrait Apps the option Enabled checked, apps that default to portrait mode will work in portrait mode the next time on your PC. But unfortunately that doesn't work well for all apps.

Another drawback is that you can only run one Android app at a time in BlueStacks App Player. Actually, that's normal, because in Android you can only see one app at a time, but on a PC it would be handy that you can show multiple Android apps on your screen at the same time next to your Windows applications. Because this is not possible, the program only remains useful if, for example, you really can't miss one Android app on your PC or if you regularly like to play an Android game.

Part 2: Operating System

In this second part, we will install a full Android operating system on the computer, possibly in a dual boot configuration alongside Windows. We illustrate that with Android-x86.

04 Android x86

If you want a full Android system on your PC as you are used to from your smartphone or tablet, then you have to take a different route. Google develops Android only for the ARM processors found in mobile devices, but the Android-x86 project also makes Android available for the x86 processor architecture of PCs. With Android-x86 you install a full operating system on your PC, replacing (or in addition to) Windows. You actually turn your PC into an Android tablet, but with a larger screen, a keyboard and a mouse.

The latest stable version of Android-x86 is based on Android 4.0, which is already quite old. After that, the Android x86 project apparently came to a standstill for a while. Download the ISO file, which is an image of a bootable CD-ROM. Now burn the ISO file to a CD-ROM. You can also put it on a USB stick. The makers of Android-x86 recommend LinuxLive USB Creator for this, but UNetbootin also works. Both programs work the same: you choose the ISO file and you choose the drive letter of the USB stick. Be careful not to accidentally choose the drive letter of your hard drive, otherwise everything will be overwritten! After creating the CD-ROM or USB stick, boot the PC from this medium.

dual boot

You can also install Android-x86 alongside Windows in a dual boot configuration. First open in Windows in the settings Create and format hard drive partitions, which will open the Disk Management program. Select your Windows partition, right click on it and choose Reduce volume. Then specify by how many megabytes you want to shrink the partition, and thus how many megabytes you want to give to Android-x86. click on shrink and then close the program. Then shut down Windows and restart your computer with the Android x86 installer you placed on a CD-ROM or a USB stick (see step 4, Android-x86). Your Windows partitions are shown as HPFS/NTFS.

Choose Create/Modify partitions, select the free space (look at the number of megabytes you have released in Windows) and press the right arrow key for New. Choose Primary, confirm the size and then choose write and then quit. After that, select the newly created partition and proceed with the installation. At the end, the installer asks if you want to include the Windows partition in the boot menu. Confirm by pressing Enter.

05 Installation

When you boot your computer from the Android x86 installation media, you will be presented with a boot menu. Use the arrow keys to go to Installation and press Enter. If your PC already contains Windows and you want to install Android-x86 in addition, please read the Dualboot box first. Otherwise create a partition here with Create/Modify partitions. You will be shown the free space on the hard drive and possibly the current partitions. Check by looking at the size that you are on the correct drive, as all data on it will be erased. If you no longer need the current partitions, select them with the arrow keys and choose delete.

Use the arrow keys to go to New, choose Primary, confirm the size and then choose in sequence Bootable / Write (confirm with yes) / quit. Now select the newly created partition, choose ext3 as file system and confirm with yes that you want to format the partition. When asked if you want to install the bootloader GRUB, you answer affirmatively. We would also answer positively to the question whether you want to be able to write to the system directory, because then you have just a little more rights. After that, Android-x86 will be installed in seconds and you can restart your PC without the CD-ROM or USB stick and you will see the familiar Android logo.

06 Configuration

Now you need to configure your Android installation in a few steps. Then you choose your language, you select a Wi-Fi network, you link your Google account to Android, you configure the Google services and you configure the date and time. After that you will see the Android home screen and you can get started.

By default, the most famous apps from Google are already installed. Most apps regard an Android x86 system as a tablet, so you get to see the handy tablet interface of Gmail, for example, and the Computer!Totaal Magazine app also works. Apps such as the camera and the phone will of course not work. The phone app also suddenly changes the screen to portrait mode, making the controls unusable, because the mouse continues to work in landscape mode.

07 What to do

Depending on your hardware, you will also notice that a number of things do not work or do not work optimally. Android-x86 has mainly been tested by the developers on a number of somewhat older netbooks and Intel tablets. Missing drivers can sometimes throw a spanner in the works on other devices. If your sound doesn't work, your wireless network card isn't recognized or your image resolution is too small, you'll have to ask for help on the project's forum.

For the rest you have to make do. For example, searching for printer drivers for Android is fruitless. But with Google Cloud Print, which is enabled by default in Android-x86, you can print to any printer associated with your Google account from another computer. Another problem is that by default the screen goes black after two minutes and you can't seem to turn it back on. The best solution is to choose the Never time out option in the Display settings under Sleep.

Android-x86 has all the settings you are used to from Android, so the system is much more customizable than the BlueStacks App Player. You can easily install additional apps with Google Play. All in all, Android-x86 is much more usable in practice than BlueStacks App Player. The apps respond faster and everything seems more stable, although the question remains whether Android apps are sufficient to do everything on your PC that you normally do in Windows. A dualboot configuration always gives you the choice, but then you have to reboot in between.

08 Apps

If you want to run both Windows and Android apps at the same time, you can also run Android-x86 in VirtualBox. That works even smoother than BlueStacks App Player. Only a number of apps in a virtual environment no longer work, because they do not detect WiFi, for example. For example, the Computer!Totaal Magazine app only wants to download magazines over a WiFi connection, while the Android-x86 network connection in VirtualBox is a virtual Ethernet connection.

Android-IA

Android-x86 is the best known Android version for PCs, but Intel has also developed its own version especially for new Intel-based PCs with UEFI firmware. The project is called Android on Intel Architecture or Android-IA for short. Intel offers an installer that allows you to install Android on a Windows 8 compatible device. It even asks you whether you want to keep the existing Windows installation or not. This makes it easy to create a dual boot configuration.

Keep in mind that this is still an experimental project. For now, only four devices are supported, all hybrid tablets with an Intel processor. These are the Acer Iconia W700, the Lenovo X220T and X230 T and the Samsung XE700T. If you happen to have one of those devices, it may be interesting to try Android IA.

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