Now that mobile gaming has become such a widespread phenomenon, it’s no wonder that PC owners are wanting to get in on the action from the comfort of an understandably more accessible computer monitor. If you’re looking for the best emulator for gaming and apps on your Windows machine, look no further than our guide to the best emulators that you can find online. Even if you’re brand new to the emulation scene, even if you’ve never heard of the process before, we’ll walk you through the process from download to finish.
Looking back, it’s actually quite impressive that mobile games (and apps in general) have evolved into the complex beasts that we know them as today. If only we could peer back a decade, and look at the state of mobile messengers and other early applications, so that we could then compare them to the dozens that we regularly use now.
Thankfully, most of the ways that apps and mobile gaming have evolved since then have been for the better, to the point that it’s a well-respected niche in the larger gaming community that has served to bring more people overall into that community. In the end, nobody who’s as tech-obsessed as we are should be upset at more people joining that particular fold, and smartphone tech has been one of the prominent means by which others are doing so.
The next step in that evolution, as software developers have seen fit, is to bring that smartphone experience onto the larger screen by way of emulation–specifically, Android emulation. This allows mobile gamers the freedom to have fun on a larger screen than that tiny bit of real estate afforded by a smartphone screen, and those with messaging and productivity apps to not be limited to a single device.
Or, if you’re a tech-fiend like me, both.
If you’ve never toyed around with emulation before, don’t let the term scare you away. At its simplest, it can be described as using the resources of one system to imitate another. In the case of Windows PC and Android, you’ll be using your computers memory and processes to create a virtual Android OS environment in which you can run Android apps. Simple, right?
Many users, after learning how popular Android emulation has become, are curious as to why we can’t emulate an iOS environment just as easily, to better bridge Windows with the iPhone and iPad. The answer is fairly technical, but for the purpose of this article, we can lay the blame on Android’s proprietary software and hardware. iOS is not meant to be flexible between a variety of different devices, while Android is. That hasn’t stopped some software-savvy people from trying to pull it off, but for all intents and purposes, iOS emulation isn’t worth your time; Android is where it’s at!
Of course, there are a few things we should clear up right off the bat before we start talking about specific emulators and how to use them. The first thing that most want to know is if emulation is legal. The short answer is that it always is, as long as you’ve acquired the operating system that you’re emulating through legitimate means. Our recommendations below are all 100% legitimate copies of the Android OS, so you won’t have a single thing to worry about.
The longer answer is that emulation can lead to copyright violation, but it doesn’t have anything to do with emulation itself. Here’s the thing–when you’re running an emulator, it’s usually a means to an end. In our case, the Android OS is the means to access Android applications. As long as you’re acquiring these apps legally, then you’re not doing anything illicit or illegal. The issues of copyright infringement crop up when people acquire applications and software through illegal means, usually by not paying for them when payment is normally required.
For example, some people like to emulate the PlayStation 2 video game console. Emulating the console is perfectly fine, but downloading copies of games to play in the emulator absolutely is not. Some Mac users like to emulate Windows through applications like Boot Camp, but if you don’t pay for your version of the Windows operating system, you’re probably doing something that you shouldn’t.
Safely is almost always better than sorry, and you can trust in our recommendations to not lead you astray.
Secondly, many wonder whether or not their computers have the required muscle to effectively emulate anything from the Android OS. Thanks to the hardware acceleration available through the best emulators, this is also something you very likely don’t have to worry about. As long as you have a few gigabytes of free space on your hard drive and a dual-core or higher processor, you can roll through anything Android has to offer.
With those questions settled, let’s take a look at some of the best emulators you can find online. While most of these are free, there are instances where premium upgrades can be purchased for a small fee. We’ll be sure to point them out for you!
So far, this is probably the #1 recommended emulator online. Even though it’s not my go-to software, it’s a top notch emulator that boasts a professional development quality and aesthetic. Bounce over to the Bluestacks website and you’ll probably be surprised how heavily it’s marketed towards gamers, but don’t let this dissuade you; it can handle anything available on the Google Play store.
Bluestacks is free but comes with third-party software support that can easily become a nuisance. To remove it, you’ll need to pay a meager, monthly subscription fee to upgrade to Bluestacks Premium.
Here’s my favorite, and it’s been my favorite for almost a year, now. Andyroid is lightweight, minimalistic, and extremely efficient. I enjoy its system tray icon that lets me manage the Andyroid settings anytime that I want to, and it’s taken to every Android app that I’ve tossed at it with no trouble whatsoever.
There’s no catch to Andyroid, and there’s also no upgrade option; it’s always free and it’s always kept up-to-date with the most recent version of the Android OS.
Droid4X is an interesting piece of software, and even though it’s not at the top of our list of recommendations, it still excels in certain areas. For one, it actually comes in multiple parts, which allows you to only take advantage of those features that are most important to you. The core Droid4X emulation software will handle all of your emulation needs, but you can also download a smartphone companion app that allows you to use your mobile device as a Bluetooth controller.
If you’re primarily going to use your emulator to bring Android gaming to your Windows PC, Droid4X is definitely worth your attention and time.
American Megatrends’ AMIDuOS emulator packages are among the best available online, but you’re also going to have to pay for them. What you get for that price tag is a level of versatility that the competition has a hard time matching, and interestingly, you can even choose between two different version of the Android OS to purchase.
If you want to get the combination package of Android Lollipop and Jellybean, it will cost you $15. If you’re satisfied with just having Android Jellybean, it will only be $10. Both packages have a free trial that you can download and use.
We’ve saved Manymo for last because, honestly, it’s a somewhat strange emulator. It’s also the one that’s going to cost you the most if you want to use it regularly, so make sure you check out these details specifically before arriving at your decision.
Rather than a software package that needs to be installed on your computer, Manymo is a browser-based Android emulator that operates exclusively in your web browser. The only thing that you’ll need to bring to the table in order to use it is the .apk (application) file of any app that you’d like to upload and use. The free version of Manymo will net you 10 limited-duration uses per month, while a meager subscription fee of $9.99 per month will substantially increase that access.
Who exactly is this type of emulator made for? Primarily, those who can’t (or would prefer not to) install software on their everyday PC on a regular basis. Since Android application .apk files can be carried around easily on a portable USB drive, Manymo remains an accessible option for those that aren’t free to install an emulator.
It’s hard to select “the best” emulator for a Windows PC, since what determines that has more to do with your individual needs than an emulator itself. That said, the above recommendations are top-of-the-line, and you’ll be hard pressed to find better offerings online.
Once you have your emulator installed, all that remains is to tap into the Google Play store and start installing the Android apps that you want to use! Once the emulator is up and running, there’s nothing to stop you from treating it just like you would an actual Android device, which means that your messaging services, games, and other apps will all become perfectly accessible.
Do you have quite a bit of emulator experience under your belt? Are you completely new to the scene, and still have questions for us? Let us know your thoughts about what makes the best emulator for gaming and other apps on a Windows PC by sharing in the comments below!