Categories Android, PC

How to run Android apps on PC in 2021 (Full Guide)

Are you looking for ways to run Android apps on your PC? Whether you want to test an Android app, or experience mobile gaming on a PC, many software allows you to run and emulate Android apps on your PC. For many computer users, running apps on PC can improve productivity and provide a better user experience. You have multiple options to run Android apps on your PC:

  1. use an Android emulator
  2. use an Android virtual machine
  3. use an Android-based operating system
  4. mirror your Android device screen on Windows
Software Name
Technology
Best for
 
BlueStacks
Android emulator
Beginners, easiest to set up
Genymotion
Android virtual machine
Advanced users, most versatile (allows selecting specific devices to emulate)
Phoenix OS
Android-based operating system
Users with low-end computers

How to run Android apps on PC using emulators

Emulators are one of the best ways to run Android apps on your PC. With emulators, you’re creating an Android environment on your PC that allows you to install and run virtually all native Android apps. When using emulators, there’s no need to connect your mobile device to a PC.

Using BlueStacks to run Android apps

BlueStacks

BlueStacks Download

There are many Android emulators, but we recommend using BlueStacks. BlueStacks has been around for years and is trusted by most developers – with a proven track record, you can feel more secure about your data on apps installed with BlueStacks. Here are a few reasons why BlueStacks is quite a good option:

  • Easy to set up
  • A well-known emulator for gaming
  • Your data is synced once you log into your google account
  • You can use it on both PC and Mac
  • Has a proven track record. Bluestacks is the most popular Android emulator that has been around for years.

The major downside to BlueStacks is the ads displayed with the free version. If you want to enjoy ad-free usage, you have to upgrade to “BlueStacks Premium”, which will cost around $3.33/month. Apart from the ads, no other feature is limited when using the free version.

To use BlueStacks, you will need a PC with a powerful processor – we recommend at least 8GB of RAM. On slower devices, your PC will end up freezing or crashing due to low memory. According to the BlueStacks team, these are the requirements for running BlueStacks 5 on Windows:

Minimum system requirements

  • OS: Microsoft Windows 7 and above.
  • Processor: Intel or AMD Processor.
  • RAM: Your PC must have at least 4GB of RAM.
  • HDD: 5GB Free Disk Space.
  • You must be an Administrator on your PC.
  • Up to date graphics drivers from Microsoft or the chipset vendor.

Recommended system requirements

  • OS: Microsoft Windows 10
  • Processor: Intel or AMD Multi-Core Processor with Single Thread benchmark score > 1000.
  • Graphics: Intel/Nvidia/ATI, Onboard or Discrete controller with benchmark score >= 750.
    You can go through the detailed guide they have made on finding the benchmark score of your processor (CPU) and graphics card (GPU).
  • Please ensure Virtualization is enabled on your PC/Laptop.
  • RAM: 8GB or higher
  • HDD: SSD (or Fusion/Hybrid Drives)
  • Internet: Broadband connection to access games, accounts, and related content.
  • Up to date graphics drivers from Microsoft or the chipset vendor.
  • You can install BlueStacks even if you have a virtual machine such as Microsoft Virtual PC, VMWare Workstation, or Oracle Virtualbox installed on the same PC. However, please note that you may run into some performance issues.

Once you’re sure you meet the minimum requirements, you can proceed with the steps below for running Android apps using BlueStacks:

  1. Go to bluestacks.com and select “Download BlueStacks 5”. Note that previous versions such as BlueStacks 4 are also available to download (select “All Versions” under the download button).Bluestacks
  2. Run the downloaded file to launch the BlueStacks installation. If you are having problems during the installation, you should temporarily turn off Firewall or any antivirus software on your PC.Bluestacks
  3. BlueStacks will start automatically after installation. If it doesn’t start automatically, you should launch the app from your desktop or the Windows start menu.
  4. You’ll be prompted to sign in to Google Play. If you want to sync data with your phone, you should log into the same account you’re using with your previous device. You can also start fresh by creating a new Google account. You can also skip signing into your Google Play account by clicking the I’ll do it later button. Alternatively, you can go to settings on the BlueStacks homepage and select Accounts > Add account like in the screenshot below.Bluestacks
  5. Once you’re in the Google Play Store, you can select the apps you would like to install, just like you would do on an Android mobile device. Any app installed will appear on Bluestacks desktop. Double-clicking on the app will run that app.
  6. Each app you launch with Bluestacks will open in a new tab. This means you can run multiple apps at once, and you can easily switch between them.
  7. A sidebar is displayed to allow you to adjust various controls such as volume, keyboard controls, recordings, screenshots capture, screen rotation, and more.

Other Android emulators for PC

If you’re not satisfied with BlueStacks, there are many other Android emulators considered great alternatives. These include:

How to run Android apps on PC using a virtual machine

Android virtual machines can offer you the full Android experience on your PC. Virtual machines allow you to run an entirely different operating system within your own operating system (in this case, Windows or Mac).

Using Genymotion to run Android apps

Genymotion

GenyMotion Download

Many people consider Genymotion as an Android app emulator. However, this is not entirely true. Genymotion works with VirtualBox to run a full Android operating system on your PC. You can install VirtualBox separately or download the Genymotion pack bundled with VirtualBox, which is recommended. In addition, Genymotion allows you to select the exact device you want to run in the virtual machine (for example, Google Nexus of Samsung Galaxy S11), which is a very advanced feature not found in other emulators. There are many versions of Genymotion available, most of them paid. However, they have a free version available with basic features:

Genymotion free version

 

Please note that the free version will have a watermark displaying “free for personal use” at the bottom. Unless you’re an advanced user, you want to ignore all of the “cloud” options and choose the desktop option only. Before installing Genymotion, make sure your device meets its system requirements:

Genymotion System Requirements

Once you have checked all the prerequisites above, you can proceed with the following steps to run Android apps on your PC using Genymotion:

  1. Go to https://www.genymotion.com/download/. You have the option to download Genymotion with or without VirtualBox or without VirtualBox – if you don’t already have VirtualBox installed on your computer, then select the option with VirtualBox. Genymotion
  2. After the download is completed, run the downloaded setup file.Genymotion
  3. Genymotion will be installed first, followed by VirtualBox. You can keep everything as default during both installations.
    Genymotion setup
  4. During the installation of VirtualBox, it will disconnect your network temporarily. It will ask you to install a Device Software called “Oracle…”. Select the Install button to proceed with the installation.
    VirtualBox device software
  5. Once the setup wizard is complete, click Finish, and Genymotion will launch. If it doesn’t launch on its own, locate Genymotion in your newly downloaded applications and launch it. When Genymotion launches, you will see this screen:
    Genymotion login screen
  6. You’ll be required to create a Genymotion account before you can continue. Select “Create Account”. A new browser window will open where you can fill the registration form.
  7. Fill in your details (make sure you use a valid email as you will be required to verify it). Ensure you select the option “Genymotion for personal use/gaming” as this gives you free access to Genymotion.
  8. When you launch Genymotion, you might also be prompted to enter a license key. You should ignore that and select the option “Personal Use” and click Next.
  9. In the following step, you have to select the virtual device you want to use in Genymotion (this basically allows you to choose which phone you want to run on the virtual machine). You can install multiple virtual devices provided you have enough RAM. Example devices you can select are the HTC One, Google Nexus 7, or create your own custom tablet or custom phone. The screen resolution of each device will also be displayed.
    Genymotion devices homepage
  10. When you’ve decided which device you want to install, click on the 3 vertical dots next to the device name and select Install.
  11. On the following screen, you can customize the specifications of your virtual device, such as resolution and name. You can also keep all settings at default. When ready to proceed, select Install at the bottom
    Genymotion install virtual device
  12. It will take a few minutes to install your device. Once installed, it will appear in the list of your installed devices on the top of the Genymotion dashboard.
  13. To launch the installed virtual device, click on the three vertical dots next to the device name and select Start
    Genymotion launch installed virtual device
  14. A new window opens, which appears just like the screen of the virtual device you installed. For example, for the Google Galaxy Nexus:
    Genymotion virtual device example
  15. Note that if Google Play Store isn’t available, you need to download it on that specific device before installing Google Play apps.

How to run Android apps on PC using an Android-based operating system

Installing an Android-based OS (operating system) is the best solution for users looking to run Android apps on low-end computers. You basically convert your entire computer into an Android-based device. Everything will work as a computer, but based on the Android system. This also allows you to run Android apps on full screen on your PC. Of the Android-based operating systems, Phoenix OS is highly recommended.

Using Phoenix OS to run Android apps

Phoenix OS

Phoenix OS Download

Phoenix OS is an “Android OS” built specifically to be run on devices with big screens, such as computers. Users can get the full Android experience on their PC. Before installing Phoenix OS on your computer, make sure you backup your old operating system – this process will create a new operating system on your computer. Although Phoenix OS will not delete your old operating system, this can be a dangerous process, so make sure you’ve backed up any important files. Also, make sure you meet the Phoenix OS system requirements:

  • 2GB storage drive
  • Intel or AMD processor made around 2014 or later

Once you are ready to proceed, you can follow these steps:

  1. The first thing you have to do is download the Phoenix OS setup from their website: http://www.phoenixos.com/download_x86 (note if you’re an advanced user and want to boot using a USB, you can download the ISO file instead)
  2. Next to the “Exe Installer (For Windows)”, select Download (it doesn’t matter if you choose the “Google” column or the “Mega” column, just make sure you download the file on the next page)
    Phoenix OS Exe Installer Download
  3. On the page that opens, download the “PhoenixOSInstaller-v3.6.1.564-x64 .exe” file (it will show a different version for you)
  4. Phoenix OS MEGA installer
  5. Once the download completes, run the setup file, and select Install
    Phoenix OS Install
  6. On the following screen, select which drive you want to install Phoenix OS on. Choose your desired drive (make sure it has at least 16GB of free storage)
    Phoenix OS select hard disk
  7. On the next screen, they will prompt you to select how much storage you want to allocate to Phoenix OS. We recommend choosing 16GB, but you can opt for less or more space depending on how much free space you have. When you’ve selected an option, click on Install
  8. When the installation is completed, the setup will prompt you to reboot. Select Reboot Now
  9. Your PC will restart, and during system startup, it will boot into the Phoenix OS you just installed. As it’s the first time you are booting Phoenix OS, it can take up to an hour for the booting process to complete.
    Phoenix OS booting
  10. Once the Phoenix OS has finished booting up, it will display a welcome page. Change the language in English and follow on-screen instructions to finish setting up the operating system.
    Phoenix OS Welcome Page
  11. Once Phoenix OS launches, it comes pre-installed with Google Play. You can sign in to start downloading Android apps.
  12. Note: we strongly recommend changing the keyboard as the default settings will input what you type in Chinese. To do this, go to Settings (found in the taskbar) > Language & Input > Virtual Keyboard > Manage Keyboards > Turn on Android Keyboard (ADSP) and turn off Baidu IME
  13. Important: if you want to log back into your Windows computer, the next time you restart, you will get an option to either boot through Windows or Phoenix OS. If you don’t see this option, please check the booting options of your particular computer to turn this feature on.

How to mirror your Android phone screen on PC

Mirroring your Android screen onto your computer screen is a straightforward hack used to run Android apps on PC. The mobile device screen will be displayed on your PC screen, allowing you to control the mobile device on your computer using a mouse and keyboard. Here are the steps you have to do:

1. Enable developer options on your device

  1. Go to Android Settings and navigate to SystemAndroid Settings System
  2. Select About PhoneAndroid About Phone
  3. Scroll down and locate the option Build Number. Tap on this option seven times (note: on some phones, you only have to tap it five times)Tap Build Number five times
  4. When you go back to System Settings, you’re now able to see Developer Options, indicating that you have enabled it.Developer Options Enabled

2. Enable USB debugging

  1. Go to your Android Settings and navigate to System > Developer Options
  2. Locate USB debugging from the options and toggle to switch it onUSB Debugging On
  3. If you get a pop-up asking to “Always Allow USB debugging”, you should select the option Always Allow to always provide permissions for USB debugging. If you don’t choose this option, you will be dealing with pop-ups every time you connect your mobile device to your PC.

3. Use an app to mirror your Phone on PC

After enabling Developer options and USB debugging, you’ll need an application that creates a connection between your PC and mobile device. The best apps we recommend are Vysor and scrcpy. Of course, you can try other options if you are not satisfied with these two, but they’re the more popular ones and worked smoothly for us.

How to mirror Android screen with Vysor

Vysor

Vysor is free and easy to use. You can upgrade to pro if you want more features, but the free version is enough to mirror your mobile device on PC. You’re able to play games or take screenshots and can do most things you’re able to do on your mobile device. With the pro version, you get additional features, including fullscreen mode, the ability to Drag and Drop Files, and a higher quality of mirroring.

Vysor Pro features

Mirror your mobile screen using Vysor

  • Head over to https://www.vysor.io/download/ to download the app on your PC. It’s available for both Windows, Mac, and Linux.Vysor
  • Download the file corresponding to your operating system, and follow on-screen instructions to install Vysor. You can leave all settings at default during the setup.
  • Connect your mobile device to the PC via USB cable.
  • If you haven’t enabled the USB debugging option we mentioned earlier, you’ll be prompted to allow the option.
  • Open the Vysor app installed on your PC; you should have a desktop shortcut.
  • After opening the app, it will automatically notify you if the device has been detected.
  • You’ll see the option View on the top – click on that to start viewing your Android device.
  • A new window will open with your mobile screen. You can choose the different screen sizes you want. Make sure you’re not moving your mobile device to avoid disconnecting the USB cable – even a slight movement can interrupt the process. Instead, use your mouse to click on the mobile screen and also use your PC keyboard to type.

Mirror your mobile screen using scrcpy

scrcpy is an open-source tool you can use to mirror an Android device on a PC. It can be done using a USB or Wireless. Windows, Mac, and Linux are all supported. It’s a very lightweight tool, making it the fastest tool for casting Android screens on a PC. The requirement for using this tool is installing Android ADB tools on your device, and once you have it, you should proceed with the steps below;

  • Download the latest version of scrcpyn from Github or SourceForge. These are the files you’re looking to download, whether you have a 32-bit or 64-bit computer:
    scrcpy Github download
  • Extract the downloaded .zip file (scrcpy-win32-v1.xx.zip or scrcpy-win64-v1.xx.zip)

If using a USB connection:

  • Connect the mobile device and PC with a USB cable
  • You should allow USB debugging if prompted to do so
  • You should now run scrcpy.exe that’s inside the extracted folder
  • You can now see your screen

If using Wi-Fi to establish the connection (more advanced):

  • Start by connecting your devices with a USB cable (this only has to be done the first time)
  • Make sure developer options and “USB debugging” are enabled on your phone
  • You must set up ADB on your PC. To do this, download Platform Tools for Windows here: https://developer.android.com/studio/releases/platform-tools
  • Extract the Platform Tools folder, then press shift + right-click anywhere in the extracted folder.
  • Select Open Powershell here
  • Type the command Adb devices in Windows Powershell – this will confirm the connection between your PC and phone. If that doesn’t work, try one of these commands: “.\adb devices or .\adb.exe devices.
  • Make sure to select the remember this PC option, so you do not have to repeat this step later.
  • Now, you want to copy-paste all of the files from the extracted scrcpy folder into the extracted Platform Tools folder – make sure you replace all files in the new folder.
  • Run scrcpy.exe – you’ll now see your phone’s screen reflected on your PC

How to download APK files on PC

APK (short for “Android Package”) is a file format used by apps that run on Android. Although you can access Google Play when using the methods above to download any particular app, some users prefer to download apps that are no longer listed on Google Play or apps of an older version. Unfortunately, Google Play doesn’t allow you to download APK files directly. Instead, you have to use alternative methods.

Download APK files from websites

Many apps have their APK files hosted on third-party sites, which are available for download. Whatever app you want to download the APK file for, just search for the “App Name + APK file” in Google, and you’ll see various sources that have the APK file available for download – although many might not be safe. Some websites like APKPure and APKMirror are well-known sources for downloading APK files. Additionally, many users use torrents to download APK files.

Use browser extensions (not recommended)

There are APK downloader extensions available for Chrome and Firefox, which allow you to download the APK versions of apps currently available on Google Play. Just install the extension, visit the Google Play store on your browser and search for the app you want. Then, click install to get the APK download link (some extensions might need you to input the Google Play URL of the particular app).

Pablo is a freelance graphic designer and android app developer. He studied Media Arts and Design at the University of Chicago. When he's not working, he enjoys going out for walks.

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