Android emulators are attracting quite a lot of attention at the moment. With more and more old favorites going off the market (Andy, AmiduOS or Leapdroid, to cite just a few), or becoming obsolete, users are confronted with a confusing amount of choices and are having trouble picking out the Android emulator that’s right for them.
But before we get started, what is an Android emulator? Quite simply, it’s software that enables you to use Android apps on your PC or Mac as you would on your smartphone. Let’s take a look at why you would want to do so.
Why Use Android Emulators?
That’s a very good question, to which there are several answers. The most common reason is gaming. Many people prefer to play Android games on their computers rather than their smartphones as it makes them easier to navigate (enabling them to use a mouse and keyboard), more pleasant to play and doesn’t drain their phones’ battery. We’ll take a more detailed look below, but to give you a quick idea, some of the most popular Android emulators for gamers are currently Nox, Bluestacks and MeMu.
Then comes app development. Android developers need to be able to test their fresh new apps on as many platforms and devices as possible before making them available to the general public, in which case emulators come in extremely handy. Many turn towards Android Studio, but Genymotion is also a good option.
Productivity is another reason why people like to use Android emulators on their computers. Whatever your particular use case, it’s relatively straightforward to install and run an Android emulator on your PC or Mac, though some do come with a bit of a learning curve. Let’s take a look at the best options below:
2019 Ten Best Android Emulators
Price: Your time and patience (otherwise, free)
While there are tons of great Android emulators on the market available for free or at a low price point, you may be the kind of person that likes to do things for yourself. In that case, you can very much build your own Android emulator (you’ll need some prior knowledge, a handy tutorial and a bit of time on your hands). Start by downloading Virtual Box followed by an image from Android-x86.org, then locate one of the many tutorials available online and just do as you’re told. This is not the easiest method around, but you’ll end up with your very own Android emulator that’s yours to customise as you wish. What’s more, it may be a fiddly process but still beats setting up Android Studio from a time and effort point of view – see below.
2. Android Studio
Android Studio tends to be the first thing people think of when it comes to Android emulators. As the default development environment for the Android operating system, it provides a whole set of tools aimed at developers creating Android apps, including a ready-made emulator. This is very much a tool aimed at developers and will probably prove too complicated and time-consuming to set up for the average user. However, it’s an excellent Android emulator for those who already have it installed.
Price: Free / $2 per month
Bluestacks is pretty popular as far as Android emulators go, and for good reason. The main one is that it works with both PC and Mac, making it accessible to a wider variety of users. Mainly aimed at gamers, it’s also been around for a while and nonetheless continues to be regularly updated. A recent update improved speed (even on older computers) and brought it up to Android 7.1.2 (Nougat), making it the most recent Android emulator around. Bluestacks does however have a couple of downsides: it’s a little bloated and one of the heaviest emulators around, though recent updates have helped improve on those particular issues.
Price: Free / $29.99
As one of the oldest Android emulators for Windows, YouWave has been around for quite a while now and was last updated in 2016. Users have the choice between the free version (which uses Ice Cream Sandwich) and going premium, which costs $29.99 and uses Lollipop. Those who are interested in a little light gaming or who want an Android emulator for productivity purposes will appreciate the easy installation process, though both versions could do with a significant update. In the meantime, we advise users to look towards some of the other options on this list.
Price: Free with premium options
This is one of the most well-known Android emulators around today. And is mostly aimed at professional developers, who particularly appreciate the fact that it lets you test apps on a variety of different devices and versions of Androids. Want to try your new game on a Huawei P10 running Android 7.0 or a Samsung J3 on Android 5.1.1 without scouring the internet for second hand phones? Genymotion can take care of that for you.
Genymotion is not so much aimed at the person on the street, but does offer a free version for consumer use. It also has the big advantage of being available as both desktop- and cloud-based versions, which makes it accessible even to those who don’t have that much processing power.
ARChon differs quite a bit from the other Android emulators we have on this list. In that unlike traditional versions, it’s available as an extension for Google Chrome that then enables you to run Android apps in your browser. While that may sound user-friendly at first glance, it’s actually pretty complicated to get up and running and there are quite a few steps required compared to other emulators (notably, obtaining APKs, installing them and ensuring they’re compatible). A big plus, however, is that you can run it with just about any operating system you can think of that can support Chrome, be it Mac OS, Linux or Windows. As with many emulators on the market, it’s up to you to weigh the pros and cons.
Let’s start with a word of warning: this PC emulator is not for the faint of heart and should really only be tackled by those with a fair bit of tech know-how. The plus points: it runs Android Oreo, making it one of the more up to date emulators currently available on the market. Unlike many other emulators, it’s available either via virtual machine or can be run directly on your PC using a USB stick. While the virtual machine install is time-consuming and tedious, it’s not all that difficult. When it comes to the USB install, it’s more complicated but enables you to run Android natively from boot. Well worth having around if you feel up to making it through a relatively complicated install process.
KoPlayer is one of the newer Android emulators on the market (though that’s not saying much). It’s not one of the most talked about. Though people are starting to notice it as a good middle-of-the-road option for gaming and some light productivity tasks. Compared to some of the other emulators around, the install process is straightforward enough and the software relatively easy to use. Like many other Android emulators aimed at Windows users, KoPlayer runs in a VM. For a free option, it’s not bad at all and offers enough features to satisfy the average user. These features include keymapping and gameplay recording, to cite a couple. Developers and heavyweight users are however advised to take a look at the more advanced options on this list.
Another relatively recent addition to the Android emulator market. MEmu is an up-and-coming option that for the moment seems to be doing pretty well with gamers. It is similar to emulators such as Bluestacks, which we took a look at above. And for good reason. It offers support for Jelly Bean, Kit Kat, and Lollipop Android versions as well as both Intel and AMD processors. Furthermore, it can be used to run multiple instances simultaneously. We also find the fact that it was updated relatively recently pretty encouraging. Unlike many more vintage emulators whose developers seem to have abandoned by the wayside. All in all, a nice little option that can be used for both gaming and productivity purposes.
Price: Free / Enterprise options
Rather like Android Studio, Xamarin is a whole integrated development environment. Rather than a simple Android emulator, though it also comes with a built-in emulator for app and game testing. Unlike Android Studio, however, Xamarin can be used to create a much wider IDE. Through compatibility with other environments such as Microsoft Visual Studio. The built-in Xamarin emulator is less powerful than other options on the market. But, it’s useful to have around not the less and also boasts the advantage of being customizable. Xamarin is free for personal use. But is probably too complex and time-consuming to set up to interest your average user.
Looking for the best iOS emulators, check out our other guide right here.