Mobile apps sure are fun, huh? Too bad they’re confined to a tiny phone screen. Wouldn’t it be nice to use some of those apps on your computer, with a keyboard and mouse?
There’s always the emulator that comes with Android Studio, the app development program put out by Google itself. But it’s a huge download, a bear to configure and just more than most people need.
For straightforward (and, importantly, free) Android emulation on Windows, there are two easier options.
BlueStacks (bluestacks.com) is the more trouble-free, automagical emulator of the two. Its official name is “BlueStacks App Player,” reflecting its focus on both games and apps, rather than replicating a complete Android device on your desktop. In fact, the home screen is just a collection of apps.
That philosophy makes BlueStacks perhaps not the best emulator for the hard-core techie, but it’s ridiculously simple for those just wanting to get their apps up and running. The installer creates a folder of apps right on the Windows desktop, so you can launch your favorite Android game right from there.
BlueStacks runs in its own window or in fullscreen mode. Some apps might look stretched out depending on your display resolution, so it’s worth futzing with the Windows registry to get everything looking right:
• From a command line or “Run...” box, type “regedit” and hit Enter.
• Navigate to Computer > HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE > SOFTWARE > BlueStacks > Guests > Android > FrameBuffer > 0.
• Double-click “GuestHeight.”
• Select “Decimal” under “Base.”
• Under “Value data” enter the height, in pixels, of your Windows screen resolution. For example, if your display is set to 1024 x 768, you would enter 768 here.
• Click OK.
• Do exactly the same thing with “Window Height.”
• Do the same with “GuestWidth” and “WindowWidth” but enter the width of your screen resolution instead.
It’s easier than it looks, I promise. There is one other downside to BlueStacks: in order to keep using it for free, you need to install promotional apps occasionally.
Andy (andyroid.com), on the other hand, is pretty much like running a whole Android tablet on your Windows computer. You not only get the familiar Android home screen, you get full access to all Android settings.
You can also customize the emulated device to a remarkable degree, down to the amount of memory and number of processor cores it should use. And, yes, its screen resolution. More hacking can be done through the software Andy runs on top of.
To set up a virtual machine, Andy makes use of an existing application from Oracle called VirtualBox. This software is the real emulator here, doing the hard work of making a pretend phone or tablet out of bits and bytes. Andy consists of the Android image and a bunch of Windows controls.
Andy is a bit more of a challenge to set up initially than BlueStacks, but its configurability gives you a lot of options for tweaking performance and accessing your computer’s hardware. It even takes advantage of virtualization features in most modern processors, if they’re enabled on your machine.
When I first installed Andy, it didn’t support my laptop’s multi-touch screen, while BlueStacks did. A recent update fixed that, though, so it’s now my Android emulator of choice. Your selection might similarly hinge on what works best on your hardware. Have fun!
No one can emulate @CitizenjaQ on Twitter.