Android Emulation Options That Won't Give Your Computer an STD
At first blush, you might think Android game emulation on a PC would be a simple matter. It's an open source operating system, and most of the games are designed to be run on phones with very modest hardware. Integrating Google's proprietary apps could be a problem, but just running games should in theory not be that big a deal.
The good news: there are indeed a number of good Android emulators out there for running games.
The bad news: Getting to them means going through an absolute minefield of spyware, adware and cryptocoin miners.
There are legit projects out there ... but there are a lot more janky ones meant to basically sneak some sort of sly monetization scheme onto your computer.
Aside from malware, another factor to consider is that some are built on an older version of Android ... which means they might not be able to run games that require a newer version.
So, with an eye to all those considerations, let's figure out what the best options are for Android game emulation on a PC.
The simplest and most comprehensive option would be Google's own emulator for testing Android apps on a PC: Android Studio
. It's free, and while Google has their own privacy issues it's a pretty safe bet they won't install malware or try to mine Dogecoin in the background. It also allows you to access the Google Play Store and run most of their other apps as normal, and it emulates the most recent version of Android (or any older version you want).
Case closed, right? Well, not quite. Android Studio has a few restrictions that may cause it to not work for some people:
* It's a whole development platform, not just an emulator, so it's real top-heavy if you just want game emulation; you have to download about one gigabyte.
* It requires an Intel or AMD processor capable of virtualization. I think all of them made since 2017 or so can do this, but it's usually off by default and has to be enabled in the BIOS. If you have a pre-2017 processor, it's going to be more dicey as to whether you have this.
* It doesn't really work right out of the box. It appears at minimum you have to know how Android API levels work and make sure the Google apps you're running are a version that is compatible with them.
* There is very little in the way of non-super-technical help out there if something doesn't work for some reason. I can't really find any straightforward guides to just setting it up for game emulation for non-programmers. Expect it to be like back in the 80s / early 90s when there was no interbutts, nobody around you knew how to computer and you had to figure everything out yourself from the manual.
So, if that doesn't work, what else we got?
Here's another semi-official option that is free and is very unlikely to contain malware given the source.
is an open source project that allows the operating system to run on computers and other devices. As with Android Studio, this is kind of a more top-heavy and complex option that you'll need some related programming knowledge to get the most out of.
It's doable for the average person, but you may run into the following issues:
* You'll have to install, run and learn how to use virtual machines with something like VirtualBox
* Due to running in a virtual machine, you may have speed problems on older and slower systems.
* Game compatibility can be iffy; not so much on the hardware end of actually running them, but in terms of successfully connecting to the publisher's servers for games that require you to be online.
* As with Android Studio, it is quite possible for individualized technical issues to pop up and when they do you may have a lot of trouble finding help for them.
Leapdroid was abandoned a few years ago
, which is a shame because it was an excellent Android emulator with no bullshit attached to it. Unfortunately, it was so good that Google bought it out just to stop development and sit on it.
It was bought out in 2016, so the last Android version supported is likely Marshmallow. You can still find old versions around at various download sites in spite of Google's chicanery. Softonic is probably the safest choice I know of, or you can try archive.org
. 18.104.22.168 was the last version released before it was discontinued.
is a well-regarded open source Android emulator that is still technically active and available ... but it hasn't been updated since late 2016 and is thought to be unofficially abandoned. It's stuck on Marshmallow - it has great compatibility and most games still run on that version of the OS, but this will likely be a problem for a lot of newer games going forward. The other big issue with Remix is that no one ever got around to adding controller support to it, so you're stuck playing with the mouse emulating touch screen presses.
is a very interesting and well-developed Android emulator. It's from American Megatrends, a major name in hardware and software that got started in the 80s. So its a much more reputable source than some fly-by-night app developer that just popped up last year; really kind of a surprisingly big name to be making an Android emulator, but I guess it overlaps with some of their other work.
Anyway, the speed and compatibility are among the best out there.
So what's the catch? Well, it used to be that you had to pay for the full version of it. It was a one-time fee of $10 though, so it wasn't bad. But then Windows 10 came out and for some reason they had serious trouble adapting the emulator to it, so they decided to stop development. The upside of this - it's now totally free. The downside - support stopped with Android Lollipop. So it'll run well for anything that is compatible with Lollipop, but like Remix it's going to have increasing problems with new games as time goes on.
The Genymotion emulator is more aimed at developers who want to test their apps on the same computer they're coding on ... but it also happens to run games pretty well too. The full version is SaaS that you have to pay a $140 per year license fee for ... but fortunately the developers were kind and made a free version available called Genymotion Personal Edition
. This lacks the programming tools but is tailored to people who just want to run games. This is also available for both PC and Mac.
Full disclosure: I haven't tried it personally, so I don't know if the free version is ad-supported in some way (the website doesn't say one way or the other). But I have it on good authority that it isn't bundled with shitware and spying tools.
Chrome - ARC Welder
For at least a couple of years now, it's been possible to run some Android apps in the Chrome browser - including some games.
To do this you need Google's ARC Welder tool
, which is a browser extention meant for app developers doing testing. This works best on the actual Chrome OS, but it will work to at least some degree in Chrome on any other operating system.
You then have to download .APK files (the file format of apps), then just open them in Chrome once ARC Welder is installed. Similar to the way you can download Flash .SWF games and open them directly in most browsers to play. You can find .APK repositories that have pretty much every app of consequence out there. Some of the safer sources are APKMirror
, Yalp Store
, and XDA Labs
Now, keep in mind that's just for app versions that you can freely download. Any app that requires payment to access will require you to go to pirate sites, which is where the waters get hella choppy. Like 90% of the pirated Android .APKs out there will get you promptly pwned by l33t Chinese hackers as soon as you run them, so don't go that route unless you don't mind your stealth camera streams being added to Xi Yinping's fap folder.
I haven't tried this personally, but word is it's the fastest Android emulator around and has good (though not perfect) game compatibility.
It's free, but it's ad-supported. I don't really have a problem with that, but free ad-supported models make me leery based on previous examples in Android emulation. The developers could always decide at any time the ad model isn't doing enough for them and slide something more nefarious in.
For now, though, I've scoured The Googles and can't find any really good credible reports of it serving spyware, malware or various shartware.
Questionable Android Emulators
There are some other "big name" emulators you'll see recommended out there in the wild, but I've decided to pass on them for a number of reasons. Such as the following:
Buy Some Android Devices Will Ya
Of course, if you want to play Android games, you could always buy a tablet just for gaming and media. They're pretty cheap and plentiful.
The ones below are my recommended choices of the moment, and shopping through these links helps to support the site:
* Samsung Galaxy Tab series - ( Amazon
This is what I personally use, I have a 7" Galaxy Tab A for portability but you can also get these in 8" or 10.1" screen sizes. This series is aging a little but that means you get a good price for how powerful they are. Each has different Android installs so you have to shop carefully, but mine came with 7 and then immediately upgraded to 8.1 with no fuss when I first ran it.
* Lenovo Tab series - ( Amazon
Solid midrange Android tablets for $100 - $150.
* Amazon Fire series - ( Amazon
The most powerful Android tablets for under $100 (the 7" retails for only $50), the only downside is you have to deal with Amazon's OS wrapper which includes their own app store that has less stuff than the standard Google Play Store. Of course, you can get around this with various ninjer tricks