Android is a popular operating system for handheld and now dominating the market share. Though the there are already exists various cheap devices running android, many of us want want to run android on our PC. I myself has two reasons for this: first to play some games without open my device, and second is to test my application.
Fortunately, there are plenty of them available, from free to paid one. This article is not an exhaust list of android emulator, but serve as a purpose as a documentation of emulator I had known and taste (some of them).
The Basic Concept
Many years ago the only processor supported by android is ARM architecture. The only way to start an android in our PC is through official Android emulator, bundled with the SDK. It is so slow due to many things. We name it emulator, as we are emulating the android environment (in ARM) to run in our PC environment (in x86/x86-64). Then some projects exists to port Android to x86 architecture. This unofficial build is known as Android x86. Later, Android officially support x86 processor which is not very different to PC one. However, we still need this piece of software, emulator. Why?
Android is an operating system for mobile device such as mobile phone, tablet, smart TV, etc. Android device has many different hardware variation as each manufacture can ship any hardware they like but android ensure that the platform is viewed as one uniform. Android abstract the complicated and give it as a single platform. As a platform, android has different component those are different to PC (typically a Windows PC). For example the interface and the application format, they are different. So to make android application running on top our Windows PC, there should be something that can bridge this two platform, and that would be an emulator.
Simply, an emulator is a hardware or software that enables one platform (called host) to behave like another platform (called guest). These android emulator can run the application simply by providing environment that looks like the real device. We are not seeing Android from the point of processor is run on, but the Android platform as a whole.
Android, in Android SDK, has ship an official emulator for testing. But this emulator is proven to be slow and need much time for startup. So there are many people starts to create some lightweight android emulators that can boot android faster and consume less resource, compared to official one. Unless you tweak the emulator, like enabling Intel HAXM (Hardware Accelerated Execution Manager), these alternative emulators are preferable.
You can also see other article about Inside the Android Emulator series to discuss something deeper than this.
- Nox App Player
- Visual Studio Android Emulator
- Jar of Beans
- Xamarin Android Player
Nox App Player
Definitely my favorite. Minimalist yet provide many things.
It is one of the best options available to emulate android on PC. It also supports wide range of Android Gaming controls. And the best part of this, Nox App Player support most of the top android games. This full-fledged android emulator will need us to set some things, such as google accounts. Apart from the standard mouse and keyboard support, Nox also support several input/output devices such as gamepads and controllers. Nox also support multiple emulator instances, or profile you might say. This way we can have more than one emulator each with different configuration.
Technically, Nox App Player use (at this time) an Android 4.4.2 kernel, or preferably called Android KitKat. It mimics UI operations on a tablet or smartphone so the learning curve is not steep. Also Nox comes with the Google Play Store integrated into the install package. In my experience, Nox App Player is also easy to use for penetration testing purpose.
A big player in this emulation world. BlueStacks is mature enough and support almost all of android games and apps that play store is offering. Some sites recommends it as the first option to emulate android. No wonder, BlueStack supports about 96% of the games and apps available on Play Store (in their claim).
What’s interesting for me is their GenyMotion on demand, aside of their android emulator on our local PC. It is an Android AMs on Amazon EC2 infrastructure. While the local emulator is proven fast, it also offer graphic acceleration and use x86 as its base, which is not different to our PC.
Some sites recommends it as the first alternative for BlueStack or now might be the first opinion for Android emulator.
Also known as Andy OS. One of the feature is one can use their phone as remote control while playing a game through the emulator. It even supports seamless, wireless transition of apps from computer to android device.
There are two version available at this time. The free version use Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and the premium version use Android 5.1 Lollipop.
Visual Studio Android Emulator
One of project / component in Visual Studio that can be installed on demand. Similar to Windows Mobile emulator, this product need Hyper-V installed. And when running, Hyper-V (as well as Visual Studio Android Emulator) will locks the virtualization support exclusively and not sharing it with other software like VirtualBox or VMware. One of the feature that highlighted is the Work-From-Home, which makes it works over remote desktop.
A new but promising emulator.
Technically, it uses Android 4.4 as default image for any instance. Optionally, you can also download the Android 5.1 as base system if you like.
Jar of Beans
Sadly, it has been discontinued.
From XDA forum, home of android hackers. It is an android jelly beans emulator and allows us to do easy installation and configuration. It supports multi user in the form of profile and enables us to customize our own settings. We can also create Virtual SD card. It requires no setup as it is completely portable.
Sadly, it has been discontinued.
They said Manymo is a better emulator. Unlike other emulator, Manymo is an in-browser emulator and support multiple android versions. It means, you need no installation, you only launch the emulator you need. Their target audience is developer, which wants to eliminates the tedious task by providing a facility to test apps on different android version without having those devices. They say it’s lightweight as the actual computation is held on their end but you need stable internet connection to use it.
Xamarin Android Player
Sadly, it has been discontinued.
Xamarin specialize itself in mobile application development. They create SDK which makes us able to deliver an application in native Android, iOS, and Windows platform. One of their suite is their emulator.
While the development itself had been ceased, you can still download the Xamarin Android Player for free.
Xamarin provides various version of Android, from 4.1.1 (Jelly Bean) to 5.1.0 (Lollipop). Most of them are preconfigured as Nexus device.
There are other alternative way to run android on PC.