How to run Android apps and games on your computer
Stop switching devices back and forth.
If there are Android games and apps you love and rely on, know that you’re not limited to using them on small displays. You can also get them running on your desktop or laptop computer, so you can take advantage of the extra screen real estate and full keyboard and mouse controls.
A warning, though: If you’re new to emulators, you should know there’s a chance some apps may not work perfectly. That’s just a consequence of trying to run software on a device it wasn’t intended for. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about it.
Get Android apps on your computer using Chrome OS
If you own a Chromebook, it has Android app support built right in, so getting your favorite mobile apps to work won’t require any effort on your part. Click the launcher button (bottom left), find the Play Store icon, and browse for your apps and games just as you would on an Android phone.
If you don’t see the Play Store icon on your Chromebook, head to the Settings pane (click the status bar in the lower right corner, then the cog icon), and select Google Play Store under Apps. From the same section of Settings you can pick Manage your apps to view and uninstall them, or pin your favorite ones to the bottom shelf on Chrome OS.
[Related: The best Chromebook add-ons and tricks]
Newly installed apps will appear in the launcher and you can open them with a click. Most apps will run perfectly well on Chrome OS, but that may not always be the case. If you notice some odd behavior and positioning, it means that particular app has not been optimized for Chromebooks or other larger screens.
As Google develops both Chrome OS and Android, using a Chromebook or a Chromebox is the best way to run Android on a desktop or laptop computer. You’ll get the most up-to-date version of Google’s operating system and the best compatibility with its apps, so if you’re thinking of upgrading your laptop, this something you should take into account.
Run Android apps on your computer using an emulator
Even though Chrome OS makes running Android apps on your computer extremely simple, chances are you’re a Windows or macOS user. This doesn’t mean you’re out of luck—you’ll just need some help from an emulator: a program that interprets code written for Android and produces the same results on your computer.
Downloading and installing them is easy and generally free. You just need to choose one.
When it comes to Android emulators, BlueStacks is speedy, free, and easy to set up. You can also find versions for both Windows and macOS, so you can give it a go no matter what platform you’re on.
Once you’ve downloaded and installed the program, open it and you’ll find you have a virtual Android device living in your computer. The only difference is that you’re interacting with it using a keyboard, a mouse, and a bigger screen.
Get started from the My Apps tab and, as you would with a brand new mobile device, go to the Play Store to find and install new apps. You can also use the pre-installed Chrome app (at the bottom) to start browsing the web, if you’re curious about the mobile version of your favorite webpage.
To configure your virtual Android gadget, click the app drawer button (at the bottom, in the center), then open Settings. You can also customize the emulator further by opening up the main BlueStack settings screen. On Windows, click the button showing three horizontal lines (top right), then Settings; on macOS, open the BlueStacks menu, then pick Preferences. Options include changing the display resolution of your virtual device, managing how much of your computer’s system resources it uses, and how the program handles app notifications. You can also change the settings for the various input devices you’ve got connected.
Another option worth considering is NoxPlayer, and it checks a lot of the same boxes as BlueStacks: It’s free, easy to set up and use, and available for both Windows and macOS.
When you start up NoxPlayer for the first time, you’ll see an emulated Android home screen. You can open up the App Center—which is Nox’s own store of games and apps—or click Tools then Play Store to get to the Google Play Store.
As with BlueStacks, if you’re an Android user, everything is pretty self-explanatory from here on out. Click Tools, then Settings to configure your virtual Android device, including notification management and text size settings.
To get at the NoxPlayer settings, click the cog icon in the top right-hand corner. Among the settings there, you can modify the size of the window, control how the emulator interacts with your computer’s OS, and adjust how demanding the program can be in terms of your system’s resources. You can also configure keyboard and mouse settings, including keyboard shortcuts.