Open Handset Alliance
- This page is about software that emulates Android on other hardware, like desktops.
- For emulators that run on Android, see Emulators on Android.
Android is a mobile operating system developed by Google and the Open Handset Alliance. It was originally developed in secret before launching in 2008 as a competitor against Apple's iPhone. While other mobile operating systems have been made throughout the years, none have emerged in terms of market share nearly as much as Android.
Android is like a Linux distribution in that it uses the Linux kernel to facilitate communication with the hardware and manage processes on the system. Unfortunately, the similarities end there, as Android uses an entirely different toolset from standard Linux distributions and no support is given for running it on PCs. (Software development on Android is also nothing like Linux development as apps are compiled into architecture-specific
APKs via Java which, like IPA files on iOS, are specially designed Zip files. They may be occasionally coupled with
OBB files). While Android can technically run Linux binaries, doing so requires superuser privileges that Android does not provide by default. For many devices, you can expect to see a custom ROM that has an integrated su binary (or a means to install it easily, such as a custom recovery), but not all devices have one.
However, the Linux kernel is flexible enough that it can be emulated well, unlike iOS, older cell phone models, and older Japanese Galapagos mobile phones. While Android natively supports mice[N 1], most apps expect users to have a touchscreen, so Android emulators will usually default to emulating touchscreen presses like DS emulation (though it can be less than ideal in many cases). The host's keyboard may often emulate the button controller add-ons, and some emulators support Xbox 360 controllers with some more tweaks.
|PC / x86|
|Waydroid||git||Not an emulator (wine-like approach)||~||✓||✓||✓|
|Anbox||git||Not an emulator (wine-like approach)||~||✓||✓||✓|
|Windows Subsystem for Android||Comes with Windows store||Hyper-V||?||✗||✓||✓[N 3]|
|Android x86||8.1-r6||VirtualBox, VMWare (for 3d acc)||Mid||✓||✓||✓|
|BlueStacks||18.104.22.1689||QEMU (before v2.5) / VirtualBox (after v2.5)||High||✗||✓||~[N 3]|
22.214.171.124 (v2.3.17) (Chinese Version)
|Peak App Player||1.2.5 Beta 2||VirtualBox||High||✗||✗||✗|
|Xamarin Android Player||0.6.5||VirtualBox||Mid||✗||✗||✗|
|Mobile / ARM|
|LineageOS||18.1 (Raspberry Pi 3/4)||Not an emulator (actual AOSP)||High||✓||✓||✓|
|Waydroid||git||Not an emulator (wine-like approach)||~||✓||✓||✓|
|Anbox||git||Not an emulator (wine-like approach)||~||✓||✓||✓|
|Project Astoria||Discontinued ($)||Original||Low||✗||✗||✗|
|LineageOS||15.1||based of the Nvidia Shield TV build of LineageOS||~||✓||✓||✓|
- ↑ If you have an Android device, you can confirm this by connecting a Bluetooth or USB mouse via a USB adapter.
- ↑ The VM column describes what backend technology the emulator uses. Emulators labeled with "VirtualBox" sometimes need the user to install Oracle VM VirtualBox. Usually, it is installed automatically.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 These emulators are usually closed-source, and while they're distributed for free, their devs look for roundabout ways to monetize them. One such high-profile case is BlueStacks. Make sure to check if there are pre-installed apps on your emulator (and disable them), monitor your Internet connection download caps and processor activity to detect any abnormal activity (and block domains accordingly if the need arises,) and avoid giving sensitive account data as much as is possible (just in case it's key-logged). Besides basic safety, these precautions often make impacted emulators run much faster when the adware services and apps are turned off. Windows subsystem for Android is an exception, as Microsoft made it and monetizing comes from the Windows copy you bought.
- A closed-source Android emulator with hardware-accelerated 3D graphics and USB host support, available for Windows, macOS, and Linux. In its latest versions, it has pretty good compatibility with commercial games. It's a commercial product though, aimed at software developers and QA teams. You'll need to create an account and download the free non-commercial use license. Except for the pay-to-remove "free for personal use" watermark on the screen, paid builds add features only useful for Android app developers.
Setting up the emulator itself is not too hard, but a bit of tinkering is required to add the Google Play Store and ARM processor emulation (what you need essentially here to play the commercial releases) as well as Xbox 360 controller support. Not noob-friendly, but if you're experienced enough with Android to know your way around a rooted filesystem, it shouldn't be too hard.
Note as of November 25th, 2019: The above paragraph is outdated, and ARM Emulation has been broken in Genymotion for a while, so you can't use ARM apps unless you get a really old version.
- Also commercial with a free option (requires a Google account). It's less good than Genymotion and doesn't handle USB cable emulation. Previous versions used to come with an installer with adware, riddled with junk apps within the emulator and had a non-intuitive uninstaller, but that's no longer the case today. It includes Google Apps by default, though you'll need to install a file manager to copy game cache when loading your own .apk files.
- A free Android emulator with very good accuracy, sometimes outperforming BlueStacks.
- An Android emulator also with good accuracy. When testing games alongside Nox, LDPlayer shows better performance/compatibility with games.
Has good accuracy but forcefully uninstalls VirtualBox, so it cannot co-exist with Genymotion and Xamarin. It's not recommended because it will install hidden background services (xunlei.exe, and Thunder.exe, both by the Chinese company which developed Droid4x) that seed Chinese torrents constantly and are a pain to uninstall or deactivate (in case you've already fallen for it, use Revo Uninstaller).
- Andy OS
- Not recommended because it will install a cryptocurrency miner on your system without asking or informing the user. Just like Genymotion, Andy OS uses VirtualBox, but with a twist: if it detects an installed VirtualBox during installation, it will delete it and will refuse to work. Beware!
- Not to be confused with a similarly-named Nintendo DS emulator by Roor, it is a relative newcomer to the Android emulation market, made by American Megatrends, i.e., the very same people behind the BIOS/UEFI firmware your PC may be using. Emulation is modest at best, with games and apps such as DraStic struggling on lower-end hardware. And to top it all off, it isn't free either.
- Google Chrome
- Can open APK files using the ARC Welder extension, though their emulation on PC is average at best. Here's a compatibility list and a dedicated subreddit. Google has announced Play Store for Chrome OS, but it works on a different "container" technology that is embedded in the Chrome OS. In addition, Google will discontinue Google Chrome apps on PC, so any major updates to ARC Welder for PC are unlikely.
- (Without the 'e' suffix) is a fast Android emulator that does not rely on VirtualBox or any similar technology. It isn't accurate, though. While the Google Play store can be installed with some tinkering, not many games can be installed (due to not faking device names) and will spawn multiple harmless-yet-annoying app_process.exe crashes. The official site is down since July 2016, so any updates are unlikely.
- (With the 'e' suffix) uses VirtualBox, but still offers better performance than BlueStacks. The Play Store is installed by default and has no stability issues found in Windroy. A related Reddit topic can be found here.
- Android x86
- An open-source project that aims to port the Android operating system to x86-based netbooks. Comes with Google Play and libhoudini (x86/ARM translation layer) installed. 3D acceleration works well both when installed directly on the machine as a local OS and also on VMware. VMware Player 15 supports emulating OpenGL ES 3 on the target, and its performance is quite good. VirtualBox 3d support is poor and probably won't work. Android x86 is continually being improved and can be tried fairly painlessly through VMware. Genymotion is (or at least used to be) a closed-source fork of Android x86, designed exclusively to be run on VirtualBox.
- A project that aims to run Android applications on Ubuntu distributions. Currently, it is in alpha state and only known to work on Ubuntu 16.04. Anbox requires custom kernel modules to run because, unlike other emulators which emulate the whole Linux kernel, this one uses the host system's Linux kernel directly.
- A project by KDE that aims to run Android applications on Linux using KDE5 and Qt5 technology. The project is infancy state and only known to run on latest Kubuntu versions. It currently lacks ARM processor emulation, so not many games will run. It is, however, known to play Flappy Bird and can show Spotify's login screen. It uses modified QEMU to emulate the Android operating system. The last major update was in March 2016 and seems to be abandoned.
- Xamarin Android Player
- A newcomer to the Android emulation market. Not much is known about this because it required a minimum $25/month subscription to main Xamarin products. The main Xamarin products were made available for free after the purchase by Microsoft, but Xamarin Android Player was discontinued.
- A program that runs another copy of Android on the current Android system, which would be useful for running multiple copies of the same application simultaneously, running applications that rely on older/newer versions of Android, testing out different Android system variations, or safely executing operations/applications that are likely to harm the system and/or user data.
- Project Astoria
- A Microsoft-developed Android emulator for Windows 10 Mobile included in several insider previews. It could run a few applications, though apps that required Google Play Services did not run or had issues. This project was reportedly discontinued in November 2015, and its cancellation was confirmed on February 2016, so the emulator is not included in more recent versions of Windows 10 Mobile.
Android is open-source, but the Google Play Store has to be licensed from Google in order to incorporate it into a build, including Play Services and many other Google apps. That often means developers pay a fee that can trickle back to the user in some form (either through adware, privacy-invading trackers, or by selling the emulator as a commercial product). Custom ROMs for real Android devices on Android 4 and earlier used to bundle the Google Play Store, but this changed with newer versions. The new method is to install a custom ROM and then install "GApps" through another service like the Open GApps Project.
Many games often optimize and compile specifically for ARM processors, which prevents them from being executable on x86 CPUs, even when using a project like Android-x86. Some emulators, like BlueStacks, have ARM emulation by default; in others, like Genymotion, it is possible to install an ARM emulator manually (though only on older versions, as such functionality is broken in newer releases).
Many emulators like to uninstall each other for some reason. Droid4x, Andyroid, Genymotion, and Xamarin cannot co-exist on the same machine without modifying their installers, which can be a problem if one game works on only one of these emulators but other games do not.
In order to reduce cheating, many games refuse to run if they discover that the device has been rooted. If the emulator comes rooted by default, it must be manually unrooted before the game can be played. The rooting method for modern devices is Magisk, which installs itself in the bootloader instead of the system partition, which makes it harder to detect.
Some games take more aggressive measures to detect the presence of Custom ROMs (unofficial firmware) or Android emulators (like the ones listed on this page) in a variety of ways, such as checking for the existence or absence of system files in order to prevent the game from running in any unverified environments. These games are very difficult or plain impossible to play on emulators without resorting to cracked versions of the games.
Android-based Operating Systems
There are many forks of Android; these go beyond a custom UI and are instead entirely new OSes that use the Android code in addition to writing their own code. Depending on how much (and what) new code, features, and APIs were added, will determine the effects they will have on Android emulation but if one thing is for sure, these forks are (most likely) going to cause some emulation issues.
Emulator Specific Issues
- Can't root the device:
The latest Kingroot's .apk will do the job when loaded inside BlueStacks. It's that simple.
Alternatively, you could use Universal BlueStacks Rooting Software on an existing BlueStacks installation. Before opening it, go to the folder where BlueStacks is installed under Program Files, and run "HD-Quit.exe" once.
Then, from the extracted "BlueStacks RootEZ 32_64", open as administrator "BlueStacks RootEZ.exe". Click "Automatic Detect from Installed Bluestacks", enable "Enlarge System (Root.fs) Size to 400MB", and click "I'm ready for Step 1". A command-line window should appear. Now just wait until "Preparing Complete" appears. Then, click "Go for Step 2" and wait until "Rooting is Complete" appears.
Close the application, and open the "output" folder in the same directory as the extracted application. You should find a newly generated "Root.fs" file. You can use it to replace the existing one under "%programdata%\BlueStacks\Android" (Press Windows+R and go there), but it's recommended to keep a backup of the original in case the new one causes Bluestacks to hang in the loading screen for more than a few minutes.
The package also includes Nova Explorer and Root Launcher. You may verify the rooting status with the "Root Checker" app from Google Play. Considering some apps check for Google Play services for online checks, you can also install "Modded Google Play Store", "Lucky Patcher" and "Magisk".
- Unable To Launch VM Process:
On the taskbar, right-click Andyroid's notification icon, and choose Settings, Advanced, Set Andy Protocol. Type "tcp" and confirm, then launch Andyroid.
- 3D Support is broken on VMWare when using newer kernels:
Kernels > 4.14 with version 8.1 break 3d acceleration in VMWare (see https://groups.google.com/forum/#!searchin/android-x86/4.9%7Csort:date/android-x86/wB65vJnuJiI/ytJaWYWUBwAJ). Use kernel 4.9 with 8.1 instead.
- Setting resolution in VMWare
Pass in a kernel option to grub when booting. Select the boot entry and then press 'e' to edit it, and then 'e' to edit again. Add the kernel option here. For example, to use a video resolution of 1920x1080, add 'video=1920x1080'. Press return to save the changes (for this boot session only), and 'b' to boot (the keys to edit and boot may be different depending on your grub version, there are usually instructions on the grub screen for the requisite keys)
Because it's possible to fork and create your own Android-based OS, many developers have used Android to power their own commercial consoles. However, as mentioned before, just because it uses Android as a base does not mean they will all work correctly on a standard Android emulator.
|Amazon Fire TV||None||None|
|Atlantis Land Kora||None||None|
|Clemstation 6.0||None||None||Released in 2018 by Clementoni, the Clemstation is a "multimedia educational console" only sold in Italy that appears to be on a running custom version of Android. Because it's still being sold, it's unknown how games will be made for it and when it will be discontinued. Information on how many units have been sold so far has not been released to the public.|
|GPD Mars Gamebox||None||None|
|GPD XD / XD+||None||None|
|LC Smart Pandora TV Box||None||None|
|Lexibook LexiBox TV||None||None|
|Mad Catz Mojo||None||None|
|My Clem Box||None||None||Released in 2018 by Italian toy company Clementoni and sold exclusively in Italy, My Clem Box is an educational console with Wii-like motion controls. Because it's still being sold, it's unknown how games will be made for it and when it will be discontinued. Information on how many units have been sold so far has not been released to the public.|
|NEO Consoles||None||None||Released in 2017 by Takara Tomy. The NEO Series are educational consoles only sold in Japan and appear to use a custom version of Android. Because it's still being sold, it's unknown how games will be made for it and when it will be discontinued. Information on how many units have been sold so far has not been released to the public.|
|Nvidia Shield TV||None||None||A console/media box hybrid manufactured by Nvidia. Has a lot of heavy-hitting titles such as Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Doom 3, Half-Life 2, etc.|
|Ouya||None||Yes||A failed microconsole that started from a Kickstarter project. The controller sucks and the games can be found elsewhere. Since the Ouya runs on Android, emulation is technically possible by extracting menu/application APK files and running them in an Android emulator or VM.|
|PlayJam GameStick||None||None||A tiny console the size of a USB thumb drive.|
|Razer Forge TV||None||None|
|miniStation||None||None||A console designed by Tencent and manufactured by multiple manufacturers such as Lenovo and Skyworth. Designed to run cellphone games and simple emulators.|
|Snail Games OBox||None||None|
|UIS Xtreamer Multi-Console||None||None|
|UTStarcom DanDan (蛋蛋)||None||None|
- Cellphone emulators - Information on emulators for various feature phone/non-smartphone platforms.
- Emulators on Android - Various emulators on Android OS