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Well, fortunately, with a little leg work, you can run Android apps on a regular old Windows PC. There are a few different ways to go about it, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
The Android emulatorThe most “basic” way to get Android apps running on a PC is to go through the Android emulator released by Google as part of the official SDK. The emulator can be used to create virtual devices running any version of Android you want with different resolutions and hardware configurations. The first downside of this process is the somewhat complicated setup process.
You’ll need to grab the SDK package from Google’s site and use the included SDK Manager program to download the platforms you want — probably whatever the most recent version of Android happens to be at the time (4.4 at the time of publishing). The AVD manager is where you can create and manage your virtual devices. Google makes some pre-configured options available in the menu for Nexus devices, but you can set the parameters manually too. Once you’ve booted your virtual device, you’ll need to get apps installed, but the emulator is the bone stock open source version of Android — no Google apps included.
Since there’s no Play Store, you’ll need to do some file management. Take the APK you want to install (be it Google’s app package or something else) and drop the file into the
toolsfolder in your SDK directory. Then use the command prompt while your AVD is running to enter (in that directory)
adb install filename.apk. The app should be added to the app list of your virtual device.
The big upside here is that the emulator is unmodified Android right from the source. The way apps render in the emulator will be the same as they render on devices. It’s great for testing app builds before loading them onto test devices. The biggest problem is that the emulator is sluggish and lacks the hardware access to make games run acceptably.
Android PC portsIf you don’t mind a little extra work, you can have a more fluid Android app experience by installing a modified version of the OS on your PC. There are a few ports of Android that will run on desktop PCs, but support is somewhat limited because of the extensive hardware configuration options for PCs. The two leading choices for a full Android installation on PC are Android on Intel Architecture (UEFI-equipped devices) and the Android-x86 Project (pictured above).
Neither one is in a perfect state, and you’ll need a supported piece of hardware, like the Dell XPS 12 for Intel’s version or the Lenovo ThinkPad x61 Tablet for Android-x86. You could install them over top of Windows, but that’s not the best idea. The smarter way would be to create a separate hard drive partition and install Android there.
If your hardware isn’t supported by either of these projects, you can also try installing them in VirtualBox, which should be a little faster than the official Android emulator. It probably still won’t be good enough for games, but most apps should install and run correctly. Also note, you’ll have to install the apps you want manually as there’s no Google Play integration here either.
Next page: The best option: The BlueStacks App Player