In this blog article, we’ll take a closer look at three free Android emulators for Windows 10 and earlier versions, which will give you access to games and productivity tools from the Google Play Store on your desktop PC.
What is an emulator and what is this technology used for?
Emulators can reproduce and simulate digitally a wide variety of systems. A well-known example is the flight simulator, which mimics real flight conditions for pilot training and thus enables hands-on learning.
Emulators are imitators of the same kind: they suggest to application programs (for example game applications) and operating systems a “familiar” operating environment (because technically reproduced in certain aspects) in which they can be executed without any problem.
The bottom line here is that emulations run on multiple platforms and go beyond the limits of system architectures. A Linux application can thus be explored and tested in a Windows environment using an emulator. In practice, different methods are used for emulations. Emulators often work on the basis of virtualization with what are called virtual machines. A program like Oracle’s Virtual Box, for example, is able to simulate a Linux system as a guest system on a Windows host using special virtualization technology.
Emulators can be used for different purposes. For example, an emulated operating system provides a test environment safe and virus-free ideal for testing applications from unknown sources. Users can for example produce learning videos and tutorials in the virtual environment of the system. Developers, on the other hand, can test whether their application drafts work and how they behave. In addition, browsing is generally safer with emulation, since the main operating system used is not directly exposed to viruses and other malicious programs.
Presentation of Android emulators
As technical progress has made it possible to remove many limitations and optimize their operation, emulators are no longer reserved for IT experts and software developers. Emulators which simulate virtual Android devices and which thus make it possible to transfer smartphone and tablet applications to Windows desktops and laptops are currently in great demand around the world.
For application testing, it is even possible to virtually emulate different versions of Android and different mobile devices.
A particular advantage of Android emulators is that some systems allow direct access to the Google Play Store, which offers a wide selection of apps. Among the most requested is the simulation of games on smartphones: users want to be able to play on all platforms and without battery limits on larger screens. The emulation of classic games dating back to early computing (retro games) and very popular game consoles like Xbox (Microsoft) and Playstation (Sony) is also in vogue today.
Android emulators for Windows 10, for example, are also useful in the professional environment, because the productivity tools widely used on mobile devices can also be used on other work equipment. This application transfer benefits in particular from the support for current operating systems. Also, android emulators are sometimes available for free, which contributes to their democratization.
In the following lines, we’ll present three free Android emulators, detailing their advantages and disadvantages, without forgetting the aspects related to security. Unfortunately, the security risks increase with popularity. For example, the bitcoin mining software has been infiltrated into the popular Android emulator AndY in order to secretly hijack users’ computing power for the purpose of generating bitcoins. The very popular NoxPlayer recently infected many computers with malware. To achieve this, the hackers abused the update function of the Android emulator.
BlueStacks (on the market since 2011) is the best-known Android emulator probably the most used in the world. The American utility is well maintained and updates are released regularly. Added to this are easy installation and intuitive use. If you have any problems with the software, the BlueStacks community on the popular Reddit platform, which has over 25,000 members, will come to your rescue. In addition, the official site offers extensive help (including instructions on how to best use and configure the emulator).
Like most Android emulators, BlueStacks specializes in games that can be played smoothly in high resolution on the big screen and controlled with a keyboard and mouse. To create game controls, users can resort to basic setups that are already ready. In addition, you can use your own gamepad and adapt it to your needs (by key mapping for example). Common touchscreen functions can also be simulated on a PC (tap, drag, shake, zoom, tilt, etc.). The multitasking function of BlueStacks makes it possible to change applications and to be active in several applications in parallel.
The most popular games can be found quickly thanks to a separate application center. In addition, you can download books, music, and movies, and install cool apps as well as programs already purchased from the Google Play Store. The Android emulator is known for its extensive support for Android apps – installation and compatibility issues are rather rare.
Access to the Play Store and subsequent synchronization with an already existing account (for example to download applications already purchased) are only possible with a Google login. You must therefore register for Gmail and have a corresponding email address. This registration requirement is often seen as a disadvantage of Bluestacks. However, the vast majority of users already have a Google Account, which is required to use the Play Store on Android smartphones and tablets.
For special apps and games, you can bypass Google Store and directly install APK files (APK = Android Application Package). The files are available on special websites, the reliability of which should be checked before downloading and installing them. It is possible to install APK files by drag and drop by simply dragging the installer file into the emulator window. If BlueStacks is already installed and linked to .apk files within the system, double-clicking on the installation file is also sufficient.
BlueStacks (like most emulators) works best on Windows 10 (64-bit) but supports versions from Windows 7 (32 or 64-bit versions). You need at least 2 GB of RAM. The provider offers different download versions for 32 and 64-bit versions. People who use a 64-bit Windows PC can even download an installer version for 64-bit Android apps (especially useful for performance-hungry games). The current version (BlueStacks 4) emulates Android Nougat: it is not the most recent version, but most of the apps and games currently offered run smoothly on this operating system.
One of the downsides of the Android emulator is that only an ad-supported version is available for free (with sponsored ads and ad breaks). The premium subscription without advertising costs only a few euros per month. You also have to deal with advertising in Play Store applications (“in-app” advertising) even with the premium subscription. The community regularly complains that BlueStacks installs games, bloatware, and adware in the background without asking for permission.
The publisher claims on his blog that the official version does not contain any malware or spyware or any other unwanted additional software. A check of the current official installation file in VirusTotal does not reveal any anomalies.
Users regularly report performance issues on the web. However, these problems are not uncommon with emulators, as emulators operate as a “system within the system” and consume a lot of resources, especially for games. However, there are also sources that rank BlueStacks as a particularly good and fast emulator, characterized by good performance and low latencies.
Like other Android emulators, Bluestacks offers some settings to optimize performance (flexible allocation of computing and system resources, activation of virtualization, etc.). Ultimately, performance is largely dependent on generally available resources. That being said, the performance of the network, which also makes it possible to play live with other users (BlueStacks supports many team and online games), also has an influence.
|✔ The most famous Android emulator in the comparison (with the largest community)||✘ The free version contains advertising, recurring rumors of hidden components (spyware and bloatware)|
|✔ Good product maintenance and regular updates||✘ Data protection loopholes (American company subject to the Cloud Act)|
|✔ Numerous functions (multitasking, extensive customization of game controls, fake GPS)||✘ A screen recorder must be installed later|
|✔ Ability to play in high resolution on the big screen||✘ An old version of Android (7.1 / Nougat)|
|✔ Multitasking possible|
|✔ Support installing apps through Google Play Store and APK files|
|Activatable GPS (e.g. allows the use of a fake GPS for games)|
We recommend a secure download from the publisher’s site.
MEmu is primarily aimed at gamers. However, nothing prevents you from running normal Android apps on your Windows computer using the Android emulator. There is even a special section on the publisher’s website that lists uses for business, beyond gaming.
Once MEmu is installed via a simple installer file and configured as needed, you have access to the Google Play Store. MEmu also offers direct access to a wide selection of games through its own game center. The APK can be used to install additional applications (the method using drag and drop is supported).
The operation of MEmu is not extremely complicated. Important control functions are accessible via a control bar at the edge of the screen. The game is controlled with a connected console controller or a keyboard and mouse. Conventional touchscreen inputs and special actions can be simulated particularly efficiently using individually defined keyboard shortcuts (key mapping). A screen recorder for recording gameplay is an integral part of the program. Screenshots are also possible.
The Android emulator also allows the execution of automation scripts and macros. A built-in macro recorder allows you to record keyboard sequences. MEmu also has a multiplayer mode. It allows you to run multiple MEmu instances and play the same game with different Google accounts. You can also launch multiple applications and games in multiplayer mode with a single account.
While configuring the Android emulator, you can not only select the mobile device desired, but also set the screen size and orientation, and determine whether the camera and microphone should be used. Users can even play some games on newer hardware in the maximum resolution of 4K (around 4000 × 2000 pixels). HD video playback is also possible. If an application requires a GPS location, it can be simulated virtually. You can also change the virtual GPS position to install applications from Google stores in other countries.
The choice of an operating system is also flexible: for example, you can choose between Android Lollipop (Android 5.1) and the newer Android Nougat (Android 7.1). Windows users are not left behind: in addition to Windows 10, Windows 8, 7, Windows Vista, and even Windows XP (from Service Pack 3) are also supported.
One of the downsides of this Android emulator for Windows 10 is that it contains advertising. If you don’t like sponsored ads, you can purchase the premium ad-free version ($ 29.98 per year or $ 2.99 per month). Be careful though: advertising inside the games is not excluded. The publisher says that disabling advertising speeds up games (by relieving network and hardware resources). The premium version also offers different skins and better premium support.
|✔ The most versatile Android emulator in the comparison (specializing in business applications, in addition to games)||✘ Contains advertising in the free version (the paid version does not)|
|✔ Easy installation, good ease of use||✘ The latest version of Android is not emulated|
|✔ Particularly flexible configuration, especially for games (extended key mapping for optimal gameplay)|
|✔ 4K resolution possible for photorealistic graphics|
|✔ Many functions (multitasking, screenshots, screen recording, fake GPS)|
|✔ Support installing apps through Google Play Store and APK files|
We recommend the secure download of the Android emulator from the publisher’s site.
Android Studio is a developer tool that includes, among other things, an Android emulator (Android Virtual Device Manager). Developers, application and usability testers as well as users of productivity tools will find a program offering numerous functions and application possibilities, also capable of simulating very recent versions of Android (e.g. Android 11). .).
By selecting a fairly recent version of Android with a Google Play Store integrated into the configurator, you can access your usual applications as well as all the other apps in the store.
Since Android Studio is not primarily designed for the average user or gamers, we must accept a lack of ergonomics. The configuration options, especially for gamers, are more detailed and rich than in other emulators. Users also have to make concessions when it comes to how the Android emulator for Windows 10 works. At first glance, the user interface of the development environment is, to say the least, confusing and cluttered.
Before you can access the Google Play Store, you will have to go through a rather cumbersome installation procedure. You will also need to install Java (if it has not been installed before) and possibly make settings in the BIOS (enable hardware acceleration: VT-x). Once the program is ready to go and after familiarizing yourself with the interface, it is quite easy to use. Here, too, the apps are controlled with the keyboard and the mouse.
The number 1 asset of the emulator is its security. Android emulators are often criticized because syncing to a Google account to use the Play Store poses a certain security risk. In this case, since the emulator and the Play Store come from the same house, the security risks are less. The emulator also offers “pure Android”, that is, it is free of advertising and sponsored ads. It also does not include unwanted additional programs (bloatware, malware, and adware).
In addition, the collection of actionable and salable user data is less important in this developer tool. That being said, Google is an American company that is subject to the Cloud Act and also collects user data to some extent.
The rule also applies to this emulator: the more power and system resources (CPU power, RAM, graphics card, storage space, etc.) are available, the more stable and fluid the applications are. Regarding the operating system, Google recommends the latest version of Windows (Windows 10, 64-bit), but downloads are also available for older versions. Android emulators for macOS and Linux can also be downloaded from the publisher’s website.
|✔ The safest Android emulator in the comparison||✘ Data protection loopholes (Google product subject to the Cloud Act)|
|✔ Very suitable for business applications||✘ No optimized gameplay for PC (by flexible key mapping)|
|✔ Does not contain advertising||✘ Most complicated installation|
|✔ The most recent version of Android can be emulated||✘ Improved use and configuration (including fewer special functions for PC games)|
We recommend a secure download from the publisher’s site.