Android is the most popular mobile operating system in the world, but just because it is mobile-oriented does not mean it can not be installed on the desktop. There are many ways to get Android running on a PC, including virtual device emulators, bootable USB versions, or even full applications. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages depending on your needs. Here is the complete detail of each.
How to install Android using a virtual device?
While this may seem like a slow and unintuitive way to use Android on the desktop, using a virtual device has many advantages. If you’re a developer and need to test apps, that’s the best way to make sure everything goes well. There are two major virtual device emulators currently used, Genymotion and the Google Android Virtual Device Manager that comes with Android Studio.
These virtual device emulators have evolved a lot since the first release. If you select x86_64 as the architecture, you have the option to run the Android virtual device in “fast virt mode”, which uses Intel Accelerated Execution Manager (HAXM) to accelerate performance. But this only works on x86_64, it will not speed up x86_32, ARM or MIPS. Genymotion runs on x86 architecture and also runs fine, if not smoother than AVD Manager. One of the major disadvantages of using this method is that there is no Google Play Store. Because there is no Play Store, you will not be able to install third-party applications on the virtual device without sideloading. Also, if you never plan to develop, having Android Studio wasting space on your computer can be inconvenient, and Genymotion requires that the VirtualBox virtual machine manager be installed to run. This method will work on OS X, Windows and Linux without problems.
Install Android using BlueStacks
While still technically a virtual machine, the use of a dedicated application brings many benefits. This method typically runs smoother and is more integrated with the operating system. The application mentioned is BlueStacks. As with BlueStacks, you have the ability to download Android apps from the Play Store and the Amazon Appstore, and then run applications from an app chooser. By default, BlueStacks does not behave like a normal Android device, but as a quick install of a third-party launcher, BlueStacks can be used just like any normal device.
There are some drawbacks in BlueStacks, though. Using BlueStacks to develop is not as easy as a standard virtual device as there are no configurations like hardware specifications. On the plus side, getting applications up and running requires very little effort and most of them work just fine. The main exception to this is 3D gaming. Because BlueStacks runs at a low resolution and does not support shadows in real-time, games may even be impossible to play because they can not render shadows and only show black instead. Simpler games run very well, though. BlueStacks also integrates with Windows to transfer files such as APKs and even embedded copy and paste. The user interface in Windows is more like what you would see in a web browser and offers quick switching of applications in a tab format at the top of the window. This is a very good feature, but it is not available in the OS X version.
Installing Android using Remix OS
The Remix OS offers something that no other Android in the desktop solution has: true multitasking. Remix OS mimics a full desktop OS with a taskbar and window support for applications. This makes multitasking very easy and does not look like Android in a good way. At the moment, there is only one official method for using Remix OS, which is a bootable USB drive.
You will need a USB 3.0 drive with at least 8 gigabytes of storage. Keep in mind that USB 3.0 is not necessary but is recommended for a quiet experience. There are two versions available for download, the legacy package and the EFI package. If you are not sure which one is correct, download the legacy package as it is compatible with most computers. If you are on Windows, there is an included tool that will help you create a bootable USB drive.
In the initial configuration, you will be asked whether you want “residence mode” or “visitor mode”. The resident mode will save your data between sessions and guest mode will not. It is also possible, but not supported, to make a Remix OS virtual machine. You can install Google Play Services, which is not included by default, so that means the Google Play store can be installed and applications can be downloaded.
This method is the most difficult and inconvenient way to run Android on your PC, but it’s all worth it when the system boots (most of the time). There are two ways to install Remix OS, the first is the official USB path and the second way is through VirtualBox.
This is the first and perhaps best way to install Remix OS. You will have the best and fastest experience and official support. The first thing is to get the legacy installation of Remix OS here. Once downloaded, unzip it and run the included .exe file. Once opened, choose the .iso file from the same folder in the application. Make sure your USB flash drive is connected and click OK. This will go through all the steps to get the USB ready, once done, it will ask if you want to reboot your computer. Be sure to boot from the USB drive, and then select either with resident mode or guest mode. The resident mode will keep your data while the guest mode will not.
This method is great for people who do not want to go through all the dual boot steps of the PC. The first thing to do is download VirtualBox and download legacy Remix OS here. Once both are downloaded unzip the OS Remix to a folder. Then install VirtualBox and open it. When VirtualBox is open, click “new” in the upper-left corner and select Linux in the first drop-down box and “Other version of Linux (64-bit)” in the second. The Remix OS probably will not require a lot of RAM, 2 GB will suffice, but you can increase that size up to 4 GB if you wish. However, never allocate more than half of your physical memory to a virtual machine.
The next step is to create a virtual hard disk, make sure the radio button labeled “create a virtual hard disk now” is selected and click create, hold the option under “VDI” and press continue. The next screen asks if you want the drive to be “dynamically allocated,” and the answer is yes, that way you’ll save hard disk space because it only takes up the space you need in that way. Clicking on continue will take you to where you can adjust the name and size of the drive, this is up to you, but at least 16 GB is recommended. After you click on create the virtual machine, just set it up. Right-click the virtual machine on the left side and click Settings and go to the Storage tab. From here, next to “Controller: IDE”, click the button that looks like a green light at the top of a disk and choose the .iso Remix OS file and click ok. This loads the .iso file as a startup disk when you boot the virtual machine.
Then click “Start” to start the virtual machine, once it is initialized you will be prompted with the same screen as you would from USB, but this time only the guest mode will work. Choose visitor mode and press tab and type “vga = 791” and press enter. This locks the resolution so that it can not be scaled. This is not ideal, but it was the only way to get it fully initialized. There is no data save in guest mode, but VirtualBox is able to save the state of the machine and restore it exactly as you left it, so everything will be saved. Also, VirtualBox defaults to mouse integration, which does not work correctly in Remix OS, so you will have to uncheck this option when the machine is running, going to “input” and deselecting the mouse integration option. There you have it, the Remix OS must be up and running.
Installing Android using Android-x86.org
Based on the Android Open Source Project, Android-x86.org has decided to make Android available to anyone with a PC. Go here to download the latest version. You will need to download and install VirtualBox. Inside VirtualBox, click “new” in the upper-left corner and select Linux in the first drop-down box and “Oracle (64-bit)” in the second. Scroll through the options as you would for Remix OS and, once finished, load .iso as a disk by right-clicking the VM and clicking Settings. Once in the configuration, go to the storage tab and next to “Controller: IDE” click the disk with the green light on it. Find the .iso you downloaded, click it and press OK
Now run the machine by clicking “Start.” Once it is initialized, you will be presented with a screen, go to the last option at the bottom to install Android. The next screen asks which drive you want to install Android, just press the enter key. You will need to format the virtual disk to install Android. When an option is selected, press enter. Then use the arrow keys to select ok and press enter. Ignore the GRUB installation options because they will block the machine and will not be necessary in this use case. I also chose to install the system as read / write, this is totally up to you. Click Yes to create the date.img and make it as large as possible so you can install more applications.
That’s it, Android is now installed, press Enter to boot your newly installed operating system. It should only take a moment to boot. This is pure Android with no additions, which is a good and bad thing. The good news is that Google Play Services is installed by default, the bad news is that the virtual machine runs at a low resolution and using something made to tap on a workstation is not so intuitive. If you turn off the machine, you will need to reinstall Android-x86 every time you want to use it. The best option is to just save the state of the machine as you would for Remix OS.
Each method has its advantages and disadvantages, but it really depends on what you want to have with Android on your desktop. If you want to develop applications, AVD Manager or similar will be the best bet. If you want to use Android on your desktop like you would on your phone, BlueStacks is for you. A virtual machine is very configurable in all aspects, including resolution, screen size and processor architecture, while BlueStacks does not have such features. BlueStacks has the Google Play Store , along with the Amazon App Store, which allows third-party applications to be installed. But with a low resolution and no support for shadows in real time, 3D games do not work well.
AVD Manager and Genymotion have some luggage that comes with them, AVD Manager needs to have Android Studio installed to run, and Genymotion uses VirtualBox virtualization. Remix OS is the most difficult to work with, but it offers many features and will only improve over time. This can be a desktop OS alternative for light workloads and may even have the Play Store installed. Android-x86 works very well as a proof of concept, but it is not practical to use this when comparing it with the other options discussed in this article. Running at low resolution and with no special features to differentiate it, it would be better to run Remix OS and install Google Play Services if you want to use VirtualBox or, better yet, to initialize Remix OS from a flash drive.
Overall, none of the solutions is perfect, all have their quirks and offer a decent experience. This really depends on your needs and it may be a good idea to install various solutions. Which method do you prefer when it comes time to install Android on your PC? Let us know in the comments!