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The best Android emulators for PC and Mac

Android Police 1/15/2023 Charnita Fance
© Provided by Android Police

How often have you wished you could use your preferred Android app on your laptop or desktop computer (one that isn't a Chromebook)? There are multiple options available today, but for our purposes, we'll focus on desktop Android emulators.

An Android emulator is a piece of software that lets a computer mimic the functions of an Android device. They're especially useful for running your favorite apps and the top-rated Android games on a more capable device with a larger screen. The most popular uses for them are testing apps on a variety of devices, playing Android games in their full glory (because who can see all the fine details on a small screen), and running apps that aren't compatible with or don't perform well on your device.

Let's take a look at some incredible programs that not only allow you to run Android apps on your PC or Mac but also provide greater performance and significantly more functionality.

LDPlayer

This gaming-focused Android emulator for Windows is easy to install and is ready to go right out of the box. LDPlayer 9 (the latest version) uses Android 9, while LDPlayer 4 uses Android 7. The LDPlayer UI differs from an Android device; it’s more like a web browser in that every app opens in a new tab (visible at the top of the screen). You can install various apps and games from the “LD Store” and Google Play Store. Additionally, it has a few system apps pre-installed: web browser, file manager, gallery, contacts, files, messaging, and Google Play Games.

There’s a Premium upgrade (monthly or yearly subscription) that will remove sponsored ads on the emulator desktop and pop-ups and ads from sponsored apps. It’s also noted that the subscription can reduce network bandwidth, CPU, and memory consumption, thus improving your gaming experience. Since there’s intermittent stuttering when playing games through the free tier, the upgrade can be worth it if you plan on using LDPlayer regularly.

LDPlayer includes screen recording and screenshot tools; plus, there's a terrific split-screen mode that allows you to open and play multiple games at the same time. There’s also a shared folder to share files between Windows and the emulator. In settings, you can customize things further for these options: advanced, model, game, audio, network, shortcuts, and wallpaper. Best of all, the emulator receives frequent updates that include bug fixes and other enhancements. When checking for updates, you can choose to ignore a specific version or delay the update to a later time (1, 3, or 7 days later).

GameLoop

This free, user-friendly Android emulator gives you access to popular Android games on Windows; again, it's geared toward gamers. It's also known as the official PUBGM and CODM emulator. The Home tab beautifully displays a leaderboard showing the top apps in multiple categories. Plus, there's a search bar in the top menu bar for your convenience if you can't find what you're looking for. GameLoop currently runs Android version 7.1, and unfortunately, there's no way to change this within the emulator; it will need to be done via a software update.

Games aren't the only thing you can install on GameLoop. You can also download the Google Play Store for access to a variety of apps for social media, productivity, shopping, and more. Plus, APK files can be installed via upload. While the Google Play Store isn't required to install or run games that are natively supported on GameLoop, the installation button will display a Google Play Store icon if it is needed. With the default settings, both the emulator and apps run smoothly and without lag, which makes for a pleasant experience.

If you want to improve things, you can also adjust a few settings, including the anti-aliasing, memory, processor, resolution, and screen DPI. To protect your privacy, you can enable a keyboard shortcut called the "boss key" from the settings menu. This can be used to immediately hide the GameLoop window. There are also built-in screenshot and screen recording tools. Lastly, the emulator has tools for better gaming, such as memory cleaning, key mapping (for both keyboard and gamepad), multi-window, and shake.

Bliss OS

Here's a great option if you're looking for something different from the typical emulator. Bliss OS is an open-source operating system based on Android with numerous enhancements and improved functionality. There are four available versions, and you can install them on both Windows and Mac devices. The most stable version is based on Android 9, while the experimental version is based on Android 11. You can use it to run any Android app on your computer, but it doesn't have the complex gaming features of some of the other emulators on this list; although, key mapping, gamepads, and profiles are supported.

There are multiple installation methods, which are outlined in its help documents; you can boot it from a live USB, install it directly on a partition, or install it on a virtual machine. The instructions are straightforward, and once completed, you'll need to restart your computer and boot into Bliss OS. In this case, we opted to live boot Bliss OS from a USB drive. The system is fast and has the same look and feel as an Android device; plus, it has many of the same features, like swiping down for notifications.

There are two available launchers: Lawnchair (traditional Android setup) and Desktop Mode (similar to a PC desktop setup). Along with the standard apps, Bliss OS includes the Midori web browser, Audra Droid app repository, Aurora Store (Google Play Store alternative), MPV media player, Notepad, NewPipe (YouTube frontend), Etar calendar, and an RSS Reader. Lastly, Widevine L3 DRM is supported, allowing for trouble-free Netflix streaming.

NoxPlayer

This popular emulator is similar to LDPlayer in its style and features (minus the tabbed interface), and it’s available for both Windows and macOS. It also runs noticeably smoother and contains zero stuttering during gameplay. The most stable version uses Android 7.1.2, but there’s also a beta version available using Android 9. Unfortunately, you may receive a message on Windows stating, “this app can’t run on this device.” Thankfully, there’s a workaround in the NoxPlayer support section.

You can use the search bar or App Center to browse available apps and games for installation. If needed, you can install APK files via drag and drop. Thankfully, a Premium subscription is available (monthly, quarterly, yearly) to remove the abundance of ads and recommended games under the search bar. Other handy features include a built-in screenshot tool, a screen recorder, a macro button for recording and running scripts, a close all apps button, keyboard mapping, and a restart button. It also allows for multiple instances and windows to be opened simultaneously on the same device.

In Settings, you can customize many aspects like FPS; you’ll find: performance, gaming, device, display, theme, backup, general, and shortcut. The emulator receives updates on a regular basis to improve performance and fix bugs; you can choose to ignore or postpone an update if desired. Finally, NoxPlayer has a rewards center where you can earn points by completing tasks like trying out new games. You can then redeem these points for Amazon gift cards.

Genymotion

This is the only program on this list that isn’t good for gaming; however, it’s perfect for app development and testing. It can be used as a standalone program on Windows and macOS or with VirtualBox 7.0.2+ (currently for Windows only). Genymotion includes all the tools needed to ensure your app is compatible and performs well on various Android devices and versions, and it allows for sharing live demos. There are numerous device types and screen sizes, such as Amazon Fire HD 10, Google Nexus 9, and Google Pixel 2 XL (one of the best Google Pixel phones of all time).

Currently, you can choose Android versions 5 through 10; if you’d like to use version 11, you’ll need to purchase a Genymotion license. The default virtual device settings will suffice for most users; however, almost everything is customizable if you want to change memory size, display size, window style, and more. You’ll see different performance results depending on your chosen Android version; for instance, Android 10 was noticeably sluggish and had a slow response time compared to Android 7.1.0.

Genymotion has a small selection of apps to play around with, like Calendar, Camera, Clock, Contacts, Email, Files, Gallery, Messaging, and Phone. Unfortunately, there isn’t a web browser, but you can easily install one (and any other app) by downloading the APK and then dragging and dropping it to the virtual device window. Google Apps and Services aren't pre-installed on your virtual devices. However, you can flash the "Open GAPPS" package (via the side menu that appears when you open a virtual device) to get the Google Play Store; it only takes a few minutes, and it's worth it to make the installation of apps even easier.

MEmu

Here we have another gaming-focused emulator for Windows similar to LDPlayer (also using a tabbed interface) and NoxPlayer. It's quick and offers smooth gameplay, but it isn't the most stable; for instance, it sometimes freezes up and times out when launching. Also, upon installation, the default language is Chinese, so if you don't speak it, you'll need to change this in MEmu's Settings. The current version runs Android 7.1.2, but you can change it by opening the auto-installed "Multi-MEmu" app and creating a new instance; version 9.0 (64-bit) is the highest.

A few system apps are already installed: Chrome, Google Play Store, Google Play Games, file manager, gallery, and MEmu Guide. In addition, there's a handy search bar at the top where you can search for apps and games. You can also install apps directly from the APK files using drag and drop. Gamers will enjoy the key-mapping button, which allows them to use a keyboard, mouse, or gamepad. It is also capable of running numerous instances, just like other similar emulators. Using the shared folder button, you can also share files between Windows and MEmu.

If you want to do some tweaking in Settings, you'll find these options: engine, display, storage, profile, network, device, appearance, preferences, and shortcuts. Updates are not handled directly in the emulator; instead, you're directed to the website where you can download a new file if necessary. Sadly, MEmu regularly displays intrusive full-screen video ads (and almost always upon launch); however, a Premium monthly or annual subscription can be purchased to disable all ads, which will also help to reduce network bandwidth, CPU, and memory. With a Premium subscription, you can also apply skins, and you'll receive access to a priority support channel.

PrimeOS

Like Bliss OS, this is also an Android-based operating system that provides a complete Android-based desktop experience. This means you'll need to boot into it separately from your Windows or macOS installation; the newest version runs Android 11. There's even an installer file available to help with partitioning and the installation process so that it's not such a chore. PrimeOS has a clean and beautiful desktop UI with a taskbar at the bottom of the screen. Its swift performance is also impressive. It comes with the essential system apps plus Dev Tools, FX file manager, FX TextEdit, Gaming Center, Google Play Store, and Termux (terminal).

The notifications are set up like an Android device and pulled down from the top of the screen. However, multitasking works differently; it's like the Windows taskbar, where you can see all open apps and easily switch between them. A "close all apps" icon also appears when multiple apps are open. Along with installing apps and games from the Google Play Store, APK files can also be downloaded and installed via a web browser.

The PrimeOS Gaming Center is where you can view and launch installed games, view recommended games, see how many hours you play per day, set performance profiles for each game, and more. You also see system information for your device, like memory, ram, and storage usage. There's also a built-in key mapping tool to help you dominate your favorite games. PrimeOS truly excels at merging the Android environment with its own UI to deliver a fantastic gaming experience.

BlueStacks

This Android emulator is arguably the most widely used option on Windows and macOS, and it's in a league of its own. It is regularly updated and has truly established itself as the gold standard when it comes to Android emulators. The new "BlueStacks X" interface is set up like a digital game store, and you can view the gaming enhancements available for each title. These enhancements include key mapping, game controls, shooting mode, tap spots, macros, rerolling, eco-mode, multi-instance, scripts, real-time translation, repeated tap, and high FPS.

While you can still use the old-school BlueStacks Player to install games via the Google Play Store and the BlueStacks Game Center, BlueStacks X is faster and smarter. It uses AI-based hybrid cloud technology to determine where you can have the smoothest gameplay experience automatically. So, when you choose a game to play, you'll be given the option of playing it in the cloud or downloading and playing it on your PC. There are also a number of options that can be enabled to help reduce resource consumption while running even the most demanding games.

When using the BlueStacks Player, which runs Android Nougat 32-bit, you'll find these apps: Camera, Settings, Chrome, Media Manager, and the Rewards Center. You can also use the auto-installed "BlueStacks multi-instance manager" to switch Android versions; Android Nougat 64-bit and Android Pie 64-bit are available. In addition, you'll find options for performance, display, graphics, devices, gamepad, and shortcuts in Settings. Of course, it also supports screenshots and video recordings, as well as the ability to record and playback any activity in real-time.

Choose the option that’s best for you

There are a few important things to think about when choosing an Android emulator, such as compatibility, performance, features, ease of use, settings, and cost. If your computer is older, you should use an emulator that supports an older version of Android, such as version 7.1. This will cause you the fewest problems. However, if you have a newer, more powerful system, go for an emulator that supports a more recent Android version.

If you want to use a controller to play games, you'll need to make sure that your chosen emulator supports it. If you'd like to install all types of apps, not just games, be sure that the Google Play Store is integrated (or at least can be easily installed). These are just a few factors to think about when looking for the best Android emulator for your needs.

What do you consider to be the most important qualities of an Android emulator?

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