Android emulation has become the go-to resource for bridging your desktop and mobile experiences, and for good reason; it allows you to enjoy practically everything about mobile apps from the comfort of a larger screen. You’re spoiled for choices when it comes to emulators too, with names like Bluestacks, Andyroid, Genymotion, and YouWave gaining more prominence as they gain more users. In our quick ‘n dirty guide, we’re going to stage emulator vs emulator and see which of these excellent pieces of software is most worth your time. You might be surprised by some of the findings, and it might just help you to find the Android emulator that’s right for you.
My very first experience with any type of emulator is still pretty close in my memory. I was a teenager, first learning about the inner workings of computers and the design of software code, and I wanted (for reasons I can no longer recall) to get in on the nostalgia that was absent since my old Game Boy had broken down. Computers were much simpler, less powerful beasts then, but that was all relative to the time–I learned about emulators and I downloaded the Game Boy variety with no less than twenty different ROMs (which is, let me remind you, illegal! I was not a smart boy.) It was great fun, and also the tip of the iceberg. Emulation has become a huge trend, with clever software developers and coders leading the charge. You can find emulators for quite a few outdated platforms, but Android is one of the few exceptions when it comes to newer operating systems that can be successfully emulated.
It does a stellar job, too, and runs into far fewer hiccups than any other emulation software than I’ve used. Almost every Android app that I’ve thrown at my emulators has worked, which is something that I cannot claim with PlayStation 2, Game Boy, Nintendo 64, or other platforms that have corresponding emulators.
There’s also the major benefit that the Google Play store can be legally accessed via emulator, thereby giving you legitimate access to all of the apps on it. The same can’t be said for most other emulation platforms, which tends to lead people to the wrong sign of the copyright and illegal downloading line.
The long and short of it is–Android emulation is in a great place, and there’s not much that’s keeping the average user from getting in on it!
” Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless. ” – Thomas Edison
There are a few things that most users should realize before delving into the world of Android emulation. Keep in mind that none of this advice is set-in-stone; they’re guidelines from quite a lot of user experience that can lead to you having a better time with your emulator, no matter which one you find favorable (our big ‘ole list will be up next!)
- Native platforms are always better. If it was meant to run on a mobile Android device, the app is probably going to run better on a mobile Android device. This is a thorough rule that applies from your experience controlling apps to the resolutions that the app will display in when you’re emulating it.
- Free hard drive memory. Mobile devices are unique in that you don’t often have to worry about running out of room on them. Between cloud storage and frequent backups, they’re meant to be able to carry out any tasks you put them to with minimal fuss or interruption. Your computer is a different beast, and even though most people keep quite a lot of hard drive storage available, it’s important to remember that your emulator can use up to 3-4 gigabytes of data, depending on the number of apps you’re emulating.
- Graphics acceleration. This is both tricky and techy, but it’s occasionally important–if your computer has a dedicated GPU, it’s going to have a lot easier time with more demanding Android games. Even though the mobile devices these apps are optimized for can run games with less powerful specifications, emulation often requires greater horsepower than the platform the app was built for. Many emulators support graphics acceleration, which you should heartily take advantage of if you can. Dedicated GPUs are much more likely to be found in desktop computers than laptops, so if your laptop tends to run hot when you’re emulating, this is probably the reason for it.
The list of pointers and tricks could go on and on, but these are some of the foremost that will keep you having a great experience with your emulator of choice.
The Best Android Emulator
The best Android emulator is going to be determined in the same way that “the best” anything is chosen–by comparing it to your own needs, and seeing how well it satisfies them! While all of these emulators can do their basic jobs very well (emulating Android apps), they’re each going to fit into a particular niche based on their features.
We’ll talk about those features, as well as any prices that might incur when you’re using them. With enough information, you’ll be on your way to finding the software that performs what you need, whether you’re looking to play Android games, use a messaging app, or anything else.
The emulator at the front of the pack is most certainly Bluestacks, and though that doesn’t make it the automatic winner, it’s certainly worth your consideration. It has high reviews across the board and has received investment contributions from Qualcomm, Intel, Samsung, and AMD–many of the noteworthy manufacturers of the mobile technology that powers actual Android devices.
As far as the emulator itself is concerned, you’ll be hard pressed to find one that runs better. It can handle anything you throw at it and is one of the best you’re going to find for Android gaming (which becomes obvious when you take a look at the Bluestacks website.) It also has the built-in option to stream your activities to Twitch, which has become a massively popular trend for online gamers who want to broadcast their experiences.
The Bluestacks software is available to download for free, but once your trial runs out, you’ll either have to upgrade to a $2/month subscription fee or put up with third-party advertising software.
Out of every emulator on this list, I’ve used Andyroid the most–it’s important to get my bias out there. That said, it’s not quite as well-optimized as Bluestacks, but it still manages to run lightweight and efficiently, making it an equally optimal choice for desktop and laptop computer users. It also doesn’t have the massive list of sponsorships and endorsements that Bluestacks does, which has resulted in it appearing to be a much more “niche” choice of software.
That said, it has a minimalistic aesthetic that’s appealing on its own, and also quite unintrusive when you’re emulating apps (after all, the apps are why we go to this trouble in the first place, right?) The system tray launcher allows you to bring your apps up with a single click. Hardware acceleration via GPU is supported, just the same as Bluestacks, and you’re also given the option to attach your mobile device to your computer via Bluetooth, to be used as a controller for Andyroid.
Some users want to notice their emulator as little as possible, apart from the access it gives them to their apps. In this regard, Andy scores particularly high and makes it one of the better options that you’ll find online.
Many of those I know who enjoy Android gaming have chosen Droid4X as their emulator, and it’s not hard to see why. It plays games exceptionally well, to the point that it actually does so better than other emulators. Where it doesn’t score as high, however, is in those other parts of the board where users need an emulator–messaging, productivity, and social media access. Droid4X can certainly do them, but the emulator itself doesn’t provide the extra toolkit that you’ll see in, for example, Andyroid.
The Bluetooth controller feature (also seen in Andyroid) is handy for those that want to use it, and only requires a quick QR code scan from the main Droid4X website. Overall, this is a fluent, capable piece of software that has a significant following, and is especially suited for games.
Genymotion is an odd app, but it has enough users behind it that we’d be remiss in leaving it off of this list. In addition to being meant for individuals that want to bridge their computer and mobile experiences, it has also had a huge toolkit that’s meant for Android application developers and sales teams. This is reflected in the apps pricing, that can come with quite a sticker shock until you see that the version meant for single users is 100% free.
The specific offerings of Genymotion that make it unique, however, are going to appeal to those who have an interest in Android programming and coding. The API standards are kept up-to-date as if this were an actual Android device, and it provides the perfect environment in which to test your applications.
Whether you’re part of a development team or a solopreneaur who’s designing their first app, Genymotion is one of your only choices when it comes to good places to test an Android app.
Like with Bluestacks, you’re going to have to be willing to tolerate third-party advertising software if you roll with YouWave. It’s on this list because it’s a popular emulator that carries a broad user base, but it isn’t quite as well-optimized as other software.
The free version also isn’t the most up-to-date version of the Android OS, which limits your ability to enjoy the most recent updates to your favorite applications. The Android Lollipop version of YouWave, to its benefit, doesn’t require a subscription; it’s a one-time $29.99 purchase for a single download. This “Premium” version will always be kept up-to-date with the most recent, emulated versions of Android.
We finally arrive at the emulator that isn’t traditional software at all. Instead, Manymo is a browser-based Android emulator that works based on a signup account and, optionally, a subscription. Users that don’t have free reign to install whatever they’d like on their computers will find Manymo especially appealing, especially considering that it handles Android apps just as well as the finely-tuned Bluestacks.
Manymo works like this–you sign up and you’re automatically given a “free” account. At the entry-level, you’ll get 10 limited-duration uses of Manymo per month. Any more is going to require you to pony up $9/month in subscription fees, which will vastly open up your accessibility with the emulator. There’s one other big caveat that you’ll need to know about Manymo, too. In spite of its amazing accessibility as a browser-based Android emulator, you’re going to need the .apk (application) file for any app that you want to use. These are readily available in the Google Play app store once you have a Google account, but you won’t be able to emulate anything in Manymo without them. (I find it happy to keep my favorite apps on a portable USB drive!)
So, which of our contenders is the best emulator? That might be best determined by you, but it’d be a bit unfair at this point to not offer our weigh-in from all of the experiences we’ve had with these great options.
Overall? We’re going to give this victory to the most popular emulator on this list, and that’s definitely Bluestacks. It may not be the most robust in terms of offered features, but it’s gone the length to prove that it doesn’t have to be. Emulator success is very much about optimization, and it’s hard to beat what the development team behind Bluestacks has achieved. This software runs like a dream on Mac and Windows PC, and can handle any Android app you throw at it without any trouble.
Are you an Android emulator connoisseur, or a newbie? We’ve pitted these popular emulators (Bluestacks, Andyroid, Genymotion, Droid4X, YouWave, and Manymo) against each other in a Vs. battle, but in spite of our choosing a victor, they’re all great. Let’s hear your comments–or even questions–below, and don’t forget to share our guide on Facebook and Twitter!