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The best Android emulator 2021: run Android apps on your PC or Mac

Android emulator on a Windows laptop
PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID

With an Android emulator, you can create a virtual 'phone' on your PC or Mac, and run mobile apps on your desktop.

The best Android emulators

Click the links below to go to the provider's website:

 

1. BlueStacks

2. NoxPlayer

3. GameLoop

4. AndY

5. MEmu Play

There are several reasons you might wish to do this. It's often easier to test apps on a desktop than a mobile device, and an Android emulator will let you simulate many different phone models and screen sizes so you can see how your app performs on each one.

Gaming is another common reason for emulating Android on a desktop, and you can also use it to run apps that don't have desktop equivalents. For example, running the Instagram app in an emulator makes it possible to upload photos from your PC or Mac desktop – something that's otherwise impossible.

While business apps for Android may also be available, many of these are SaaS-based cloud apps anyway, so are just as accessible on your desktop PC via your browser anyway, though games usually aren't.

With that in mind, here are the best Android emulators to bring mobile apps to your desktop

Best utilities for your Android device

1. Bitdefender Mobile Security | $14.99

Bitdefender Mobile security provides excellent protection for your Android device thanks to its anti-theft feature and top-notch antivirus capabilities. The app also gives you real-time protection for Google's Chrome browser and it allows you to remotely locate and lock your device as well as completely wipe it if falls into the wrong hands. There's also a VPN built in that gives you 200MB of daily usage.View Deal

2. Xodo PDF Reader | Free

Xodo PDF Reader sets itself apart from other PDF readers by the range and depth of its feature set. In addition to PDF reading, this app also lets you create new PDFs using your camera, image gallery or Office documents Xodo PDF Reader is also integrated with Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive.
View Deal

3. ExpressVPN | $12.95 per month

ExpressVPN is a useful app to have on any Android phone as it gives you the ability to hide your IP address from the sites and apps that you use. It also helps protect your privacy and lets you pretend to be in a different location which is key for unblocking geo-restricted content. ExpressVPN is also at the top of our best Android VPN and best VPN lists. You can also get 3 months free with an annual plan on when you sign up here.View Deal

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(Image credit: BlueStacks)

1. BlueStacks

A superb emulator that brings Android games to your desktop

Reasons to buy
+Good quality+Reliable+Free and paid-for versions
Reasons to avoid
-Games platform only

BlueStacks App Player is perhaps the best-known Android emulator, and it's hardly surprising given its quality and reliability. BlueStacks has been designed with ease of use in mind, and looks and feels just like Android on a tablet or smartphone. There are free and paid-for versions available. The free one includes some ads and the occasional sponsored app, but these are pretty discreet. 

BlueStacks is primarily about games and the interface is essentially a front end for downloading and installing them, but it's also possible to visit the Google Play Store and search for other apps.

If you want to add apps and games from other sources, you have the option of using standalone APK files. Performance is decent assuming your hardware is reasonably powerful, making this a great way to bring Android to the big screen.

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(Image credit: Bignox)

2. NoxPlayer

A free emulator that lets you sideload apps from outside Google Play

Reasons to buy
+Gamepad compatibility+Not just for games+Recording options

Like BlueStacks App Player, NoxPlayer is a fast, slick Android emulator for PC and Mac. If you're planning to use NoxPlayer for gaming, you'll be pleased to learn that you can use your favorite gamepad, and you have the option of mapping keys or buttons to perform various Android gestures. 

NoxPlayer gives you a stock version of Android, and while it's designed with gamers in mind, you can install other apps from the Google Play Store too. NoxPlayer is completely free, but it includes a number of great extras accessible from a vertical toolbar on the right-hand side of the window. Here you'll find screenshot and video recording shortcut, a link to a macro record, and the option to install software from APKs obtained from outside of Google Play.

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(Image credit: GameLoop)

3. GameLoop

Official Call of Duty Android emulator

Reasons to buy
+COD releases+Wide choice of releases
Reasons to avoid
-Gaming platform only

GameLoop is another Android emulator that is primarily for use as a gaming platform. Among its most popular titles includes Call of Duty: Mobile and PUBG Mobile, with Tencent previously declaring it to be the official emulator for their COD games.

There are other titles, of course, with other major titles such as Fortnite and Grand Theft Auto V available to play through the emulator, along with a host of other games.

However, like Bluestack this is really the purpose of GameLoop - the title gives it away - so if you're looking to use mobile apps for business and office then this probably isn't the platform for you. However, if you're looking for easy access to major Android games on your desktop then GameLoop serves as a fine emulator.

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(Image credit: AndY)

4. AndY

Emulate Android on your desktop, and root it to run more apps

Reasons to buy
+Rooting option+Mac and Windows+Phone as a controller
Reasons to avoid
-Learning curve

Based on VMWare Player, AndY is an interesting – if rather huge – Android emulator; the installation weighs in at a colossal 3GB. There are a couple of optional – and probably unwanted – extras bundled in the installer, so keep an eye out and decline them.

Again, the primary idea behind AndY is to bring Android gaming to the desktop, and there's support for not only Xbox and PlayStation controllers, but also the option of using your Android phone as a gamepad. Getting the emulator up and running is rather trickier and less intuitive than the other tools featured here though, and might be enough to put some people off.

This is a shame because AndY is very impressive and it would be great to make it a little more accessible. Available for both Mac and Windows, it also gives you the option of rooting your virtual Android device to run more software.

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(Image credit: MEmu)

5. MEmu Play

Easily install Android apps from outside the Google Play Store

Reasons to buy
+Virtualization option+Keyboard settings
Reasons to avoid
-For gaming only

It's one of the newer Android emulators on the block, but MEmu has managed to make quite a name for itself – and with good reason. Given that its full name is MEmu Play, it should come as no surprise that – once again – the focus here is on gaming. 

To get the best performance, it is recommended that you enable virtualization for your CPU. With support for Intel and AMD chips, as well as integrated and dedicated graphics, support levels are very good here.

There's a wealth of keyboard mapping options to enhance your gaming, and you have the option of installing software through the Google Play Store, or by dragging and dropping APKs on to the program window.