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A closer look at free Android emulators for your PC

Wish you could see what Android’s all about, or test a particular feature without having to shell out for yet another device? Fortunately, there are plenty of good, free ways to emulate Android on a PC in order to check things out.

Genymotion (opens in new tab) is a hardware-accelerated Android emulator that runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux PCs. It’s designed to let you play with Android on top-selling devices, which makes it a good choice for developers.

The free Android-x86 project (opens in new tab) is an even better option. Generic ISO files are offered, as are a handful of images that have been customised to support specific x86 laptops and tablets. If you don’t have spare hardware laying around to install on, don’t fret. The generic ISO works nicely inside VirtualBox (opens in new tab) (also a free download) and you can run Android-x86 as a live CD – there’s no need to do a full install just to play around with it. Android-x86 even includes access to Google Play.

Windroy (opens in new tab) is a lot like Android-x86, but you don’t have to bother with a setting up VirtualBox and a virtual machine. Just download the EXE and install it. Launch the app, and you’ll “boot” into a full-screen Android experience. Access to the Play Store isn’t part of the package, but installing the Amazon Appstore is easy enough to do.

Windows and Mac users who just want to be able to use Android apps – and not the whole OS – can download and install BlueStacks (opens in new tab). The BlueStacks runtime allows you to run just about any Android app inside Windows or OS X just like native apps.

BlueStacks also offers Cloud Connect in the Play Store, and it lets you automatically sync apps from your phone back to your PC.

The downside with BlueStacks is that it’s free for now. They’ve actively been seeking out OEMs (like Asus and Lenovo) that want to partner up, so it’s very likely that it will eventually become payware like the “free” antivirus bloat Windows PC buyers have grown accustomed to over the years.

There’s also the official Android SDK (opens in new tab), which you can download from Google. It’s obviously intended for developer use, but there is an emulator included that lets you try Android out on your PC. Its performance isn’t on par with Android-x86 and Windroy, though.

If you have any suggestions of your own for good Android emulators, then let us know in the comments section below.