How To Run Android APK Files in Windows 10
If you’re interested in becoming an Android app developer, or just want a way to test out Android apps without installing them on your phone, there are a number of emulators that will let you install and run Android apps on Windows. One of them is the official Android SDK from Google. I use it myself when reviewing apps that I don’t want to install on my phone, and can attest that it works well.
There are other methods which I will also cover such as BlueStacks App Player and ARC Welder for Chrome. All of these allow you to run Android APK files in Windows 10. BlueStacks App Player is more of a desktop emulator than a developer platform, but it’s a great way to use Android apps. ARC Welder is a Chrome extensions that does much the same thing from within the browser. Each have their own strengths and weaknesses and will suit some tasks more than others.
Android APK files are the packages that contain the Android apps. The syntax is usually something like ‘filename.apk’ and is much like an .exe file in Windows: a self-contained package that includes all files and an installer. While .apk and .exe files are similar, they speak very different languages, hence the need for the Android SDK.
You don’t usually get to see the APK file when you download and install an app off the Google App Store. The system unpacks the files for you, and you never see a thing. If you dig deep into your file structure, you’ll find them, but otherwise, the GUI keeps the user and the system quite separate.
This separation is fine until you need to acquire APK files to play with, develop, or reverse engineer. Probably the easiest and safest way to get the files is to download them from your device and use them from there. There are websites that allow you to download the APK files of legitimate apps, but these are legally dubious, and I personally wouldn’t trust them to not inject a little malware in return for a free download.
Setting Android SDK up to run APK files in Windows 10
To work with APK files you will need a current version of Java on your computer as well as the Android SDK. Download Java from here and the Android SDK from here. Scroll down to the bottom of the Android Studio page and select Command Line Tools. Unless you’re planning to create an Android app you won’t need the entire Studio package.
- Download the package to your computer and extract to your C: drive.
- Navigate to Control Panel, System and Advanced System Settings.
- Select Environment Variables and highlight Path.
- Click Edit and paste the following into the variable value: ‘C:\Android\sdk\tools;C:\Android\sdk\platform-tools’.
Now you can open a virtual Android device by double clicking the executable. The app takes a while to load and can be a little sluggish at times, but it’s worth waiting for. You won’t be able to play games, but you should be able to use most other apps with ease.
Setting BlueStacks up to run APK files in Windows 10
BlueStacks App Player is an Android emulator that works very well. It doesn’t use a pure Android version like Android SDK, but a modified variant. If you’re looking to QA code or soak test an app, this may not exactly replicate the release environment. For everything else, BlueStacks App Player works just fine.
- Download and install the BlueStacks App Player.
- Log in using your Google account and set up a profile.
- Load apps, play games, and whatever you want to do through the Play Store.
Once up and running, BlueStacks looks like any Android tablet. It has the usual Android front end, menus and more. You just control it with a mouse or touch if you have a touchscreen. The rest looks and feels just like Android. BlueStacks does like to alert you with every possible message it can think of, and that can be annoying. Other than that, it’s a good emulator that mimics an Android device well.
Setting ARC Welder up to run APK files in Windows 10
ARC Welder is a Chrome extension that allows you to run APK files within the browser. It’s by far the easiest way to run APK files. The benefit is that you can run it on any device that can run Chrome. The downside is that it’s still a little buggy, and doesn’t work as flawlessly as the previous two methods.
- Download and install the ARC Welder extension.
- Download your APKs and point ARC Welder to them.
- Select how you want them, portrait or landscape and whether you want to allow clipboard access.
ARC Welder is pretty good at simulating Android, but doesn’t have Google Play Store access like BlueStacks does. That means you’ll have to acquire the APK files, download them onto your computer, and add them manually from within ARC Welder. Not a showstopper, but getting a hold of legitimate files can be tricky.
The other downside to ARC Welder? You can only run one app at a time. This might not impact you if you’re only testing or using one app, but if you want it as an Android emulator too, you might find it limiting. If you have an app open, you will need to go back to the install screen and choose a different one.
Running Android APK files in Windows 10
So there are three methods for running Android APK files in Windows 10. Each does it slightly differently, and each is suitable for different purposes. I’d suggest Android SDK or Studio for anyone who wants to program, build or reverse engineer an app. And I’d suggest ARC Welder for those who don’t want to do much with their apps except use them on the desktop. BlueStacks is for people who sit between those two groups.
Do you use an Android emulator I haven’t mentioned here? Know of any that are better than these three? Tell us about it below if you do.