The Windows Store may be fairly light on great apps, but BlueStacks gives you access to over 750,000 apps on your Windows 8 PC – including lots of touch-enabled games.
Various Android app emulators have been available for Windows for a while, but they haven’t really had a purpose. With touch-screen Windows 8 PCs and tablets, there’s now finally a reason why you might want to run Android apps on Windows.
BlueStacks isn’t perfect and is still in beta, but Lenovo will be shipping it on PCs soon, so they seem to think it’s good enough. However, anyone can currently download and use BlueStacks for free.
BlueStacks is still based on Android 2.3, so some parts of the interface will be a bit dated and a few newer apps may not work. It’s only available for Windows 8 systems, not Windows RT computers like the Microsoft Surface RT. However, BlueStacks is considering porting their solution to Windows RT in the future.
Running apps via BlueStacks won’t be as fast as running Android directly on a dedicated tablet, as BlueStacks has to provide an emulation layer. On PCs with weaker hardware, some games and apps may be unusable. BlueStacks touts their current solution as optimized for Microsoft’s Surface Pro.
While BlueStacks can run on older Windows systems and Macs, it makes the most sense on a Windows 8 system with a touch screen. Mouse clicks can be used in-place of touch events, but it’s just not the same. Some games and apps may even be unusable with a mouse if they require multi-touch.
You can get BlueStacks from BlueStacks.com, which offers a version for Windows 8 as well as older versions of Windows and Mac. BlueStacks also runs GetYourAppsBack.com, a riff off Google’s “Get Your Google Back” website, which offers instructions for installing the Google search app on Windows 8.
The BlueStacks App Player isn’t a Modern app, as it runs on the desktop. However, it does offer a full-screen environment that mimics Microsoft’s Modern environment on Windows 8.
Using Android Apps on Windows 8
Once it’s installed, you can launch it and search for apps to install by tapping the magnifying glass icon.
BlueStacks needs to connect to a Google account so it can download apps from Google Play, but you can create a unique Google account just for BlueStacks from within the BlueStacks App Player, if you prefer. BlueStacks can also install apps from the Amazon Store – it will present you with a list of options when you try to install an app.
You can also turn Android apps into windows on your desktop, something not possible with Windows 8’s Modern apps without third-party software.
Clicks can be used to mimic touch events. For example, to swipe up in Temple Run, you could click the screen, hold the mouse down, move the cursor up, and then release the mouse button. However, touch events will feel much more natural.
You can tap or click the home button (the BlueStacks icon) to go back to the home screen. Tap or click My Apps to view apps you have installed and launch them.
BlueStacks definitely isn’t perfect, and proper Windows 8 apps would be preferable. However, while you probably don’t want to use Android apps in full-screen for things like Twitter on Windows 8, BlueStacks opens a whole world of touch-based Android games to Windows 8.
Android apps could also be used to add touch-based functionality to the desktop – perhaps you could run Twitter’s Android app in a window on your desktop to keep an eye on Twitter and control the small app window with touch.
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 03/25/13