Android is overwhelmingly the most popular mobile operating system on the planet, with well in excess of 2.5 billion active devices running a version of Google's software. Microsoft holds a similar status in the desktop world, with Windows 10 surpassing 1 billion devices in 2020.  

It's inevitable that you'll be sharing data between these two platforms, be it through cloud storage services, web-based file transfer or direct USB connection. But what about sharing software?

If there's an app on your phone that you love, the web-based version is unlikely to be quite as good. While an emulator has long been the go-to solution for such an issue, it's far from a perfect solution. Microsoft has attempted to 

Your Phone app on Windows

In an official blog post on 5 August 2020, Microsoft announced that you will now be able to run Android apps natively via its Your Phone companion app. 

However, the news was revealed as part of a wide-ranging partnership with Samsung, and it's currently exclusive to recent Galaxy phones. Here's the full list of supported devices:

  • Samsung Galaxy Note 9
  • Samsung Galaxy S9
  • Samsung Galaxy S9+
  • Samsung Galaxy Note10
  • Samsung Galaxy Note10+
  • Samsung Galaxy Note10 Lite
  • Samsung Galaxy Fold
  • Samsung Galaxy S10
  • Samsung Galaxy S10+
  • Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite
  • Samsung Galaxy S10e
  • Samsung Galaxy Note20 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy A8s
  • Samsung Galaxy A30s
  • Samsung Galaxy A31
  • Samsung Galaxy A40
  • Samsung Galaxy A41
  • Samsung Galaxy A50
  • Samsung Galaxy A50s
  • Samsung Galaxy A51
  • Samsung Galaxy A51 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy A60
  • Samsung Galaxy A70
  • Samsung Galaxy A70s
  • Samsung Galaxy A71
  • Samsung Galaxy A71 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy A80
  • Samsung Galaxy A90s
  • Samsung Galaxy A90 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy S20
  • Samsung Galaxy S20+
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
  • Samsung Galaxy Fold
  • Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro
  • Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
  • Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2 5G  

If you have one of these devices, just make sure it's connected to the same Wi-Fi network as your PC and activate the 'Link to Windows' option in quick settings.

GIF: Microsoft

Once connected, you should now see a tab in the left pane called 'Apps', in addition to the Notifications, Messages, Photos and Calls options from before. Just click on one to open it, or drag to the taskbar for quick access. 

Using an emulator

Until the Your Phone feature becomes more widespread, most people's best option for running Android apps on Windows is via an emulator. This is a program that is able to imitate software from one platform and make it usable on another. 

It has been commonly used to run Android games and other apps on desktop, with BlueStacks the most popular. Check some other options we recommend in our guide to the best Android emulators

The BlueStacks App Player is free to use. The program will allow you to run Android apps on your Windows machine, but as it’s not a full Android emulator you won’t get the full Android experience.

In order to use BlueStacks you'll have to sign-in with a Google account, as you do when logging into the Google Play Store for the first time on any Android device. It's quick and easy to sign up for a Google account if you don't have one already.

The integration with the Play Store is one of the best things about BlueStacks, as it means you can search for and install apps in just the same way as with a true Android phone or tablet.

We did experience a few problems, though, such as when we ran the Wind-Up Knight there were texture problems meaning we couldn't properly see our game. Apps can look pixelated, while there will be a bit more lag than you're used to, even when running on a high-spec machine. 

On a non-touchscreen PC, zooming with apps that expect pinch- and reverse-pinch gestures can also be problematic. BlueStacks’ support pages suggest that Crtl + and Ctrl - should work, but we didn’t find that to be the case and it seems that it’s probably app-dependent.

How to run Android apps in Windows - Play Store

AandY is an emulator aimed at mobile gamers first and foremost, but you can still download any Android app from the Play Store. Popular social media and instant messaging apps run particularly well on AndY. Given its gaming focus, it support PS4 and Xbox controllers or you can use your Android phone as a controller. 

There's also a decent level of support available via the Facebook group, and it's completely free unless you want developer support. 

There are other Android emulators out there, which are also specifically designed to run Android games. However, the likes of KoPlayer requires a graphics card that support OpenGL 2.0 to run.

Use Windows programs in Android

To run Windows on an Android phone or tablet you'll need some virtualisation software and a strong internet connection, and to keep your PC running at home. Microsoft's Remote Desktop app does the job with certain versions of Windows, and soon we'll also be able to use CrossOver with Android devices running an x86 processor. 

Solutions for using Windows applications on an Android device tend to involve accessing a Windows PC or a virtual PC via the cloud rather than running the software directly on your smartphone or tablet. While this is undoubtedly a reflection on the more limited resources available on most Android devices, it’s a perfectly workable solution.

The first method is to connect to your home PC using the Microsoft Remote Desktop app on your Android device. We mention this here because it will appeal to some users, and it has the advantage of giving you access to all the software you use on your PC, but there are some serious drawbacks that limit its usefulness.

(Note that you can also use Chrome Remote Desktop to control Windows from an Android tablet or phone).

For a start, although you don’t have to install any software on your PC, it will work only if that PC is running certain editions of Windows. The option is not natively supported on Windows 10, where there's no support to run the Remote Desktop Client on Android

Second, for this to work your home PC has to be switched on while you’re away from home. Needless to say, this will increase your electricity bill and doesn't do much for the environment.

Finally, although you can run the Remote Desktop app on any Android device, if you’re going to be using it to any great extent, a tablet would make a lot more sense than a smartphone. After all, trying to navigate a Windows desktop on a small smartphone screen is going to involve a lot of zooming and panning. 

Dual-boot Android and Windows

A small but growing number of platforms have been designed to run both Windows and Android. Industry experts are divided on whether these all-in-one machines will really take off, but it’s a potentially interesting solution to the Windows-Android dichotomy.

Laptops, PCs and hybrid laptop-tablets that run Android and Windows are worth tracking down if it appeals. We've found devices like these are popular in China, and you can look on a site such as GearBest for more details (but be sure to read our grey-market tech buying advice before you make a purchase).