You see, last week Microsoft released an update to Windows 11, which added a preview of software that lets you run Android apps on Windows. This software is known as “Windows Subsystem for Android”, or “WSA” for short, and is quite similar to “Windows Subsystem for Linux” which allows you to run Linux applications on Windows from several years.
If you live in the United States, the only place where the WSA update is officially Available now, running Android apps on Windows 11 is simple: just install the update, open the Amazon app store that’s part of the update, and install and run Android apps more or less the same way you would on a phone.
There is, however, one rather important caveat that you should be aware of, which applies to both the simple WSA installation described above and the more difficult installation method described below, which you you will probably need to use:
Android isn’t what it used to be. Over the years, Google has removed key functions from the open source version of Android that Microsoft used in WSA and turned them into proprietary Google services that are not available in the non-Google version of Android.
Any Android app that relies on “Google Mobile Services”, such as requiring a Google account to sign in or accessing Google Maps to establish a location, will either not work on Windows 11 at all, or be very annoying . to start working, possibly involving hundreds of complex steps.
But that pain will be nothing compared to the torment felt by anyone trying to run Android apps on Windows outside of the US, like we had to.
Trick Windows 11 into installing the update was quite simple. We just ran a VPN that made our PC look like it was in the US, changed the PC’s timezone and region to US settings, and presto! WSA installed after a reboot or two. (We had to restart our PC so many times while doing this review, I lost track. But I think it was two restarts at this point.)
However, getting Amazon’s App Store to work outside of the US hasn’t been that easy. The cheats that tricked Microsoft didn’t seem to trick Amazon, and whatever we did, we never got the Amazon store to work.
The first time we ran it, the app store complained that it was only available in the US and shut down immediately. Every time we went to open it, it immediately closed again without even an error message, regardless of what we did to trick it into thinking we were in the US. We presume it was a permanent location issue, but we’re not sure. Maybe Amazon’s App Store just went down.
But whatever. The Amazon App Store is missing a lot of important Android apps anyway, and luckily WSA lets you download raw Android app installer files (called “apk” files) from the internet, and “load” them directly into Windows.
I’m going to skip over the many things that didn’t work when we tried downloading apps, and direct you directly to the one thing that did: a program known as ADB & Fastboot+, which uses Windows Command Prompt to install the apk files you have already downloaded.
(If you’re wondering why I don’t provide links to any of these things, it’s because sideloading exposes you to a murky world of potentially hacked, possibly virus-laden Android apps that your lords of company may disapprove. You’ll do all of this at your own risk, preferably on your own PC.)
Even once you figure out how to side load, you’re still not out of the woods. Some apks will install and work just fine. Some apks will refuse to install for the first dozen attempts, then mysteriously install on the 13th attempt, after installing something else and back to the apk problem.
And some apks will install, but not work. The Android version of the Sonos app, for example, which you use to control Sonos speakers on your Wi-Fi network, couldn’t find any of our Sonos speakers. Microsoft Word would let us enter our Microsoft username, but not the password. Microsoft OneNote would let us enter our Microsoft username and password, but then crash. Hinge, the dating app, froze after we entered our Facebook login, but another Facebook-based dating app, Bumble, worked fine.
It’s the start of Android apps on Windows 11 – it’s still just in the “preview” phase – and it’s a bit hit and miss right now.
Not to mention that apps that are working properly seem to consume a lot of resources on your PC.
I have four Android apps running on my Windows laptop as I write this – Bumble, Word, Instagram and Final Fantasy XV – and Windows reports that the Android subsystem uses over 5 gigabytes of memory (which is a lot), around 35% of the CPU (which, considering the laptop, is running an 8-core/16-thread Ryzen 7 CPU, c is also a lot), and that the power consumption of applications is so “very high” that it is highlighted in red!
Why would you bother?
The big question, then, is why would you do this to yourself and your poor PC?
The short answer is you wouldn’t, at least not until WSA is more installed and officially available outside of the US.
The long answer is that you probably wouldn’t, unless you really need an app that just isn’t available on your PC, not even in a browser, like a dating app or a Game.
Even then, you should ask yourself why you need it on your PC and not on the phone which might be just inches away.
And for that question, I can think of only one compelling answer: your corporate overlord is watching, and you want to look like you’re working when browsing through a dating app.
And that’s a perfectly valid reason, worth all the aforementioned worries.
Our only advice: don’t catch anything. Practice side loading safely at all times.