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Hybrid hijinks: How to install Android on your PC

Brad Chacos | Sept. 9, 2013
How does Google's mobile-focused operating system stack up on a full-size, not-so-mobile computer? You'll know firsthand after giving Android a test drive in a virtual machine.

Highlight the Quit option and press Enter to return to the Choose Partition screen, which now lists the 'sda1' partition you created on the virtual hard drive. Press Enter again. You'll see a list of formatting options. Select ext3, press Enter, and select Yes when asked if you really want to format the disk.

Do you want to install boot loader GRUB? Yup! You also want to install the /system directory as read/write when asked.

Aaaaand there's the screen we've been waiting for. Run Android-x86.

Assess Android

You're going to set up the operating system the way you would on a new Android phone or tablet. It's pretty straightforward, and you can even connect the Android-x86 VM to your Google account. But before you do that, you need to coax a mouse cursor on screen, because trying to navigate a touchscreen-optimized OS by keyboard is maddening.

Click Machine in VirtualBox's toolbar, and select Disable Mouse Integration. Dialog boxes may appear; if so, click through them and continue. Disabling mouse integration allows you to manually control whether your mouse is controlling your primary OS or Android-x86. Pressing the right Ctrl button on your keyboard switches between the two operating systems. To swipe, click and hold the mouse button, and then move the mouse.

With that taken care of, you're free to explore Android on your PC!

Don't expect a flawless experience with Android-x86. You can't sync your Google account's apps to the VM, despite what the setup process implies—at least not yet. (Fortunately, Android-x86 ships with Google Play installed, and most apps I've tried work just fine, though you might notice the occasional wonkiness.) Nor does the virtualized OS work with any of the touchscreen displays I've tried. And yes, performance can be kind of poky, no matter how much RAM you toss at Android-x86.

That being said, giving Android a whirl on your PC will nevertheless give you a good feel for what's possible on an Android-powered laptop. The result isn't perfect, but if you give it a shot, I think you'll wind up pleasantly surprised. Android wasn't made for big screens, but all those smartphone-optimized apps hold up okay, and a ton of them are completely free, completely awesome, and can't be found on proper PCs.

And hey—for what it's worth, the Android Gmail interface blows away the ugly webmail UI.


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