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For nearly a decade, Microsoft product planners have been chasing a dream of running Android apps on Windows. Last June, as part of the announcement of Windows 11, the company went public with its intentions. And as of February 2022, those plans have coalesced into a shipping feature.
After installing the Windows Subsystem for Android on several test PCs, I can confirm that it works as advertised. But as with Windows 11 itself, system requirements (and geographical restrictions) mean that many users are unable to test the new feature for themselves.
If you're among those who can install and run the necessary bits, be prepared to be underwhelmed by the extremely limited selection of apps. There's good reason for the scarcity, though; the Android-on-Windows feature (which is still officially in Preview) doesn't use Google's version of Android, nor does it allow access to the enormous collection of apps in the Google Play Store.
Instead, the Windows Subsystem for Android runs a virtualized build of Android that's based on the Android Open Source Project, with apps delivered via the Amazon Appstore.
Although there are more than 1,000 apps in the Amazon Appstore, the overwhelming majority are games. The only two marquee apps available are, naturally, from Amazon: the Kindle app, for reading ebooks purchased from Amazon, and the Audible app, for listening to audiobooks. On a Windows 11-powered tablet like the Surface Pro Xor Surface Pro 8, running either app allows you to use your pricey laptop as if it were an Amazon Fire tablet.
Which is ... not exactly a compelling proposition for would-be buyers.
Also: Want to run Android apps on Windows 11? You need 8GB RAM but should have 16GB, says Microsoft
The Amazon Appstore didn't stock any of the apps I routinely use on Android devices. I couldn't find any home automation utilities for controlling the lighting, thermostat, and other smart home features I use every day. There were no music services (not even Amazon Music), no finance tools, and only a smattering of news-related apps: one for the Wall Street Journal, another for Jeff Bezos's Washington Post, yet another for the sports-focused Bleacher Report. I was surprised to see an app for the controversial far-right cable network Newsmax.
What can you expect if you enable this feature on your own PC? I've got the details here.
Not every PC can take advantage of this feature. For now, the Windows Subsystem for Android is a U.S.-only feature, although that will undoubtedly change in subsequent updates. In addition, your PC must meet the following system requirements:
You don't need to chase down the specs for your system to see if your device is compatible. As with Windows 11, an automated compatibility checker is available. Open this support page: Install mobile apps and the Amazon Appstore. Click the Get The Amazon Appstore link, which will prompt you to open the Microsoft Store app and find the Amazon Appstore page. Scroll down to check the compatibility details.
As the above screenshot shows, I was unable to install the necessary components on a Surface Go 2; its 8th Gen Intel M3 processor is good enough to run Windows 11, but it doesn't meet the higher compatibility bar for the Android subsystem.
I was also unable to install the Android bits in a Hyper-V virtual machine, even after enabling nested virtualization. The compatibility checker complained that the virtual hard disk wasn't a solid-state drive and refused to complete the installation.
I was more successful on a variety of Dell laptops and Surface devices, including the Arm-powered Surface Pro X, which handled the workload exceptionally well.
The installation process is, thankfully, straightforward. First, make sure the Microsoft Store app is updated; then install the Amazon Appstore app, which automatically enables the Windows 11 Virtual Machine Platform and installs the Windows Subsystem for Android components in the background.
After installation is complete, you'll find two new shortcuts on the Windows 11 Start menu, one for the Amazon Appstore and another for the Windows Subsystem for Android Settings app. The latter app gives you some control over how the Android virtual machine uses system resources.
On my test system, installing the Android subsystem used roughly 1.3GB of storage for the app and related components; installing the Kindle app and downloading a few books grabbed another 1.3GB of disk space.
In operation, the Android virtual machine and running apps use a substantial amount of memory, which might explain why Microsoft says 16GB of RAM is recommended for this configuration.
You can use Task Manager to monitor memory usage for the Windows Subsystem for Android. As you can see from this example, taken from the Surface Pro X with 16GB of installed RAM, the Android virtual machine itself gobbles up well over a gigabyte of memory, and the Kindle app plus its data file takes the total usage to more than 2GB.
To uninstall the Android components and reclaim the disk space they're using, open the Windows 11 Settings app, go to Apps > Installed Apps, and scroll down to the Windows Subsystem for Android entry. Click the three dots to the right of the menu entry and then click Uninstall.
Note that uninstalling the Windows Subsystem for Android also uninstalls the Amazon Appstore and any Android apps you've installed.
The Windows Subsystem for Android was designed for use on touch-enabled tablets, not on PCs driven by a keyboard and mouse. The Kindle app running on a Surface device with a detachable keyboard is one where that design succeeds. You can arguably take a single device on the road and use it for reading, entertainment, and running productivity apps in that configuration.
But that's just about the only success story in this early iteration of Android on Windows. The selection in Amazon's Appstore is paltry, and it's hard to imagine that any developers with A-list Android apps are going to be swayed to upload them to Amazon's store so that they can run on a tiny minority of Windows devices.
This scenario might have been more sustainable in a world where Windows ran on smaller tablets, but Microsoft pretty much killed off that form factor after the Windows 8 debacle.
So, for now, the Windows Subsystem on Android is mostly just a proof of concept. Microsoft couldn't crack the code for convincing developers to write native apps for its Windows tablets, and it's difficult to see anything here that makes a more persuasive argument.
As always, the correct answer is probably to just wait for version 3.