Hands-On with Android on Windows 11: Not as Seamless as Promised

Posted on October 21, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Windows 11 with 19 Comments

With Android app compatibility (sort of) appearing in pre-prelease versions of Windows 11 this week, I finally went hands-on. And while this experience is better than the terrible Your Phone capabilities, it’s not as seamless as Microsoft promised.

It starts with the onboarding experience, which, granted is a temporary problem: Microsoft announced that Android app compatibility and the Amazon Appstore for Android were available in the Beta channel of the Windows Insider Program yesterday, but that was a bit of a leap. As it turns out, none of that was actually available if you eagerly installed the new build, and my guess is that Microsoft was forced to announce this release early because of a leak on Twitter.

As I write this, I can’t actually explain to you how to get Android apps working in Windows 11 normally because our good friend Rafael Rivera provided me with a downloadable file that enabled this capability.

But my guess is that, after upgrading, you will just need to update the Microsoft Store and then download the Amazon Appstore from Android from there. There are other criteria, too, like enabling virtualization in the PC’s firmware and installing Hyper-V (or at least the virtualization bits in Windows 11 Home) through the Windows Features control panel. Again, it’s not seamless.

You also don’t get the “store within a store” experience that Microsoft promised, at least not right now. Instead, the Android Appstore for Android is a standalone app of its own. And once you install that, you can only acquire the 50 apps Microsoft/Amazon are currently provided via that app.

And speaking of non-seamless, for any of this to work, you need to have an Android virtual machine up and running at all times. You can configure that through a Windows Subsystem for Android app, which looks and acts like Windows 11 Settings. And there is a “Continuous” option that keeps the VM running when you close the last Android app. But what it really needs is a separate “run the Android VM at startup” option if you’re going to use Android apps all the time.

Otherwise, the VM starts up, and not all that quickly, the first time you run the Appstore for Android or any Android app. Tedious.

(That Windows Subsystem for Android app also provides a link to a Files app that lets you access the file system of the Android VM. I haven’t tried this, but I assume you can copy files back and forth and so on.)

As for those 50 apps … Yikes.

By my count, there are less than 6 decent apps in the Appstore—Yahoo Mail, United Airlines, Kindle for Android, Alaska Airlines, and Washington Post among them—and the rest are the crappiest-looking collection of mostly games. It’s Microsoft Store sad.

Here’s literally the only app in which I’m interested in the entire store right now, Kindle for Android.

So that’s where I’m at, less than 24 hours after finally getting this atrocity up and running. It’s better than Your Phone, as noted, and it can only get better. But this is a rough start.

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Comments (19)

19 responses to “Hands-On with Android on Windows 11: Not as Seamless as Promised”

  1. rob4jen

    It's BB10 all over again. Didn't work then; not likely to succeed now.

    • bschnatt

      Well, these newer machines running the VM are quite a bit faster and more powerful, so I think it should do a lot better. Yeah, the BB10 experience was pretty dreadful. Only my BlackBerry Passport had enough RAM to make a go of it, and it was still pretty bad...

  2. Matthew Santacroce (InnoTechLLC)

    I updated my Microsoft Store app, then searched for, and downloaded the Amazon Appstore. From there everything was seamless and I was able to easily browse the (horrible) selection of apps. The process seemed to be very straightforward and easy. Hopefully the selection of apps will grow very quickly prior to the public release.

  3. cwfinn

    So, will is be "beta" forever, with only crap apps (Kindle is the only really useful one, IMO)?

  4. bluesman57

    I used the Kindle App for several hours last night on my SP6. I used to use the Kindle Cloud Reader on Edge, but this is better. Amazon deprecated their native Windows App a few years ago.

    Maybe this will prompt the return of more Android tablet apps.

  5. ringofvoid

    To live up to it's promise, this needs to be as seamless as the Play Store & Android apps on Chromebooks. If it gets there it really gives Win11 an argument that Chromebooks are irrelevant because Win11 can run Chrome + Linux apps + Android apps PLUS all other Windows apps.

  6. Mike Turner

    What nobody has explained to me is, given that Windows isn't short of software, what exactly are these Android apps that I really need on my PC? I'm looking at my phone and I can't actually see a single app that isn't either a better fit on the phone (e.g. handheld-friendly touch games) or is already on Windows natively.

    • vladimir

      Just speaking of mail and calendar clients, there is nothing for windows but pretty nice apps on android

    • curtisspendlove

      Windows is pretty short of *modern* software. But to be fair, that is a problem across all desktop operating systems.

      New development is done on the web (usually primary) and mobile (usually secondary).

      There are, of course, some vertical market applications. But those are rare and generally very expensive.

      I’d love to hear anyone name a new app that came out for a desktop OS in the last few years. Two? Three?

    • IanYates82

      Many new apps that regular consumers (not visitors of this site) see and use do not have a Windows version. If the app is for a service - eg uber eats - then it'll probably have a decent web app version and that's fine.

      But an awful lot don't, or the web experience is dumbed down. Making such apps more accessible (eventually) to users on their desktops and laptops is useful as far as I'm concerned

      Even something simple like the apps I use to configure my light bulbs, control the air con, are mobile only but would be handy on the desktop (I've got them all linked to google home so tend to just yell out)

      And then services like Disney+ that don't have a windows app at all (web browser is fine, but you get zero offline support)

      The app for my bank is much easier to bring up and check things at a glance than opening their website and clicking through several screens.

      I don't see downsides. If you don't like it, that's OK too.

      Sideloading apps (hopefully not having to do this), and seeing how populated the standard Amazon store is, will be key.

  7. bluvg

    Not a great start. :( Thank you for this frank assessment.

  8. jgraebner

    I was on the Release Preview branch. To install, I just switched it to Beta and then did a "Search for updates" in the Store. It found an update to the Store itself and after installing that, I was able to find and install the Amazon App Store. I didn't have to install a new Windows 11 build.

    Where I then ran into problems was that Windows Defender firewall was blocking the Subsystem for Android from accessing the Internet. That took me a lot longer to figure out than it probably should have.

    Of course, once it was up and running, I saw the same issues that Paul described, including the tiny number of useful apps and the really slow start-up. In fact, I think the time to spin-up the VM is a bit slower than Bluestacks, which can run pretty much anything in the Google Store.

  9. pachi

    This sounds pretty terrible for the typical user... I recall it being a lot more seamless when they did that little windows phone experiment with it.

    • captobie

      This is a "Preview" release, it's not meant for your "typical user".

      If the final product looks like this then you have a valid criticism. For now, your typical user probably has no idea this even exists.

  10. djross95

    I really wanted Windows 11 to be tight and seamless, bust MS just can't seem to button up the tech equivalent of "the last mile". They shouldn't have released this until next spring, by which time these issues would (hopefully) have been sorted.

    • fpalmieri

      Technically, it is not released yet - it is a beta (or something - hard to keep track of actually) so bumps in the road like Paul described are what they are - if they release it like that to the average user, then bash away. And hopefully having it available will cause developers to want to support the Amazon / Microsoft Android Store

  11. bschnatt

    "How do I move to Ireland". Hmmm. I thought about that once or twice myself... ;)

  12. sscywong

    I'm on Beta channel and WSA really installed seamlessly.... Just it simply won't work over cellular network on my Surface Pro X