Windows Subsystem for Android vs BlueStacks: Should Emulator Makers Be Worried?


Windows Subsystem for Android (WSA) preview is officially here, and you can use it to install and run Android apps on Windows 11. While the ability to run Android apps natively on Windows 11 is certainly an exciting development, you might be wondering if WSA can replace a dedicated Android emulator for Windows. That’s exactly what we’ll explore in this Windows Subsystem for Android vs. BlueStacks comparison.

Windows Subsystem for Android vs. BlueStacks: In-Depth Comparison (2021)

While there are several Android emulators, BlueStacks is one that stands out. We used BlueStacks 5.3 compared to the first preview of Windows Subsystem for Android with version number 1.7.32815.0. Now that you know the details, read on to find out if WSA is worth installing on Windows 11.

Windows Subsystem for Android vs. BlueStacks: Benchmarks

Before we get to the results, I want to emphasize that you should take these numbers with a grain of salt. That’s because the benchmark scores in BlueStacks fluctuate based on the device profile and performance mode. I used Galaxy S20 Ultra as device profile with high performance mode in BlueStacks during my testing. Moreover, BlueStacks runs on Android 7 Nougat, while Windows Subsystem for Android is based on Android 11. With these settings, BlueStacks managed to outperform Windows Subsystem for Android in single-core performance, while WSA outperformed in the multi-core segment, such as you can see below:

Windows 11Bluestacks Windows Subsystem for Android

As I mentioned, these scores don’t quite reflect WSA’s full capabilities, especially when it’s in beta. Better to wait for Microsoft to release the final version of WSA before making any judgments about optimization and performance.

Windows Subsystem for Android vs BlueStacks: App Compatibility

The biggest hurdle for Windows Subsystem for Android, compared to BlueStacks, is app compatibility. Unlike BlueStacks, Windows Subsystem for Android does not natively run Google apps and services. although you can sideload Android apps and even run Google apps on the Windows subsystem for Android, a regular Windows 11 user is unlikely to do both. They will likely rely on the native Amazon Appstore integration.

Since the Windows subsystem for Android lacks Google Mobile Services (GMS) by default, the app collection is significantly limited. Even if you sideload apps, apps that require GMS won’t work until you patch your WSA installation and install Google Play Store on Windows 11. On the other hand, BlueStacks has a huge library of apps and games, thanks to Google Play Store.

Multi-instance support for Android apps on Windows 11

In addition, I also want to mention that both Windows Subsystem for Android and Bluestack 5 come with multi-instance support. What does that mean, you ask? Well, that means you can run multiple different Android apps on your Windows 11 PC at the same time. You are not limited to using only one Android app or game at a time. The multi instance manager in Bluestacks lets you create and run multiple instances to “play multiple games together, use different accounts simultaneously, and farm more easily in many different games.”

Windows Subsystem for Android vs BlueStacks: Performance

Speaking of performance, my short time using Android apps on Windows 11 was enjoyable. I was able to install most of my favorite apps, including Apple Music, on my Windows 11 PC. Whether installing apps from the Play Store, streaming videos on YouTube, or scrolling Reels on Instagram, the experience was pretty good. Of course, you can’t scale Instagram to cover the entire screen on your laptop, and some apps are finicky about resizing or installing. But overall, the first beta of Windows Subsystem for Android certainly lived up to my expectations.

One important thing Rupesh from our team mentioned in this video is RAM usage. While testing both the Windows subsystem for Android and Bluestack, he noticed the former gobbled up memory like crazy. While the Google Play Store was up and running, Bluestacks only used about 100MB of RAM and ran smoothly, while WSA gobbled up about 2.4GB of memory. So yes, Android apps on Windows 11 need the WSA to run apps, and it seems like more RAM is needed for smooth performance.

Overall, Bluestacks seems like the better choice in terms of performance and optimization compared to Android app support on Windows 11.

Windows Subsystem for Android vs BlueStacks: Gaming

Many of you may be interested to know if you can install and play games like Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI) or PUBG Mobile on your Windows 11 PC using Windows Subsystem for Android. Well, things are a bit complicated and not as simple as you might expect.

Unlike BlueStacks 5, which lets you install and run BGMI on your Windows PC and laptop, you can’t install your favorite games directly on the Windows subsystem for Android. You have to download it from Amazon AppStore, alternative Google Play stores like Aurora Store, or sideload them manually.

If you are interested in playing games like Lords Mobile, June’s Journey or Coin Master, Amazon Appstore is all you need. But if you’re reading this, I’m sure you’d rather play games like PUBG.

Which brings me to the next shortcoming: key mapping. You see, BlueStacks and other Android emulators have been around for a while and have special tools to help users assign keybinds. So yes, you have a complete set of customization options for in-game controls in Bluetsacks.

While we expect the community to come up with a workaround, as has always been the case, it won’t be as simple as an emulator that has all these features built into the platform. Without key mapping, you cannot map keys and control the game effectively with your keyboard. As Rupesh shows in the YouTube video above, many Android games don’t support keyboard input and you have to rely on your mouse for touch-like input, which is not that intuitive and fun.

Key mapping in Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI) on Bluestacks

We also tried installing Asphalt 9 Legends on Windows 11 from Aurora Store, but it stopped due to the lack of GMS. Arjun from our team tried to install Asphalt 9 from the Google Play Store and found the performance jerky with no response to the arrow keys. If it wasn’t already clear, you should keep using emulators if you plan on playing resource-intensive games.

Windows Subsystem for Android vs. BlueStacks: Which is Better for Developers?

While gamers are better off sticking with BlueStacks, app development is a different story. After enabling developer mode and setting up ADB, developers can use the Windows subsystem for Android to run and debug apps. WSA appears as a device in the IDE’s device manager. That’s a subtle improvement in quality of life to easily debug apps without relying on Android emulators.

Windows subsystem for Android as a device in Android Studio

One noticeable limitation, however, is that the Windows subsystem for Android is best suited for testing apps without GMS. I’m not entirely sure if manually enabling Google apps support would help access GMS and Firebase APIs on WSA. If you are a developer who has tried this, let us know in the comments.

Sure, you might still want to test apps with emulators to ensure compatibility across devices before launching, but WSA can help developers get started. Much like the Windows subsystem for Linux that now supports GUI apps, the Windows subsystem for Android is a step in the right direction to position Windows as a developer-friendly operating system.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I play PUBG Mobile or Battlegrounds Mobile India on the Windows subsystem for Android?

Users are reporting that trying PUBG Mobile and BGMI natively on Windows 11 via Windows Subsystem for Android results in an account ban. You will likely get the “Your account has been temporarily frozen due to anomalies detected in your emulator. Please update your emulator to the latest version” error when you try to play PUBG Mobile on Windows 11 using the Windows subsystem for Android.

Can I use Google apps on the Windows subsystem for Android?

By default, you can’t use Google apps on the Windows subsystem for Android, because it doesn’t have Google Mobile Services (GMS). However, you can follow our guide to patch WSA and install Google Play Store (and apps) on Windows 11.

Is BlueStacks better than the Windows subsystem for Android?

It depends on your usage scenario. If you want to play Android games, you’d better keep using BlueStacks or other Android emulators instead of WSA. However, if you’re a developer, Windows Subsystem for Android on Windows 11 will show up as a device in the IDE’s device manager, allowing you to run and debug apps.

Can I root and use Magisk on the Windows subsystem for Android?

While it’s not publicly available at this time, developers have: managed to run the Magisk, Riru, and LSPosed framework on the Windows subsystem for Android in Windows 11.

Windows Subsystem for Android vs BlueStacks

As we went through the article, it’s clear that BlueStacks and other third-party emulators still have an edge in one of the most important user use cases, gaming. Emulators are easier to get started and better optimized for Android games that you might want to play on a Windows 11 PC or laptop. However, the Windows subsystem for Android is useful for other useful improvements, such as installing unsupported apps on your Windows PC. What is your use case for emulators on Windows and have you given WSA a shot? Tell us in the comments below.