Android on Everything

This week is Android week here in Gearhead land, starting with a tool that will let you run pretty much any Android app on your Mac or Windows PC.

BlueStacks just released the final beta, Version 0.2.5, of its free BlueStacks App Player. The idea behind BlueStacks App Player is a powerful one: Emulate Android on top of other operating systems to allow access to the more than 750,000 Android apps.

The first version of the BlueStacks App Player was released just under a year and it's come a long way since I first tested it last April; overall, it's faster and generally smoother in operation.

[MORE ANDROID: 10 most excellent free Android games]

What's interesting is this new version of the BlueStacks App Player also supports the Microsoft Surface Pro by integrating with the new Windows 8 interface. Given the Surface Pro only has something like 35,000 apps available in the Windows 8 store, Microsoft has to be somewhat pleased to see this tool, even though it means running their arch rival's operating system on their baby.

According to TechCrunch, BlueStacks has cut deals with AMD, Asus, MSI and Lenovo to have the BlueStacks App Player preloaded on more than 100 million PCs in 2013, and deals with Dell and HP are in the works.

The company claims "the BlueStacks virtualization technology can very easily support different permutations and combinations of operating systems and their applications," and suggests it will be able to run Android on Windows on ARM architectures, on the Chrome OS (for x86), in a Chrome browser tab, and even run Windows on Android (now that's intriguing).

How does Bluestacks do all of this? The company claims to have developed a multi-OS runtime with "breakthrough virtualization technology." The company describes this as "a lightweight, optimized, soft hypervisor with deep enhancements to support 'embedded virtualization'."

That said, on OS X, apps running under the BlueStacks App Player are oddly twitchy -- the slightest mouse movements will be interpreted in unexpected ways and you'll suddenly find yourself hurtling away from whatever you were doing to another part of your app. This is incredibly annoying.

A really cool thing to do is to install Ubuntu for Android on the BlueStacks App Player, but after wrestling with this for a couple of hours I gave up. I had to download the OS images (which seemed amazingly slow) and then unzip and install them. A combination of failed downloads and file managers that wouldn't delete files was too much. I shall try again when I have a little more time.

So, even though trying to get Ubuntu for Android running was disappointing, all of the more common Android apps I tried worked perfectly. For example, Fruit Ninja worked astoundingly well and reminded me once again why I don't like games ... mainly because I'm not very good at them.

The BlueStacks App Player is a very impressive platform and, minor flaws aside, it's a very cool achievement and gets a Gearhead rating of 4 out of 5.

Now we come to another Android product, this on a complete computer system running Android called the Favi Smart Stick that turns your dumb TV into a "smart" TV that can run any of the gazillion Android apps. The real focus, however, is on digital media playback.

The SmartStick is tiny, measuring just 3.6 inches by 1.3 inches by 0.6 inches. A male HDMI connector sticks out of one end which you plug that into your TV. The device also comes with a short HDMI cable so you can plug the SmartStick in to televisions that have limited access.

The SmartStick runs Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) on a 1.0 GHz ARM Cortex-A9 with 1GB DDR3 SDRam with built-in 802.11 b/g/n WiFi and either 4GB or 8GB of storage (you can add up to 32GB storage via a Micro SD card slot).

Power is provided by a standard wall wart that plugs into a mini USB port on the side of the SmartStick. A USB 2.0 is located on the opposite end and most wireless keyboard and mouse adapters will be identified and supported automatically when plugged in.

Installation is straightforward and the SmartStick can be configured to output either a 720P or 1080P television image. The SmartStick also comes with an IR sensor on a three foot cable so that you can control the device with the included remote, even if the SmartStick has to be buried behind your TV.

The remote that comes with the SmartStick is OK but the controls are not as intuitive as they could be and text entry via the on-screen keyboard with the remote is painful. You would be advised to get the wireless Favi SmartStick Keyboard.

Sadly, while the keyboard is an improvement it isn't a huge one -- as with the BlueStacks interface, the Favi keyboard is twitchy, often generating extra key presses while the mouse pad is a little on the small side requiring you to relearn your mousing technique to improve accuracy and it doesn't always generate a "mouse down" when you tap on it.

Those criticisms aside, as a multimedia platform the SmartStick isn't bad ... it can run all of the usual Android music, movie, and video apps, including Pandora, Netflix, YouTube, HBO GO, Flixster, and Hulu.

It would be nice if a simpler, non-techie interface was available as not everyone cares about all of the configuration and management features particularly when it is to be used as media consumption platform.

But what makes the Favi SmartStick cool is its price: $50 for the 4GB model and $80 for the 8GB version. The Favi wireless keyboard will set you back $39.99. All in all, the Favi SmartStick is a good value with room for improvement and gets a Gearhead rating of 4 out of 5.

Gibbs is Androided out for now in Ventura, Calif. Your electric sheep dreams to gearhead@gibbs.com and follow him on Twitter and App.net (@quistuipater) and on Facebook (quistuipater). And check out the Tech Predictions blog.

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This story, "Android on Everything" was originally published by Network World.

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