If you’re considering an Android phone you can take off some of the pressure by installing an Android OS download and taking a tour of Android on your PC. This won’t give you perfect emulation, but it will give you a good idea of how Android’s interface works and what you can do with Android based devices.
Installing The Android SDK
In order to run Android on your PC you will need to first install the Android SDK. This is a tool targeted at Android app developers, and as a result it isn’t the most user friendly program in the world. Follow these instructions carefully and you should have no problems.
After you have downloaded the Android SDK zip file, unzip the android-sdk-windows folder. Open the folder and then open SDK Setup.exe. The Android SDK does not come with any version of the Android OS available, so you will be prompted by a window that scans Google’s servers to find out what Android OS download is available.
You will probably run into the error message displayed above. If you do, close the window. In the main Android SDK window click on the Settings option. Two check boxes will appear near the bottom of the window, one of which is labeled “Force http:// … sources to be fetched using http:// …” Click on that checkbox. The Refresh Sources window will appear again for a moment and then disappear.
Now a new window will appear asking what packages you would like to install. You will see a list of various Android OS versions that are available. You can install them all, or you can simply chose to install the Android OS that comes with the phone you’re interested in. Either way, pressing Install will start the download of the Android OS version(s) you selected.
If for some reason you cancel the process before you selected and installed an Android OS you can bring this window back by going to Installed Packages and then clicking Update All.
Emulating An Android Phone
Now that you have the Android OS download you want to mess with you need to emulate a phone using that OS. To start, go to the Virtual Devices section of the Android SDK and then click New. This will open up the below window, which contains several options.
First, name your phone. It doesn’t matter what the name is – this is just a means of identifying the emulated phone so you can select it later.
Next, click the Target drop down box and select an operating system from the list. Again, you’re best off choosing the Android OS that will be installed on the smartphone you’re curious about.
Now you need to input a size into the field under the SD Card section. The size that you select really does not matter for the purposes of this experiment. I suggest a nice, round number like 512 or 1024. Next, you need to select a display from the Built-In drop-down menu in the Skin section. Again, this doesn’t really matter for evaluation purposes. The default (HVGA) will be fine.
When you’re done, click Create AVD. The following prompt will appear.
Now your emulated phone will appear in the Virtual Devices menu.
Select the emulated phone and then click on Start. A prompt will appear asking if you want to scale the display. I don’t recommend messing with these settings – just click Launch.
Once you do so the emulated Android phone will appear. To the left you will simply see a black screen with Android spelled out in gray letters. You are going to have to let it sit for a few minutes while the emulation loads. Eventually the Android boot animation will appear, and then the OS will appear.
The emulation will let you do most of the things you could normally do with an actual Android smartphone. You can use the web browser, change phone settings, send or receive emails, and add contacts. These features are, for the most part, fully functional – you actually can check your real email using your real email address and you can browse the Internet at your leisure.
There are some things that won’t work. Opening the camera caused my emulated Android phone to crash every time. You can type in phone numbers and press the call button, but no actual call takes place. The music player won’t have any music to play. Perhaps most importantly, there is also no Android Marketplace, although you can still install apps that are available through the web browser.
Emulating an Android phone with the SDK won’t give you a perfect representation, but it will help you understand the nuts-and-bolts mechanics of the phone and provide you with another tool that can be used to make sure you spend your money wisely. Now, if only you could emulate iOS for a comparison!