The Android Studio team has been kicking out preview builds at a fevered pace since the first 2.0 preview hit the scene near the end of November, and it's finally paying off as the first real Beta is now rolling out. (The first beta has an issue, so this is actually labeled Beta 2). The jump from v1.5 to v2.0 is enough to suggest that this could be the most ambitious update to the IDE since it was launched, but the feature list confirms it. We've already covered some of the biggest features: instant run, GPU profiling, and a massively faster and more functional emulator.
Microsoft surprised Android developers last year with the launch of a brand new emulator designed for performance and features that aren't available anywhere else. While the initial Preview release only included an image for KitKat, subsequent updates introduced an expanded set of emulator images and some valuable new features. While a high-speed emulator is certainly compelling, many developers still didn't adopt it because it had to be downloaded and installed alongside a very large Visual Studio package, not to mention it was also frustrating to set up for use with other IDEs. Last week, Microsoft unburdened the emulator and released it as a standalone download along with step-by-step instructions to set it up to easily run with Android Studio and Eclipse with ADT.
Today's Android devices are powerful enough to run circles around most game consoles of yesteryear, but that doesn't mean emulating old hardware is easy. 2D games, sure, walk in the park—but replicating the original PlayStation is a different thing entirely. Nevertheless, that hasn't stopped an Android developer from trying to tackle the even more powerful PlayStation 2.
Play!, as the emulator is called, also supports Windows, Mac OS X, and iOS. Here's a video of an Android tablet running Final Fantasy X. Though they aren't demonstrated, we can see that the tester also has Capcom Vs SNK 2, Dragon Quest VIII, Dynasty Warriors 2, Gradius V, Kingdom Hearts, and Space Harrier saved to the device.
In his review of the original SHIELD a year and a half ago, Jeremiah Rice noted that NVIDIA's gaming gadget was amazingly well-suited to game emulators. Combined with a robust emulation scene on Android, especially for older game consoles, it's possible to play a ton of great games on the SHIELD without ever stopping by the Play Store. This morning NVIDIA issued a software update specifically to improve performance for game emulator apps.
Update 101 is tiny, just over 3 megabytes, and in fact NVIDIA's release notes say that the OTA is "optional" (something you don't often hear from manufacturers). Even if you're not an emulation fan yourself, the nature of Android upgrades means it's probably easier to download and apply it than to ignore it (and the SHIELD's unlocked bootloader means that root users aren't inconvenienced).
There's a huge emulator community on Android, helped in no small part by the fact that modern smartphones can handle older game console software without breaking a sweat. But 3D consoles and newer portable machines are harder to emulate - they require more power and more complex software to get bigger, more demanding games to run well. The PPSSPP emulator (for PlayStation Portable games) has been in development for a variety of platforms for several years, but now the 1.0 release is available for Android via an easy Play Store download.
PPSSPP has just about all of the standard emulator bases covered.
If you couldn't make it to Google I/O, and thus couldn't get one of the first Android TV units as part of the developer swag, you can still start developing your apps for the platform's retail debut later in 2014. Google has included Android TV modules in the official Android SDK, underneath the Android L (API 20) package. That includes an emulator specifically for TV, so you should be able to build and test apps without any extra hardware. There was a similar emulator for Google TV.
That being said, an emulator usually isn't an ideal solution, since it will almost certainly be slower than the ADT-1 developer hardware.
Remember the BlueStacks App Player? It's been around for a pretty long time now. How long? Until just recently, the software that allowed users to run Android inside of Windows was powered by Gingerbread. Now the emulation software is making the leap to Ice Cream Sandwich, and while it's still two years behind the times, at least it looks somewhat modern. Well, until more devices make the transition to KitKat, that is.
If we're being honest, the BlueStacks App Player isn't the type of product that needs the latest and greatest features of KitKat. If you're running Android on a PC, you're not likely going to need that new fancy launcher or the perks of Google Now.
Android emulator fans, meet you new best friend. Yesterday the DraStic Nintendo DS emulator was published to the Play Store, for the admittedly high price of $7.99. It's not the first DS emulator for Android, but it's far and away the best - the combination of smooth performance (on sufficient hardware) and a stupefying amount of options to adapt the DS ergonomics makes it an easy recommendation.
Most of the existing DS emulators are based on code for Windows programs, making them unbearably slow on Android. This one is designed from the ground up to run on ARM, and requires at least a Cortex-A8 processor (with a few exceptions) and 256MB of RAM to run.
The E3 gaming show is usually about showing off the latest and greatest in gaming, but Hyperkin is sticking to the classics. This company has been working on the mother of all classic consoles, and a playable prototype version is on the floor at E3. Whereas most retro game consoles use hardware to imitate the original system, the Hyperkin Retron 5 is doing it with software emulation based on Android.
It's called the Retron 5 because it has five slots. There are four slots on top (some of which perform double duty) to support original NES, SNES, Genesis, Famicom, Super Famicom, and Mega Drive cartridges.
I have a confession to make: most of the programs you might want to run on this emulator were written before I was born. But if you're the kind of seasoned geek who really did watch the original Star Wars in theaters (and watched it in Europe), you might just remember having an Amstrad brand computer in your basement. Developer Kokak (who we've featuredbefore) has released Droid-CPC, a full emulator for the Amstrad line of PCs. If you've got program files, the emulator should be able to run them on most Android hardware.
Droid-CPC is particularly tuned for games, with a virtual keyboard and joystick, support for customized external gamepads, and an engine that should keep frame rates high (but not too high).