So I played around with Android Emulators in Visual Studio 2019!

Let me share some of my experience with playing around with the latest updated Android Emulators in Visual Studio 2019!

Microsoft had finally rolled out a full fledged Android Emulator set up (Xamarin Android Device Manager) that’s very stable and much easier to use with Xamarin mobile development, expiring the previously buggy always-out-dated VS Emulator set up that was shipped for Xamarin dev. Yeah seriously I hated that and had a lot of issues using those emulators.

Backstory…

So recently I got a little deep into the new Xamarin Android Emulator set up in Visual Studio 2019, where I had to build a whole bunch of custom Emulators for some experiments. I had to do a lot of fine tuning and customization for those Android Virtual Devices. Also I had to focus on Performance management as well, which was quite interesting to deal with given the HAXM and Windows Hyper-V separation.

It was a great learning experience, where I noticed a lot of new features and differences between the previous VS Emulator set up compared to this one.

So here I am sharing my experience…

Getting Started…

Here are some important articles that might be important for anyone to get started…

Managing Virtual Devices with the Android Device Manager
https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/xamarin/android/get-started/installation/android-emulator/device-manager?tabs=windows&pivots=windows
Great step by step guide on how to update Device Manager, create new Virtual Devices, Customizing and Managing the performance further…

Editing Android Virtual Device Properties
https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/xamarin/android/get-started/installation/android-emulator/device-properties?pivots=windows
Step by step guide for Editing Virtual Device Properties…

Troubleshooting
https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/xamarin/android/get-started/installation/android-emulator/troubleshooting?pivots=windows
Basically this includes fixing HAXM issues, Hyper-V issues not configured up in BIOS, or not Enabled in Windows, etc.. It’s quite easy to miss those configurations so you might want to focus twice on those if you ever run into any issues.

The official documentation from Microsoft does a great job of explaining how to get started and all, so I won’t be repeating the same on my blog post, rather I would focus on the important bits that I experienced and issues I ran into which I eventually solved during my playing around! 😉

The adb binary is obsolete!?!

So this is the first weird issue I ran into when I tried out the Android Emulator on Visual Studio 2019, there is a reason why I call it weird though… lol

“The ADB binary found at C:\Program Files (x86)\Android\android-sdk\platform-tools\adb.exe is obsolete and has seriousperformance problems with the Android Emulator. Please update to a newer version to get significantly faster app/file transfer.”

Yeah notice the “seriousperformance” lol, no idea why they haven’t spell-checked the error message. Anyhow I kept on getting this warning message every time I launched my Android Emulators, I couldn’t really understand why, since I had VS 2019 updated to the latest version at the time. But later only I figured out that you need to manually update some other bits from your Android SDK Manager as shown in below steps…

Update Android Emulator!

You need to make sure to update your Android Emulator version, from the Android SDK Manager as shown below…

Go to the Tools tab, and expand the Android Emulator section, make sure you have installed the latest version as shown there. Most likely this won’t be updated by the usual VS Updater process, which was the issue in my case.

Also one more thing you need to do, since the “obsolete ADB binary issue” could be occurred from either one of these.

Update Android SDK Build Tools!

Go to Tool tab and expand Android SDK Build Tools section…

You need to make sure to have the latest version installed, and remove any older versions already installed of the Android SDK Build Tools as shown above. Because this could be causing the “obsolete ADB binary issue” that I mentioned earlier.

Intel HAXM vs Windows Hyper-V!

Now some devs seem to be getting confused about this, first think of it as this, you have an Android Emulator and you have these two different support systems that you can use to accelerate the performance of it. You can use only one of them, its either Intel HAXM or Windows Hyper-V, you cannot use both at the same time. Got it? 😉

Check out the docs: Hardware acceleration for emulator performance (Hyper-V & HAXM)
Well the documentation from Microsoft does a great job at explaining both these setups in great detail step by step.

I personally tried both of them separately in my Lenovo Windows Laptop, that’s running on Intel Core i7 Processor. Keep in mind, if you want to try Intel HAXM then you need to disable Windows Hyper-V and vise-versa, otherwise you’ll run into all kinds of issues.

Aha! Intel HAXM!

Intel’s Hardware Accelerated Execution Manager (HAXM). HAXM is a virtualization engine for computers running Intel CPUs. – Source

Check if your Intel Processor supports Virtualization Technology: https://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/support/articles/000005486/processors.html

You development machine needs to be running on an Intel processor in order for HAXM to work, even in that case that processor needs to support Intel VT, you can check it from the link I shared above. This works on both Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac OS systems, as long as the hardware requirements are met.

Intel HAXM has always been there since long time back for accelerating the performances of Android Emulators, so it supports Emulators that are running older versions of x86-based virtual devices.

If you’ve successfully set up Intel HAXM, you can check status of HAXM set up as follows:

sc query intelhaxm

Microsoft recommends this option to be your default choice for setting up your Android Emulators. But if your dev set up doesn’t support Intel HAXM acceleration, next let’s see the second option…

Ooo! Windows Hyper-V!

Microsoft’s Hyper-V and the Windows Hypervisor Platform (WHPX)Hyper-V is a virtualization feature of Windows that makes it possible to run virtualized computer systems on a physical host computer. Source

As obvious as it is, this only works on Windows OS! This was introduced for Android Emulators quite recently, so you need to have the following set up for your local Android SDK and Tools:

  • Android Emulator package 27.2.7 or later
  • Android SDK Tools version is 26.1.1 or later

Also you need to have Microsoft Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise, or Education version installed. You can check if your system could support Windows Hyper-V as follows:

systeminfo

If all those values are shown as Yes, then you can go ahead and enable Windows Hyper-V on your machine 🙂

So, Intel HAXM or Windows Hyper-V!?!

Yeah, so which is better? given that you can ONLY think of if you’re development PC is compatible for both of them!

I’ve tried both of them, and to be honest I’ve seen much better performance with Intel HAXM Acceleration in my Windows 10 Lenovo Laptop, with Intel Core i7 processor. Since Microsoft docs also recommend this option, yes I would definitely recommend this be your primary choice as well for better performance.

FastBoot, Intel HAXM only!

Now this is something strange that I noticed during my try outs, FastBoot feature does not seem to be supported on Windows Hyper-V, during every launch it was executing a fresh cold boot. But with Intel-HAXM it works like a charm! So that’s probably something you need to keep in mind! 😉

If you’re not familiar with FastBoot, let me walk you through a little intro…

FastBoot vs ColdBoot!

You can see this configuration in the Properties from the Android Device Manager as following…

FastBoot allows you to directly boot your Android Emulator from a pre-saved snapshot state image, so you get a super fast boot and be able to deploy the apps faster when you launch directly from Visual Studio. Every time you close the Emulator it will save a snapshot of it’s current state, which will be used in the next boot.

So what is ColdBoot?

The opposite of FastBoot is ColdBoot, where during every launch the Android Emulator executes a fresh boot instance. ColdBoot is by default disabled as you can see in my previous screenshot, you need to tick on the fastboot.forceColdBoot in order to enable this. You should only use this if you need a fresh boot in each time your Emulator launches.

Now as obvious as it is, keep in mind you can’t use both of them at the same time, so make sure to tick on either forceColdBoot or forceFastBook as you prefer. 🙂

Maximum performance!

For maximizing the performance of your Android Virtual Device, I found utilizing on these three properties quite useful,

  • hw.gpu.mode – the GPU allocation set up of your Emulator
  • hw.cpu.ncore – number of Processor Cores allocated to your Emulator
  • hw.ramsize – amount of RAM size allocated to your Emulator

Now the higher values you set for those properties will definitely provide better performance in your Android Emulator, but it will require consumption of more resources from your development machine, so make sure to cross check against it when you tweak those up!

hw.gpu.mode -> host!

By default this property will be set to “auto” mode which will set the Emulator to decide whether to use device GPU processor to render the Emulator’s GPU processing or use Software GPU Emulation.

If you’ve got a dedicated powerful GPU in your development machine, I would say this should set the “host” option for the GPU emulation in the Emulator, which forces the Emulator to use the system GPU device, which in return provides great performance.

New Camera magic!

Since the latest update Android Emulators are now updated with an awesome Camera emulation feature which allows you to emulate a virtual 3D scene. You can enable this by setting the hw.camera.back property to virtualscene value.

This is such an awesome feature it allows you to navigate through an emulated virtual scene in a 3D space, with full 360 degree camera angle movements.

Now that’s some awesomeness eh! 😉

LCD Density!

You can set the density of the screen in your Android Emulator, to a list of custom values possible to set up the density-independent pixels for rendering.

Keeping in mind, setting hw.lcd.density to 160 value will cause the emulator to render each pixel in the device screen equivalent to your host machine’s physical screen pixels. You should be able to find the most suited screen density for the screen resolution you have set up for your emulator.

Here’s an example of screen resolution 1080×2160 with each lcd screen density option available from 160, 240, 213, 320, 420, 480, to 560 as follows…

Well well you can see how it clearly changes the UI rendered DPI based on the density settings you have set up… 😀

Custom Resolutions play!

So one tricky thing I got to play around was creating Android Emulators with custom screen resolutions, now this really requires a careful set up of the screen Density settings as well.

So for the fun of let me show you a custom Android Emulator that I build with the screen resolution equivalent to iPhone 11 which has height to width 1792×828 resolution…

So something to keep in mind is that, right on the first try you wouldn’t get screen density property compatible for the custom screen resolution, so you will need a few try outs to sort out the density property. Yes it took a few try outs for me as well! 😉

hw.lcd.height – screen height, hw.lcd.width – screen width, hw.lcd.density – screen density

Setting up skin.path value…

When you set up a custom resolution to your Emulator, you need to make sure to update the skin.path property value as well.

Set this value followed by the format resolution, widthxheight as shown here.

Not sure how this related to the custom resolutions, but if you miss this step your emulator screen will end up with the default resolution value set up here upon create. So make sure to set this value according to your custom screen resolution as well 🙂

Enabling on-screen Keys…

[ back | home | recent ] yes those on screen keys might not be available when you first create your custom emulator, to enable this you need to disable the hw.mainKeys property.

You should un-tick this property value to enable on-screen navigation keys.

And the resulting should be as straight as below… 😉

Well there you have it, working like a charm! and that’s pretty much it for all the tricks and lessons that I learned during my playing around with Android Emulators in Visual Studio 2019!

Conclusion

The latest updates to Android Device Manager allows you to create Android Virtual devices or emulators with incredible flexibility and easy to manage interface, with improved performances and enhancements unlike before. 🙂

The Microsoft documentations provide an incredible support for getting started step by step, and even customizing your Android emulators for Xamarin Development with ease.

I happened to be stumbled upon a great opportunity to learn a few tricks and lessons for complex use of the latest Android Virtual Devices for Xamarin Development, which I had shared in this article. 😉

Hope it helps any of you fellow devs out there!

Share the love! Cheers! 😀

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