Visual Studio Android Emulator

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last updated: 2017-03

This guide explains how to configure and use the Visual Studio Android Emulator to develop Xamarin.Android apps in Visual Studio 2015.

Overview

Microsoft Visual Studio 2015 includes an Android emulator that can be used as a target for debugging an Xamarin.Android app: Visual Studio Emulator for Android. This emulator uses the Hyper-V capabilities of your development computer, resulting in faster launch and execution times than the default emulator that comes with the Android SDK. (Note that the Microsoft Android emulator is currently unavailable for Xamarin Studio on OSX.) The Visual Studio Emulator for Android can be used as an alternative to the default Android SDK emulator when developing a Xamarin.Android application.

This guide explains how to launch the Microsoft Android emulator from Visual Studio to test your app, and it describes the various features available in the emulator. You will learn how to select device profiles (similar to device definitions in the default Android SDK emulator) to simulate different types of Android devices. Finally, a troubleshooting section explains common pitfalls and workarounds.

Requirements

To run the emulator, the computer must meet the requirements to run Hyper-V. Hyper-V requires a 64-bit version of the Pro edition of Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows 10, or higher. For more information about requirements, see System Requirements for the Visual Studio Emulator for Android.

Running the Emulator

Visual Studio makes several pre-configured target-device profiles available in the Debug Target drop-down menu (as seen in the following screen shot). The Microsoft Android Emulator targets are prefaced with VS Emulator:

Pre-configured target device profiles

When Visual Studio starts a Xamarin.Android application, the emulator is launched with the chosen device target and the app is deployed to the emulator. A message will appear in the bottom left corner of Visual Studio indicating that the emulator is starting:

Starting VS Emulator

After a startup delay, the emulator screen appears as shown on the left below. Drag the lock icon on the screen upwards to unlock the device. The Xamarin.Android app should then be running in the emulator as shown on the right:

Emulator screenshots

As with the default Android SDK emulator, it is possible to set breakpoints in the code, inspect variables, and view the call stack. The vertical toolbar to the right of the emulator provides access to emulator features:

Buttons on the vertical toolbar

The following list summarizes the function of each button on the vertical toolbar:

  • Close – Shuts down the emulator application. This button is not used often – typically, the emulator is left running after first launch (to avoid the emulator restart delay) and closed only when it is no longer needed.

  • Minimize – Leaves the emulator running but minimizes it to the taskbar.

  • Power – Simulates turning the device on and off. (The emulator remains running.)

  • Multi-touch – Overlays several dots on the device display that act as touch points for pinching and zooming. Dragging one dot causes the other dot to move in the opposite direction, simulating two-finger movement.

  • Single Point Mouse Input – Returns the device to single point input (after using Multi-touch input).

  • Rotate Left/Rotate Right – Helps test how the app responds to orientation changes. For example, the first time the Rotate Left button is clicked, the emulator will switch to landscape mode. When the the Rotate Right button is pressed the emulator will to return to portrait mode.

  • Fit to Screen – Zooms the size of the emulator screen so that it fits on the desktop screen.

  • Zoom – Scales the emulator screen by 33%, 50%, 66%, 100%, or by some custom percentage.

The Additional Tools button will display a dialog opens that displays the extra features of the emulator:

Additional Tools dialog

Each additional feature is available from a row of tabs at the top of the dialog:

  • Accelerometer – Simulates device movement in a 3D space.

  • Location – Presents a map that can be used to select and simulate a GPS location. On this map, map points can be created for simulating movement between locations.

  • Battery – Provides a slider to simulate the amount of charge left in the battery.

  • Screenshot – In this tab, the Capture button that takes a screenshot and displays an instant preview. The Save button will save the screenshot.

  • Camera – Simulates taking a picture via a fixed animated image, a picture from a file, or from an attached webcam on your host computer. It is possible to select either the front or rear cameras.

  • SD Card – The emulator can make a folder on your host computer available to the device as an SD card. When the app reads and writes files to the simulated SD card, they can be accessed directly from the desktop without using the adb command.

  • Network – Displays a summary of the emulator's network settings (the emulator reuses the network connection of the host computer).

For more information about how to use these features, see Introducing Visual Studio's Emulator for Android.

Configuring Device Profiles

The Microsoft Android emulator includes a set of device profiles that represent the most popular Android versions, screen sizes, and hardware properties of Android devices on the market. In addition, these device profiles are already configured for various Android versions such as KitKat, Lollipop, and Marshmallow.

The Emulator Manager is used to install, uninstall, and start device profiles. From the Tools menu, select Visual Studio Emulator for Android... as indicated in this screenshot:

Launching the emulator from the Tools menu

This opens the Device Profiles dialog. The installed profiles are highlighted at the top of the device profile list. Profiles that are not installed (but are available for installation) are grayed out:

Device profiles icons

To install a new profile, click the profile installation icon (a downward pointed arrow as shown in the above screenshot). For example, when you click the profile installation icon for the 5.7" Marshmallow (6.0.0) XHDPI Phone, the Emulator Manager downloads the profile as shown here:

Example of downloading profiles

After the device profile is downloaded, it is highlighted to indicate that the profile was installed successfully. Clicking the Show details icon to will display the platform type, cpu architecture, screen size/resolution, and memory available to the device:

Show Device Profile details

When the Visual Studio Debug Target drop-down menu is opened, the newly-installed device profile is now available as a target:

New profile in target drop-down menu

This list can be shortened by clicking Uninstall this profile in the Emulator Manager to remove unused device profiles. Note that there is currently no way to create a customized device profile in this emulator.

Installing Google Play Services

Unlike the default emulator that ships with the Android SDK, Visual Studio Emulator for Android does not include Google Play Services. This means that several APIs, including support for Google Maps, are not supported by default. To install Google Play Services, take the following steps:

  1. Download the Google Apps package from Team Android – be sure to choose the version that corresponds to the Android version of the device profile that you want to use in the emulator. In the following examples, gapps-600-base-2015106-1-signed.zip is downloaded for installation to an Android Marshmallow device profile:

    Example downloaded file

  2. Drag and drop the downloaded package into the running emulator. A dialog similar to the following should appear – click Install and shut down to install the APK:

    Install and shut down dialog

  3. The installer will display the progress of the installation. When the installation completes, click OK:

    Installation progress dialog

  4. If the installation succeeds, the emulator will shut down and restart. To verify installation, check that the Play Store app is visible in the app menu:

    Play Store icon appears

Troubleshooting

This section describes some common errors and workarounds when using the Visual Studio Emulator for Android with Xamarin.Android.

Emulator will not start

In some cases, the emulator will not start if there are incompabilities between the host processor and the Hyper-V virtual machine. To work around this issue, configure Hyper-V to limit the processor features that a virtual machine can have – this improves the virtual machine's compatibility with different host processor versions. Use the following steps to make this change:

  1. Click the Start button, type in MMC, and press Enter. Click Hyper-V Manager as illustrated here:

    Hyper-V Manager

  2. In the Hyper-V Manager Virtual Machines pane, right click the emulator that to edit to use and click Settings...":

    Virtual Machines Settings menu item

  3. In the settings window, locate the Compatibility section (under Hardware > Processor) and enable Migrate to a physical computer with a different processor version:

    Migrate option checked

  4. Click OK and close the Hyper-V Manager window.

App deploys and starts but fails immediately

In this situation, the emulator starts, the app successfully deploys to the emulator, and the app starts. However, the app fails immediately. In many cases, this is also caused by incompabilities between the host processor and the Hyper-V virtual machine. To resolve this error, follow the instructions in The Emulator will not start (above).

Emulator stops with the diagnostic message: libaot-mscorlib.dll.so not found

To resolve this error, use the following steps to disable fast deployment:

  1. Follow the instructions in The Emulator will not start (above).

  2. Double-click project Properties.

  3. Click Android Options and unselect Use Fast Deployment (debug mode only):

    Use Fast Deployment option unchecked

Drag and Drop does not work

If the Visual Studio Emulator for Android is started as an Administrator (or if you launch it from from Visual Studio while Visual Studio is running with Administrator privilege), drag and drop of .APK or .ZIP files may not work. To work around this problem, run Visual Studio Emulator for Android without elevated permissions (i.e., not as Administrator).

Other errors

The above troubleshooting tips cover the most common problems when using the Visual Studio Android Emulator with Xamarin.Android. For a more complete guide to Visual Studio Android Emulator troubleshooting, see Troubleshooting the Visual Studio Emulator for Android.

Summary

This article introduced Visual Studio Emulator for Android; it explained how to use the emulator to debug Xamarin.Android apps in Visual Studio, it described the functions of the buttons on the vertical toolbar, and it provided a brief overview of the features available in the Additional Tools dialog. It explained how to use the Emulator Manager to install, uninstall, and start device profiles, and it provided the steps for installing Google Play Services. A Troubleshooting section explained common problems and workarounds when using the emulator.

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