Microsoft introduced Windows on Arm in late 2016, and we started seeing devices with it the following year. Despite that, the Windows Arm ecosystem hasn’t grown as much as we’d like to see. Part of the problem is Arm is a completely different architecture from x86, which is what Intel and AMD processors are based on, and that means that Windows apps designed for these processors (ie all of them) couldn’t run natively on Arm processors from Qualcomm. Not only that, but for a long time, 64-bit apps based on x86 (or x86-64) couldn’t run at all on Arm devices.
Thankfully, Windows on Arm is slowly becoming a better experience than what it used to be a couple of years ago. With Windows 11, Microsoft introduced x64 app emulation for Windows on Arm PCs, so not only can you emulate 32-bit apps, 64-bit ones are supported too. And while there aren’t a ton of laptops running Windows on Arm, there are already some great choices out there.
Still, if you want to have the best experience possible with Windows on Arm, you’re going to want native apps, and we’re here to help. We’ve rounded up some of the best apps that run natively on Windows on Arm devices, which will give you the best performance on PCs like the Surface Pro X.
Microsoft Edge can run natively and is probably the best browser for Windows running on Arm. It offers the same functionality and features as the regular version, and in fact, Microsoft recently launched Edge for Mac devices running on the M1 chip, so even Mac users can appreciate this one. On Windows, Edge is preinstalled and it’s the default browser, so you’re already getting a good experience out of the box.
If you don’t like Edge for any reason, then Firefox is another browser that can now natively run on Arm-based Windows devices — at least the ones that run on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chipsets. Firefox is often seen as a much more privacy-conscious browser compared to the likes of Google Chrome and Edge, so this is a great choice if you don’t like sharing data with Google or Microsoft.
Adobe has been working on bringing the entire Adobe CC suite to Arm-based Windows PCs for a while. While Photoshop and Lightroom have been available in beta, last month, the company officially pulled Photoshop for Windows on Arm out of beta. Do note that in order to run Photoshop on an Arm-based Windows PC, you need to install the 64-bit Creative Cloud app; However, it will no longer offer 32-bit apps anymore, which means you’re giving up on other CC apps, even through emulation.
If you enjoy listening to music or podcasts, you’re probably no stranger to Spotify. While it’s been around for years, it was only recently that the company released an experimental Arm version of Spotify that runs natively on Arm-based Windows devices. There is currently a known issue with it where you might be unable to watch video podcasts through the app, but aside from that, everything should work fine, and it will perform much better than running an emulated x86 app. You can download the Spotify beta here.
The popular file archiving tool 7-Zip has been testing a native Arm version for a while, and it’s already available as a stable release. You can find the latest version on the 7-Zip download page.
VLC has a native app for Windows PCs running on Arm. It’s essentially the same video player we’re used to that can play all sorts of video formats. You can download the Arm version of VLC from the official website.
The popular video and movie streaming service is available as a UWP (Universal Windows Platform) app via the Microsoft Store. While you can technically access most streaming services via the web, it’s always nice to have an app handy, and Netflix is one of the most popular services of this kind, so this is great to see.
Popular video conferencing app, Zoom, has also made its way to the list of native apps for Windows on Arm. According to a changelog shared by the company, Zoom’s Virtual Background isn’t supported on the Arm version yet. However, you can expect everything else to work just as well as on the x86 version for traditional PCs. You can download the Arm version of Zoom over here.
Microsoft’s messaging platform, Teams, was primarily launched for business users for collaborative purposes including document sharing, hosting presentations, scheduling meetings, and so on. It’s available as a dedicated app for Arm-based Windows PCs. Windows 11 also includes a pre-installed version of Microsoft Teams that runs natively on any device.
Like the UWP-based Netflix app, there is a standalone Twitter app that can be downloaded and installed on devices with Windows on Arm. You can grab the official Twitter app from the Microsoft Store. Technically speaking, the Twitter app is a progressive web app (PWA), so it’s not exactly native to Arm, but it runs on the Microsoft Edge engine, which is.
The beloved photo-based social media platform is also available as a dedicated UWP app that can be installed on Windows machines running on Arm. Download the Instagram app for Arm devices running on Windows via the Microsoft Store. Similar to the Twitter app, this is a PWA powered by Edge, so you’ll get native performance in that regard, but it’s not exactly built for Arm.
Telegram is one of the hottest messenger apps right now, and a personal favorite of mine, too. Unigram is a fan-developed version of Telegram designed specifically for Windows, fitting in with the rest of the UI on Windows 10 and 11, and being built on Microsoft’s UWP. It’s grown enough that it’s often updated right alongside the main Telegram apps on other platforms and most features from Android and iOS are often supported on Unigram, even some that aren’t supported in the official Telegram Desktop app. On top of all of that, of course, it’s also available with native Arm support so performance will be great on any device. You can find it on the Microsoft Store.
The ‘Your Phone’ app for Windows allows you to link your Android phone to your PC to view and reply to text messages, make and receive calls, get real-time mobile notifications, run your phone apps, though that last feature only supports certain phones, including some Samsung devices and the Surface Duo family. You can even copy, edit, and drag and drop photos without ever touching your phone. The app can be downloaded from the Microsoft Store and supports notebooks running on Arm and Arm64 platforms.
Microsoft recently released a native Arm version of the OneDrive desktop app for Windows and macOS, which is great news if you care about syncing your files in real-time. OneDrive ships with Windows, but it’s always been an emulated app, and that made the syncing process very slow on Arm devices. With this new release, you should see much better performance. However, this is still in beta — if you want to try it, you’ll need to head into your OneDrive app’s settings and opt to receive preview builds. Still, it should be widely available soon enough.
Bandizip is another free file archiver for Windows operating system that supports all major archive file formats and various customization options. It has officially supported Windows 10 on Arm since v6.18, and it works natively on Arm64 CPU. You can download Bandizip from the Microsoft Store here.
FileZilla is a free and open-source, cross-platform FTP application, featuring the FileZilla Client and FileZilla Server. It supports FTP, SFTP, and FTPS protocols along with features such as Site Manager, Directory Comparison, File and Folder View, and Transfer Queue. You can download FileZilla for Windows on Arm here.
Games for Windows on Arm
If you’re looking for games, there are some popular titles that can run natively on Windows running on Arm chipsets, but it’s worth noting that many of these aren’t typical PC games. Many were designed for Windows 8 and Windows Phone back in the day, which is why they needed to support arm processors. There’s a running list of games that can natively run on Arm-based Windows laptops and tablets which includes all of these. There are also some more typical PC games that support Windows on Arm, like League of Legends, DOTA 2, Starcraft 2, CS: GO, Minecraft, Plague Inc., GTA: San Andreas, World of Warcraft: Shadowlands.
These are some of the best native apps for Windows on Arm, but that doesn’t mean it’s all you can use. With Windows 11, both 32-bit and 64-bit apps based on x86 technology can work via emulation, and aside from specific web-based apps like browsers and Slack, they’ll almost run as well that way. Plus, Windows 11 now supports Android apps, and Arm devices actually have a big advantage here as those apps are built for Arm processors already. You’ll see much less of a performance hit compared to emulating those Android apps on x86-based devices.
Not interested in Arm computers? Check out our list of the best laptops you can buy today, along with our recommendation of the best Chromebooks and best 5G laptops for 2021.