By Christian Cawley
You left your laptop at work, and you have an urgent report that needs completing and emailing to your boss. And you’re just arriving at the hotel on the first night of your holidays.
What should you do?
Well, as long as your documents are stored in the cloud, you could finish off the report using your smartphone — not as a phone, however, but as a PC. Just plug it into the hotel room TV, finish off the report, email it, and enjoy the rest of your vacation.
But is it as easy as that? Yes it is! In fact, there’s a good chance that the phone in your pocket has the ability to transform into a desktop computer. Android, Windows 10 Mobile, and Ubuntu Touch all have desktop user interfaces available for when connected via HDMI. All you need is a keyboard and mouse (optional) to get started!
Why Use a Smartphone?
Having a portable computer in your pocket at all times — for any eventuality — makes sense. Unfortunately, pockets aren’t big enough for even the most compact ultrabooks. Smartphones, on the other hand, slip into a pocket with ease.
The real magic of this context-aware dynamic, however, is in the presentation of a desktop UI (user interface). Once displayed on a compatible TV, you won’t be looking at the phone’s current UI. Instead, a traditional, familiar desktop is presented.
You’ll Need a Wireless HDMI Receiver
To use one of the various smartphone desktops, you’ll need some form of wireless HDMI receiver. The one you choose will depend on which smartphone operating system you use. Some wireless HDMI dongles support various wireless protocols while others are specialized.
The best thing to do is research which one you need before you start trying out your smartphone as a desktop computer.
Carry a Linux PC in Your Pocket With Ubuntu Touch
Ubuntu Touch devices are equipped with the Convergence system, which enables a different user interface depending upon the size of the display. For instance, the smartphone version of Ubuntu Touch is compact, while the tablet version is a bit larger.
However, Ubuntu Touch has been abandoned by developers Canonical. This means that while existing devices still work, no further in-house development is planned. Happily, a development community has sprung up to help maintain the operating system, centered around ubports.com.
The Windows 10 Phone That’s Also a PC
Once connected over Miracast, Continuum allows you to use your phone like a PC (and access the apps installed on it, like Microsoft Office Mobile). You can also use the phone as a phone while connected, which is a major advantage. While Microsoft has produced an expensive dock for your monitor, keyboard, and mouse to attach to, you don’t necessarily need them. Not only can the on-screen keyboard be employed when required, but the phone’s display can be employed as a touchpad!
The World’s Biggest Mobile OS as a Desktop
In 2016, Android overtook Windows as the most-used consumer operating system on the planet. It makes sense, therefore, to explore its potential as a desktop OS.
While Google and the Android Open Source Project are yet to declare any intention to follow Canonical and Microsoft into providing a desktop UI for their smartphone OS, others have been working at providing a solution.
Maru OS isn’t the only option for Android devices. Two apps can be found on Google Play:
- Leena Desktop UI — This is essentially a desktop-themed launcher for Android.
- Sentio Desktop — Previously known as Andromium OS, this solution works reasonably well on its own, but benefits from the addition of the Superbook hardware. This is a sort of laptop/dock combination that uses your smartphone as its brain. Find out more at sentio.com.
Obligatory Low-Budget Option: Android + Chromecast
Then it shouldn’t take long for you to load up the document that needs attention, connect a keyboard (either Bluetooth or USB should be fine, depending on your handset) and share your display over Chromecast. Produced by Google, this is another HDMI wireless streaming technology, but different to Miracast.
Do You Even Need a Desktop?
We’ve looked mostly at solutions that require a desktop UI (Android excepted). And iOS is conspicuous by its absence. But it’s fair to say that you don’t really need this. After all, your phone already has an operating system, and probably supports a mouse already.
All you really need is a suitable connection cable or wireless hardware, mouse and keyboard, a stand for your phone (or a dock), and the right apps to enhance your productivity.
Why Aren’t You Using Your Smartphone as a PC?
With so many mobile operating systems capable of turning a phone into a PC, it seems odd that so few people use their devices in this way. Is it the wireless HDMI? Or the lack of a physical keyboard to hand?
Whatever the case, corporations looking to cut back on desktop and notebook outlays in a world of ever-shrinking IT budgets are deeply interested in the handheld desktop form factor. It just needs a bit of ironing out.
Have you tried out any of these mobile operating systems in their desktop guises? Did it go well or did you find things fiddly? Can you see connecting your phone to a wireless monitor, keyboard, and mouse as something that will catch on? Tell us in the comments.
Image Credit: By ndq via Shutterstock.com