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Android tablets offer better mobility than laptops — but they lack dedicated hardware and software geared toward productivity. Fortunately, it’s not hard reconfiguring Android with productivity customizations. It just requires some software tweaks and a keyboard.

This article covers the essential software and hardware for turning your tablet into a laptop-like portable computer. There’s already several tablets designed specifically for laptop-like productivity, like the Remix and the Surface. There’s even an app that offers a desktop-like interface. Fortunately, Android’s flexibility allows tablets to behave like laptops. With the right apps and hardware, it can even outperform laptops in certain respects.

We’re taking a look at both the hardware and software side of tablet productivity. First up is hardware.

nexus 9 with bluetooth keyboard attached

What Hardware Turns a Tablet Into a Laptop?

It depends on what you need to do. There’s a ton of accessories that can turn a tablet into a laptop Forget Your Laptop - You Can Word Process On Your Android Tablet With These 4 Superb Apps Forget Your Laptop - You Can Word Process On Your Android Tablet With These 4 Superb Apps As mobile devices become more and more prominent as productivity tools, so an increasing number of apps offering solutions become available. Earning my living as a freelance writer, I’m particularly interested in word processing on... Read More . The ones least difficult to set up: Bluetooth devices What Is Bluetooth? [Technology Explained] What Is Bluetooth? [Technology Explained] Read More .

I recommend using Bluetooth because of issues with the wired alternative to Bluetooth. The big problem with On-the-Go (what’s OTG? Get Extra Storage On Android With A USB Flash Drive Get Extra Storage On Android With A USB Flash Drive Want to add more storage to your Android device using a USB flash drive? We can show you how to do that, step by step. Read More ) is that it’s not on all devices and puts a noticeable dent in your battery life, relative to its wireless sibling: Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy (LE). Because Bluetooth LE keyboards aren’t common, the best option: a universal Bluetooth 3.0 keyboard folio.

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Hardware and Software for Your Mobile Office

Out of all the accessories out there, the most useful is a keyboard, which makes a tablet more like a Surface. Android includes support for keyboard shortcuts in Chrome and in other apps. The default number of shortcuts compares favorably even with Windows. For example, cut is still CTRL+X.

Tablets generally come in sizes ranging between 7 and 10 inches.

  • 7-8 inches: SUPERNIGHT universal tablet portfolio keyboard — $25.99 via Amazon
  • 9-10 inches: Kyasi universal folio case — $30.55 via Amazon

SUPERNIGHT keyboard folio

Unfortunately, all of the universal keyboards that I’ve seen so far only support Bluetooth 3.0. Bluetooth 4.0 keyboards are more common among Apple’s iPad range and the HTC Nexus 9 (our Nexus 9 review HTC Nexus 9 Tablet Review and Giveaway HTC Nexus 9 Tablet Review and Giveaway Read More ).

While mice are useful, they’re not necessary, as the tablet’s touchscreen makes a mouse redundant. However, if you absolutely need a mouse, here are a few cheap mice:

  • HP Touch to Pair NFC mouse — $15.97 via Amazon
  • Microsoft Sculpt Comfort Mouse — $27.89 via Amazon
  • EEEKit 3-in-1 mouse — $11.80 via Amazon

hp touch to pair mouse

For those of you looking to transcribe handwritten notes: There’s the upcoming Livescribe 3 smartpen, which is currently in beta (for Android). Another handy piece of kit: Miracast adapters (what’s Miracast? Three Wireless Display Technologies That You Probably Own But Don’t Use Three Wireless Display Technologies That You Probably Own But Don’t Use Want to relay your smartphone's or laptop's display onto a larger screen without wires? No, it's not science fiction. You can wirelessly output video from computers and smartphones today. Wireless display technologies use WiFi to... Read More ), which allow users to wirelessly mirror, or copy, your tablet’s screen onto a much larger display via HDMI.

  • Livescribe 3 — $129.95 via Amazon
  • NetGear PTV3000 Miracast adapter — $49.99 via Amazon
  • Stylus Pen — $10.95 via Amazon

livescribe 3

Gaming Hardware

Out of all the peripherals on today’s market, I recommend a Bluetooth wireless gamepad Enhance Android Gaming With These Controller Options Enhance Android Gaming With These Controller Options Gaming on a touchscreen can be difficult and frustrating. While being able to whip out your Android phone and sneak in a little Final Fantasy on your lunch break is great, having no tactile feedback... Read More . A lot of older games that were designed for consoles have no problems adjusting to an Android designed gamepad.

There are a lot of gamepads on today’s market and not much to differentiate between one another. I recommend whatever offers the cheapest option (the Red Samurai has worked well for us How To Make A Retro Game Console Out Of An Old Android Device How To Make A Retro Game Console Out Of An Old Android Device Read More ). Keep in mind that the upcoming Steam Controller Valve Looks To Reinvent Gamepads With Steam Controller's Dual Trackpads Valve Looks To Reinvent Gamepads With Steam Controller's Dual Trackpads Valve has just announced the Steam Controller, which is unlike any gamepad you have seen before. It features dual trackpads and can work with any game that was traditionally designed for a keyboard and mouse. Read More is rumored to include Bluetooth support, meaning it might work with Android.

  • Red Samurai gamepad — $4.97 via GameStop

Telecommunications

If your tablet doesn’t include noise-cancelling, or you just want privacy during calls, the best option is a Bluetooth headset. Bluetooth headsets can range from horrible to amazing.

Generally speaking, features like bone-conduction, noise-cancelling, NFC, and Bluetooth 4.0 are among the most prized features of a good headset. For music-lovers, look for A2DP (a streaming audio method).

  • JETech universal Bluetooth headset — $24.95 via Amazon

bluetooth headset

Storing Media Files

You can increase the onboard storage of most tablets with a microSD card. Because of Google’s opposition to SD cards (and SD card unreliability), many smartphones and tablets ditched their microSD card slots.

Devices falling into this category possess two options for more storage: Network storage and OTG memory cards. Network storage can be added using an app that permits access to storage attached to your network Everything You Need to Know About Home Networking Everything You Need to Know About Home Networking Setting up a home network is not as hard as you think it is. Read More (NAS). However, if you don’t have a NAS handy, the best option is an OTG memory card. Be aware that not all Android devices support OTG (although most newer smartphones do).

Kingston sells relatively cheap storage devices via Amazon. These include a microUSB and a regular USB adapter, allowing you to transfer files from a desktop onto the drive. It’s also plug-and-play, so after copying files, you can then stick it onto your Android device and start moving files around. Or you can leave it attached (which I don’t recommend).

  • Kingston 16GB OTG USB drive — $8.99 via Amazon
  • Kingston 32GB OTG USB drive — $14.99 via Amazon
  • Kingston 64GB OTG USB drive — $26.95 via Amazon

 kingston 16GB OTG flash drive

Docking Station

Some users might prefer a desktop-like experience for their tablet. Some, but not all, tablets offer a docking station. Docks allow users to easily get screen mirroring on a larger display. Unfortunately, docks are proprietary to individual devices, and the most common is for Samsung Galaxy Devices.

  • Samsung Galaxy Dock — $99.99 via Samsung

samsung galaxy dock

What Software Turns a Tablet into a Laptop?

Android’s app library includes great solutions for mobile office productivity, Web browsing, news reading, gaming, remote desktop, telecommunications, and photo editing. I’ve picked some of my favorites when working from a tablet.

Mobile Office Productivity

Students, teachers, and analysts — almost anyone who writes as a part of their job — will benefit from being able to turn Android into a mobile productivity platform. The key component — aside from a keyboard — is the document software. The best apps aren’t just stand-alone word processors. They’re entire office suites, intended to handle a range of document types, from PDFs to presentation slides.

The top three office suites are probably OfficeSuite 8, Microsoft’s Office for Mobile, and Google’s Quickoffice. Of these, OfficeSuite 8 offers the best features and usability — it comes with a fairly high price tag, at $9.99 for the full version. Both Microsoft Office for Mobile and Quickoffice are both free, though. And then there’s WPS Office, which is one of the best free office programs out there.

  • OfficeSuite 8: Offers cloud integration (Dropbox, among others), top-tier word processing tools, and more.
  • Quickoffice: Offers Google Drive integration and a simplified interface, which scales well with different sized screens.
  • Microsoft Office for Mobile: Offers OneDrive integration and cross-compatibility with the desktop versions of Microsoft Office. Relatively low device compatibility.
  • Microsoft Word: Microsoft also offers a nearly complete version of Microsoft Word for tablets. It’s one of the best text editors I’ve ever used.
  • LibreOffice: It’s not the best, but LibreOffice finally added an editor mode for its beta-stage Android app. If you need an open source alternative, here it is.
  • WPS Office: Completely free and with a rich feature suite.

microsoft office for mobile

There’s a great deal of text editors for Android Forget Your Laptop - You Can Word Process On Your Android Tablet With These 4 Superb Apps Forget Your Laptop - You Can Word Process On Your Android Tablet With These 4 Superb Apps As mobile devices become more and more prominent as productivity tools, so an increasing number of apps offering solutions become available. Earning my living as a freelance writer, I’m particularly interested in word processing on... Read More . Finding the one that meets your needs is just a matter of experimentation.

Presentations for Android

If you do use Microsoft’s mobile version of its Office software, you get access to a unique presentation tool — Microsoft Remote. This app lets users remotely control a presentation. Just install the app on both an Android device and a Windows computer, and you can use your tablet as the remote control.

Some smart TVs can wirelessly receive the video output from an Android device. Alternatively, if you don’t have a smart TV, it’s possible to use a Miracast adapter to output video to a projector or a television, if it has HDMI.

  • Microsoft Remote: Lets users control their presentations using their phone or tablet as a remote.

office remote

Granted, the app is only useful if you use your tablet alongside a Windows device.

Note-taking Apps

The two best note-taking apps are Google Keep and Evernote. They both double as receipt generators and hand-held scanners as well. Keep in mind that both also perform OCR (as mentioned earlier).

evernote

As a lightweight document processing beast, a tablet (or smartphone) can even beat out a laptop in a major area: It can function as a document scanner with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) when combined with Evernote (our guide to Evernote How To Use Evernote: The Unofficial Manual How To Use Evernote: The Unofficial Manual I see so many advantages to Evernote and we will explore some of them in depth later. But basically it all comes down to this: we are all becoming digital packrats. Read More ).

OCR makes scanned documents searchable through Evernote. Simply taking a picture using your tablet’s camera will convert a receipt or paper into text, while backing it up. This is a killer productivity feature not typically available on laptops. However, if you want a desktop OCR, we’ve covered three ways to use OCR The 3 Best Free OCR Tools to Convert Your Files Back Into Editable Documents The 3 Best Free OCR Tools to Convert Your Files Back Into Editable Documents Believe it or not, some people still print documents to physical pieces of paper. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software takes those printed documents and converts them right back into machine-readable text. We've found some of... Read More .

Text Expanders

Does your job require a great deal of redundant, typed expressions? Do you interact with spreadsheets often? One of the greatest productivity tools on the desktop is now available on mobile: PhraseExpress. We’ve covered 5 uses for PhraseExpress — and it’s just as indispensable on mobile. Combined with a keyboard, it’s not that much different from the desktop interface.

  • PhraseExpress: Phrase Express includes auto correction along with text expansion support.

phrase express

Multi-window Management

A cornerstone of any laptop productivity configuration: Multi-window management (MWM). MWM lets users switch between programs. It either displays two different apps in split-screen or can juggle between multiple apps. On desktop systems, this is a must-have feature.

A shortcoming of Android is its inferior windows management relative to Windows, Macintosh, and Linux. A handful of third party apps (like Tiny Apps) can tap into Android’s ability to draw apps on top of other apps — known as “screen overlay”. However, Screen Overlay isn’t available on older versions of Android (4.1 and below). It’s also prone to crashes, which can cause a complete loss of data on over-drawn apps.

To date, only Samsung devices natively support MWM. Fortunately, there are some apps that add this ability to Android devices — although without Samsung’s convenient split-screen capabilities.

tablet scrolling wheel custom rom

 

Web Browsing and News Reading

To more closely emulate the tabbed browsing experience offered on the desktop, I recommend using Link Bubble (I no longer support the use of Javelin Browser, due to their developer’s abuse of Android’s permissions system). Link Bubble lets users open tabs in the background. Unfortunately, because of limitations in Android, “chat-heads” style browsers are less stable than other kinds of browsers.

  • ezPDF Reader: The best PDF and eBook reader around. Unfortunately, it does not directly integrate into cloud storage.
  • Montano Ebook Reader (free): Offers excellent layout and organization. This links to the ad-supported version.
  • FeedMe: For RSS consumption, the best productivity-oriented RSS reader is FeedMe (not to be confused with Feedly).
  • Google Play Books: The killer feature of Google Books is that you are allowed to upload your own digital books Get More Out of Google Play Books By Adding Your Favorite eBooks Get More Out of Google Play Books By Adding Your Favorite eBooks Google Play Books isn't just for eBooks purchased from Google; you can easily upload your own ePub or PDF eBooks that sync with Play Books. Read More , which are then synced across all devices. The user interface is modern and clean.
  • Link Bubble: Link Bubble can pop open links in the background. Because tabs load in the background, users can continue reading, saving precious time. It also has well-developed link sharing.
  • Flynx: Flynx offers native ad-blocking, text reflow, speedy operation, and impressive design. Unfortunately, it suffers from a maximum limit of four open bubbles. It’s a great alternative to Link Bubble.

feedme

Gaming on Android

There are a lot of gaming apps out there. I recommend downloading the Humble Indie Bundle app, which — if you’ve ever purchased a bundle — lets you download Android apps direct from their store.

  • Humble Indie Bundle App: It’s not allowed in the Play Store (because it competes with Google’s own app offerings), but you can download it for free.

mobile bundle

Remote Desktop

For apps that run only on a desktop, you can use Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) apps like TeamViewer to get them onto Android. The performance isn’t amazing, but it gets the job done.

  • TeamViewer: Allows remote control (bidirectional control) over another device, provided TeamViewer is installed.
  • Microsoft Remote Desktop: If you have Windows on your laptop or desktop, you can use Microsoft’s Remote Desktop and do not need to install a third party client.
  • Chrome Remote Desktop: If you’re running Chrome on your desktop, this is a simple and fast solution.

office remote desktop

Telecommunications on a Tablet

Android also includes apps that support text-messaging, free phone calls via Internet connection, and more. Some of the standout apps include Google Hangouts, Skype, and Mightytext. Hangouts can even replace your phone The Best All-In-One Messaging & Calling App For Android: Google Hangouts The Best All-In-One Messaging & Calling App For Android: Google Hangouts What if there was one app that could do it all? Meet Google Hangouts for Android. Read More or ground line.

  • Google Hangouts: Hangouts allows users to send and receive both text messages and telephone calls, for free. Just follow the directions.
  • Hangouts Dialer: After installing Google Hangouts, you’ll also want to install the Hangouts Dialer, which lets you make phone calls over WiFi.
  • Skype: Users can send and receive text messages, but it’s a paid service if you’re contacting a non-Skype number.
  • MightyText: MightyText lets users send text messages to one another over WiFi, which makes it free.

google hangouts

Photo Editing on Android

There are several great photo editing apps in Android. My favorites are SnapSeed and Aviary. Both allow for quick-and-dirty application of filters, captions, and cropping. Out of the two, I prefer Aviary because it more seamlessly integrates into cloud storage solutions like Dropbox.

  • Aviary: More feature rich than its competitors. Aviary is both powerful and elegant.
  • SnapSeed: SnapSeed is easier to use than Aviary — and almost as fully featured.

aviary

Will Tablets Replace Laptops?

At present, there’s lots of software for Android — but nothing beats the software available on Windows, Linux, and Mac. Android’s library is good enough for productivity, light gaming, and more, but it won’t be enough to replace your laptop (although it might replace your Chromebook).

I would predict that Android will eventually catch up to desktop operating systems, if not for one thing: Google doesn’t seem to want Android to catch up. I suspect that Google’s strategy now revolves around ChromeOS, which anchors users into Google’s cloud storage and computing solutions.

Does anyone else use Android as a laptop? Let us know what apps and hardware you use!

  1. Shawn Eastman
    September 13, 2015 at 2:17 am

    Android is great at what it does and can be extremly productive as long as you think outside the box. Android is after all, a Linux, and a Linux has way more compatability and functionality then windows does.

    You will lose the advantages tablets have (ie, battery life,etc) if you try to run windows on them, and windows can not run on the energy efficient arm processors, windows is not able to function on them. The surface tablets in the $400 range actually are not running a desktop windows, but are actually running a version of windows CE, and therefore can not run most apps a desktop can. The surface pro however is running a full windows system, but with a huge price tag (near $1000, without accessories). Also the surface pro is not using the energy efficient arm processors, so they need bigger batteries, and then they use intel HD media accelerators for graphics. really, you might as well get a laptop for half the price, is upgradeable, and far superior in specs. (rant done).

    As for Andropen office, it is a great replacement for office on tablets. Agreed that tablets need better office software ported to them though, and I find Libreoffice far better then microsoft office for productivity these days. It just needs to be fully ported. Lecture notes suite is indespencible for productivity, it has a handwrite notebook app, you can record presentations both video or just audio, and a document scanner built in. I have attended some very cutting edge colleges that rely on all functionality of up to date software, I have fooled them all with linux and they called me a liar. The functionality of the OS is there and has been for a very long time, it is other things that get in the way (usually home user, microsoft fud, and contracts not allowing portability).

  2. ReadandShare
    May 24, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    Per the article: " I suspect that Google’s strategy now revolves around ChromeOS, which anchors users into Google’s cloud storage and computing solutions."

    THAT is exactly the reason why I will not use ChromeOS / Chromebook. Ditto for Office Online. By keeping apps locally at each device while saving them both locally and 'on the cloud' -- I can perform my own encryption while still having 'anywhere access'.

    • Kannon Y
      May 24, 2015 at 9:47 pm

      Thanks for the comment.

      ChromeOS is an unfortunate operating system, with potential for both good and evil. By walling off the software ecosystem from malware infections (user-installed software), they've also opened the system up to massive privacy abuses. Android's openness is much better, but still has some serious issues with privacy for most users.

  3. Richard Palmer
    May 15, 2015 at 7:42 am

    The article misses a few of essential productivity Apps:

    Andropen office http://andropenoffice.blogspot.fr/ available from Google Play. This is a fully fledged derivative of OpenOffice for work on the move and far better at present than LibreOffice.

    RepliGo pdf reader for reading and editing pdf files.

    Cam Scanner for scanning to image or pdf, OCR using the devices camera; this little gem is invaluable for work.

    Printbot: for network access to printers - WiFi or any printer on a Home/Office network.

    • Kannon Y
      May 24, 2015 at 9:38 pm

      Thanks for sharing Richard! The only one of those apps that most users aren't ready for is AndrOpen Office. It's a bit on the alpha side, but otherwise is an ambitious project to deliver the open source office experience to Android. Hopefully they eventually add a mobile-friendly viewing option. Otherwise, it's a great app.

  4. Chris M
    May 12, 2015 at 11:42 am

    I bought the Asus Transformer Pad K018 (TF103CG) running Android 4.4.2, detachable keyboard and standard usb socket in the keyboard, and I love it -- it's a tablet, it's a laptop, it gets used daily in my work as a reporter (WPS Office) it has Wifi, Bluetooth and data sim, and with Floating Apps (Play) I multi-task.
    So good, I bought three others.

  5. Suie
    May 11, 2015 at 8:41 pm

    A Windows tablet would be perfect. :)

  6. likefunbuntot
    May 11, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    One of the biggest frustrations with regard to Android is the lack of multi-window support. Samsung kinda-sorta has multi-window on its newer devices, but nothing else does. In all likelihood, this means using a 1920x1080 or 2560x1440 screen to see the mobile view of a web site, and/or not being able to see two files side by side as one might otherwise like on a wide format display. Android wouldn't be my first choice for a proper work environment.

    ChromeOS has a painful lack of application support, thought at least it's possible to use more than one window at a time, and most low-spec mobile devices probably have a way to load Linux if you know you can be productive in that environment, but honestly this is the form factor that is very well served by Windows devices like the HP Stream and Dell Venue. Even the much-maligned Surface and Surface 2 devices are probably better overall tools for a lot of productive work.

  7. YearOfTheGoat
    May 11, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    B-but... I want to use laptop as a tablet... :(

    • arabic
      April 2, 2016 at 3:24 pm

      you can use Android-x86

  8. Anonymous
    May 11, 2015 at 6:21 pm

    Very nice and useful article. Thanks!

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