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Looking for a way to simplify life? You might be able to get rid of your desktop computer. “How,” you ask? Look to that powerful pocket-PC called a smartphone. Most only need some additional software and accessories to get started.

This article gives you a run-down of the hardware, accessories, and software that folks can use to replace their desktop with a smartphone. Not all the parts and software in this list are required. You can get away with just one or two of them. It also includes some information on hardware compatibility. Most, but not all phones can replace your desktop.

smartphone as desktop replacement

Three Ways to Turn Your Smartphone Into a Desktop

If you want to convert a mobile device into a desktop, there are three paths — none are perfect. Option one: you can use a docking device. Two: one can go completely wireless. Three: you can use a combination of wired and wireless devices.

  • Docking station: A dock lets you attach a mouse, display, and keyboard to an Android device with just a single cable. Unfortunately, you cannot charge the device if you are also outputting video to an external display.
  • Fully wireless: Android can support multiple wireless devices using Bluetooth. It outputs video using either Miracast or Chromecast. This is the only option that permits simultaneous charging of your device. This route has a few serious issues, unfortunately.
  • Semi-wired: This method allows you to bypass the failings of the first two categories. You use an adapter to connect your smart device to an HDMI monitor and Bluetooth for the mouse and keyboard. Unfortunately, you can’t charge your device.

Complications

Unfortunately, some factors can complicate adding desktop functionality to your smartphone. The biggest issue: Outputting a smartphone’s video (also known as mirroring) requires compatibility with either a wired video standard called MHL or a wireless standard, of which there are three varieties:  Miracast, Chromecast, and AirPlay (for Apple devices).

On top of that, Android includes a feature known as host-mode. Host mode allows users to connect USB devices with an On-The-Go cable (OTG). OTG cables sell for cheap at Amazon. They’re great adapters for using USB accessories with an Android device How To Connect a USB Keyboard To Your Android Phone How To Connect a USB Keyboard To Your Android Phone While I’m a big fan of Swype, SlideIT, and other advanced keyboards for Android, there’s something to be said about a keyboard with keys on it. I mean the physical-type keyboards – you know, the... Read More . Unfortunately, they do not permit users to connect both a micro-USB capable and output video over HDMI at the same time.

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The Hardware

Docking Station

Docking stations (or docks) allow users to create a desktop in a snap. For those interested, you must have four components: a dock (UK), a Bluetooth mouse, a Bluetooth keyboard, and an HDMI-capable display. Furthermore, you must own a Samsung device with MHL compatibility. You can find a partial list of MHL compatible devices. Some other factors can complicate successfully using a dock.

 

For those with newer devices, you’ll have even more problems. USB Type-C (what’s USB-C? What Is USB Type-C? What Is USB Type-C? Ah, the USB plug. It is as ubiquitous now as it is notorious for never being able to be plugged in right the first time. Read More ) includes a new connection standard for outputting video known as USB-C Alternative Mode. However, as of January of 2017, only Samsung devices support the standard. In short, if you own a USB-C device or lack MHL, then you must use the fully wireless option.

Phones with USB-C must be compatible with VESA DisplayPort Alternate Mode. Many phones, like the Google Pixel, aren’t compatible with this standard. Phones produced in 2017 might possess Alternative Mode.

Unfortunately, few Android devices offer MHL compatibility, which means a dock won’t solve the majority of users’ issues. The cheapest method of creating a smartphone-desktop is by going fully wireless.

Fully Wireless 

Going fully wireless is the easiest method for creating a desktop. This method requires a modern Android or iOS device, a smart TV (or adapter), and a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard 6 Reasons Why You Should NOT Buy a Bluetooth Keyboard 6 Reasons Why You Should NOT Buy a Bluetooth Keyboard Before you commit to buying a Bluetooth keyboard, consider these drawbacks and issues that may cause you to change your mind. Read More . In theory, fully wireless seems like a great option — in practice, it’s problematic. A completely wireless system can suffer from channel congestion How Dual-Band Routers Can Solve Your Wireless Woes How Dual-Band Routers Can Solve Your Wireless Woes Using a router that supports the dual-band standard can significantly boost your Wi-Fi speeds in many circumstances. Read More — where wireless frequencies trample over one another. The net impact may reduce your network’s data transfer speeds and reliability.

And though fully wireless does have the least number of compatibility issues, it can result in a more choppy or unreliable connection.

If you don’t own a Smart TV, you must purchase a Miracast adapter (UK) capable of receiving a wireless video signal. Alternatively, you can use a Chromecast Google Chromecast Review and Giveaway Google Chromecast Review and Giveaway We're giving away a Google Chromecast, so read through our review, then join the competition to win! Read More . (Apple users require an AirPlay adapter.) The Chromecast can function as a wireless display adapter. Unfortunately, not all Android devices work with Miracast (notably the Google Pixel). However, the AllCast app allows some users to bypass this compatibility issue.

Semi-Wired

You can use any combination of the above two options to create a desktop. But outputting video to an external monitor and charging your device at the same time suffers from issues. Unless you own a Samsung phone, it can’t be done. However, if you want to forego an external display or the ability to charge, you might prefer a semi-wired approach.

The downside? You’ll need to either recharge your device periodically or read everything off a tiny 5-inch screen. A natural limitation of Android’s 5-pin microUSB port is that it can’t simultaneously run in OTG mode and output video.

For this approach, you need a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, an MHL-compatible smartphone or tablet for video output, and an MHL-compatible HDMI to microUSB or USB-C adapter for video output.

smartphone as desktop
 For most users without a Samsung device (and even some Samsung devices lack this ability), this is the only available option.

The Accessories

The Keyboard

The most important desktop accessory is the keyboard. A keyboard distinguishes between the mobile and desktop experience. It also dramatically increases productivity. After all, who in the world would write an essay on a smartphone touchscreen?

There are two kinds of keyboards: Bluetooth and USB. Out of the two, wired, On-the-Go (OTG) keyboards pair with Android devices easier than Bluetooth — although both have a few issues. Unfortunately, not all Android devices offer OTG support.

If you want the best Bluetooth keyboard around, go mechanical. A great option (not yet available in the United States) is the $80 Anne Pro keyboard. If you prefer a more mobile keyboard, the $30 Logitech Keys-to-Go (UK) ranks among the best devices out there.

The Mouse

Pretty much any old Bluetooth mouse works great with Android and iOS. I recommend a cheaper option if you just want to experiment. But if you need the best Bluetooth mouse around, Logitech’s $80 MX Master (UK) represents the pinnacle of wireless mice.

The Phone Stand

Phone stands keep your mobile in an upright, readable position. They can be purchased cheaply on Amazon and Ebay. Some phone stands include charging capabilities, such as the $26 UNITEK docking station (which doesn’t include HDMI compatibility), but they won’t be able to charge your device if you’re using a wired keyboard or mouse. Other stands come integrated into the keyboard, such as the $45 Logitech K480 (UK).

 

Powered USB Hub

For those seeking to use a wired keyboard while charging, you might have problems. Using multiple USB devices simultaneously may require USB host mode and a powered USB hub. And on top of that, your device won’t charge if you’re using OTG mode. In simple terms: you cannot power your device and use a mouse and keyboard at the same time.

The Software

Many Android apps replicate the desktop experience, and because of that, you can use an Android device to accomplish many of the same tasks you would on a desktop. However, many desktop functions just don’t exist in the mobile world.

For more apps, try browsing through MakeUseOf’s directory of some of the best software available on Android The Best Android Apps The Best Android Apps Looking for the best apps for your Android phone or tablet? This is our comprehensive, hand-picked list of the best apps for Android. Read More and iOS The Best New iOS Apps of 2015 (And Our Favorite Updates) The Best New iOS Apps of 2015 (And Our Favorite Updates) We've sorted through the stream of new apps that arrived in 2015 and devised a list of our favourites just for you. Read More .

Productivity

Word processing and office: There’s a variety of office productivity apps that can come close to their desktop counterparts. Opinions on which software reigns supreme vary, although I personally recommend Microsoft Word for Android, because of its feature set. For those with iPhones, QuickOffice Pro QuickOffice Pro HD: Create, Open And Edit Office Documents On Your iPad [iOS] QuickOffice Pro HD: Create, Open And Edit Office Documents On Your iPad [iOS] Apple doesn’t offer an all-in-one office suite, so users who want to handle these tasks on their tablet must turn to a third-party solution. One of the most popular is QuickOffice Pro HD, a $19.99... Read More offers one of the best experiences. If you perpetually have online access, you may want to consider Google Drive A Look At Google Drive, Google's Long-Awaited Cloud Storage Service A Look At Google Drive, Google's Long-Awaited Cloud Storage Service After more than 6 years of rumors and a long-ago cancellation because "files are so 1990", Google Drive is finally here. Coming with 5 GB of free storage space, a Dropbox-like desktop sync client, and... Read More .

Music and Podcasts

Music: Spotify Spotify Finally Launches Radio On iOS, Android Version Not Available Yet [Updates] Spotify Finally Launches Radio On iOS, Android Version Not Available Yet [Updates] Spotify has finally brought their long-awaited radio feature to premium users who own an iOS device. The update, available now on the iTunes App Store, grants users the ability to use a very Pandora-like radio... Read More is probably the best music player on iOS, although opinions vary Music Lovers: Why Aren't You Using SoundCloud? Music Lovers: Why Aren't You Using SoundCloud? Discovering a new artist, album or record label that corresponds with your tastes and expectations can be a rewarding experience. These golden discoveries can be few and far between and that’s where I turn to... Read More . For Android, I suggest Pandora 5 Cool Things You Can Do With Pandora Music Radio 5 Cool Things You Can Do With Pandora Music Radio Read More or TuneIn Radio. For podcasts, my two favorite apps are Pocket Casts and the official Google Play Music app.

Photo Editing and Video

Photo editing: I prefer Aviary Aviary Launches Standalone Photo-Editing App For Android & iOS [Updates] Aviary Launches Standalone Photo-Editing App For Android & iOS [Updates] Watch out Instagram! Aviary, which offers multiple editing tools to be used by anyone on any website, has just released its own native photo-editing app for iOS and Android. Aviary editing tools are widely used... Read More for its hipster filters and ability to add ironic fashion accessories to animals and grandparents. It’s available on both iOS and Android. Other photo editors worth mentioning are PicShop or even the standard Google Photos.

smartphone as desktop replacement

Watch Movies: MX Player Is MX Player the Best Do-It-All Movie Player for Android? Is MX Player the Best Do-It-All Movie Player for Android? If you're looking for a solid video player for Android, MX Player might be your best bet. Read More  remains one of Android’s best video apps. iOS has It’s Playing, as well as many others. However, the absolute best video player is VLC Player for Android.

Entertainment

Social: Aside from the Facebook app (try Facebook Lite Facebook Lite: Is It a Worthy Facebook Replacement? Facebook Lite: Is It a Worthy Facebook Replacement? Facebook has announced a new Android app called Facebook Lite, which is a version of Facebook built from scratch to work smoothly with poor data connections and low-end phones. Read More ), there are a lot of good social apps, such as Twitter. But if you haven’t tried it, give Talon a try on Android. For iOS, try the official client Have You Checked Out The Official Twitter iPhone App Recently? [iOS] Have You Checked Out The Official Twitter iPhone App Recently? [iOS] Twitter is huge. You cannot watch a commercial or Presidential debate without someone mentioning Twitter. Of course, Twitter is built into iOS and it seems like almost anything you do on the device can be... Read More . However, for you workaholics, you may want to try out Slack.

Play Games: Believe it or not, you can play classic arcade and console games on your Android How to Emulate Android and Run Android Apps on Your PC How to Emulate Android and Run Android Apps on Your PC It's actually pretty easy to get Android apps running on your desktop or laptop! Here, we step you through the best methods. Read More . It just requires one of many emulator apps. iOS offers a great emulator How to Install Emulators & Homebrew on Your iPhone or iPad (No Jailbreak Required) How to Install Emulators & Homebrew on Your iPhone or iPad (No Jailbreak Required) Install emulators and other homebrew on your iOS device, no jailbreak required — it's actually a pretty straightforward process that can be accomplished with free tools and a bit of patience. Read More option, as well.

Did It Work for You?

Ideally, the best method is using a dock. Unfortunately, only a select number of Samsung smartphones work with docks. Most users will need a fully wireless system. But if you can stomach a wireless configuration’s shortcomings, a smartphone-desktop might be in your future.

For anyone who wants to save space in their apartment, or simplify their life, ditching the desktop and the laptop just got much easier. If you’re in the market for a smartphone capable of this, make sure to check out our round-up of the best smartphones What's the Best Android Smartphone in 2016? What's the Best Android Smartphone in 2016? Buying an iPhone is simple -- if you want the best device, you buy the newest one. If you want a cheaper one, you buy one that's a year or two old. Read More .

Did you manage to get your smartphone or tablet operating as your desktop computer? Which method worked for you? Let us know in the comments!

Originally written by Kannon Yamada on February 19th, 2013.

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