Ditch Your Desktop! Turn Your Smartphone Into A Desktop Replacement

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smartphone as desktop replacementIf Christian’s tablet experiment piqued your interest in ditching your PC, then you should know that a smartphone will perform the same function. You only need a handful of additional software and accessories.

This article gives a run-down of the hardware, accessories, and software that users 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

The Hardware

Without the following hardware, it may be difficult using your smartphone as a desktop:

  • A smartphone with Android, or iOS, preferably capable of outputting video. Most modern Samsung phones, the Nexus 4 and any phone with a micro-HDMI video output can mirror its video onto an HDMI-capable monitor. Pictured below is a micro-HDMI port.
smartphone as desktop
  • Correct cable for connecting your phone to your monitor. Virtually all of these only work with HDMI. For Samsung that’s an MHL connector, for SlimPort phones, that’s a SlimPort connector. The iPhone requires a proprietary device to work with HDMI. Pictured below is a MHL adapter.
smartphone as desktop
  • For connecting to video, four basic technologies exist: (1) The iPhone 4S uses a proprietary video adapter; (2) The Nexus 4 uses a Slim Port adapter; (3) Many phones have a micro-HDMI; and (4) Samsung phones frequently have MHL connectors.
  • If you have Android 1.5 to 2.3, you may require a special Bluetooth keyboard. The only manufacturer that I’m aware of, currently producing Android keyboards with legacy compatibility, is Freedom Input. iPhones, fortunately, work with pretty much any Bluetooth keyboard around.
smartphone as desktop
  • Bluetooth, for Android devices without USB host mode. The host mode allows your handset to use USB devices. However, it wasn’t implemented until Android 4 and even then, it’s a crapshoot whether or not your phone will have the required drivers.
  • Host mode also requires an On-The-Go cable (OTG). OTG cables sell for cheap at Amazon. If you don’t know what an OTG cable is, let Erez enlighten you.
  • HDMI-equipped monitor.

The Accessories

The most important desktop accessory is the keyboard. In fact, a keyboard singularly distinguishes between the mobile and desktop experience. It also dramatically increases productivity. After all, who in their right mind composes an essay on a smartphone touchscreen?

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There exist two kinds of keyboards: Bluetooth and USB. Out of the two, Bluetooth equipped wireless keyboards pair far easier with Android and iOS devices. USB devices couldn’t work on Android until Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0) and, unfortunately, even many ICS phones omitted USB support.

Therefore, if you want a keyboard, check if your ICS phone supports “USB host mode“. If it doesn’t, a Bluetooth keyboard is your best bet. As mentioned above, older implementations of Android should use a Freedom Input keyboard.

smartphone desktop replacement

A phone stand: Phone stands keep your mobile in an upright, readable position. They can be purchased cheaply on Amazon and Ebay. They’re also ridiculously easy to build yourself. Take for example the template phone stand below, via Instructables:

smartphone desktop replacement

Cardboard phone stands possess the advantage of being inexpensive and eco-friendly. They’re also easy to put together. It took me about ten minutes to cut my own from the template above.

smartphone desktop replacement

Problems with multiple USB devices: 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.

The Software

I highly recommend browsing through MakeUseOf’s directory of some of the best software available on Android and iOS.

Word processing: There’s a variety of office productivity apps that can approximate offerings on the desktop. Opinions on which software reigns supreme varies, although I personally recommend King Office for Android, because of its feature set and light system requirements. For those with iPhones, QuickOffice Pro offers one of the best experiences. If you perpetually have online access, you may want to consider Google Drive, which features both an all-in-one cloud backup and office suite.

Music: Spotify is probably the best music player on iOS, although opinions vary. For Android, I suggest Pandora or GrooveShark.

Photo editing: I prefer Aviary 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 and the baked-in photo editor available in Android 4.0+.

smartphone as desktop replacement

Social: Aside from the Facebook app, there’s a lot of good social apps, such as Google+ and Twitter. If you haven’t tried it already, give Falcon Pro a go for Twitter on Android. For iOS, try the official client.

Pin Websites to Your Launcher: We all know what an embarrassment the Facebook app is on Android. Fortunately, you can bypass this by going directly to their site from your home screen.

Watch Movies: MX Player offers one of the best video experiences on Android. iOS has It’s Playing, as well as many others.

Play Games: Adam Dachis explained how to turn your Android or iPhone into a tiny emulator. Android, however, remains the king of emulated gaming.


Turning your smartphone into a desktop doesn’t take much hardware, software or money for that matter. The cables themselves cost very little, except on the iPhone, and the software is mostly free. To turn my phone into a functional desktop (and I screwed it up by buying an MHL adapter instead of a SlimPort adapter), I only had to get a Bluetooth keyboard and a SlimPort adapter.

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 smartphone review and buying guide.

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77 Comments - Write a Comment


Chris Hoffman

You could definitely do this, but the idea terrifies me. What’s it like using Android on a huge monitor with a keyboard? I’d think the one-app-at-a-time part would be pretty bad, although I guess you could use floating apps…

Nevzat Akkaya

I love the idea of using my phone as a computer :) Am I too geeky? :)

Kannon Yamada

Feels a lot like using a regular desktop. However, even a quad core Nexus 4 runs slower than a dual-core Intel Celeron. And Android as a desktop leaves a lot to be desired. No desktop.

The lack of multimonitor support causes the most difficulties. And using the touchpad on the phone instead of a mouse felt bizarre.

By the way, the Nexus 4 has the Miracast, wireless display technology. I’ve been thinking about setting up an NFC tag that will switch the device into a desktop, simply by placing it on the wireless charger.

Daniel Escasa

And using the touchpad on the phone instead of a mouse felt bizarre.

+1. Similar to the screen on a Windows Surface notebook. And Google has just released the Chrome Pixel, touch-enabled Chromebook. Wondering if that’ll be any better, but I doubt it, since you have to reach out to the screen. Just tried simulating that with my laptop, and I didn’t enjoy it.

On the other hand:

1) You can just lay your phone on the table and use it as you would a touchpad. For that matter, you might put it at the base of the keyboard.


2) I’ve seen a video of a Galaxy Note where the user moved the cursor with a Bluetooth mouse.

Oh wait, was that a Galaxy Tab? Regardless, I think even a Note might support a mouse.


RĂ©y AĂ©tar

good for watching media and surfing web



After my harddrive died about a year ago, I was forced to “make do”with my laptop. While it works wonderfully, I still miss my large screen especially when I am working on photo shop or making videos. Admit it, its too darm hard to edit a photo on the IPad and find all flaws. That said, this little tip is one I will be using immediately and I suspect often! Finally an app that actually is useful!

Kannon Yamada

Thanks Susan!

Your laptop should have some kind of video out, such as VGA or HDMI. If your monitor has the corresponding inputs you can simply just buy the right cable and use your laptop as a desktop.

If your monitor doesn’t support the same video technology as your laptop, there’s a lot of cheap converters on Amazon that will do it very easily.


Scott Macmillan

Its a very interesting experiment but not one I would use.I have a desktop,laptop,smart phone and tablet because they all do different things.I don’t really need to hack one of them to perform another function.

Abe C.

I would have to agree you cannot replace a full blown pc at times. Being a technician I buy my equipment based on use my desktop is my media center, laptop dose gaming, and everything else because I’m constantly on the go, and finally my android helps me get info when I have no internet connection, stay connected with friends, coworkers, and customers, and also helps me with setting up networks. I love my devices for that very reason their divers functions.


Scott Krupnick

I’m sure this is a possibility, but how much productivity would you accomplish?



As a “proof of concept” it maybe a great project but other than that why would I want to do it??? I already have a device that saves me more space and clutter that this Rube Goldberg, it is called a “laptop”. Maybe you’ve heard of them? There is no need for a free standing monitor or a flimsy cardboard “phone stand” and there are no wires trailing all over the place. I can easily take my device into any room in the house and the surrounding area.

While you are using crippled apps on a limited operating system such as iOS or Android, running on a one-lung toy processor, I am enjoying full-featured applications on a robust Linux distro, running on a reasonably modern i7 processor.

While your Rube Goldberg requires the cloud for storage, my laptop provides tons of storage on its 1 TB HD. Unlike you I have instant 24/7 access to my data. I am not subject to the vagaries of Internet connections, corporate policies or corporate existence. My data is not going to get hijacked, held hostage or sold to the highest bidder.

I will grant you one advantage, I cannot make phone calls on my laptop, although if I install Skype…………….

Vaegar Ulvang

I love smug “why would I … blah blah blah” comments. Congratulations on the Rube Goldberg reference and your ability to point out obvious issues.


“Congratulations on the Rube Goldberg reference and your ability to point out obvious issues.”
Thank you. I try my best. :P

Melanie Groves Von Fange

I agree, the D-bag force is strong in that one.

Kannon Yamada

DM: Thanks for the feedback! You’re absolutely correct that this was simply a proof of concept experiment. So, I can only reply to a couple of your points.

First, I would point out that Ubuntu Linux is widely available on Android handsets, so many of the things you can do on Linux can also work with an ARM-based system.

Second, Android handsets can access external drives, network drives, etc… so it’s not dependent on cloud storage to the same extent as one might think. However, as you pointed out, twenty years from now will Android still be around? Will we still have access to our data? That’s a great question and I cannot answer it.

Third, yes, ARM chips are far slower than Intel/AMD. It’s bad. Even though most users are fine with the computing power in a handheld, for the hard core, like you and I, no amount of CPU power will ever be enough.

Thanks for the comment.


1. Do Andoid handsets use a full-blown version of Ubuntu, or some cut down version? Android O/S is Linux based.

2. Not being a smartphone user, I was not aware of that. Twenty years from now, will any of our O/Ss be still around? I’m sure that their respective developers fervently hope so. Some of them are still hoping to be “the one and only.” /grin/

3. Handheld CPUs, like all microprocessors, are constantly getting faster. While I don’t expect handheld CPUs to ever catch up with PC CPUs, one never knows. Stranger things have happened. All we need is a serendipitous breakthrough.

Kannon Yamada

It’s supposedly a full-blown version.

According to what I’ve read, the phones that dual boot Android and Linux will allow users to dock the ANDROID phone, which triggers the launching of a full LINUX desktop, including the monitor. I’m really looking forward to that kind of implementation

RE: #2, err… man, I don’t know. Probably? :-)

#3, Yes, that’s a very relevant point. I think the Intel Haswell CPUs will be squeezing Core i7 into a 20-ish watt TDP with a high end integrated GPU. It won’t be long before we see that kind of firepower inside of a handheld.



This sucks!


Igor Rizvi?

I liek that keyboard…its awesome !!


Ron Lister

I think I’ll just stick to makeing phone calls on my phone.

Ron Lister

I like my PC to much to try to replace it with a smartphone. But isn’t it amazing how far mobil phones have come and what they’re capable of?


Guy McDowell

With maybe a $150, you can get the cables, keyboard, and maybe a monitor.
Since most people just use Facebook, Google and e-mail, this becomes a legitimate solution for those that don’t have a laptop or desktop computer.
Plus it takes up less space.
Then you have a computer you can put in your pocket, so your data is always with you.


“Then you have a computer you can put in your pocket”
I would think you would have a bit of a hard time sliding the monitor in your pocket. /grin/

Kannon Yamada

Thanks Guy! I’ve been looking at NFC tages + wireless charging + wireless display technology. It’s looking like we can basically dispense with the wires entirely.

Just plop your device on the wireless charger and automagically connect to all your peripheral devices. Just requires an app like Tasker.

Guy McDowell

I’m a little put off by NFC and RFID tags. I have a copy of a magazine that had an NFC tag inside of it. It was left a little too close to the microwave. It burnt right through to the front and back covers of the magazine.

I’ve got pictures to prove it too.

Ron Lister

Wow! I would never have imagined that could happen. Thanks for the heads up.


Shawn Dreelin

I’d add a couple more pieces of useful software for a office on the go:
Camscanner – turns your phone into a scanner
Printershare – Wireless printing from your phone (also to Google Docs & FedEx)
I use these with QuickOffice a lot on the go.

Guy McDowell

Good points.



Not having HDMI in my android ..! :P


Nohl Lyons

Even though Motorola has been shipping phones designed to by a replacement computer, I think this article points to the more realistic route: attaching a bunch of stuff to your handset. This way you don’t get stuck with one echo system (Apple).

Nice stuff.


Lester Landgren

Is there a mouse app or option?

Kannon Yamada

Lester, that’s a great question. For my desktop setup, I used the phone’s touchpad as the mouse, but for a lot of folks that’s just going to be too weird.

There’s several ways.

1. Many bluetooth mice/keyboards can connect with Android 3.0+.

2. If your device has USB-host, it’s possible to connect a huge number of devices, provided that you use a powered USB-hub. Otherwise you are limited to a single device. However, keep in mind that using a normal desktop mouse will have very high energy requirements.

3. For older versions of Android that don’t support USB-host and external bluetooth devices, there are special mice/keyboards that must be used in combination with special software.



You’ve got to be kidding me. A laptop can be used instead of a desktop but a phone? Nope.



How ridiculously stupid is this?

Guy McDowell

Yep, just as stupid as putting a keyboard on an iPad or tablet.



This would a good supplement those with main limited data plans. Esp. if you’re somewhat rural. I have a 20Gb data 4G Hotspot as my household internet.
I also have two (5Gb data) 3G smartphones.
I would like to USE that 5Gb that I’m paying for w/o the extra tethering fees.(ripoff)
So this here could at least make it so I can see what I am doing in a reasonable fashion and then transfer files from smartphone to my desktop via USB. I can live with swapping a couple of cables for that if needed.

Kannon Yamada

Hey Zoe, thanks for the comment!

Are you under contract right now for the 5Gb of data phones? And do you have a GSM (AT&T/Tmo), Sprint or Verizon phone?

By the way, that’s a HUGE amount of a cap, for a mobile phone. It’s unethical for those companies to be charging you for a service that you are unable to fully use.

Right now, depending on which of the big cell providers you get reception for and whether you’re off-contract, you can switch to an MVNO.

MVNOs charge about $40-45 for almost the same service. They cap at 2GB.

Google designed a series of phones to be able to tether and then disguise the tether so that the carriers wouldn’t know what was going on. All phones in their Nexus series can do this. But unfortunately, they’re also made using GSM technology.



David D Short

Call me silly, but it seems we are attempting to regain lost functionally of the desktop. by continually adding accessories to a mobile device.. My man pouch is not so large as to accommodate all the cords and such .. I’ll stick to a Laptop.

Kannon Yamada

You make a good point David. I’m currently working on a successor to this article that doesn’t use any cords at all. It would require some setting up, but after you’ve finished, placing the phone on a wireless charger would immediately switch turn the device into a desktop.

No cords at all! I’ll be ready to write this is about a month.

Daniel Escasa

Kannon, correct me if I’m wrong, but this isn’t for mobile use, is it? IOW, you’d set this up at home or at the office.

Kannon Yamada

You could also do this for mobile purposes – except there’d be no external monitor, for obvious reasons.

The basics of such a setup would be that you’d have a Qi charger – place the device on the charger and it would automatically connect to the bluetooth mouse/keyboard and desktop OS.

I won’t lie, though, this could require some expensive software and hardware. But I imagine we could get the price in right around $100, depending on how awesome your phone is.

Daniel Escasa

On second thought, it could work for a mobile setup as well. I’ve seen ads for portable LCD monitors. Haven’t looked closely at them, but I presume you can run them off battery power. And in any case, you can sure set up your workstation in a coffee shop, for instance, and plug in the monitor.


Bogdan Chirita

I’ll use a phone like this when it’s capable of running CAD and finite elements software.


Victor Ong

Hm, there are also mice that work with android tablets correct? Those would definitely help a lot when working.

Kannon Yamada

Hey Victor, that’s a good question – there are a number of mice that are compatible with Android, depending on your version of the OS. Most bluetooth mice are compatible with Android 3.0+. Below that, you are looking at specially designed software that turns your phone into a trackpad mouse:


It’s really cool.



I’ll pass, I love my phone but I also love my tablet, desktop and laptop. Desktop is custom for gaming and any other heavy load I can and wish to throw at it.
Laptop is for when I don’t feel like going in my office or I wish to work outside or away etc. Tablet is great for lighter work, or play.
The day I can do some serious gaming or run heavy tasks on my phone is the day I might ditch the desktop.


Arthur Amon

I really like this idea (and thought the cardboard phone holder was particularly cute). I’m also interested in the mouse question (asked by a couple of the other posters e.g. Lester) – how can we get a mouse communicating with the phone so that we don’t have to keep using the touch screen when in desktop mode? I can see that it won’t work for all of the current things I’m using my desktop for (as Bogdan says – finite elements, CAD), but could be great in my new place (which is on the small side)…

Kannon Yamada

Thank you Arthur!

Aside from USB-host mode, there’s an app that will turn your phone into a trackpad. There’s also bluetooth mice for later versions of Android that work. However, they must support the four-digit code entry common in BT 2.0, I think. And you must have Android 3.0 and later, if I remember correctly.

Guy McDowell

If you thought the cardboard phone holder was cute, we’ve got an article coming just for you!



good article, but missing lot of points. 1st thing 1st; if i consider (almost) replacing desktop/laptop, i want a full OS there (ubuntu for android is coming, we will check availability and see how it performs). android/iOS is still not there in getting a capable office and other productivity software.


James Ford

Very interesting, amazing what you can accomplish with the technology these days.


Stephanie Staker

This is SO cool! Who would have thought you could turn an iPhone into a computer? But, when you think about it, why not? Thank you for the info on how to put it together and the hardware/software needed. I am a new iPhone user and totally addicted to it. I rarely make phone calls but I love playing on it. :) Thanks for the article. Saving it for another day.


Tiziano Gregory Perugini

Nice article. But would be great knowing, which solution is available for Mac users



Do not ditch desktop. The smart phone screen is small and not able to see everything there in one place. you have to move sideway to see all. I have a desktop and a monitor that is 23 inch. I can watch movies on my desktop DVD player. Lot of things with desktop.

There is a big difference between a smartphone and a desktop. The smartphone is good for when you get out of your home to go to other places or on a vacation.The desktop is good for do lot of things at home. You would be able to print out some copies from printer. You do some work. You can see big pictures. So Do Not Ditch Desktop. Keep it in your home. Take smartphone with you when you leave home. Have a good day.

a computer tech

agreed fully. a phone is an “ultra-portable”, NOT a replacement for a desktop :-)

when I can put a 1 TB hard drive in my phone I might even consider using it as a “computer” :-)

but it will NEVER replace a 24-inch iMac with all the features it has :-) nor will my iMac be portable in any way :-)

bottom line to me: devices were designed to be good at the things there were intended for.. leave it at that :-)

Kannon Yamada

Good point. In the article I detailed how we can output video from the phone to a larger monitor.

Many phones have this ability. For example, the iPhone 4 can output to a much larger monitor using HDMI and a proprietary adapter.


a computer tech

this whole “concept” makes about as much sense as a screen door on a submarine :-)

completely useless :-)


Guy McDowell

Wasn’t there a laptop-ish device that had a sort of cradle on it that you could pop your smartphone into? The phone provided the brains and the laptop provided a more comfortable computing experience.

It tanked, but I think it was just a little too early to market.

Then there’s this. I want.

Kannon Yamada

Actually, yeah, good memory. There was a lapdock for Motorola phones. I think it was only available for their Droid line. But they sold terribly. :-(

They were on sale a short while ago for like $30-50. Considering what you get, that’s a ridiculously good deal.

Someone eventually hacked the dock so that it would run off of a stick-PC… Making it a stand alone Android laptop.

Daniel Escasa

More precisely, that was the Motorola Atrix. I thought it was an ugly kludge since the phone stuck out of the lapdock. I thought that Asus’s PadFone was more elegant.

But we’re kinda veering off topic :)

Kannon Yamada

Holy moly. ClamCase. Want.

Guy McDowell

I know, right? That is what a netbook was meant to be.


Penny Reed

Does anyone have any ideas what on earth i should do if after re install Office 2010 I have stuffed up Outlook settings and now can’t use it ? I have lost emails as well .I help out a charity and it’s mostly charit’s emails gone and also Outlook we use . I would love to have my own Chromebook as feel guilt ridden about stuffing up charity’s Laptop (again)

Kannon Yamada

Hey Penny,

That’s really awful!

However, I know some really talented guys who can help you with that:


Basically, just submit the question and you’ll get a response within a day.


Bill Fell

Thanks Kannon. Interesting set-up, but since I’ve got the desktop already, I’ll stick with it. Keep these articles coming!


Stacy Arriaza Vander Busch

looks really confusing to me just use a phone for a phone and a tower for a tower. And I personally like the little keyboard for the tablets and I Pads!


Daniel Escasa

After all, who in their right mind composes an essay on a smartphone touchscreen?
I did four of my six blog entries (at http://www.newsbytes.ph) mostly on my smartphone. MessagEase made it possible.

Oh wait, you say “in their right mind.”

Kannon Yamada


Great site, by the way! I’m having trouble understanding HOW you were able to put out quality posts with ONE FINGER!!! That’s amazing!

Daniel Escasa

“Thanks, but that one finger didn’t have to travel very far. In fact, in contrast to QWERTY layouts, the q and u letters are on the same key, and it’s just a matter of swiping from the center of that key to the upper left and up, respectively. I tried going to the QWERTY-layout Android “keyboard” and just couldn’t stand it.


Aaron Ashton

this seems pretty cool but what phones would you recommend that could handle this power?

Kannon Yamada

Hello Aaron,

Mostly newer phones, although this method is pretty easy to do with virtually any phone that has some form of outputting video.

I like the Nexus 4, many of the higher end Samsung phones and the iPhone 4.

Aaron Ashton

do you think that a tablet could work for this?



I’ve been using my old HTC Evo 4g (Sprint) as my desktop for a long time now. I’m rooted and running CyanogenMod 7.2 (a free open-source custom android ROM). CyanogenMod has had bluetooth mouse support since their version 6 which ran on Android 2.2 Froyo (and possibly earlier versions).

Why use my phone as a desktop PC?

1. It turns my large flatscreen into a smart TV. Using my bluetooth mouse, I can easily use android to stream movies, tv shows, or play previously downloaded items. I can play local FM, stored digital, or streaming radio thru my home sound system while using the wonderful ProjectM music visualizer app for atmosphere.

2. Using my phone’s cameras, I can do video calls thru my TV.

3. It’s pocketable. It’s nice having a larger screen, but portability is awesome! My bluetooth keyboard folds up and easily fits into my jacket pocket.



I’d love to see anyone doing some heavy photoediting, 3D rendering (or even working in a 3D space with more than one object), programming and rendering or even running some quick terminal checks without a hassle.

I use my desktop for what i need to do on it and it most often requires at least a dual or quadcore CPU and a real GPU, not a lightweight downgraded chip that can barely compete with a pentium when it comes to pure number-crunching.

If you have to, or if you just want to test it out, sure. If you need to do anything else, buy a real pc.

Kannon Yamada

ARM CPU speeds in mobile devices have been doubling in “speed” every year or so, which is a meteoric rate of increase. Using GPU or CPU intensive tasks is still totally outside the realm of feasibility right now, but in the next few years it will likely become an option.

But you’re totally right – right there aren’t any ARM CPUs that can even remotely compete with even older desktop CPUs.

But for general use, most people could probably benefit from using their phone as a docked device. It’s kinda a waste to use a Core i5 as a Facebook and email machine. :-)

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