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?

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.

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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.

Conclusion

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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Comments (77)
  • null

    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. :-)

  • Braaainz

    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.

  • Aaron Ashton

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

  • Daniel Escasa

    <quote>
    After all, who in their right mind composes an essay on a smartphone touchscreen?
    </quote>
    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

      :-D

      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.

  • 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!

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This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.