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Most Android smartphones today are more powerful than we give them credit for.

You use your phone for email, you type up notes, you probably do some image editing, you play games — and so much more. For all intents and purposes, this smartphone sitting in your pocket is a personal computer. It’s arguably as powerful as many devices sitting on desks in offices around the world. So why not use it to replace your desktop PC?

The Continuum and Convergence of Smartphones

The increased power and flexibility of smartphones means that we’ve now reached a stage where they can realistically replace our PCs. It’s already happening for Windows 10 Mobile, with Microsoft Continuum Continuum: Switch Between Windows 10 Desktop & Tablet Mode Continuum: Switch Between Windows 10 Desktop & Tablet Mode Windows 10 recognizes your hardware and instantly chooses the best display mode. When you connect your Windows 10 Mobile to a larger screen, you'll get a PC-like experience. That's the smoothness of Continuum. Read More , in which the phone can be connected to a TV via the wireless HDMI standard Miracast Stop Using HDMI: Miracast Is the Wireless Alternative You'll Love Stop Using HDMI: Miracast Is the Wireless Alternative You'll Love The next time you need to stream media between devices, remember the flaws of HDMI and consider using wireless Miracast instead. It's the technology we all need and deserve. Read More .

Support for Bluetooth keyboards and mice means that you can sit at a desk with your phone beside you, its contents displayed on a monitor in normal Windows 10 style. Then you can type, browse the web, or do any other computer-based tasks — and the phone will still let you answer calls.

Ubuntu Touch Convergence Activate

It isn’t just Microsoft offering this sort of technology, either. Canonical’s Ubuntu Touch mobile platform can also convert a compatible device into a compact portable PC with its Convergence system How to Turn Ubuntu Phone Into a Desktop PC With Convergence How to Turn Ubuntu Phone Into a Desktop PC With Convergence Newcomer to the mobile space, Ubuntu Phone, has its own mobile-to-desktop software. If your device is compatible, and running the OTA-11 update (or later), you can turn your phone into a PC. Read More .

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While iOS is some way behind, there’s now an option for Android called Maru OS. This is a custom distro optimized for desktop use, offering a similar (albeit wired) experience to Continuum and Convergence.

Getting Started With Maru OS

It sounds pretty good, but Maru does have a downside. Currently, it’s only available for the Google Nexus 5 (2013) Google Nexus 5 Review and Giveaway Google Nexus 5 Review and Giveaway Approximately a year after Google released the Nexus 4, the company behind Android has come out with its successor -- the Nexus 5. Read More phone, codenamed Hammerhead. If you have one of these lying around, then we would urge you to try out Maru OS, as it really is impressive.

If you don’t have a Nexus 5 available, skip to the next section to see some Maru alternatives.

To use Maru, you’ll either need to download a desktop installer (options for Linux, macOS, and Windows are available), or if you have already installed a custom recovery What's a Custom Recovery? Exploring CWM, TWRP, and Friends What's a Custom Recovery? Exploring CWM, TWRP, and Friends If you've ever considered tinkering with your Android device, you've probably read that you need to flash a custom recovery onto it before you can do anything serious. But, that begs some questions. Read More on your device, you can download an update.zip file.

Use the Desktop Installer

If you’re interested in installing a new version of Android on your phone, you’re probably already using a custom recovery. But if you want to use the desktop installer, it’s pretty straightforward.

After downloading the correct version for your desktop operating system, connect your Android device via USB. At this stage, you need to understand that the current contents will be completely wiped, so if there are any songs, photos, movies, or other data you wish to keep hold of, you’ll need to back these up first.

If you’re using Windows, you’ll need to enable USB debugging on the device What Is USB Debugging Mode On Android? [MakeUseOf Explains] What Is USB Debugging Mode On Android? [MakeUseOf Explains] If you use an Android phone and you’ve searched forums for solutions to problems, you’ve probably heard the term “USB Debugging” every once in a while. You may even have seen it while looking through... Read More . After this, download and install the Google USB drivers for Android, using these clear instructions provided by Google. Finally, navigate to the downloaded ZIP file, unzip it, then double-click Install.

For Linux, open a terminal in the unzipped downloaded file, and run:

./install.sh

If you’re using macOS, unzip the installer, right-click install, and select Open.

Whichever version you’re using, follow the on-screen instructions to install Maru OS on your Nexus 5.

Install Maru With a Custom Recovery

The easiest option for installing Maru on your Android device is via your custom recovery. Begin by downloading the update.zip option from the download page (at the time of writing, this is maru-v0.2.3-update-hammerhead-340b552a.zip) and copying it to your Android device via USB. Alternatively, just download it directly to your Android device; the download is 653 MB.

With the update.zip file copied to your phone’s storage, all you need to do is reboot into recovery, select Install, then browse for the update.zip file, and install. Wipe the Dalvik cache after, reboot into the Maru Android distro (currently based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow), and you’re good to go!

Using Your Maru Device as a PC

You’ve installed Maru. The next step is to maximize your productivity.

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With your phone restarted and connected to HDMI with a dongle like the one above, all you’ll need is a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse 6 Of The Best Wireless All-In-One Keyboards For Mac and PC 6 Of The Best Wireless All-In-One Keyboards For Mac and PC Wireless all-in-one keyboards turn a boring living room computer into an exciting home theater PC. We've rounded up five of the best models around. But which one is best for you? Read More , and you’ll be ready to start using Android as a desktop. To do this, open Settings and find the new section Desktop. Tap Dashboard, then flip the switch at the top to On.

Android Maru OS Dashboard

On your TV, you’ll then see a version of the Linux OS, Debian, with the Xfce desktop environment XFCE: Your Lightweight, Speedy, Fully-Fledged Linux Desktop XFCE: Your Lightweight, Speedy, Fully-Fledged Linux Desktop As far as Linux goes, customization is king. Not only that, but the customization options are so great it might make your head spin. I have previously mentioned the differences between the major desktop environments... Read More . Work can commence!

Now, Maru OS is still limited to one device and remains in active development. We suggest you head to maruos.com to learn more, and visit the dedicated Maru OS Google Group if you need any help.

What If I Don’t Have a Nexus 5?

So, you like the look of what is possible with Maru, but you don’t have a 2013 edition Nexus 5 — what can you do? Is it simpler to just use a Chromecast 7 Things You Didn't Know You Could Do With a Chromecast 7 Things You Didn't Know You Could Do With a Chromecast You have finally taken the plunge and bought yourself a shiny new Chromecast, but what happens next? Here are seven things you didn't know you could do with one of Google's dongles... Read More , or are there tools that will provide a desktop-like experience for Android?

Fortunately, a couple of Play Store apps are available for you to install on your current Android device, converting it into a literal pocket PC with minimum fuss. No TWRP recovery or installers required here!

Leena Desktop UI

Once installed, you’re ready to run with Leena Desktop UI, but note that this is essentially a desktop-oriented launcher. If you’re already able to cast your Android device to a TV, then you’ll be able to use Leena.

Of course, you’ll need a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, but once these are connected and you’re casting the Leena UI to your TV or monitor, you’ll almost forget you’re using a phone at all!

Andromium OS (Beta)

As you may have guessed, this solution remains in beta, but you can install it and try it out via Google Play. The usual Miracast dongle is recommended for your HDMI TV, along with Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, although Andromium OS is only half the story. If you prefer, a device called the Superbook is also available, a sort of empty laptop that you can plug your Android smartphone to.

Is an Official Option Coming?

Given the lead that Android took in wirelessly casting mobile devices to a TV via Chromecast, it’s odd that it’s lagging behind in the dynamic form factor/platform convergence that is taking place. But perhaps we’re wrong about that; perhaps Android will have a fully built-in desktop-casting option by Android 8.0.

What do you think? Have you tried Maru, Leena, or Andromium OS? Are you familiar with Microsoft or Canonical’s mobile desktop options and want to see something better from Android? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

  1. Kevin
    December 2, 2016 at 6:16 pm

    I've been interested in something like this for awhile, but none of these options do what I have in mind. I'm one of those, on-an-extremely-limited-budget-ppl, so I do not frequently buy devices.

    What it **seems** I should be able to do, is hold my tablet or PC in my lap, and wirelessly transmit to my BluRa player, a Panasonic DMP-BD85 (not new, but it has limited wifi capabilities), and just have my tablet/pc screen appear on the TV. I've done several searches over the years, and have not found a viable, solution.

    In this article, Leena looks like fun, but not sure it does what I want. I may check it out, if my tablet can support it.

    Thanks for a great article.

  2. bromberg
    November 30, 2016 at 6:06 am

    I don't have a smart phone but would my Galaxy Tab 4 work as well?

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