Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
Android is without a doubt the world’s favorite mobile operating system. But how does it fare on desktop and laptop computers?
You probably know that phones and tablets feature Google’s Android operating system. You might even know about the TV boxes powered by Android. Whenever you use these devices, Android feels smart and intuitive. No instruction manual is required.
Which is why it might come as a surprise to find Android can run on standard computers. But really, this should be no surprise. Touchscreen or otherwise, Android is user-friendly and familiar to so many people.
In mid-2017, developer Jide announced that arguably the most popular Android environment for desktops, Remix OS, was to end. Fortunately, other options are available for installing and running Android on a desktop PC. If you’re looking for the ultimate in Android-based productivity, it might be time to move away from your Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 or your Google Pixel C and consider installing one of these three Android distros on your computer.
But first… whatever happened to Remix OS?
1. (RIP) Remix OS
In July 2017, Chinese developer Jide announced (to much consternation) that Remix OS and the Remix hardware devices — various Mac Mini style computers and set-top boxes — would come to a halt, with immediate effect.
Following inquiries from various enterprise-level businesses, Jide has opted to move development from Remix OS and follow new opportunities.
This is a bit of a shame, as so many Android desktop projects in the past have failed. Jide’s Remix OS appeared to be a rare exception to the rule, but in the end, it was not. While keen observers may have seen the writing was on the wall for Remix OS when they stopped responding to support issues earlier in the year, overall the news has taken the community by surprise.
Although Remix OS can still be downloaded and installed, unless Jide releases the code, it has, sadly, had its day.
Happily, three Android-based desktop projects continue. But if it’s an Android gaming experience you’re looking for on your PC, grab a copy of Remix OS as soon as you can.
2. Android-x86 Project
Probably the most durable Android project for desktop computers, Android-x86 has been around since 2009. It’s a versatile system — I once used it to install Android on a Windows 8 tablet. You might even install it on a laptop.
Although Android-x86 was involved in the development of Remix OS, it is generally assumed that the project will continue. After all, without Android-x86, none of the projects listed here would have gotten off the ground. Android-x86 is based on the AOSP (Android Open Source Project), with modifications that make it compatible for running on Intel-based processors and PC architectures. Such modifications include support for hardware acceleration.
The first release candidate for Android 7.1 Nougat was released on June 8, 2017.
You can grab your copy over at the android-x86.org website. It is available in 32-bit and 64-bit options, and comes in ISO format, ready to be written to DVD or a USB flash stick for installation. While you’re there, look out for downloads prefixed with CM — these are CyanogenMod-based desktops.
Although dual-boot with Windows is supported (thanks to a UEFI manager), it’s worth trying Android-x86 out in live mode or as a virtual machine (using your preferred VM software). Setup can be slow, and you’ll notice that Android-x86 appears to be intended for touchscreen devices rather than standard desktops. Unlike the other examples here, there is no Start menu equivalent. Having said that, this version of Android works as expected, although you may find the presence of Google disconcerting if you’re looking for a purer, AOSP feel.
3. Phoenix OS
Intended for desktops and laptops with Intel Atom CPUs, Phoenix OS will nevertheless run on almost any PC built in the past five years. Utilizing the code from Android-x86 and the grub4dos boot management tool, Phoenix OS is particularly well-suited for dual-booting. However, the operating system can be installed on a USB storage device as well.
As with any new operating system for your PC, it’s worth testing Phoenix OS in a VM before installing to the hard drive. Either way, you’ll be presented with a full Android-style desktop, designed for productivity. As with Android-x86, there’s even a Windows-esque Start menu, where the most commonly used apps are listed. It’s even possible to access your Windows storage from within Phoenix OS!
Two versions are available. One is a standard ISO, available in 32-bit and 64-bit flavors and ready to be installed. The other is an executable, again available for both instruction sets, that can be run in Windows, making Phoenix OS an app.
It’s worth pointing out that if you are planning on using Phoenix OS on a desktop computer, it is not suited to Android gaming. For this, consider grabbing a copy of Remix OS while you still can.
A collection of download options for Phoenix OS can be found online at phoenixos.com/download, where you’ll also find a tablet version of Phoenix OS if you’re so inclined.
The Future: OpenThos
Still a work in process — so installation may prove time-consuming — OpenThos is capable of running Android and Linux apps in windowed mode. While this isn’t a straight Android operating system, it is based on Android-x86.
Writing to USB and booting live, or using OpenThos in a virtual machine, are among the options (as outlined on GitHub). Fortunately, you can download a disk image of OpenThos from FOSSHUB. The UEFI boot manager provides support for Windows, Linux, and macOS. This should make OpenThos suitable as a dual-boot operating system option.
Using OpenThos is a little different to the other Android desktops. While the same possibilities exist with regard to productivity, an extra dimension is introduced with the option to install Linux apps.
Can Android Cut It on the Desktop?
In a world with Google Chrome OS offering a Google-flavored desktop experience with support for Android apps, the question that must surely be asked is: Why install Android on a desktop when you can simply install Chrome OS?
Well, look at it this way: although precise figures are unknown, Chrome OS has 0.56 percent of the market based on desktop browser stats. Conversely, Android has 38.9 percent across all platforms, mobile and desktop.
In short, Android has the presence and popularity. It’s just missing that vital pivot in the minds of its users — the realization that, yes, it can be used as a desktop operating system. It has the apps, it has the games, and it has the familiarity.
But what do you think? Is Android good enough as a desktop operating system? Have you used any of these Android desktops? Tell us about it in the comments.