You left your laptop at work, and you have an urgent report that needs completing and emailing to your boss. And you’re just arriving at the hotel on the first night of your holidays.
What should you do?
Well, as long as your documents are stored in the cloud, you could finish off the report using your smartphone — not as a phone, however, but as a PC. Just plug it into the hotel room TV, finish off the report, email it, and enjoy the rest of your vacation.
But is it as easy as that? Yes it is! In fact, there’s a good chance that the phone in your pocket has the ability to transform into a desktop computer. Android, Windows 10 Mobile, and Ubuntu Touch all have desktop user interfaces available for when connected via HDMI. All you need is a keyboard and mouse (optional) to get started!
Why Use a Smartphone?
Having a portable computer in your pocket at all times — for any eventuality — makes sense. Unfortunately, pockets aren’t big enough for even the most compact ultrabooks. Smartphones, on the other hand, slip into a pocket with ease.
While we’re no doubt a long way from this being the perfect solution, smartphones can be used as substitute PCs in an emergency. The limits of the small screen are no longer a problem: wireless HDMI (see below) provides a solution there. Similarly, Bluetooth keyboards and mice can be connected.
The real magic of this context-aware dynamic, however, is in the presentation of a desktop UI (user interface). Once displayed on a compatible TV, you won’t be looking at the phone’s current UI. Instead, a traditional, familiar desktop is presented.
You’ll Need a Wireless HDMI Receiver
To use one of the various smartphone desktops, you’ll need some form of wireless HDMI receiver. The one you choose will depend on which smartphone operating system you use. Some wireless HDMI dongles support various wireless protocols while others are specialized.
The best thing to do is research which one you need before you start trying out your smartphone as a desktop computer.
You may also (depending on your smartphone platform) want to use a keyboard and mouse. Bluetooth should work here, but if not, USB On-the-Go should enable you to connect your hardware.
Carry a Linux PC in Your Pocket With Ubuntu Touch
Ubuntu Touch devices are equipped with the Convergence system, which enables a different user interface depending upon the size of the display. For instance, the smartphone version of Ubuntu Touch is compact, while the tablet version is a bit larger.
When the phone is connected over wireless HDMI to a TV, the UI is a full Ubuntu Unity desktop. The operating system comes pre-installed with various tools, including LibreOffice. Having a smartphone that is ready to use as a desktop at a moments notice is excellent for productivity!
However, Ubuntu Touch has been abandoned by developers Canonical. This means that while existing devices still work, no further in-house development is planned. Happily, a development community has sprung up to help maintain the operating system, centered around ubports.com.
The Windows 10 Phone That’s Also a PC
Continuum is the name given to Microsoft’s display-centric UI, and was initially used to determine how a touchscreen display would differ from a standard one. These days, however, it is also the technology that turns a Windows 10 Mobile device into a PC. Currently, this is the ultimate in smooth scaling, and is superior to run-of-the-mill display mirroring.
Once connected over Miracast, Continuum allows you to use your phone like a PC (and access the apps installed on it, like Microsoft Office Mobile). You can also use the phone as a phone while connected, which is a major advantage. While Microsoft has produced an expensive dock for your monitor, keyboard, and mouse to attach to, you don’t necessarily need them. Not only can the on-screen keyboard be employed when required, but the phone’s display can be employed as a touchpad!
For added flexibility, Windows 10 Mobile devices can also be connected to a Windows 10 PC and used in the same way. Three phones are available with Continuum: the HP Elite 3, the Lumia 950, and the Lumia 950 XL.
The World’s Biggest Mobile OS as a Desktop
In 2016, Android overtook Windows as the most-used consumer operating system on the planet. It makes sense, therefore, to explore its potential as a desktop OS.
While Google and the Android Open Source Project are yet to declare any intention to follow Canonical and Microsoft into providing a desktop UI for their smartphone OS, others have been working at providing a solution.
Most notable is Maru OS, an Android fork that currently only runs on the 2013 models of the Nexus 5 and Nexus 7. Ports for other hardware are in development. Once installed, you’ll see a version of Linux Debian with an Xfce desktop, ready for use as a desktop computer.
Maru OS isn’t the only option for Android devices. Two apps can be found on Google Play:
- Leena Desktop UI — This is essentially a desktop-themed launcher for Android.
- Sentio Desktop — Previously known as Andromium OS, this solution works reasonably well on its own, but benefits from the addition of the Superbook hardware. This is a sort of laptop/dock combination that uses your smartphone as its brain. Find out more at sentio.com.
Obligatory Low-Budget Option: Android + Chromecast
If it all seems a bit fiddly, expensive, or a combination of the two, then you might consider the easy option. Need to access your Android phone’s word processor in an emergency? Got a keyboard handy? Have a Chromecast plugged into your TV?
Then it shouldn’t take long for you to load up the document that needs attention, connect a keyboard (either Bluetooth or USB should be fine, depending on your handset) and share your display over Chromecast. Produced by Google, this is another HDMI wireless streaming technology, but different to Miracast.
Do You Even Need a Desktop?
We’ve looked mostly at solutions that require a desktop UI (Android excepted). And iOS is conspicuous by its absence. But it’s fair to say that you don’t really need this. After all, your phone already has an operating system, and probably supports a mouse already.
All you really need is a suitable connection cable or wireless hardware, mouse and keyboard, a stand for your phone (or a dock), and the right apps to enhance your productivity.
If you’re planning on this as a solution, then you should take a look at our guide to turning a standard smartphone into a PC.
Why Aren’t You Using Your Smartphone as a PC?
With so many mobile operating systems capable of turning a phone into a PC, it seems odd that so few people use their devices in this way. Is it the wireless HDMI? Or the lack of a physical keyboard to hand?
Whatever the case, corporations looking to cut back on desktop and notebook outlays in a world of ever-shrinking IT budgets are deeply interested in the handheld desktop form factor. It just needs a bit of ironing out.
Have you tried out any of these mobile operating systems in their desktop guises? Did it go well or did you find things fiddly? Can you see connecting your phone to a wireless monitor, keyboard, and mouse as something that will catch on? Tell us in the comments.
Image Credit: By ndq via Shutterstock.com