You left your laptop at work, and you have an urgent report that needs completing and emailing to your boss. It’s the first night of your holidays.
What should you do?
Well, if your documents are stored in the cloud, you could finish off the report using your smartphone. But forget about tapping away at that little screen—you can connect a keyboard and mouse. Connect it into the hotel room TV, finish off the report, email it, and enjoy the rest of your vacation.
It’s as easy as that—with the right device. Here’s how to turn your phone into a laptop.
Why Use Your Phone as a Computer?
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.
This means that you can use a smartphone as a desktop – a substitute PC for use in an emergency. The limits of the small screen are no longer a problem, thanks to wireless HDMI.
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.
How to Convert Your Mobile Phone Into a Computer
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.
To turn your phone into a PC, you need:
- Bluetooth keyboard and mouse
- Alternatively, a USB keyboard and mouse and a USB-OTG cable
- A display supporting wireless HDMI or screen mirroring
Alternatively, you can use a dock with support for HDMI, USB, and even Ethernet. A good option is the Pluggable USB C Mini Laptop Docking Station which is particularly useful for Samsung DeX. Check our review of the Pluggable USB C Dock for more information.
1. Samsung Devices Boast the DeX Desktop Mode
Perhaps the best of all options to turn a phone into a computer is afforded to Samsung owners. With a Samsung Galaxy S8/S8+, Note 8 or later (as of 2020), you have the choice of DeX. Activated from the notification tray, DeX is essentially a desktop environment for Android.
Simply connect your phone to a nearby wireless HDMI-ready display, connect the input devices, and you’re ready to work. DeX gives you access to all the usual Android productivity apps, in windowed mode.
Samsung DeX is the best way to turn your phone into a computer. If you own a suitable device, now is the time to check it out.
2. Use Your Smartphone as a Linux PC With Ubuntu Touch
Ubuntu Touch is a Linux-based operating system for smartphones. Managed by the UBports team, Ubuntu Touch runs on the various devices.
Officially, Ubuntu Touch runs (and is supported) on:
- Volla Phone
- Fairphone 2
- LG Nexus 5 (2013)
- OnePlus One
However, many other phones can run Ubuntu Touch.
A key feature of Ubuntu Touch is the Convergence system. Like Samsung DeX, this is a desktop environment, activated when the phone is connected to an external display.
When the phone is connected over wireless HDMI to a TV, the UI is a full Ubuntu desktop. The operating system comes pre-installed with various tools, including LibreOffice. Having a mobile phone that can be used as a computer desktop at a moment’s notice is excellent for productivity!
3. Turn Android Phone into Desktop Computer With Maru OS
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.
Maru OS is an Android fork that currently only runs on a few models. So, if you can get hold of the Nexus 5 (2013) or Nexus 5X (2015), you should get good results. Pre-release builds are available for the Nexus 6P and Google Pixel handsets. This is a full operating system that must be installed in place of or alongside Android.
See our guide to installing Maru OS on Android to use your own phone as a pocket-sized PC.
4. Just Want an Android Desktop Launcher?
If you want to use your phone as a computer, don’t have a Samsung, and don’t want to install a new OS, you still have options.
One is Leena Desktop UI, essentially a desktop-themed launcher app for Android. With a macOS-like dock, Leena features a native file manager, browser, video player, PDF viewer, and more.
It also supports connections over docking station, screen mirroring or “casting” and lets you use Android apps in desktop windows.
Download: Leena Desktop UI ($2.49)
5. How to Use Android Phone as a Desktop With Chromecast
If it all seems a bit fiddly, expensive, or a combination of the two, then consider the easy option. Need to access your Android phone’s word processor in an emergency? Well, you can quickly use an Android phone like a PC if you have:
- A USB-C or Bluetooth keyboard and mouse
- A Chromecast or (other mirroring solution) plugged into your TV
Simply load up the document that needs attention, connect a keyboard, and share your display over Chromecast. 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
6. Convert an Old Windows Phone Into a Cheap PC
If you’ve heard of Windows 10 Mobile or Windows Phone, you probably know that it is dead. Old phones can be picked up for under $70 on eBay. While largely useless in terms of apps, some models have good cameras.
But hidden in these dirt-cheap old smartphones, however, is a secret mode: a Windows desktop. Three phones were released with Continuum:
- HP Elite 3
- Lumia 950
- Lumia 950 XL
Thanks to an early version of the Continuum technology (which currently manages the switch between desktop and tablet modes on hybrid Windows laptops), you can connect your phone to a display and see a Windows desktop environment.
You get access to the apps installed on it, like Microsoft Office, and use the phone for calls while connected. A Bluetooth keyboard and mouse can be connected, but the mobile keyboard can also be used. The display can even be employed as a laptop-style touchpad.
Note: Windows 10 Mobile and Windows Phone are no longer maintained or updated. As such, use of this method may expose you to online attacks or vulnerabilities in the OS and software.
Why Aren’t You Using Your Smartphone as a PC?
You have seven ways to turn your phone into a PC. So why do so few people use their devices in this way. Is it the complexities of wireless HDMI? Or the lack of a physical keyboard?
Whatever the case, there’s a good chance you have a suitable device. Meanwhile, corporations with shrinking IT budgets are deeply interested in the handheld desktop form factor. If you’re not using a desktop-capable smartphone device now, you soon could be.
While smartphones make versatile productivity devices in desktop mode, they don’t fulfill every purpose. Need something more powerful and just as portable? Consider a lightweight laptop instead.