Phones have become more and more powerful over the years. Today, even a low-end smartphone has more power than a standard PC or laptop from ten years ago. So why not be able to use your phone instead of a computer?
The good news is you can. There are several ways to use your phone as an alternative to a traditional computer and there are plenty of reasons why you should consider this. Phones are much more portable, you probably always have one with you, and if your phone meets all your computing needs, it might even save you a few hundred bucks.
Your phone alone probably isn’t enough
While your smartphone may have enough power to perform most of the day-to-day tasks you rely on your PC for, it has some serious limitations. The main problems are the input methods of the device. Sending a text or tweet without typos can be a challenge, so writing a few thousand words on your phone’s keyboard would be an absolute nightmare. And that without taking the thumb load into account.
Some phones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, are designed for extended work use. The S22 Ultra comes with a stylus, which provides an additional input method. You can use the stylus to write like you would a regular notepad, and an app will turn those squiggles into typed text. While the handwriting apps occasionally make mistakes, it’s a much more comfortable way to write longer documents on your phone. But it’s still not a keyboard and it’s not an efficient way to write more than a few hundred words.
Bluetooth keyboards are a game changer
Fortunately, Bluetooth keyboards are widely available and easy to connect to your phone. Several manufacturers build keyboards with smaller devices like phones and tablets in mind, so there are many portable options on the market. Ultimately, there is a tradeoff between functionality and portability.
You can buy a folding keyboard that’s small enough to fold into your pocket, but it’s probably not the most comfortable to type on. Likewise, you can bring a full keyboard with you, although you may want to consider a laptop at that point. There are also plenty of options so you can easily find something that suits you.
Connecting a mouse to your phone via Bluetooth may seem pointless, but it’s worth considering. Yes, you can use the touchscreen, but you don’t have to lean forward when you want to select something, it helps with your workflow and saves you a bit of back pain. Likewise, the pointer helps with precision and can save you a lot of frustration when working on a small phone screen.
Other useful accessories include a phone stand and a way to keep the battery charged during long work sessions. I use a flip open style phone case that doubles as a phone stand in a pinch. You may be able to get by with the charger that came with the phone, but a small power bank is a worthwhile investment if you don’t want to risk your phone dying if you don’t have access to a power outlet.
Logitech’s K380 keyboard strikes a good balance between quality, size, and cost. Up to three devices can also be connected to the keyboard,
Samsung goes one step further
If the concept of using your phone as a PC intrigues you, and you have a compatible Samsung phone, then you’re in luck. The Korean company has embraced the concept of using a smartphone as a PC since the release of the Galaxy S8 in 2017. This puts Samsungs way ahead of the competition in this concept.
Samsung’s DeX or “desktop experience” mode initially required a specialized docking station, but now all you need is a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, along with an HDMI-to-USB-C adapter so you can connect your phone to a monitor or other display device. The optimized operating system will start automatically and you can use it for most basic tasks that you would use a PC or laptop for. It is not suitable for gaming and video editing tasks, but office work, video calls and writing are within the limits of the phone. DeX is compatible with all Samsung Galaxy phones from the S9, along with several Samsung Notes and tablets. Some tablets don’t require a monitor and can launch DeX on their built-in displays.
Regular Android and iOS users also have options
While Samsung’s DeX is the most polished way to use your phone as a computer, a DeX-type setup is also possible on generic Android phones and iPhones. Unfortunately, these options aren’t nearly as streamlined. They require additional equipment, apps and a certain amount of technical know-how.
If your phone is running Android 10 and supports “display port alt mode”, you can try enabling “Desktop mode” in developer settings menu. Once enabled, you’re far from done and you’ll need to install an APK, install Android Debug Bridge, install an app called Second Screen, and run a line of code. Desktop mode features are limited and no support or assistance is currently available from Google. Pixel 4 users can’t access desktop mode either. It probably isn’t worth worrying about until Google decides to properly implement it as a feature.
iPhone users can connect their phone to a monitor with a Lightning-to-DVA or Lightning-to-digital AV adapter before pairing a mouse and keyboard via Bluetooth. However, the display mirrors the iPhone’s screen and there is no optimized operating system that you can use to make life easier.
Alternatively, you can cast your phone to a TV with Apple TV or a Chromecast. Make sure your phone is on the same Wi-Fi network as the device you want to cast to and select the mirroring option on iPhone or the screen casting option in the Google Home app on Android.
A phone can make your desktop portable
Desktop PCs are powerful, but that often comes at the cost of portability. However, you can use your PC remotely from your phone and the software you use to make this happen is often free. Alternatives are available, but Microsoft Remote Desktop provides a way to access your home computer or laptop from any approved device with an Internet connection. In theory, this means that your phone is as powerful as your main PC, can access any files and use any programs you have installed on it.
To get started, download Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Assistant on the computer you want to use and their remote desktop app on the device you want to access the computer from. The assistant will help you connect the two devices. Next, make sure your PC is turned on and the Remote Desktop Assistant is active whenever you want to access it from your smartphone.
This is all great in theory, but it’s worth pointing out that Remote Desktop can have issues and drawbacks like all software. Slow or poor connections cause problems such as lag spikes. Your desktop also needs to be on for this to work, so if it’s turned off or unplugged, you’ll have a lot of trouble making a connection. Likewise, if the remote desktop program crashes, you’ll have to ask someone to restart it before you can get back to work. Still, the ability to use your PC remotely is a game-changer and well worth the effort to get around any issues.
It’s the perfect backup solution
Try using your phone instead of your PC once or twice so you know it’s there for you when you need it. If you’ve got some work to do and you’ve managed to destroy your computer, your phone might be all you need to get yourself out of the situation.
Apps can also play a big part in your experience. The office software from Microsoft and Google is available in app form and each app works just as well as the desktop version. Depending on your personal preference, a phone makes it easier to use email apps and video calling than a PC or Mac.
You can also use the time to consider what you will be doing with the phone and what accessories can help you with that. Personally, I use my phone and a Bluetooth keyboard as a lighter alternative to my laptop when I travel. Whatever you decide, phones are a viable option when it comes to most tasks, and they will only get better as time goes on.