Perhaps your laptop has run out of battery or your PC’s hard drive has failed. Whatever the problem, you need access to a computer right now, but all you have is your phone.
Is your phone going to get you out of this trouble and avoid missing that deadline? Well, it is if you turn it into a PC. Here are six ways you can turn your phone into a computer in seconds.
Why use your phone like a computer?
Keeping a laptop in your pocket at all times, for any eventuality, makes sense. Unfortunately, the pockets aren’t big enough for even the most compact ultrabooks. Smartphones, on the other hand, easily slip into a pocket.
This means you can use a smartphone as a desktop computer, a substitute PC to use in an emergency. The limits of the small screen are no longer an issue, thanks to wireless HDMI solutions like Chromecast.
However, the real magic of this context-aware dynamic is in the presentation of a desktop UI (user interface). Once displayed on a compatible TV, you won’t see the phone’s current user interface. In its place, a traditional and familiar desk is presented.
What you need to turn your mobile phone into a computer
Before you choose one of these methods to turn your phone into a PC, you need some equipment. Take a moment to take in some or all of the following:
- bluetooth keyboard and mouse
- Alternatively, a USB keyboard and mouse and a USB-OTG cable
- A display compatible with wireless HDMI or screen mirroring
Alternatively, you can use an HDMI, USB and SD card compatible dock. An example of this is the Anker USB-C 7-in-1 Hub.
6 ways to turn your phone into a PC today
Depending on the phone you’re using, it’s relatively easy to turn it into a computer. Unfortunately, this isn’t an option with an iPhone, but other platforms (mostly Android, with a few exceptions) are more flexible.
Here are the six ways you can use a smartphone like a desktop computer:
- Use Samsung DeX
- Use an old Windows Phone
- Install a desktop launcher on Android
- Install Maru OS on Android
- Use Android as a desktop with Chromecast
- Install Ubuntu Touch on your phone
Let’s look at each option in more detail.
1. Samsung devices have DeX desktop mode
Perhaps the best option for turning an Android phone into a computer from 2023 is exclusively for Samsung owners. With a Samsung Galaxy S8/S8+, Note 8 or later, it has the DeX feature. Activated from the notification tray, DeX is essentially a desktop environment for Android.
Simply connect your phone to a nearby wireless HDMI-compatible display, plug in your input devices, and you’re ready to work. (You can also use a USB-C to HDMI adapter.)
DeX gives you access to all the usual Android productivity apps, in windowed mode. Our guide on using a Samsung Galaxy phone or tablet as a PC explains this in more depth.
Samsung DeX is simply 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. Turn an old Windows phone into a cheap PC
If you’ve heard of Windows 10 Mobile or Windows Phone, you probably know it’s dead. So dead that old phones can be picked up for less than $70 on eBay. While largely useless in terms of apps, some models do have good cameras.
But hidden in these cheap old smartphones is a secret mode: a Windows desktop. Three phones were released with Continuum:
- HP elite 3
- lumia 950
- Lumia 950XL
Thanks to an earlier version of Continuum technology (which currently handles switching between desktop and tablet modes on Windows hybrid laptops), you can connect your phone to a display and see a Windows desktop environment.
You get access to the applications installed on it, such as 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 screen can even be used as a laptop-style touchpad.
Note: Windows 10 Mobile and Windows Phone are no longer maintained or updated. As such, using this method may expose you to online attacks or vulnerabilities in the operating system and software.
3. Turn Android Phone into Maru OS Desktop
In 2016, Android surpassed Windows as the most used consumer operating system on the planet. It makes sense, therefore, to explore its potential as a desktop operating system.
maru operating system it is a fork of Android that currently only runs on some models. So if you can get hold of the Nexus 5 (2013) or Nexus 5X (2015), Nexus 6P or original Google Pixel phones, you should get good results. These are phones that can be picked up on eBay or other used electronics providers for a very low price.
This is a complete operating system that must be installed instead of or alongside Android.
Check out our guide to installing Maru OS on Android to use your own phone as a Pocket PC.
4. Use an Android phone like a PC with a desktop launcher app
Various desktop launchers have been released for Android. Most of these have fallen by the wayside, but one that is in active development is the taskbar.
However, you probably wouldn’t install this alone. Rather, you should use it in conjunction with Android’s secret desktop mode for best results.
Once it’s set up, you can install the taskbar and connect your phone to a USB-C hub. With a keyboard, mouse, and even some external storage attached, no one would know that you had basically turned your phone into a desktop computer.
Discharge: taskbar ($1.99)
5. How to use an Android phone as a desktop with Chromecast
If everything seems a bit complicated, expensive, or a combination of both, consider the easy option. Need to access your Android phone’s word processor in an emergency? Well, you can quickly use an Android phone as a PC if you have:
- A USB-C or Bluetooth keyboard and mouse
- A Chromecast or (other mirroring solution) connected to your TV
Just upload the document that needs attention, connect a keyboard, and share your screen via Chromecast. If you’re planning this as a solution, you should take a look at our guide to turning a standard smartphone into a PC. This presents an in-depth look at additional hardware you may need.
6. Use your smartphone as a Linux PC with Ubuntu Touch
Ubuntu Touch is a Linux-based operating system for smartphones. Managed by the ubports teamUbuntu Touch runs on various devices.
Officially, Ubuntu Touch runs (and is supported) on:
- Volla Phone
- Fairphone 2
- LG Nexus 5 (2013)
- One plus one
However, many others phones can run Ubuntu Touch. A key feature of Ubuntu Touch is the convergence system. Like Samsung DeX, this is a desktop environment that is activated when the phone is connected to an external display.
When the phone is connected via wireless HDMI to a TV, the user interface is a full Ubuntu desktop. The operating system comes pre-installed with several tools, including LibreOffice. Having a mobile phone that can be used as a desktop at any time is great for productivity!
Why aren’t you using your smartphone as a PC?
With various ways to turn your phone into a PC, the question begs: why do so few people use their devices this way? Is the complexity of wireless HDMI? The lack of a physical keyboard?
Whichever the case, you probably have a proper phone that can be used as a laptop. Meanwhile, corporations with shrinking IT budgets are keenly interested in the portable desktop form factor. If you’re not using a desktop-capable smartphone device now, you soon might be.