Android invades the desktop

Android invades the desktop

Summary: Computer makers are suddenly obsessed with putting a smartphone operating system on PCs. Here’s why it may not be such a crazy idea.


Microsoft has spent a lot of time and effort trying to get Windows onto smartphones and tablets--so far without a whole lot to show for it. Now several PC companies are trying the opposite approach, taking the Android operating system and porting it to PCs.


The latest example is HP’s Slate 21, which looks like a standard all-in-one PC with a 21.5-inch (1920x1080) IPS touchscreen, but has the specs of a tablet including Nvidia’s Tegra 4 quad-core processor and Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. HP says it has included several features to make Android work better on the desktop including support for up to five Google profiles, drivers for USB peripherals and a software bundled that includes Splashtop for running Windows apps and a productivity suite (Kingsoft Office). The Slate 21 has only 8GB of storage, but there is an SD card slot for expansion and HP says USB flash drives and external hard drives will also work. It will be available starting in September for $400. (My colleague, Sean Portnoy, covered the Slate 21 announcement here.) 

Acer is already selling a similar product, also with a 21.5-inch 1920x1080 touchscreen, but they are marketing it more as a monitor that also happens to run Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). The DA220HQL has a Texas Instruments’ OMAP 4430 dual-core processor, 1GB of memory, 8GB of storage, built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and micro-HDMI, micro-USB, and a wireless keyboard and mouse. Though Acer lists the price as $400, the prices I’ve seen online range from $430 to $450.


Last week Samsung announced the ATIV Q, a convertible with several unusual features. First, it has a 13.3-inch display with a QHD resolution (3,200 by 1,800 pixels). Second, it runs both Windows 8 and Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. Finally, with its sliding hinge you can use the ATIV Q as tablet or ultraportable laptop, or flip the screen over to use it in a stand mode like a digital photo frame or portable DVD player. (Samsung is also pitching a “float” mode where the display hovers above the base and keyboard—much like the Acer Aspire R7 with its “ezel” hinge—but I’m not sure this mode will be very practical.) One interesting feature lets you pin Android apps onto the Windows 8 Start screen so that you can quickly launch them. The ATIV Q will come with a fourth-generation Core-i5 (Haswell) processor, 4GB of memory and a 128GB SSD, but Samsung hasn’t announced availability or pricing yet.

At Computex, Asus announced the Transformer Book Trio, which as the name implies is meant to work as tablet, laptop and desktop. On its own the 11.6-inch (1920x1080) slate has a 2.0GHz Atom Z2580 processor (Clover Trail+), 2GB of memory, and 64GB of storage and runs Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean). When it is connected to the PC Station keyboard dock, it functions as a laptop that can run either Windows 8 or Android. Finally the PC Station, which has a fourth-generation Core i7 (Haswell) processor and 750GB of storage, can be hooked up to an external display to use as a Windows 8 desktop. The Transformer Book Trio will be available in the third quarter but Asus has not announced pricing.

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Asus already sells a Transformer AiO (All-in-One) that combines an 18.4-inch Full HD tablet that runs Android 4.1 Jellybean with a PC docking station that runs Windows 8. The tablet is equipped with a Tegra 3 quad-core processor, 2GB of memory and 32GB of storage. The PC Station has a Core i5-3350P processor (Ivy Bridge), 4GB of memory and a 1TB hard drive (expandable to 2TB). You can also attach an external monitor to the base station. When the tablet is in the PC Station you can switch back and forth between Android and Windows by hitting a blue button on the right side of the tablet. When you detach the tablet, the PC Station can wirelessly stream Windows 8 to the tablet using the Splashtop remote access software. CNET’s Rich Brown reviewed the Transformer AiO, which starts at around $1,300.

The concept of an Android all-in-one or hybrid PC sounds a bit strange at first, especially when you consider that Google has a separate Chrome OS designed specifically for computers. But it makes some sense in certain situations. There was a time when x86 Windows compatibility was all that mattered, but the mobile revolution has flipped that on its head—at least for consumers. Users now want the same Android or iOS apps and games on all their devices. And the cloud makes it possible to access your files and content from any device. Microsoft’s plan, of course, is to match this ecosystem in Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. But that’s not the case today.

I’m not convinced that an Android-only all-in-one or desktop makes much sense. And if you simply want a second device for access to Google services, a $199 Chromebook will do the job quite nicely. But a hybrid Windows 8 system that doubles as a large Android tablet, which you can carry around the house to stay in touch online, watch movies or play games, isn’t such a crazy idea after all.

Topics: Android, Laptops, Tablets, PCs, Windows 8

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  • I've run Android on a desktop

    Android X86.... worked great, actually. Except that all the power management drives you crazy... you don't expect it on a desktop, but you sure do get it!
    • they should definitely

      put in a power management app
  • I use Android every day my main office device. I offed my laptops and pc's and now have a tablet w/keyboar dock. I can print, move files using USB drives, etc.

    ..and, it's ultra portable.
    • Print?

      What are you printing with/too? With only an Android device Google Cloud Print is no longer valid as it requires a PC, and PrinterShare is only valid for some file types if your document that came via e-mail uses standard fonts available in Android.

      Google and the printer manufacturers need to bring native printing to all Android apps and devices over WiFi. I currently use PrinterShare Premium with a bluetooth HP OfficeJet 100, it's a bit of a clunky way too print, but it works for me mostly.

      I can also e-mail a couple other printers and they will print what I e-mailed, though not in a manner that I could use as a valid legal document that is required in my line of business.

      So while I also use my Android devices for work, I am still dependent on Windows/Linux/Os X to get real work done. I will sadly remain dependent on these PC systems until native print is built into Android as there is no other choice.
      • Don't consider that a bad thing.

        The cloud inherently makes some tasks nearly impossible. Of course, the likes of so many bloggers and tech pundits will never tell you that. The cloud is a terrible idea. Sorry. You know, I wouldn't mind Android or iOS or Tablets if the cloud wasn't behind them. Whatever does the job I guess, but the cloud is just too... evil.
        • Local cloud is the answer

          We all know how the evil NSA and GCHQ are.
          The answer is Network Attached Storage.
          Attach a USB or Ethernet hard drive of 1TB to your home router, and you have 1TB free cloud storage.
          Or connect the storage to an offline Secured WIFI router if you are extra paranoid.
  • Following Microsoft's lead

    Funny, MS was critisized for putting a "smartphone" OS on a PC, now it looks like it was the right idea, as imitation is the best form of flattery.

    Sadly, they're too little, too late, or need Windows 8 in addition to Android to "complete the sale".
    William Farrel
    • imitation can either be flattery

      or simply an indicator that you are a monkey and copy without knowing or understanding why.
    • No.

      MS was criticized for squeezing a Desktop OS onto a mobile device, and saying it was the same OS everywhere, which its not. Not the same thing at all.

      They have forced every Windows user to drop down to simple, 90's style, 2D graphics, so that they could actually get it to run on a 1Ghz processor, and tried to sell it users as exciting new 'Tiles'. That's what the criticism is all about.
      • Pretty isn't it?

        anothercanuck obviously likes staring at pretty lights for hours on end also.

        Give me the productivity and speed of the new Windows 8 using far less resources across the board and fast boot times ANY day.

        Never gave a toss about all the lipstick that's been put on Windows. What a waste of CPU cycles.
        • And you?

          The dancing tiles of Windows 8?
          Arm A. Geddon
        • Yes, a couple more major hacks and slashes like Win8

          and Windows will get close to the efficiency of Linux. In case you haven't noticed, Android uses the same kernel Fedora, Ubuntu, and every other distro, as well as embedded devices, servers, and super computers. Different HW drivers because of the different HW, but other than that, the same kernel for all. It runs fine on
      • And I'll keep saying it.

        Someone over at Microsoft said, "256 colours is enough."
        Arm A. Geddon
      • Right. I see how its works

        when talking about Windows Phone 8, claim it's a PC OS being squeezed onto a phone, then when talking about Windows 8 PC, claim it's a phone OS being loaded onto a PC.

        Got it. ;)
        William Farrel
        • Well...

          It is. However, I very much like the idea of a desktop OS on a phone. I'd be all over Fedora ARM on a droid.
        • Who ever accused Microsoft of putting a mobile OS on a desktop.


          It's always been the other way around - cramming a 1990s bloated wreck onto mobile.

          Farrell's nightmares are affecting his thinking ... they're coming true!

          Won't be long before there's a REAL desktop successfully running Android for the enterprise ... only a question of time.
    • Actually....

      First: Android x86 was there many before Windows 8...
      Second: In case you didn't realize, the Win8 is the one being completed....
    • Re: Funny, MS was critisized for putting a "smartphone" OS on a PC

      No, Microsoft was criticized for putting a CRAP OS on a PC.
    • copying would be making android look like Windows phone.

      Microsoft put a smartphone UI on a desktop..

      It isn't google that made Android run on monitors it was the same Manufactures that Microsoft is now competing with.. It's genius because it's one way to make sure your product is differentiated from the surface. Microsoft might make a tablet that swapped from RT to windows, but why bother when they are essentially identical from a UI perspective and RT has buggar all apps compared to Android or Windows 8 pro.

      but if all you do is spend your day connecting to remote servers, you could do way worse than Android as a terminal OS.. use it for browsing, instant messanging etc, and use the remote terminals for what work you need custom windows apps for.

      Yesterday I surprised myself by taking my Android smartphone, cropping two photos, joining them together vertically and adding text top and bottom (before and after shots) and submitting it straight to facebook and email all in less than 2 minutes, and I'd never done it before... and I didn't use any non free apps... so anyone that tells you you need windows to do stuff like that is a troll, a fanboy or a shill.
  • Android vs Chrome OS

    Having used, and like, both of the opinion that chrome os is a better proposition on PC's and laptops over android. It's just more natural for the keyboard and mouse experience, especially on larger screens. Doing any form of work (office related, coding, etc) can begin to get a bit of a chore with android (even with a mouse).
    I've not tried many games with Android on PC, but for many on-screen controls are required and wouldn't port smoothly.
    I expect chrome OS to get many more packaged apps in the future, or open up to a number of android app installs.
    Android brings the familiarity that consumers know, but not yet a really good fit on larger forms, maybe Key Lime Pie will address this.