Android invades the desktop

Computer makers are suddenly obsessed with putting a smartphone operating system on PCs. Here’s why it may not be such a crazy idea.
Written by John Morris, Contributor

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.

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.

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