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How to connect Linux and Android - and why you should

If you're an Android and Linux user, you'll be glad to know there's an easy way to integrate the two systems for better syncing and interaction.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
An Android phone and a Linux desktop.

Connecting to Linux.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

Google hasn't done a good job of integrating Android with any desktop operating system -- not ChromeOS, MacOS, Windows, or Linux. 

However, Linux has a bit of an advantage because of some smart work by developers. A few years ago, KDE Connect was created to enable communication between all your devices, so your smartphone is better at linking up with your desktop. 

Also: Thinking about switching to Linux? 10 things you need to know

With the help of a desktop and mobile app, you can send files and clipboard contents, use your phone as a presentation remote, control multimedia, use your phone as a trackpad, and even run commands on your desktop from the phone.

KDE Connect is an outstanding tool that does what Google should have done all along with Android and desktops. Even better, the tool works over your LAN, so you don't have to plug your phone in to get the systems "talking" to one another.

Also: The best Linux distros for beginners: You can do this!

You need to install two apps to make this integration work (one of which will depend on which desktop interface you use). There's the KDE Connect mobile app on the Google Play Store and either KDE Connect (for Plasma desktops) or GSConnect (for GNOME desktops).

I'll focus on GSConnect because I use a GNOME-based desktop. The good news is using KDE Connect is very similar, so if you can install and use GSConnect, you'll have no problem with KDE Connect.

Let's get to it.

How to install GSConnect

What you'll need: To follow along, you'll need an Android phone and a GNOME-based desktop (such as what you'll find on Ubuntu, Fedora, or Pop!_OS). You'll also need the Firefox web browser installed. If you use Pop!_OS, GSConnect should be installed by default so you can skip this step.

1. Open Firefox

GSConnect is a GNOME extension, so you don't have to take the traditional installation route. Open Firefox and point it to the GSConnect Extension page. Once there, click Install. If necessary, you might have to install the browser extension (so extensions can be installed from within Firefox), which you will be prompted to do automatically.

The GSConnect Gnome Extensions listing in Firefox.

Installing GSConnect is simple through Firefox.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

2. Refresh the page

After the installation completes, refresh the extension page and you should now see the extension listed as On. You'll also see a settings button. Instead of accessing the settings from within Firefox, I would suggest installing the GNOME Shell Extensions app with the command:

sudo apt-get install gnome-shell-extensions -y

This tool allows you to manage all of your installed extensions, without having to depend on Firefox.

How to install KDE Connect

1. Open the Google Play Store

Unlock your Android device and open the Google Play Store. 

2. Install KDE Connect

Once the Google Play Store is open, search for KDE Connect. When the listing appears, tap Install.

The Google Play Store KDE Connect listing.

Make sure the tool you're installing is from the KDE Community.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

3. Select your desktop

Open KDE Connect and you should automatically see your desktop listed. Tap the listing and then tap Request Pairing. When the popup appears on your desktop, click Accept, and the connection is made and ready to use.

Pop!_OS listed in KDE Connect.

You'll see every device that has either GSConnect or KDE Connect installed listed.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

How to configure GSConnect

Now that you've made the connection between your Android and Linux devices, you can then open the Gnome Shell Extensions app (on the desktop) and click the Settings icon for GSConnect (or click Settings in the Firefox listing of GSConnect). From within this popup window, you can configure every aspect of GSConnect.

The GSConnect Settings in Pop!_OS.

There's plenty to configure here.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

You can enable any feature, configure where to save files, enable the notifications you want to share, configure calls, set up keyboard shortcuts, and more. 

Another cool feature in GSConnect/KDE Connect is sending commands from Android to the desktop. The one thing to remember with this feature is the commands are limited (you can run and update/upgrade commands or anything that requires sudo). 

Also: You need a browser with vertical tabs - here's why and 5 options to try

For example, you could add a command to lock your desktop from your Android phone. For this, do the following:

  1. Open GSConnect on your desktop.
  2. Click the Commands section.
  3. Click + at the bottom of the Commands listing.
  4. Name the command "Lock".
  5. Add the following to the Command Line section: xdg-screensaver lock.
  6. Click Save.

You should now see the Lock command listed in KDE Connect. Tap that entry and your desktop should lock.

And that, my friends, is how you connect Android and the Linux desktop.

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