How to Use Android like a PC

Tips for getting your Android smartphone and your desktop to play well together.

These days, smartphones and tablets have all but overtaken the PC in terms of user adoption. Even those folks who own desktop PCs usually spend far more time in front of their smart phones or tablets.

This reflects my experience as well, since I do most of my work from an Android tablet when I'm not at home. In this article, I'll explain how common mobile users such as myself are able to substitute their PC with Android devices when access to a desktop PC isn't available.

Tablet vs Phone

Some might argue it's a simple matter of preference. I'd counter with trying to use a phone as a PC isn't a very pleasant experience. I highly recommend using a tablet simply because it can provide a cleaner landscape mode that is easier on your eyes.

The second reason why I'd suggest a tablet over a smart phone is that you're not going to be interrupted by a phone call while you're working. I've had this happen while composing email on my phone – it's annoying. I'd also suggest purchasing a case that provides you with a physical keyboard or getting a compatible Bluetooth keyboard. Even an Apple Bluetooth keyboard works with an Android tablet. The point is, there are plenty of compatible bluetooth keyboards out there.

How this helps substitute a PC: Screen size matters. And by using a tablet with a bluetooth keyboard, you're able to emulate the bulk of the PC user experience from a tactile approach.

CloudMagic Email

When I first started using Android, I found myself using the default Android email client. It's not bad but it's a big battery drain if you leave the client set to sync email for any length of time. This is why I recommend using CloudMagic. Not only is it great for keeping your email in sync without battery drain, it's also more pleasant to look at too.

The one killer feature that I enjoy is the ability to save a specific email to Wunderlist, Evernote, Pocket, Salesforce or other similar services. CloudMagic also makes setting up any email account super-easy. Just choose the service you use and you're half way there.

The layout is rock solid on a tablet display, it's easy on the eyes and the combined inbox approach makes sorting your email much less annoying. My favorite feature hands down is the follow-up reminders for your email. This is awesome if I need to complete one task on my tablet, but need to make sure I follow up with an email I just viewed.

How this helps substitute a PC: CloudMagic provides me with the convenience of postponing responding to emails, while still allowing me to manage all of my inboxes in one app. This makes working on a smaller, single screen more manageable. It's also well designed for touch screen devices which helps me not miss my mouse as much.

Microsoft Office

I am not a fan of Microsoft software, however their Android offering is both easy to work with and completely free. Both of these things make running a word processor using an Android tablet as a PC totally doable. I settled on this MS application after being less than impressed with Google Docs/Drive for Android. I needed something that was MS Word formatting friendly and built specifically for Android tablets.

To be ultimately clear – I use LibreOffice as my default office suite on my PC. But sadly, I need something a bit more full featured due to the limitations presented when working on a tablet. I need the menu to be clearly spelled out and accessible. I also love that instead of needing to save my documents to Google, I can simply save them to my Dropbox account instead. This feature alone, makes using MS Office for Android a no-brainer for me.

How this helps substitute a PC: I have a full featured office suite that provides a tablet friendly interface. It also allows me to save to Dropbox and provides better docx compatibility in terms of formatting. Not only that, but Excel vs Sheets isn't even a contest on my Android tablet. Being able to save myself multiple steps translates into less tablet-related frustrations.

VPN on public wifi

The last and final piece of software I need to utilize my tablet as a desktop PC is a decent VPN. Because I'm not needing to VPN to a corporate office, the VPN I use is merely setup to keep my connection safe when using public wifi. My preferred provider is PIA (Private Internet Access). Not only does their Android app provide me with an easy way to connect to their VPN services, it provides me with a very fast and secure connection to the Internet.

Generally, I won't bother with it if I'm using a 4G connection. However anytime I'm on a shared connection, this is the first application I use before starting to work.

How this helps substitute a PC:It's important to realize this is merely a layer of security, not an all out solution to a secure connection. After all, anything sent out over the Web not protected by SSL is open for the world to see.

That said, feeling secure that you're not being "watched" while you're working at the coffee shop is worth $7 per month in my book. It also saves me from having to use up my limited 4G data, since I feel safe using public wifi by tunneling in with a good VPN.

Real Life PC/Android usage situations

I've found using an Android tablet to be less distracting than one might think. My usage scenarios mostly touch on instances when I'm away from home yet needing to work. There are occasions when I'll use the tablet at home in the same way as I might a laptop. The key difference is I get far better battery life and it's easier to manage due to less distractions. The thing that really sealed the deal for me personally was access to an app called Type Machine. The application has the ability to recover anything typed, even if an application has been closed by accident. This is something most of my PC software titles don't offer me.

Now you may believe that relying on a tablet for work is too distracting. So how does one minimize tablet distractions? Simple, turn off your notifications. You likely have these enabled on your phone, therefore there's no sense in duplicating efforts with your tablet. This leaves your tablet free to provide a decent working environment. Android tablets free you up to accept mobile payments, manage a remote machine via SSH or even login to your home office PC with a remote desktop application. The three most common areas where I see laptops being a better solution than a tablet is with software/web development, audio/video editing, and advanced level photo manipulation (Photoshop).

What say you? Would you be able to work a day from your tablet if a keyboard was attached/connected? Hit the Comments below and share your experiences.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.




Tags: Android, PC, smartphone, desktop


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