Make your own Android Laptop – Part 2

Intro

This is the second part of a two part blog on running Android on a laptop / desktop computer. This post focuses on my experience of running Android in a desktop environment; please take a look at the previous post of you’d like to try it out for yourself.

Setup / Boot time

Android will boot up in a time comparable to any tablet I’ve used, although this is hardware dependent (a few minutes on my laptop). There’s a standard setup process for the first time you run the OS, just like when you start a new phone or tablet:

android-setup

Home Screen

Your home screen is fairly blank on first install, so I quickly got to work customising it with my own wallpaper, preferred apps on front (Google Play store works) and some  widgets. My homescreen looks like this:

homescreen

So what have I got here?

  • Google Music widget (currently listening to the Rush soundtrack)
  • Google Now widget (how are my teams doing, what news stories interest me)
  • News and Weather widget
  • Google Newsstand widget (randomiser of articles for sites / magazines I subscribe to).
  • Google+ Widget (randomiser of stories from my G+ feed)
  • Links for my regular apps, including some folders on the bottom dock row

If I click on the app drawer icon (bottom row in the middle of screen), I can view all my apps:

appdrawer

One quirky thing – a bigger screen doesn’t necessarily give you more icons on screen. A higher resolution screen will use higher resolution icons. In short, the icons occupy the same physical size, but will be of greater image density. It’s like comparing a high res tablet with a medium res tablet – the icons are the same size, but they look nicer.

Storage

I installed Android on a 16Gb USB disk. On first impression, that’s not a huge amount of space (bear in mind that the OS will take up part of this). However, what we have is a cloud centric machine. Take a look at the following free cloud storage providers:

storage

  • Google Drive gives me 15Gb of storage for free, and an extra 10Gb if I install Quickoffice
  • Box gives me 10Gb of storage for free
  • Dropbox gives me 2Gb of storage for free, up to a  maxmium of 16Gb through their “refer a friend” scheme
  • OneDrive gives me 7Gb of storage for free

Although I haven’t installed it (yet), Amazon cloud locker will give me another 5Gb of free storage. So that’s anywhere between 37Gb and 63Gb of storage for free.

It’s also worth noting that Google have slashed their cloud storage prices recently, with 100Gb storage costing less than $2 a month. This will trigger an inevitable price war, giving your cloud-centric machine a lot more for a lot less.

That said, if cloud storage isn’t your thing, the OS will pick up any USB drive or external hard disk plugged into the computer automatically. I believe SD cards are also supported, though you may need to manually mount these.

The Office Experience

The standard list of applications we’d expect from any computer for work use would include:

  • An Email client
  • Word processor / spreadshseet / presentation software
  • A browser
  • A calendar

To cover this, I have installed:

GMail (on top of the default mail client)

email1

Quickoffice

office

Chrome

browser

Google Calendar

calendar

I may also need instant messaging / video conferencing abilities. So I installed Skype (I had some camera discolouration issues with Hangouts):

skype

I’ve also got remote desktop capabilities, using the official Microsoft Remote Desktop Client app:

remotedesktop

Bonus! MightyText is fantastic. It allows me to sync up with my phone and read and send SMS from my desktop. Pretty swish.

mightytext

Media

If I was writing this post two days ago, I’d be reporting that YouTube didn’t work for me. Happily, the most recent update seems to have solved this issue:

youtube

Google Music stores all my music in the cloud, so it doesn’t take up space on device (unless cached). Also, my Google Music allowance of 20,000 songs does not count against my Google Drive storage allowance, so some more free storage there. I’ve also got Google Play All Access, so I can listen to pretty much anything they have in store:

music

Social Media is a bit hit and miss though. Facebook doesn’t have a tablet optimised app yet; Twitter does, but it’s not great from what i can see:

twitter

However, the WordPress app is pretty neat:

wordpress

Google+ is fantastic:

plus

Snapseed is a nice app that can read and edit photos from any of my cloud storage lockers, as well as from my Google+ profile. I can take photos with my phone while out and about and G+ autobackup will save them to the cloud. When I get home, they are already available on my machine to edit (no more USB cables!):

snapseed

And of course, there are a host of emulation apps available. Here’s a PlayStation Portable emulator (PPSSPP) in action:

psp

Outro

I really enjoy using my Android laptop. The OS would be perfect for an old XP Netbook, especially as KitKat is designed to run on machines with as little as 512Mb of RAM. A lot of the windows shortcuts work too (copy/paste, printscreen, windows home, alt+tab). The touch interface is a bit clunky in parts (swipe left / right is awkward with a touchpad), but I’ve been reading up on how to map these gestures to mouse buttons.

How does it compare with ChromeOS? I did try ChromeOS (well, Chromium) on a bootable USB stick a few months ago using a similar method to that in part 1. To be honest, I saw little difference between ChromeOS and just running Chrome browser in fullscreen mode. Furthermore, Android seems to have a greater range of apps. Personally, I prefer my Android setup even though it’s not optimised for the desktop experience…yet.

How to conclude? Give this a go for yourself and drop me a line on twitter @redhandknight and let me know how you got on.

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