If every smartphone and tablet is a mobile computer, can you use one in place of a desktop PC?
It sounds daft, but your Android device can actually form the basis of a simple but effective PC – and depending on the hardware you have, there may be multiples way to do it.
What you’ll need:
- Android smartphone or tablet with at least Android 4.2/Jelly Bean OS
- Google Chromecast or Netgear PTV3000 Miracast receiver
- USB hub
- USB OTG cable or MHL-to-HDMI cable
- Total cost: approx. $10 to $60
- Total time to complete: about 30 minutes
Devices with Bluetooth
Starting with user input, a Bluetooth keyboard/mouse combo would be ideal, provided you have Bluetooth available. This also allows you the cheapest option for connecting up a monitor.
Many phones starting with the Galaxy S2 support MHL (mobile high-definition link) video for connecting straight to the HDMI port on your TV or monitor.
The same port also supports USB-OTG, but it only allows one connection type at a time, even if you use a splitter cable or hub, meaning if you use MHL/HDMI, you can’t use USB-OTG and vice versa. MHL-to-HDMI cables are available online for under $10.
Devices without Bluetooth
You can try a wireless keyboard/mouse combo with the USB receiver module connected to the Android device’s USB-OTG port (you’ll find USB-OTG cables online for about $5). Alternatively, connect up a USB wired keyboard and mouse to a USB hub and plug that into your device’s USB-OTG port.
However, either option means you can no longer use MHL to get video output – but you still may have alternatives.
First, if your device is running at least Android 4.2/Jelly Bean (or Jelly Bean/4.1 on a Samsung Galaxy S3), try the AllShare Cast/Miracast function to cast the screen to a Netgear PTV3000 Miracast (or similar) receiver.
We’ve had this working on a Galaxy S3 using Samsung’s 4.1.2/Jelly Bean stock ROM and the PTV3000, but Miracast can be temperamental with some device/receiver combinations, so research your Android device compatibility before you buy.
The other option if you have at least KitKat/4.4.2 is to cast the screen to a Chromecast dongle. Screencasting is a beta feature in Chromecast, similar to Miracast/wireless HDMI, but uses your Wi-Fi network instead of P2P Wi-Fi.
In both cases, we’ve obtained best results using an official/stock ROM on the Android device – custom ROMs without proper support often produce noticeable lag.
In the end, your mileage may vary, depending on the hardware you have at hand.
No power over USB-OTG
But if you can use a Bluetooth keyboard/mouse and Miracast or Chromecast screencasting – essentially, a totally wireless setup – you’ll have your Android device’s USB port free to run the standard charge cable, which would give you the overall best setup possible.
If your device has a separate power connection, using USB-OTG becomes less of an issue and more connection combinations are possible, but as always, try before you buy.