The Android desktop scene is relatively new, with a handful of distributions like in the early days of Linux. In theory, Android desktops should provide a new way of using your PC, with a conventional desktop harnessing the enormous Android ecosystem. That’s the idea at least. But how do they stack up really? We put the four main players to the test to decide which Android desktop is the best.
What Is Android Desktop?
Before we dive into comparing Android desktops, let’s talk about what they actually are. If your first thought is your computer will look like your mobile phone, you’re pretty much right. Basically, the system itself is similar to what’s on Android smartphones but designed to work with desktop/laptop hardware and environment.
Despite the word “desktop,” an Android desktop is a full operating system, just like Linux or Windows. You can run it as your only operating system, dual boot it, or even create a Live CD (or USB) to run the OS independently without installing anything on your computer.
Who Can Use It?
Typically, Android systems are made to work with Windows PC hardware, though they may also work well with Linux systems. Most are not made to natively install on Macs, though. For Macs, you’d be best to use a Live CD/USB option or try an Android emulator.
While each desktop has its own requirements, they’re usually made to function well on older PCs, so you’re not going to need the same higher-end requirements as Windows 11 does. Ideally, you’ll need 8GB to 20GB for the system itself. You can often get by with 1GB RAM.
What’s the Point?
There are two main purposes of Android desktops. First, an Android OS requires far less resources than Windows and more robust Linux systems. This makes it perfect for breathing life back into an old desktop or laptop.
Secondly, they can come in handy if you just want to enjoy your favorite Android apps on a larger screen, such as games and productivity apps. Since some apps are mobile-only, Android desktops give you the chance to use them on your computer versus just a smartphone or tablet.
Some years back, not many saw the appeal of using Android on a PC. That was because of Android-x86 – one of the few options back then. It used to be the vanilla build, bare-bones, no-frills choice. The newer Android-x86, however, is based on Lineage OS, with no attempt to hide it, with giant Lineage logos appearing throughout its setup. Its cool splash screen does add a little panache.
Android-x86 used to be difficult to navigate without a touch-screen, but now it comes with Taskbar as standard, a desktop menu popularized by Bliss OS. Users can still choose a touch-style interface if desired (Trebuchet), which breaks down your apps into a nice alphabetical system and adds a close button to apps when multitasking.
App-wise, you get AudioFX, a browser, YouTube and a few other apps, but this is still a pretty barebones system. You won’t get very far without logging into Google Play and grabbing what you need from there.
One thing we’re unsure of is its “Sleep” function. There’s no obvious “Sleep” button anywhere, and although it at least disabled the screens of our test laptops when we closed the lids, their fans were still running. Other reports suggest it suspends fine, though, so we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.
In the last few years, Android-x86 has gone from being just a smartphone x86 port to becoming a viable desktop solution. It is still pretty minimalist, but it works. There are no nasty surprises waiting for you, no junkware, and it should work on any virtual machine without too many problems.
2. Bliss OS
The Bliss team has been at the forefront of Android desktop development for a number of years. Run by a team of volunteers, they have a vision of a synchronized OS spread across multiple devices and form factors. If you want to know which features will be in other Android distros in coming years, you can give Bliss a try.
Its interface is innovative and extremely engaging, letting you switch at will between a desktop system and a touch-style interface. Experimental Vulkan support is also available, along with a “Blissify” option that lets you fine-tune your GUI in minute detail. Firefox is also preinstalled, and the good news is that it suspends properly.
Some older releases were notoriously unstable – even the menu itself wouldn’t always load properly. The current release appears to be more stable than previous versions, so the Bliss team may be reigning back the innovation a little in favor of tightening up the code.
Bliss certainly has its fans, and some hardware seems to work well – especially touch devices like the Surface Pro. Older versions didn’t function as well with a keyboard and mouse, but newer versions seem to work better. If you’re interested in Bliss, now is a good time to check it out – just be prepared for some possible glitches.
3. Phoenix OS
Phoenix OS is a difficult one to rate. The OS is now full of adware (it wasn’t previously), with the intention that you subscribe to its service to remove ads. It doesn’t appear to be open source. It’s also full of Chinese software that could possibly be used in data collection, and occasional parts of the OS haven’t been translated into English.
But underneath all of this is the most solid Android desktop, with a familiar window manager somewhat like Windows 7 and a good set of desktop tools and keyboard shortcuts to keep Windows users happy. It also has a working “Sleep” function and seems to have a decent hit ratio for working apps. There are also ways to remove ads besides subscribing, at which point Phoenix becomes very enticing.
Were it not for Chinese data concerns, it could probably be deployed on a large scale. It’s definitely worth considering, but that junkware makes us nervous.
Of all these systems, PrimeOS is the fastest and smoothest, giving the best first impression with an almost Scandinavian level of tasteful minimalism. Unique to PrimeOS is its “Native Bridge” feature, which uses native ARM libraries to allow better compatibility between ARM and x86 systems. This makes it the winner here when it comes to successfully running apps.
The Prime team have put an emphasis on gaming with their “DecaPro Gaming Center.” This has specific game optimizations to map touch-screen controls to the mouse and keyboard, which will be especially popular with those who like PUBG Mobile.
However, it’s also a massive letdown due to its broken “Sleep” function. When we tried to suspend the machine, the screen simply went black while the backlight stayed on, and machines with mechanical hard disks emitted an awful noise that had us reaching for the power button. Furthermore, PrimeOS isn’t open source, and documentation is severely lacking.
On the off chance you don’t need a “Sleep” function, PrimeOS would make the nicest package. However, this is unlikely among Android users who will probably be using some kind of portable device that needs to be quickly switched off.
Winner of Best Android Desktop
Android-x86, but not by much. It’s not fancy, but it will provide the best results on average for the greatest number of people – and probably with the least hassle. If you want something more sophisticated, try one of the other distros.
As Bliss continues to improve, it’s a close second to Android-x86, especially with a focus on innovation and new versions of Android. If you’re not bothered by Chinese data issues and are willing to either put up with ads or remove them yourself, Phoenix OS has the most mature desktop. And if only PrimeOS could suspend properly, it would easily be our pick. Should later releases fix the issue, then PrimeOS would be our recommendation, but for now, it’s plain old Android x86.
The above options are your best choices for an Android desktop, but there are a few runners-up that you may also want to consider.
- Remix OS – Several years ago, Remix OS would’ve easily been the winner on this list, but active development ended in 2016. The last version is Android Marshmallow. However, if you have an older PC and enjoy Android Marshmallow, it’s worth checking out.
- FydeOS – If you want something that’s a bit of a mix between ChromeOS and Android, FydeOS is a good choice. Since it’s not a true Android desktop, it’s not covered in more detail. Also, it’s only for 64-bit PCs.
- Anbox – Anbox is a container Android system designed to run on Linux. It’s more of a virtual machine than a standalone OS. However, it’s a great way to see if you want to use an Android desktop before changing your Linux system.
Frequently Asked Questions
Isn't an Android desktop the same as ChromeOS?
No. ChromeOS is only designed to work on specific hardware and is mainly for web access. You’re also limited to the Chrome Web Store apps. While there are similarities to Android, ChromeOS isn’t identical to what you might use on your smartphone.
Android desktops give you more options, such as more apps from the Google Play Store. Plus, you can dual-boot with an existing OS, replace your current system, or boot from an external source. Think of Android desktops as being more flexible and compatible with far more devices.
If you want a quick and easy setup that’s regularly updated and may be more secure overall, ChromeOS on a Chromebook is the simplest approach. But, if you want to use an existing device and have more customization options, an Android desktop is best.
Are Android desktops secure?
Consider an Android desktop to have the same security as an Android smartphone or tablet. Using a desktop that’s regularly updated is your best option to prevent security flaws. However, the apps you use and the sites you visit can all compromise your system’s security – just as with any operating system.
What should I do if I just want to test an Android desktop?
If you just want to take an Android desktop for a test drive, you don’t want to wipe your hard drive first. Instead, install the desktop on a Live CD or USB drive and boot from that. You’ll get to see how the desktop system functions without changing anything on your PC.
On the other hand, if you just want to use Android apps on Windows without a dedicated Android OS, see how Windows 11 lets you do just that.
Image credit: Pexels
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