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Monday, December 06, 2021

Is Android good enough to be a laptop operating system?

Android apps are not made for use in a laptop and are made with the intent of being touched. That is a problem.

Written by Mihir Patkar |
Updated: April 8, 2014 8:59:23 pm
The Lenovo IdeaPad A10 runs Android 4.2 as the OS The Lenovo IdeaPad A10 runs Android 4.2 as the OS

With Windows 8, Microsoft wants one operating system that works well both on both desktop PCs and tablets. Google, meanwhile, has chosen Android as its tablet and smartphone interface while developing Chrome OS for laptops. So what happens when you put Android on a laptop with a touchscreen, like with the Lenovo Ideapad A10?

Not Quite Android

Many smartphone makers choose to put custom UI skins on Android. Usually, I’m not a fan of that. But on laptops, it’s a necessity. Android isn’t made for laptops, so to make it usable with this form factor, things need to change. Which is why Lenovo has introduced things like a custom dock which mimics the Windows Launch Superbar.

Android also needs a keyboard which steps away from the traditional Windows and Linux keyboards, with special buttons for common Android features like apps drawer, multi-tasking, etc.

But the downside of all this is that these are, in the end, cosmetic changes—the limit of what a company can do without moving beyond the core challenges Android faces as a laptop OS.

Apps, Apps, Apps

The big problem for Android is that its apps are not made for use in a laptop or desktop setting, they are made with the intent of being touched. While some of them translate decently to a keyboard+mouse interface, they still don’t match up to what you would get on Windows. And this is especially found wanting in the quality of the programs.

No office suite, for example, matches up to what you get in Microsoft Office on Windows or Mac. Kingsoft Office and others are decent, but the mobile versions are not as robust as desktop alternatives. Try working with tables in the word processor or try a spreadsheet file with macros and the limitations of mobile office suites come to the fore.

Then there’s the complete lack of support for professional applications. Adobe Photoshop Touch or any other image-editing app on Android doesn’t hold a candle to their desktop counterparts.

But perhaps the most damaging thing for Android is that its mobile browsers aren’t as good as Chrome or Firefox on desktop. By default, these mobile browsers are set to load pages in mobile mode. With a few small hacks, you can set it so that the browser always fetches the desktop version of any website, but what makes Chrome and Firefox so great on desktop are the many extensions and plug-ins that make them a flawless interface to the internet. Without those, we might as well be using Internet Explorer, and that’s the same kind of limitation you feel when you use Chrome Mobile or Firefox Mobile on Android.

Bad Multi-tasking, Great Multimedia

The other thing that irks the Android laptop user is the lack of true multi-tasking. While floating windows have bridged the gap to an extent when compared to what you’d get on Windows or Linux, it’s still not as good as the desktop operating systems.

Where Android does score is in its vast Play Store and all the goodies that brings. You have access to the full Google Play Music library of music, the Play Movies library of films and TV shows, and the Play Books library of novels and magazines. As a multimedia device, Android outshines Windows quite easily.

There’s also the added benefit of the Play Store and its collection of great casual games.

What Android Needs To Be A Laptop OS

So the question is, what would Android need to do to make it a great laptop operating system? The biggest thing missing, in my opinion, is bringing great desktop apps to this OS through the same Play Store. Just like you install Chrome for smartphones, there should be an option to install Chrome Desktop for the same touchscreen devices—this app, however, would need to be made for keyboard usage.

Apart from the apps front, a focus on true multi-tasking would be great, but that seems more unlikely. Instead, hardware manufacturers giving more RAM in Android laptops makes more sense, as features like floating windows take the brunt of turning Android into a desktop interface.

Finally, much like there are homescreen replacements for smartphones, it would be great if there were third-party apps or downloadable elements that customised your Android to be used for laptops rather than tablets—i.e. turn the focus from touch-based input to keyboard+mouse input.

As things stand today, however, Android is a long way away from incorporating these features. As such, it’s not yet ready to be a laptop operating system, so your choices are still limited to Windows, Linux, Mac and Google’s other operating system, Chrome OS.

But are Android laptops or hybrids a better choice than Chromebooks? 

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