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You Can Now Buy Android Desktop PCs and Laptops — But Should You?

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PC manufacturers are now beginning to create all-in-one Android desktop PCs. They also sell Android laptops and convertibles that transform from a laptop-with-keyboard to a tablet. But should you buy one?

The short answer is that Android is better suited to tablets, while full Windows is much more powerful on desktop PCs and laptops. These Android devices are closer to extra-large tablets than typical PCs.

Why Do Android PCs Exist?

Android desktop PCs are similar to all-in-one Windows 8 desktop PCs. They’re essentially a large touch-screen monitor with computer bits built in, designed for use on a stationary desk. Alternately, they’re basically just a huge Android tablet designed for stationary use. For example, the Acer TA272 HUL is an $1100 all-in-one PC with a 27-inch screen and Android installed.

Android laptops and convertibles are similar to the Windows 8 laptops and convertibles. They’re devices with touch screens and possibly detachable keyboards, allowing you to remove the keyboard and use the laptop as a tablet without it getting in the way.

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These devices make sense when compared to many Windows 8.1 devices. Sure, if you’re just using the interface formerly known as Metro and touch apps, Android would be a compelling alternative. After all, Android still has many more touch apps than Windows 8 does. Android also has access to apps and games designed for phones, so you have access to a whole universe of touch apps that aren’t available in the Windows Store — you still can’t run Windows Phone 8 apps on Windows 8. Windows 8′s Snap feature allows you to have multiple apps on screen at the same time, so Windows 8′s interface may be better for larger screen desktops and laptops — but the app availability is still lacking.

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Android Can’t Compete With the Windows Desktop

On the other hand, Android is no substitute for the Windows desktop if you need desktop applications. If all you’re using is the touch-first interface, Android can compete toe to toe with Windows 8 — but most people aren’t doing that. Most Windows 8 users are still using the traditional Windows desktop and desktop applications.

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Skip the Android PC if you want a powerful PC to use a mouse and keyboard with. Android desktops and laptops are basically overgrown tablets, which may be what some people want — but not a feature-complete substitute for a Windows desktop or laptop PC.

The Windows desktop is so powerful that you can run Android apps on a Windows PC, if you like. It’s less convenient, but it’s an example of the power of a full desktop operating system.

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Android Has Some Serious Limitations

Android works well on a smartphone and on small tablets like the Nexus 7. However, Android was never designed for desktop PCs with 27-inch displays.

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You’re limited to one application on screen at a time on Android. You can’t have multiple windows on screen. This is fine on a smartphone, but is a serious limitation on a desktop PC. (Sure, you can use floating apps to view multiple apps at once, but you have to use only a subset of specifically designed apps to work this way.)

Android has decent support for keyboards, but its mouse support isn’t ideal. There’s no concept of a “right-click” on Android. The mouse cursor appears on your screen and, when you left-click, it simulates a touch event. You can’t right-click to bring up a context menu.

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Possible Use Cases

Android convertibles make some sense. You have an Android tablet and you can dock the tablet into a keyboard when you need to type things. This would allow you to type up emails faster, write documents, or do other similar things on the go. We’ve seen people using iPads with keyboards as very lightweight laptop replacements, so an Android laptop could serve a similar function if you prefer Android to iOS (or if you can just get an Android device cheaper).

An Android desktop PC makes less sense. It’s too large to be portable, so it would just sit in one place. It would perhaps be ideal for a touch-based kiosk system — people could play Android games, use the web browser, and do other things with a more familiar interface with more apps than Windows 8 has. Of course, it’s no substitute for Windows, Mac OS X, desktop Linux, or arguably even Chrome OS (which allows multiple windows) if you need to actually do work that requires a desktop PC.

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Google Isn’t Buying It, So Why Should You?

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Android convertibles — basically tablets with a keyboard accessory — make some sense. But Android desktops don’t make much sense right now. Even Google doesn’t’ think Android is appropriate for desktops or laptops, which is why they’re pushing Chrome OS-based desktops and laptop PCs.

If Google isn’t buying the idea of an Android desktop PC, why should you buy one? Google won’t improve the experience of Android on a desktop or laptop while they’re interested in pushing Chrome OS on these devices.

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So, should you buy an Android desktop PC? Probably not. Should you buy an Android laptop or convertible? Maybe, if you really want an Android tablet with a keyboard attachment — but think of these devices as tablets with additional features, not full-powered laptops.

Image Credit: Peter Kaminski on Flickr, Acer, Cheon Fong Liew on Flickr, Sergey Galyonkin on Flickr, Matthew Pearce on Flickr, claudia.rahanmetan on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 03/18/14

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