Can a phone finally replace a computer?

Six years ago, the late Steve Jobs said that a PC was like a truck. He was comparing tablets to traditional computers the way you would compare a car to a truck, claiming the PC was for work and to do the "heavy" things while a tablet was all we needed to do everything else. That always stuck with me, because I knew eventually he would be proven correct — if you replace the tablet with the phone.

Some folks are already there. Some people will never be there. But in general, most of what we do when we're not doing work can be done on a modern phone. And a lot of what we do both now and in the future will only be able to be done from our phones as software companies in certain fields focus less and less on the PC market. The times they are a-changing and all that.

We went around the table here at Android Central with the simple question — outside of work, can a phone replace your computer? The answers tell us a lot about trucks and the people who still drive them.

Alex Dobie

If I'm not working, sure, I can go days without turning my laptop on. Ten years ago maybe you'd turn on your computer to check your email or browse the web. Now you don't need to. Basically, unless I need the extra space and physical keyboard to bang out an article — or the extra computational power to edit video — a modern smartphone is more than sufficient. After all, we're talking about communication here. Phones have grown into the ultimate communications devices, whereas a decade ago, for most people, the split was more even between phone and computer.

Andrew Martonik

Phones are bigger and more powerful than ever before, but I still feel too cramped on even a 5.5-inch phone when it comes to many things. I can go a day or two with just my phone for all of my (non-work) activities, but when I get back home I'm going to open up my laptop. Not only do I get a dramatically bigger display to work with multiple windows, I can also fire up a full calendar app, the Chrome browser with a dozen active tabs and Lightroom to process some photos I recently took.

Having a powerful phone means I don't have to rely on my laptop as often, but I still carry around a laptop in my bag whenever I can.

Ara Wagoner

I can go days without turning on my Chromebook… vacation days, that is. Granted, I have typed parts of many articles on my phone, and it takes me a while to cramp… but it is in no way, shape, or form what I want to type everything on. If you have a work computer or work that doesn't really require a lot of typing, then I think you could get by without a personal computer. That said, why on earth would you get rid of a computer completely when you can get a good Chromebook with low cost and lower maintenance? They're even starting to run Android apps now!

Daniel Bader

Do I need a laptop or desktop to do my job? Yes, I do. But to ask whether a smartphone can really replace a computer is missing the point: it is a computer, and it allows me to do things that I can't, and by virtue of its size and touchscreen, will never be able to accomplish.

Uber. Look at all the things that go into making Uber work properly. A cellular radio; GPS; a touchscreen; an app store; mobility; mobile payments. These are all inherent to the smartphone, to the very idea of a mobile computer. A smartphone replaced my computer years ago, and now I use my "computer" to work. Period.

Florence Ion

Have I ever told you about the time I switched to Windows? I missed it after a four-year hiatus. Unfortunately, I cheaped out and bought a mid-tier Dell, and less than a year later I'm sitting on my stairs with my face in my hands, defeated.

That doesn't really answer the question, but it's meant as an example of what happens when my computer is rendered useless. I retreat into a pit of despair. Despite the trio of phones I typically have in front of me (Right now, it's a Pixel XL, Galaxy S7 edge, and Galaxy S7 Active), there's no way I can get any work done in a reasonable amount of time. Sure, I could always hook up a Bluetooth keyboard to my Galaxy Tab S2 (I really need to diversify my devices), but I've never experienced the same multitasking fervor with a mobile device like I have with a computer. Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom are so much more manageable on a large desktop with a separate keyboard and mouse, not to mention the simple task of switching between files, folders, and apps. And while I'm editing vacation photos or planning out my next crafting projects, I can have a window devoted solely through my annual watch-through of Beverly Hills, 90210.

Can I get by with a smartphone? Sure. But I wouldn't be as creative or as able to multitask, and that's ultimately more important to me than cutting down on devices.

Harish Jonnalagadda

Phones are plenty capable these days, but they just don't have the raw processing power of an overclocked computer. And you're going to need that if you want to play The Witcher 3, Doom, or Fallout 4 in Quad HD with all the settings cranked up to the maximum. That's what I do when I'm not writing words here, and although mobile games have improved drastically, they don't come close to AAA titles on the PC. And I don't see that changing for a very long time.

Jerry Hildenbrand

I drive a truck.

The things I do when sitting in front of my computer that I don't call work are goofing off programming electronics and goofing off playing games on Steam. Both can be done fairly well on a Chromebook (using a Linux tab or an app like CrossOver for Android) but a Chromebook is still a computer and therefore is a truck. A small truck from Nissan or possibly even a Volkswagen Rabbit truck from the 1980s, but still a truck.

Most of the time when I'm not working and in front of a screen I'm on my desktop PC with everything cranked way up just because it can be. A phone just isn't there yet.

Marc Lagace

I have two computers — my work computer and my personal computer. I rely on my work computer heavily throughout the day for writing words and editing pretty pictures to accompany my words, and I used to rely on my personal computer to unwind after work watching Netflix or YouTube, and browsing Reddit and social media. But that's simply not the case anymore.

I almost exclusively rely on my phone for nearly everything I do outside of work now, because a) I know I'll always have it on me, and b) I find it to be just as capable of handling pretty much anything I typically throw at it. But I'm also pretty easy, in that on an average evening I'm bouncing between binging my favorite shows, wasting time on Reddit, listening to music or podcasts, and playing games until I pass out and it's time to go back to work. Not only can I do all that on my phone (with a major assist from my Chromecast-enabled devices), but I can do any of those things while also making myself food, doing chores, or while hanging out with friends (despite how this probably reads, I DO have friends). If anything, I'm too dependent on my phone, and need to, like, pick up a book or something instead every other evening...

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.