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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
Jerry Hildenbrand

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.

58 Comments
  • No. Not for me.
  • No
  • For a nice portion of what I do, it wouldn't be hard. There would have to be some caveats. I would need a device such as the HP Elite X3 just for some of those more annoying data entry portions.
  • I could, but I don't like typing for long periods on my phone. Also, there's just some applications that don't lend well in a mobile environment. An example is Adobe Analytics and Creative Suites for what I do.
  • I don't media editing. I don't play PC games. Neither do most people. I use my Chromebook when my phone is charging. That's about it. Chromebooks are so bad at things like torrents that I will use my $50 Amazon Fire for those now. Its basically just a base station for transferring media files to an external Hard Drive now. If my phone or tablet could perform that function, I'm not sure I'd use my Chromebook at all. Frankly, the mobile OS world gets me thru 99% of my day anymore.
  • I use a verbatim wireless media share to transfer files between my phone and a hard disk. Works great and might meet your requirements. I think a USB OTG cable might also be OK b of you use a drive with its own power supply.
  • My phone is more of a convenience. It can handle most things, but there are just some things that I only trust to my PC.
  • I found this to be very interesting. For me, I'm not sure but I'm leaning towards probably not. I am one of those people who like to open multiple tabs to catch up, read and respond to things. A good amount of the time, YouTube videos are just playing in the background, unless it's a video that I really need to look at. It would be annoying for me to have to finish watching a video in order to check my email. (I know, there's YouTube Red, but this is an example) Also, I do search for things out of curiosity and/or to help someone out so again, multiple tabs. On a phone, it feels harder for me to search for a link in one tab, copy the link and then go back to that tab to share the link. For some things, formatting is important (like a resume), so I wouldn't want to do that on a phone only.
  • Which bitcoin mobile wallet do you recommend ?
  • The thing that got me into android was watching a YouTube video from Lilliputing using s Nexus 4 connected to a TV by Slimport and using a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard. I went out and bought a Nexus 5 purely to see if it was possible to replace a computer with a phone. Windows phone has taken this the next level with Continuum and I can only see this type of computing getter better. Note with Nougat real multitasking is possible on android, if only android would scale the mobile phone apps to the desktop like Continuum does. If Microsoft releases a "Surface" phone running Windows 10, through emulation if necessary, I will jump on this straight away.
  • Phone, no, but I've found myself using a tablet a lot more of late for mild stuff.
  • Heh... I used to use my tablet all the time. Now, it just serves as a my bedside alarm clock. I've taken it on a couple trips to watch movies on the plane, but found myself reading a book on my phone (using the Kindle app) instead. I'm actually amazed at how LITTLE I use my tablet anymore! It really does make a fantastic alarm clock though.
  • I kickstarted the SuperBook, because I love the idea of having one device, and only needing a dumb terminal connected when I want a larger screen and keyboard. Until then, I do most of my stuff on my phone, and use my Asus Flip for emails/work stuff. I think we're almost to a mobile-only world.
  • For me it has. Well I don't need my laptop for my work which is just standing lol. I open up my laptop when I need to fix my phones and maintain my onedrive files from phones and tablets. And to fill forms when needed. And also when I need downloading huge files. That's basically it. Tablet and phones have replaced pc for me. Granted I have 3 tablets with each having a different use case.
  • Phone probably not, even though it does make my job a lot easier. Now if came to talking about tablets then my Surface Pro has really come to the point where I don't use my desktop or laptop as much.
  • Surface pro with full windows is more laptop/pc than mentioned here based on os. But yeah as a form factor surface can do a lot
  • Somebody get Flo a Chromebook. And somebody hug Jerry for the VW Rabbit. Unibody trucks are awesome (lusting looks at El Camino, SSR).
  • Jeep was supposedly coming with wrangler pickup which would make it unibody.
  • My phone is a communication device, Web browser, mediocre camera (even the pixel can't touch a real camera), mp3 player, etc....but it is no replacement for a computer. Touch is a horrible input method for most tasks, phone screens are tiny, and Android is horribly limited compared to Windows from a productivity/multitasking aspect. Even an android tablet with keyboard/mouse is unable to replace a windows tablet for me. And a windows tablet cannot replace my desktop. I am one of those people with a triple monitor display on my desktop because a single screen feels limited, and a keyboard/mouse has been my favorite input method for nearly everything. So I know I'm not the average consumer. I admit I use a computer less than I used to, I browse the Web on my phone a lot, but I'm still on Windows 10 daily. Maybe Microsoft will actually be successful with continuum, and I'll just be able to hook my phone up to multiple monitors and a keyboard, until than a phone has no hope of replacing my computer.
  • Agree. The phone is absolutely necessary on trips, traveling or even at work having the portability and having near instant communication with file updates, texts, emails, picures etc.. that's huge. Literally. But it can't replace the desktop. Maybe in the future with virtual keyboards and virtual monitors with one hell of a data network to run on....
  • Off topic.. And WOW AC found a way to AD up the APP too. Please have a ad free version I'll pay for it.
  • Shut up you filthy internet troll.
  • Hahaha. Look at the feeds.
  • He's telling the truth
  • I'll pay... It's like BLOAT ware...
  • For personal stuff, probably. These days, I don't do much on my laptop other than web browsing, chat, and video streaming (as evidenced by the fact that I have used a Chromebook as my sole PC for the last couple of years). I wouldn't prefer it, since a laptop is so much nicer for long periods of browsing or chatting, but if you took my Chromebook away, I don't think my leisure time would get noticeably less convenient. For work, definitely not. I do too much typing, none of my company's dozens of web applications are optimized for mobile use, and I need a good PDF editor (my company uses Nuance).
  • No. I can't play Need for Speed or any City Building simulators on my phone. And even if I could, the screen is way too small for that.
  • Not yet. I use my phone for most things, but my laptop works better for others. One day my phone may replace my laptop. Today is not that day.
  • Please check out my Material website! Hoping to make a splash in the streaming industry someday.
    american20.weebly.com
  • With the exception of gaming, most everything I do, outside of work, is on my phone, so for me, I guess the answer is yes... to a point. I think VR is going to change a lot of things. Once we develop VR to the point of total immersion, coupled with better voice recognition (or rather, better voice cognition), then I think the size of the computer will cease to matter. I guess what I'm saying is that phones will probably never completely replace computers, but something will eventually replace both.
  • ...when Moto gives me Lapdock 2.0 for the Moto Z.
  • +1 ... But a tablet does most everything that I do now. I barely use my laptop
  • Jerry wins.... Was this a competition?
  • I use my phone for a lot of day to day browsing and surfing but the one thing I do a lot of that no phone or tablet can do is gaming. Can't pack the power of a desktop in a phone or tablet.
  • Mine does for everything besides torrents,and a way better music experience with my speakers.
  • I could never switch to using solely smartphones for my computing. I play videogames on my home desktop, and a phone will never have enough processing power to play games. Also, I use a Windows computer at work every day. The things I do on it just can't be done on an Android OS right now.
  • Nope! I need multiple calendars up and viewing on a slab just isn't the same and so for me it's 50/50. I'm equally on my 17.3 laptop, 13.3 Ultrabook and Google Pixel xl. All three are used daily.
  • Yes easily. It already has for me
  • I feel like I couldn't replace my desktop with a laptop let alone replacing it with a phone.
    Thanks to my phone and tablet, I don't use my PC nearly as much as I used to but I still couldn't replace it. Posted via the Android Central App
  • For most people it technically could but I doubt you would want to.
  • Nope, while the 5.7" screen and S-Pen of my Note 4 are great I can only use it for a limited amount of time before I'm drawn back to a larger screen, full querty keyboard (huge fan of keyboard shortcuts!), mouse/trackpad and ability to run full desktop applications (with full multi-tasking capabilities) via my Surface Pro 3. Even thinking about adding a large external monitor for when it's docked, something my aging eyes seem to crave more and more lately.
  • I was hoping the article would talk about the experience of docking the phone to a computer monitor, keyboard, and mouse and how it actually performs.
  • This is the first video I watched on YouTube about using a phone as a PC. It is very old now and newer phones should more capable. https://youtu.be/_--zcmqIyRI
  • "Can a phone replace a laptop/desktop computer?" A.K.A. "Can a console replace a gaming PC?" Technically the answer is yes. But there are a whole host of reasons why it won't.
  • I don't like typing on my phone. So, in a pinch, it's nice to have the ability to send messages (emails/texts/IM/etc) from the phone. But for real communication, I have to have a keyboard. Now, I could hook the keyboard up to my phone, and type that way, with the screen cast via my Chromecast. I could easily get away with using my phone as my computer that way. I think I'll play around with that on one of my spare phones, and see how it goes. I have all the things I need to hook my phone to a keyboard/mouse/tv.
  • I have multiple devices at home, desktop, laptop, tablets and phones. If I only had the option of keeping one it would be phone. I already do 95% of my computing on a phone.
  • Not in my home or work world no. Can't be done. Glad I can print from my phone but the other heavy lifting items cannot be done from a phone or tablet. There is still lots of proprietary software out there that will not and cannot go mobile.
  • Not until more sites and saas companies beef up their mobile optimization. As it stands I can limp on my phone for work but just barely. And then there's gaming....
  • No, not in my lifestyle.
  • For my personal life I do 99.9℅ using my phone or tablet. I use my Chromebook when I want a bit of a larger screen or have the desire to use a keyboard. Otherwise no personal computer use for me. Now work is another story completely....
  • Desktop programs are coming to windows mobile. That in combination with continuum makes this (phone replacing pc) closer to reality. Just closer tho and not yet entirely.
  • For work, yes it can for 98% of the stuff I do. I have a 22 inch screen, keyboard, and mouse. Nine folders is better than Microsoft Outlook, and I have Docs To Go for document creation. Ping Tools Pro and Mobile SSH for network testing and switch access. Floor Plan Creator for quick room layouts, ES File Explorer for server access...
    That, and my phone is still faster than my work laptop. However, no multi windows, and with a wireless media link for the big screen, there is a slight lag in mouse movements. That would not be a problem if they gave me a screen with an hdmi input, lol. Seriously, I did use the phone for two weeks while they tried to get my laptop running right. I don't do it much any more because opening the laptop is easier than taking out the phone and the keyboard and the mouse, but for me it's possible.
  • I haven't touch a computer in a long time. Since I got bored of Left 4 Dead 2. I probably won't touch it again until/if L4D3 comes out. Other than gaming, I really don't care for using a computer.
  • No. Battery life is too poor still. I share my off-pc time between a phone and a tablet. The phone screen (5.7) is still too small for some things. Lightroom with tens of thousands of photos, spreadsheets (utterly frustrating even on the simplest) are far from usable on anything but a full blown pc, and preferably with a second 24" or higher screen.
  • I'm on the road a lot, so I use my phone for basically everything: Email, Fax, Scanning, Writing, Storage Management, Server and any computer remote management, Music and Video Streaming. I only use the laptop when I have it near me to conserve the battery of my Nexus 6P.
  • While the majority of what I do is done on my phone (Moto Nexus 6 on Fi) I still enjoy using my Windows 7 box (i7-4790) with it's 65" monitor while sitting comfortably on my couch with my wireless keyboard and mouse.
  • Until a smartphone can be used to design itself they would never replace a PC. You wont find any engineers using a smartphone for design work, or hardware testing. You probably won't find software devs coding on a smartphone either.
  • I use my computer less than I used to but I still find it easier for many things - like reading this article. I have problems using some website from the phone too. Either they give you the mobile site that isn't as fully functional or they just don't work from mobile. Pop up ads on mobile are particularly a pain as sometimes can't reach the close button. My computer desperately needs replacing but I still haven't decided if my next one will be a desktop, laptop, or chromebook. I'm leaning toward a laptop and using a separate monitor and keyboard with it when at a desk.