Is there nothing the humble smartphone can’t do? We explore the latest tech and its aim to transform your phone into an (almost) full-blown PC…

You may know about the convergence of smartphones and tablets, but will your phone soon put paid to your desktop? The recent introduction of Samsung DeX and updates to Microsoft Continuum suggest that (with a few extra bits and pieces) the future of computing could well fit in your pocket. But don’t bin that laptop just yet…

Read on for everything you need to know about the latest in transformative tech.

The main players

Microsoft burst onto the smartphone–to–PC scene in late 2015, with the launch of the Lumia 950 and Microsoft Continuum. Labelled a ‘game-changer’ and a ‘novelty’ in equal parts, Continuum effectively transforms the Lumia 950 from a Windows Phone to a mini Windows 10 computer with the addition of a monitor, wireless keyboard and mouse.

Continuum provides more than just mirroring – apps are automatically resized and reconfigured to create a desktop-like experience on your monitor, complete with keyboard shortcuts and the ability to use your phone as a track pad.

According to Microsoft, “Windows 10 adjusts your experience for your activity, device and display, so you can do your thing in any mode anytime you want. Onscreen features, like menus and task bars, adapt for easy navigation. Apps are built to scale smoothly from screen to screen so they look good from the smallest app window up to the largest 8k displays. Continuum is designed to ensure that the best screen is always the one you’re on.”

In March 2017 Samsung joined the game, releasing its DeX docking station alongside the new Galaxy S8 and S8+. Looking a lot like a hockey puck when closed, the DeX station flips open to reveal a USB-C port. Users simply pop their phone into the dock, plug this into a monitor via an HDMI cable and connect a keyboard and mouse via Bluetooth to operate in full screen – much like a PC – accessing optimised versions of a raft of Android apps.

DeX and Continuum are both slightly different takes on the same idea, with the only real main difference between the two at this point being their different operating systems. And in terms of other manufacturers? Rumours abound around Google’s plans to enter the phone-to-PC market, but all we have at this point is the fact that Android apps now work as floating windows on ChromeOS-powered Chromebooks.

The benefits

While using your phone as your only computer sounds pretty impressive, when you add in the need for a monitor, wireless keyboard, wireless mouse, docking station and Bluetooth headphones or speaker, it fast becomes a pricey and clumsy-seeming solution. But, although the technology may not be quite there for the majority of personal users just yet, in a few iterations it could be the answer for businesses.

Even the lightest laptop on the market can be a hassle to lug from meeting to meeting and office to home. But because they enable you to store files locally as well as in the Cloud, phone-to-PC solutions could allow businesses to equip their employees with just one tiny device that they can plug in to the right gear wherever they are. It would do away with the need to supply both laptops and phones, enabling employees to work from the office, from home or elsewhere.

If the model takes off, we’d expect to see the proliferation of docks, monitors and keyboards in unexpected places. Imagine popping into your local coffee shop, dropping your phone on the desk and making use of one of a bank of pop-up monitors and foldout keyboards. Sounds like the future to us.

The verdict

One device to rule them all? Whether we’ll get onboard with the phone-to-PC phenomenon in any meaningful way is yet to be seen. But the idea of buying just one device and plugging it into a bunch of different peripherals such as big screens, keyboards and VR goggles does hold a futuristic allure that’s hard to ignore.

One thing’s for certain: your smartphone’s getting smarter at a rate that makes today’s flagships as powerful as yesterday’s desktop PCs, if not more. We recommend watching this space.

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