Over the past few years there have been a few projects aimed at letting people use their smartphones as notebook or desktop computers.
Motorola’s Atrix line of Android phones were designed to work with Lapdock keyboard docks, but they’ve been discontinued. Canonical tried to breath new life into the category by crowdfunding the Ubuntu Edge smartphone which could also function as a desktop computer… but the company didn’t meet its ambitious fundraising goals.
Now a startup called Andromium is taking to Kickstarter to raise money for something a bit simpler: it’s an Android app and optional docking station that makes it easy to connect a phone to external hardware and run desktop-style apps.
Here’s the idea: install an app from the Google Play Store, drop your phone into a dock, and you can use a keyboard, mouse, monitor, and maybe even a game controller to interact with your phone.
The Andromium dock includes HDMI output, 3 USB ports, and a power connector for keeping your phone charged. The Andromium app, meanwhile, automatically detects when your phone is docked and switches the user interface to something that looks a bit more like Windows 7.
That means there’s a desktop, taskbar, and support for apps that run in windows that you can resize and move. This lets you run multiple apps side-by-side or on top of one another while using a keyboard, mouse, and monitor.
Andromium doesn’t change the operating system on your phone, so while there are built-in apps including a web browser, all your Android apps will also still be able to run. But they’ll run in full screen.
Background apps and services will also continue to run, so you’ll be able to take incoming phone calls, hear alarms, or receive other notifications even when your phone is docked.
Andromium’s developers hope to raise $100,000 to enhance the user interface and bring their hardware and software to market. Right now there are plans to support Samsung Galaxy and HTC One phones, as well as the Google Nexus 4, 5, and 6.
Technically any smartphone dock which supports USB input and USB-to-video output should work if you want to bring your own dock, but the team isn’t making any promises of support for hardware from third parties.
Andromium is an interesting concept… although it remains to be seen if it will be any more successful than the Motorola Atrix 4G or Ubuntu Edge. But it probably doesn’t have to be. The developers are seeking to raise a lot less money than the $32 million Canonical wanted for its project, and the hardware and software the team is offering seems pretty affordable. There’s no guarantee it’ll actually be useful, but even if it’s not, you probably won’t break the bank by backing the project.
Kickstarter backers can pledge $10 or more to get just the Andromium app in January, $29 or more to get an early version of the dock as well as the app in February, or $35 or more for the more polished versions the team hopes to ship in May and June. Full retail price is expected to be $40.