Forget desktop Linux, build your own $40 Android PC

Credit: Swapnil Bhartiya

You will still be running Linux. Android is Linux.

Pine 64 is a single board computer that is more powerful than the $35 Raspberry Pi 3. I had backed the project on Kickstarter and received a 512MB version of the board that costs $15. But I liked the board so much that I ordered the most powerful board they have: the 2GB RAM version for $29. This board is also capable of running Android 5.x.

Here's what you need to build your own $40 Android PC:

  • A micro SD card for OS and storage. I recommend using a 32GB micro SD card so you will have enough space for the OS and apps.
  • 5v power adapter with micro USB (any Android phone charger will do)
  • HDMI cable
  • Bluetooth or USB keyboard and mouse
  • Wifi/Bluetooth module
  • On/Off switch
  • An HDMI-enabled monitor
  • A Linux, macOS or Windows PC for preparing the micro SD card. 
pine setup Swapnil Bhartiya

A fully operational Pine 64 set-up.

Start by downloading the 32GB version of Android from the official download page and put the image on your micro SD card. Plug the micro SD card into the slot and turn the device on. It will boot into Android OS.

[ Related: The most exciting Linux and open source Kickstarter projects of 2016 (so far) ]

Android works great as a PC operating system. I logged into my Gmail account and I have full access to my documents, images, email and chat.

I experienced one minor issue with screen rotation where some apps will detect it as a mobile phone and open in portrait mode instead of landscape mode. To solve this, I installed the ‘Rotation Lock Adaptive’ app from the Google Play Store, which forced the landscape mode.

Why Android instead of traditional desktop Linux?

I had originally planned to slap some desktop Linux on the Pine 64, but instead I'm sticking with Android. Here's why:

The choice of operating system, outside of political ideology, very much depends on what you are going to do on a system. I am going to use this machine as an entertainment hub, to watch movies, listen to music and do some casual gaming. I'm also going to use it for writing work, and maybe for some light image editing. That’s pretty much it. I may install this PC in my kids' room so they can use it.

apps android pc Swapnil Bhartiya

Millions or apps at my disposal

As much as I love Arch Linux and openSUSE on my main desktop, traditional desktop Linux is still behind when it comes to access to apps, games and services. With Android, by comparison, you have millions of top-grade, professional apps at your disposal. You have thousands of mobile games. You get access to services like Google Drive, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc. And you also get mobile versions of Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, Microsoft Office and more. Everything that’s on Android and on the web is at your disposal.

word on android Swapnil Bhartiya

Even Microsoft Word is running great.

Why I prefer Pine 64 over Raspberry Pi?

First and foremost, out-of-the-box support for Android in Pine 64 makes it a more appealing device. Then, in my own testing, I found Pine 64 to be much faster and more powerful than Pi 3, which comes with just 1GB of RAM. While Pi offered a frustratingly slow PC experience, Pine 64 was breathtakingly smooth.

If you have an HDMI-enabled monitor sitting around, spend $30 on Pine 64 board and $10 on Wifi/Bluetooth module and build your own Android PC. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

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