A look at how to control your Android phone from your desktop browser with AirDroid

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There are a number of standalone ways you can synchronize your Android device with your desktop computer for a more seamless experience. With the desktop and mobile versions of Chrome, you have browser sync and Chrome to Phone; with Dropbox, you have file management; and with Google Play Music, you have music sync. However, none of these standalone utilities come close to the functionality or beauty of a tool called AirDroid. With the one restriction that your device must be on the same local WiFi network as the desktop from which you intend to manage it, AirDroid is a more functional tool in almost every way.

I actually found AirDroid when looking for an easy way to manage files on my device without connecting it via USB, but the utility has much wider applications. With very minimal setup, you can manage your entire device, including text messages, apps, files, missed calls, music, images and even screenshots without ever plugging in a USB cable. I’ve begun using it quite a bit with my Galaxy Nexus, and have to say that it can come in quite handy at times. We’ve actually mentioned the tool before, but I’d like to take a look at some of the more specific features of the application through something of a screenshot tour.

To begin with, there are just a few simple steps that you have to follow to use Airdroid. Obviously, you will need to install the app on your Android device. From there, you just need to visit http://web.airdroid.com, where you will have two options to connect. After making sure that your Android device is connected to the same WiFi network as your desktop, you can choose to enter the password or simply scan a QR code. From there, the AirDroid service will do the rest, connect with your device and bring up the dashboard. From the dashboard, you can access all of AirDroid’s features, so there’s no need to open the application on your phone again once the service has connected. After you’ve made a connection, the AirDroid icon will remain in your device’s notification bar and the connection will remain open until you disconnect from WiFi or manually end it.

Because most everything is done from the browser side, there is very little to the device side app. All that you really have is the connect dialogue, and a couple of simple settings. This is fine, because it keeps things from being overly complicated and the focus of this service is on the browser anyways. There is one slight annoyance, the recommended tab, which is basically a place where AirDroid suggests applications for your device that I am sure are just adds. Fortunately, it’s not very obtrusive, and since AirDroid is a free service and has to make money somehow I think they can get away with this one.

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The feature that I probably use most would have to be the file manager, which as I mentioned is the reason I originally started using AirDroid. Annoyingly enough, the Galaxy Nexus is a MTP only device, which means that it doesn’t play very well with file transfers on Linux like some other devices would. As such, AirDroid’s included ability to both upload files to the device and download files or entire folders from the device is quite useful. The included file browser UI includes all the major functions such as copy, paste, and delete, and although simple seems to work exactly as intended.

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Much like Google Voice, AirDroid also allows you to compose and respond to text messages, as well as check your call logs, all from within your browser. Although I don’t actually have to use it because I do use Google Voice already, it is a nice alternative for those who don’t want to use Google’s service or simply don’t want to change their number. The interface is very clean and simple to use, and what features are there work well.

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Another feature that I like is the ability to take screenshots of your device and save them directly to your computer. While I already have a setup that takes the images produced by Android’s built in screenshot feature and uploads them to Dropbox and syncs them to my desktop, for those who don’t have the feature built in or don’t want to set up Dropbox, AirDroid works well. Once again, the utility is fairly simple, but that also makes it straightforward. In my experience, that has also made it bug free, and relatively quick for a service of its kind as well.

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There’s also the ability to manage the apps already on your device, through a utility that works very much like Android’s built in app manager. The difference, of course, is that with AirDroid you can use your desktop to navigate this interface, which makes everything easier. You also have the ability to uninstall applications, download an application’s .apk file, and even install applications directly from .apk files on your computer. At this point, uninstalls are still managed through your device and AirDroid simply pulls up the uninstall dialogue easily, but otherwise AirDroid  adds features over Google Play’s desktop application management with a better interface as well.

There are, as I mentioned, quite a few more features of AirDroid that might be of interest to Android users. While I haven’t used them extensively, I can say that I have at least tried every individual feature, and they all seem to work well. I just went over some of my more used features in this post, but based on my experience so far AirDroid seems like a very complete and well done project. It is clear that the developers have put a lot of effort into both the function and looks of the software, and the result is quite good. For now, although there are quite a few features everything still seems fairly basic, but that may also be a result of the AirDroid team trying to keep the UI simple. Either way, AirDroid is already an immensely useful and convenient app for Android users, and should only get better in the future. Personally, I’m hoping for the ability to backup apps and settings directly to your desktop (instead of something like Titanium Backup with Dropbox sync), but AirDroid is already plenty good as it is, and quite impressive for an app with no paid version. If you have an Android device, I would suggest that you go and try it out today, or to see a more of the service in action just browse through the gallery below.

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Aaron Orquia

Aaron Orquia is an associate editor at Pocketables. He has been using Android and Linux since he bought his first computer years ago, and his interest in technology, software, and tweaking both to work just right has only grown stronger since then. His current gadgets include a OnePlus One, a Pebble smartwatch, and an Acer C720 Chromebook.

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