I’ve had a Nexus 4 since 2013, and I’ve been using it to test out desktop convergence (where you run a desktop environment from the phone) ever since that feature landed just over a year ago. Usually that meant plugging it into my TV via HDMI to make sure it automatically switched to the larger screen, and playing a bit with the traditional windowed-mode of Unity 8, or checking on adaptive layouts in some of the apps. I’ve also run it for hours on end as a demo at conferences such as SCaLE, FOSSETCON, OSCON and SELF. But through all that, I’ve never used it as an actual replacement for my laptop. Until now.
A bit of back-story first. I had been a Verizon FiOS customer for years, and recently they sold all of their FiOS business to Frontier. The transition has been…..less than ideal. A couple of weeks ago I lost all services (phone, TV and internet) and was eventually told that nobody would be out to fix it until the following day. I still had my laptop, but without internet access I couldn’t really do my job on it. And while Ubuntu on phones can offer up a Hotspot, that particular feature doesn’t work on the Nexus 4 (something something, driver, something). Which meant that the only device that I had which could get online was my phone.
No Minecraft for you
Fortunately, the fact that I’ve been demoing convergence at conferences meant I had all of the equipment I needed to turn my phone into a desktop and keep right on working. I have a bluetooth mouse and keyboard, and a Slimport adapter that let’s me plug it into a bigger screen. But while a TV works for testing, it’s not really great for long-term work. Don’t get me wrong, working from the couch is nice, but the screen is just too far away for reading and writing. Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for my children, their computer is at a desk and is plugged into a monitor with HDMI ports. So I took it over for the day. They didn’t have internet either that day, so they didn’t miss out on much right?
A day of observations
Throughout the day I posted a series of comments on Google+ about my experience. You could go through my post history looking for them, but I’m not going to make you do that. So here’s a quick summary of what I learned:
- 3G is not nearly fast enough for my daily work. It’s good when using my phone as a phone, doing one thing at a time. But it falls short of broadband when I’ve got a lot of things using it. Still, on that day it was better than my fiber optic service, so there’s that.
- I had more apps installed on my phone than I thought I did. I was actually taken aback when I opened the Dash in desktop mode and I saw so many icons. It’s far more than I had on Android, though not quite as many as on my laptop.
- Having a fully-functional Terminal is a lifesaver. I do a lot of my work from the terminal, including IRC, and having one with tabs and keyboard shortcuts for them is a must for me to work.
- I missed having physical buttons on my keyboard for home/end and page up/down. Thankfully a couple of people came to my rescue in the comments and taught me other combinations to get those.
- Unity 8 is Unity. Almost all of the keyboard shortcuts that have become second nature to me (an there are a lot of them) were there. There was no learning curve, I didn’t have to change how I did anything or teach myself something new.
- The phone is still a phone. I got a call (from Frontier, reminding me about an appointment that never happened) while using the device as a desktop. It was a bit disorienting at first, I had forgotten that I was running the desktop the Nexus 4, so when a notification of an incoming call popped up on the screen I didn’t know what was happening. That only lasted a second though, and after clicking answer and picking up the device, I just used it as a phone. Pretty cool
Must go faster
While I was able to do pretty much all of my work that day thanks to my phone, it wasn’t always easy or fun, and I’m not ready to give up my laptop just yet. The Nexus 4 is simply not powerful enough for the kind of workload I was putting on it. But then again, it’s a nearly 4 year old phone, and wasn’t considered a powerhouse even when it was released. The newest Ubuntu phone on the market, the Meizu Pro 5, packs a whole lot more power, and I think it would be able to give a really nice desktop experience.