Jide Technology's Remix OS makes Android easier to use on a laptop-like tablet. Is Android the laptop OS of the future?
In May 2015, I watched a live-streamed presentation on YouTube, participated in a Twitter discussion, and explored sites mentioned in Chrome. I did all of that on a single Android device: the Remix ultra-tablet from Jide Technology.
If you're not familiar with Remix, picture an early generation Microsoft Surface tablet. The hardware specs are solid. It's an 11.6" diagonal 1920 x 1080 touchscreen tablet, with a keyboard that magnetically attaches. Much like early Surface devices, a support in back opens to position the screen at one of two angles. The system responds without noticeable delays, thanks to 2 GB of RAM and an NVIDIA Tegra4+1 A15 processor. You can add an external microSD card, if you need more than the included 64 GB of internal storage. (As of May 2015, retail price for the tablet is $349.)
Software makes the Remix work more like a laptop than a typical Android tablet paired with a keyboard. Remix runs Remix OS, which adds desktop-like features to the traditionally smartphone-focused Android OS. The device comes with a few custom apps and includes full access to the Google Play Store.
The most visible change is the menu bar at the bottom of the screen (Figure A). An icon for each opened app appears here: tap it to switch to an opened app. Five default links also display: the back and home buttons (in the lower-left corner), along with links to a browser, downloaded files, and search. Tap the search icon, then type the first few letters of an app name to find an app on your system.
Remix OS adds a bottom menu bar to Android and allows apps to appear side-by-side.
Next, the keyboard/cover includes a few unusual keys (Figure B). To the right of the space bar sits the Android home key; and in the upper left of the keyboard, the back key (Note: that's back, as in Android back button, not backspace or cursor-key back, both of which are in their usual spots). Then, above the numbers are an Android settings key, a touchpad toggle key (on/off), and a system search key. Tap the "print screen" key to take a screenshot. Otherwise, the rest of the keys function as you might expect (e.g., hold [Alt]+[Tab] to cycle through open apps, just as you might on a laptop).
Custom keys on the Remix keyboard aid navigation.
Remix will run most apps in either "Full Screen" or "Phone" mode. By default, Remix opens apps full-screen. Google Docs, for example, expands to fill the screen. Gmail displays three columns: navigation icons, a message list, and the selected email contents. Twitter displays a single column surrounded by wide, empty margins. Switch an app to "phone" mode, and it'll restart and run in a smaller window—just as it would appear on an Android phone. (With an app open, tap the logo in the lower right of the menu bar, then choose "phone." The app will restart. To switch back, instead choose "Full Screen.") You may move a "Phone" mode app around the screen but not resize the app window (Figure C).
Choose to run apps either "full screen" or in "phone" size windows.
Remix OS: Android for the future?
Today, Remix offers a solidly built, reasonably priced Android tablet with laptop-like features. Long-time laptop users might appreciate the ability to display apps side-by-side and to switch between apps with a single tap.
The Jide team continues to improve the software. A recent update improved battery life to around 8 hours of active browsing, email, and social media use. Chromecast displayed video from the device, but I failed to get either Chromecast or Miracast to mirror the on-screen display wirelessly. Remix OS today offers an attractive experience to power users and Android enthusiasts. However, no organization should ditch existing laptops (or tablets) and replace them with the Remix tablet.
In the long-term, though, Remix OS strikes me as an intriguing solution, especially for people who connect to the internet first with an Android device. That's much of the world, according to an IDC report. With Remix, there's no need for people to learn a "new to them" operating system, like Windows, Mac, or even Linux. Instead, Remix would allow people to continue to use Android adapted for a different device.
Jide faces potential competition... from Google, who recently launched test software to allow Android apps to run on Chrome. That's a different solution to a similar problem: need a laptop? Get a Chromebook and run Android apps. Or, run Android apps on Chrome on any of the major platforms. There's no doubt that Google's approach solves a technical problem. Getting Android apps to work on Chrome is an impressive technical feat.
With the Start Menu, keyboard cover, "full screen" and "phone" app switches, the Jide team solves a few difficult user experience problems. It will be fun to see both Google's Android-on-Chrome and Jide's Android-adapted-to-a-laptop solutions evolve. Which solution would you prefer, and why?