Sometime ago, during CES (Consumer Electronics Show), we were introduced to a rather interesting and novel concept. A company by the name of Jide had something unique to offer. A $70 device that could run Android on any screen with an HDMI input. They called it the Remix Mini. As cool as that sounds, that’s not what piqued my interest. Rather, it was the software.Called RemixOS, this was a version of Android designed to run on basically any desktop or laptop.
Recently, RemixOS was updated to Android 6.0 Marshmallow. With the update came a host of bug fixes and performance improvements. Ever on the lookout to try out something new, I took the plunge and decided to see exactly what the deal with RemixOS was.
The download of RemixOS is completely free and there is no registration required. A small note though, it is a ZIP file which is fairly large (around 1.3GB in size). As such you might want to download it using your offpeak data or splurge on your peak data if you so wish. Once downloaded, simply extract the ZIP file and you will have 4 files. These include an md5 file to verify the integrity of the download, an instruction document, an executable setup file and a Image (ISO) of RemixOS.
In terms of hardware requirements, you won’t need a beast of a PC or laptop to run RemixOS, rather, it’s quite the opposite. It is developed to run even on fairly low end devices with no issues at all. I ran two instances on my Desktop which was a Core i5 6500 with 8GB of RAM and my laptop which had a Pentium Quad Core processor with 4GB of RAM, and honestly after a while, you can’t say which is faster.
Installation was fairly easy. I was given a step by step method on how I want RemixOS installed. I could choose either to have it installed on a USB drive (akin to a Ubuntu Live disc) or I could install it on top of my existing Windows Installation. I chose the latter and was asked to specify a file size for the installation partition. If you’re going to install a lot of apps, then choosing a larger partition size is recommended. You have a choice between 8GB, 16GB and 32GB for this. Since I have the space to splurge, I selected 32GB and hit the “Install” button.
Since I have an SSD, the installation was fairly fast. Upon completion, I was asked to reboot my PC and from there to select RemixOS as the Boot option. It also asked me to disable Secure Boot in my PC’s BIOS. If you are not sure how to do that, you can consult a PC technician or google it if you’re feeling brave.
After restarting my PC I was presented with a screen that gave me the option to boot either into RemixOS or into my Windows OS. I clicked “RemixOS” and went forward with the installation process. This consisted of the OS implementing the file structure and creating all the required folders for RemixOS to work. The whole process took around 5 minutes to complete on an SSD so it may take slightly longer on a regular drive. Once that is done, you are greeted with the RemixOS logo and a step-by-step walkthrough akin to the setup guide you find on any Android device. These include steps for selecting your Wi-Fi network, date and time settings and other miscellaneous settings.
Once all those were complete, I was presented with the Desktop. Yes, a literal Desktop akin to Windows, complete with Start Menu and Recycle Bin. The start menu was also accessible by pressing the Windows key on my keyboard as well. It lists all apps installed and can be sorted either alphabetically, by Date Installed or by usage with the most common apps shown first. Clicking the Search icon enables you to search for your favorite apps which you can then launch, pin to the taskbar (much like Windows), uninstall or view details about by right clicking them. The same holds true for apps in the start menu as well.
Activating Google Play Services was the first thing I did in order to enable access to content from the Google Play Store. After that was done, I had full access to the Play Store and proceeded to download a number of apps to test out just how well RemixOS ran.
Since RemixOS is powered by Android, pretty much all apps on the App store are compatible with a PC. I started with Google Docs, Sheets and Slides to ensure that I could perform my day to day writing and office activities on it. No surprises, it worked flawlessly.
The file explorer included gives you the rundown of the file structure just as Windows would. You are given a file tree on the left which include folders for music, documents, pictures and movies and your downloads. Below that are the hard drives and their respective partitions again similar to how Windows shows your hard drives and partitions. Clicking a folder that has a large number of files such as my music folder does tend to take a bit of time as the OS indexes the files but nonetheless, it’s nothing to fret over. File management is also quite simple with the ability to copy, delete, rename and move files just like you would with an Android device.
Clicking the Settings icon gives you full control over RemixOS’s tweakable options.
Again the layout is almost identical to an Android device. you have settings for Bluetooth and Wifi (if your PC/Laptop supports it), Display Settings to adjust brightness, wallpapers and sleep timers (if you’re using a laptop), Language and Input settings, and a plethora of other options that you would find in a device running Android.
My next test was to see how it handled media management. I then downloaded a number of media apps such as Google Play Music, PowerAMP and MX Player. The first two were to see how RemixOS handles music stored on local storage. The app launches as it would in any other android device but here I also had the option to maximise the app to fit the entire screen akin to how it would launch on a tablet. Strangely, I couldn’t get Google Play Music to locate any music on the PC so I had to use PowerAMP instead. I suspect this is a drawback with Google Play Music as you can’t specify which folders to include in the Music library. To test my theory out, I then installed Phonograph, another favorite of mine for music playback. Alas, the same held true for that as well. Since you cannot specify which folder to select as your music source, it shows nothing.
Using PowerAMP, I was able to add my entire music library located on another hard drive in my PC. Since I have a valid licence for the app, I was also able to use the audio enhancements to tweak my audio the way I wanted it. So far, so good.
Next up was Video Playback. I use MX Player as my daily video player and I figured the same logic should hold true here as well. Installation from the Play Store took about 10-15 seconds (actual download time and installation will depend on your internet connection and hardware).
Again, I was able to add my Movies folder to MX Player and watch a few movies without an issue. Since MX Player has support for subtitles as well, that was one more thing I didn’t have to concern myself with. VLC Player was also on my list and it worked without an issue. You want to kick back and chill? No problem, just install Netflix and you have a world of entertainment right at your fingertips.
This was an area i was itching to check out. I rely a lot on office apps such as Word and Excel to go about my daily work. Since this is Android, I had my suspicions regarding how it would perform. Microsoft Office Word and Excel are available on the Play store but they both require a valid Office 365 subscription.
I decided to test the waters with Google Docs and Sheets. The result being that this review was actually typed on Google Docs on RemixOS so that should give you a fair idea of how developed this OS actually is. From a point of functionality, Google Docs for Android is far behind the desktop version of Microsoft Word. It offers basic functionality such as alignment of text, lists (bulleted or numbered), paragraph alignments and the ability to bold, underline and italicize text. Not the best solution if you have to make a professional document, but for basic note taking (and in my case typing an article), it gets the job done.
The same hold true for Slides and Sheets as well. They both offer basic functionality. So you can get the job done; you just won’t have all the bells and whistles.
Since this IS Android, that also means that there is a plethora of apps awaiting to be tested by you in the Google Play store. So if you’re up to the challenge and you have some time to spare, you can go ahead and search for a few office apps and give them a go to see which one suits your fancy.
Yes, that’s right. You can game on RemixOS. After all, any Android app should work the same, if not better on PC hardware right?. RemixOS has its own collection of apps called “Remix Central” that has recommended apps for work, shopping, social and even games.
Recommended for me were Angry Birds Star Wars, Clash of Clans and Crossy Roads. These games work with no issues with keyboard and mouse but you’re not only limited to those games though. You can install most if not all games that are currently available in the Google Play store. Using a tool called “Gaming Toolkit”, you can map your keyboard to the game as well and use your preferred keyboard combos to control the game. They’ve still not worked out all the bugs and I had difficulty in playing a few of my favorite games such as Temple Run 2 and Angry Birds Go. It seems as long as the game you’re playing is 2D, then it works without an issue. Hopefully, they’ll work out all the kinks and we can play all our favorite Android titles on PC.
I’ve been using RemixOS for about a week now and I must say I am indeed impressed. Not only does it bring your favorite android apps to PC, but it also does so in such a streamlined way that you forget you’re using a PC and you just get engrossed in how beautiful this Operating System is.
Some may feel that it is not as flexible as Microsoft Windows and that may be true. There is still a long way to go in terms of development. For example, since there are no drivers that can be installed you cannot use your graphics card to its full potential as the software of Android cannot correctly recognize it. Even from a businessman’s point of view, in terms of using Google Docs, you are limited to the functionality of it’s Android counterpart rather than the full featureset seen in Google Docs for Web. The experience was akin to using a Chromebook which runs ChromeOS, but with added functionality.
It should be noted that I do not see this as a competitor to Microsoft Windows. Rather, it’s more along the lines of breathing some new life into your old hardware. That being said, that does not mean that RemixOS won’t run well on new hardware, rather, it runs fine on whatever you throw at it. Think of it as doing something you like, in a different way, a remixed way, as it were.
On the plus side though, this can be a very viable option to implement in rural areas where schools have little or no access to computers and software. Since RemixOS is very resource friendly, it can even be installed on low end PCs that were to be discarded, thus increasing their shelf life and giving them a new purpose for life. It also alleviates the need for licensing fees as most Android apps are free to use and if needed, volume licensing can be sorted out with the developers. It also encourages the use of email and all Google related products where programmes such as GBG and Google Summer of Code can be conducted.
In terms of future updates, with Android Nougat released, the first thing that crossed my mind was support for the Vulkan API and OpenGL 3.0 support. This means that rather than relying on the Industry standard Direct3D API, Vulkan is a lot more efficient and also has support for more enhanced graphics. If the developers could implement this into RemixOS, then we actually may be able to run 3D intensive applications on RemixOS and use our existing hardware efficiently to do so.
Would I use it as my daily driver? I actually am. Would I replace it with my current Windows based system? Not likely as I still rely on Microsoft Windows to get my work done.
If you have an old system or laptop that you are not using or you feel it is performing slow, then that would be the perfect opportunity to give RemixOS a go. If, like me, you want to try out something new but also want to have a Windows based system to fall back on, then you can go ahead and install RemixOS on top of your Windows Installation as I did or just use the live disc feature so you can literally plug it and play it.
If you have any thoughts or comments, I would love to hear them in the comments section below.
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Reviewing RemixOS – A Breath Of New Life
Mahesh De Andrado