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How To Control and Manage Your Android Phone from Your Desktop

By Ryan Whitwam

You shouldn't have to pick up the phone every time is beeps at you.

Your smartphone may very well be the hub of your digital life, but there are still times we all need to sit down at a computer to get some work done. At times like that, you don't want to constantly pick up the phone to check notifications, retrieve files, and send messages. There are ways to avoid that by installing a few apps that let you control and manage your Android device from a computer. Your options vary a bit based on how you balance control and convenience.

Notifications

One of the core features of Android is the notification framework. Google has added some awesome new features in the last few revisions, but there is one that doesn't get a lot of praise -- the notification listener. This feature was introduced in Android 4.3, so you'll have to be on that version or higher to take advantage of most of these apps and services.

The notification listener provides a secure way for an app to mirror notifications in both directions. That is, duplicate the notification from the system UI, and also tell the system when a notification has been dismissed so you don't see it in the regular notification shade as well. This framework can be used to duplicate notifications anywhere -- even on a desktop.

There are a few apps that can be used to monitor all your Android notifications on a computer, but the most popular might be Pushbullet. This app is good for more than just keeping track of your notifications. It can send text, links, addresses, and files between your devices as well. To set up the notification service, just make sure you have the Pushbullet extension running in Chrome or Firefox (yes, that's required) and enable Pushbullet on the phone or tablet you want to monitor.

The app contains settings to prevent any app you want from mirroring its notifications. You can also disable mirroring for any app as it pops up on the desktop with the button at the bottom of the pop up. You can also dismiss notifications on the desktop and Android side at the same time. This is an awesome solution because everything that comes across your Android device can be seen on the computer, so unexpected notifications won't be missed.

While Pushbullet is probably the best way to do this, there are a few other apps that focus exclusively on notification mirroring. Notifications+ is one worth considering. It includes strong AES256-bit encryption and a few options Pushbullet doesn't have like stopping mirroring when your phone is awake, custom timeouts, and it uses more attractive icons in the notification popup.

Notifications+ also needs a Chrome extension, but there is no Firefox options. It's also $2.50 for the full version whereas Pushbullet is free.

Messaging and Calls

Having access to your notifications is one thing, but interacting with them is even better. Specifically, replying to text messages without touching the phone can be a great time saver.Just like with notification mirroring, there are a few apps that can do this, but I'm personally fond of MightyText. All you need to do is install the Android app and log into the web app with the Google account used on your device.

Once this is set up, you'll get notifications of new SMS on the desktop and can reply from right there. Keep in mind these are still text messages going out through the phone, so be careful if you're traveling internationally or have a limited text plan. MightyText even allows you to start new SMS conversations by displaying all your phone contacts in the web app.

MightyText also includes dialing support, so you can place calls from the desktop that will be connected on your handset. If you live in the US, Google Voice provides a similar option with the browser extension. Just input a number and it will call your device and connect you.

If you have a newer Motorola device like the Moto X or Droid Maxx, make sure you set up Motorola Connect. This service is built into the phone so you can check and reply to SMS on the computer. It also lists your call logs, but you can't initiate a call from Connect.

File Management and Everything Else

You can't talk about managing your device from a computer and not talk about Airdroid. This has been one of the more popular device access tools for a few years. It has a ton of features, but it's not an always-on service like the other apps I've touched on. However, it's worth checking out because it basically does everything in just one app.

Airdroid creates a server on your device that you connect to through the web browser. Your device is presented as a desktop environment with system stats, SMS, call logs, file managers, and more. You can even check out the images and music on your phone from within Airdroid. I particularly like the drag and drop file uploads, but the nature of firing up the server makes it less than ideal for frequent use. If all you need is file upload, Pushbullet can handle that as well (files up to 25MB in size).

You have to carefully select the apps and services you take advantage of when accessing your Android device remotely. If you have an app like MightyText handling your SMS, you don't also want full notification mirroring turned on. You'll have to disable messaging notifications on the desktop and make sure you stay connected to MightyText. It's the same for a solution like Motorola Connect. If you're using Airdroid at any point, that's basically going to double up your desktop notifications too.

Be judicious in what you enable and your device can be much easier to manage. Go too far and it's going to be more trouble than it's worth.