Remix OS, which came out recently, is a killer Android variant that brings a slick desktop-style interface to Android. Now, you can install it on a USB stick and try it out on your computer. Android isn't exactly built for a keyboard and mouse, but that hasn't stopped some of us from trying. RemixOS, from developer Jide, wants to change that by adding features including a desktop and windowed apps to Android. Here's how to try out the very experimental alpha.
Disclaimer: According to Jide's website, this OS is "for developers and early adopters who don't mind a bug or two". In our testing, there were considerably more than two bugs. While RemixOS is an awesome concept and it's fun to play around with, don't expect this to replace your current computer anytime soon. However, if you're into being on the bleeding edge, tweaking your computer and playing around with experimental software (which might explain why you're reading Lifehacker), by all means, continue.
What You'll Need
By default, RemixOS runs on a USB stick. You can use it in either Guest Mode, which will start fresh on a new desktop every time you run it, or Resident Mode, which will save all your apps and files on the USB stick, so you can resume your session later on any computer. To create your RemixOS USB stick, here's what you'll need:
- RemixOS for PC package: You can download the installer package for RemixOS from here. The package is just shy of 700MB, so if you're on a slower connection, start the download and then grab a snack or something.
- An 8GB+ USB stick with 20MB/s write speeds: RemixOS requires a minimum of 8GB of free storage to install and run. If you plan to use Resident mode to keep your desktop persistent, you'll obviously want more. Also, Jide recommends a stick with 20MB/s write speeds (the SanDisk Extreme should work very well). In my testing, I found that a stick with less than 10MB/s write speeds worked, but it threw an error and took a while to load. Note: Creating the RemixOS drive will wipe your USB stick, so be sure to backup any files already on it.
- An x86-based computer: RemixOS is an x86 variant of Android and, as such, it only runs on computers with Intel and AMD processors. ARM-based computers (such as many Chromebooks) and older Macs will not work. You'll also need a Windows PC in order to create the USB stick.
- Boot-from-USB enabled: Most computers these days have the ability to boot from USB, but check your BIOS or model to make sure. You can find more info on how to boot from USB in our guide here.
Creating the bootable USB stick will take less time than most OS installations, but it will still take a little while, so be prepared for some waiting around. Once you have everything you need, it's time to get started.
Create Your RemixOS USB Stick
First, you'll need to create the bootable USB stick that RemixOS will live on. Once you've downloaded the RemixOS installation files, follow these steps:
- Plug in your blank USB stick.
- Extract the files in the RemixOS for PC .zip file.
- Launch the RemixOS USB Tool executable file.
- Next to "ISO" click the Browse button and choose the RemixOS .iso file.
- Next to "USB Disk" choose the drive letter associated with the USB stick you plugged in.
- Click OK.
The installer will begin creating your RemixOS USB stick immediately. This process will take a few minutes. Once it's done, you can plug it into your computer and boot from the USB. As we briefly mentioned above, you will have two options when you first boot into RemixOS. Here's how they work:
- Guest Mode: This allows you to preview how RemixOS works. Any apps you install, settings you change, or files you download will be erased as soon as you turn off your computer.
- Resident Mode: This will treat your USB stick like a portable computer. Any settings you change will be remembered, no matter which computer you plug it into. Apps you install and files you download will be written to the USB stick. This means the bigger your USB stick is, the more space you'll have to install things.
Keep in mind that even though RemixOS adds a lot of software on top of Android to make it more mouse and keyboard friendly, most of the apps are still designed for a touch interface. They may not work very well, no matter what RemixOS does. Android apps work pretty well with a traditional interface, but you should still expect some bumps along the road.
Install Some Applications (Like Google Apps and the Play Store)
Despite how the promotional material looks, RemixOS does not come pre-installed with the Google Play Store, or any of the related Google apps. Previous limited release versions of RemixOS did, so it's unclear if this is an oversight, or if Jide simply doesn't have the licence to distribute the Play Store publicly.
Fortunately, you can still download and install applications on your own. APK Mirror is an excellent site that has recent versions of tons of popular apps, including Google services. To get apps for RemixOS, follow these steps:
- Search APK Mirror for the app you want to install.
- Ensure you have the correct version, where applicable. For reference, RemixOS runs Android 5.1.1. (To install Google Play Services, you'll need versions ending in 270, per APK Mirror's instructions here.)
- Open the Settings app, click Security, and enable installing from "Unknown sources".
- Launch the Downloads app and click the APK you downloaded, then follow the prompts to install it.
In my testing, Google Play Services installed, but many functions still failed to work properly in Guest Mode. Some apps like Chrome launched and worked relatively well, while other apps like Netflix failed to launch at all. Again, none of these apps are designed to work with RemixOS, so if an app doesn't work, don't blame the developer.
So, How Is It?
After all that, you're probably wondering if it's worth going to all the trouble. Well, here's the short answer: kind of? I've played around with it for a few hours since the release last night and I've run into enough problems that would keep most casual users away. But that's OK! It's a developer and enthusiast-focused alpha. What does work, however, paints a pretty rosy picture for Android on the desktop.
For starters, RemixOS has tweaked Android's basic interface to feel a lot more at home on the desktop. There's a taskbar at the bottom of the home screen for launching apps, a Start-like menu for searching your files and finding other apps you have installed, and a system tray for things like Wi-Fi connections, date and time, and a slide-out notification tray. Frankly, it looks a lot more like a clone of Windows 10 than it does Android.
Android apps also scale pretty well. RemixOS allows you to arbitrarily resize windows, much like you do on Windows and OS X. That might seem like a no-brainer, but keep in mind that Android apps were never designed for this kind of interface. Despite that, the feature works pretty flawlessly. If you make a window small enough, the app will default to a phone-style interface. Larger windows will use tablet-style interfaces, where available. This means that the app experience on Android is still only as good as Android support for tablet apps, which is good, but not stellar.
Ultimately, the problems with app compatibility means that RemixOS is unlikely to replace anyone's daily driver. However, given that Android was never intended to be a desktop operating system, RemixOS does a remarkable job of convincing us that it could be.