10 ways to bring together your PC and Android phone

Your smartphone and desktop computer can interoperate in powerful ways. Here's how to make it happen.

10 ways to bring together your PC and Android phone
Credit: mammela via pixabay; OpenClipartVectors via pixabay

Smartphone, PC -- po-TAY-to, po-TAH-to. Our go-to gadgets are essentially all computers, right? So why not make them work together -- and make your life a heck of a lot easier?

After all, it's 2015. Running different platforms is no longer an excuse for devices to act as if they exist in different worlds.

These 10 tips will help you break down the barrier between your desktop system and your Android smartphone and make them feel like harmonious extensions of each other.

1. Sync up your storage

Your computer has local storage, as does your phone -- two separate, unconnected virtual vats of space. But with a clever cloud-embracing app and a few minutes of configuration, the devices' drives can act as if they're one.

FolderSync

The Android app FolderSync allows you to sync up storage between your desktop PC and Android smartphone.

The secret resides in FolderSync, an Android utility that costs a mere $2.87. (There's a free version, but it's peppered with ads and offers limited functionality.) FolderSync works with a ton of cloud storage providers, including Amazon, Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive. As long as the provider you select offers a companion program on the PC side (all of the ones I mentioned do), you'll be good to go.

To get everything up and running, first install the app on your phone and follow the prompts to connect it to the cloud storage service of your choice. Set up "pairs" for any folders you want to keep linked with your computer -- a folder containing your documents or downloads, for instance -- and create new folders in your cloud storage to match.

Be sure to set the pair to use two-way sync. You can either opt to sync instantly, if you want everything to be kept up-to-date at all times, or you can go for a more battery-friendly setup like syncing once a day if you don't mind a little bit of latency.

Now install the desktop app for whatever cloud service you're using. Open the app, find the paired folder you created, and get it ready for use. If you paired a Documents folder, for example, you might place a shortcut on your desktop and dump all of your existing documents into it.

Then treat that folder as if it were a regular local resource. Anything you do in it will be saved onto your hard drive and synced into the cloud, where it'll automatically find its way onto your Android device. Any changes on your phone will make their way back to your computer in the same manner.

2. Find and secure your phone

Can't find your phone in its usual place between couch cushions? Or, worse, get home from a day of travel only to realize you lost your device somewhere along the way? No need to panic: Your computer can tell you exactly where your mobile buddy is. It can even remotely lock it down and erase it if need be.

All you have to do is get on your computer (or any computer, really), navigate to google.com in the browser, and type "Find my phone" into the search box. (You'll have to sign into Google first -- which you'll probably want to do in an incognito window if it isn't your own PC.) Within seconds, El Goog will give you a detailed map showing your smartphone's last logged location. Clicking on it will bring up the full Android Device Manager interface, where you'll find options to ring, lock, or fully erase your phone right then and there.

There's one catch: Your phone has to be configured beforehand to allow all of that to happen. Take two minutes right now, while your phone is safe and sound, and open up the app called Google Settings on your device. (Note that we’re talking about Google Settings, which isn’t the same as your regular system settings.)

Head into the Security menu and make sure both "Remotely locate this device" and "Allow remote lock and erase" are activated. Now take a deep breath, relax, and think of something else to worry about.

3. Beam directions from your computer to your phone

Maybe your problem isn't losing your phone but rather getting lost yourself. We all know Google Maps is great at giving directions, but you may not realize that you can beam such guidance right from your computer to your phone -- without needing any software beyond a regular ol' Web browser.

Send directions from Google

You can send directions to your smartphone directly from your PC via Google.

This one's simple: Type "Send directions to my phone" into Google while you're signed in on any desktop system. You'll get a box prompting you to type in the business name or address where you're headed. Fill in the blank and click the Send command -- like magic, your phone will open up the Maps app and be ready with directions as soon as you leave.

4. Give yourself a universal clipboard

Imagine how much easier things would be if you could hit Ctrl-C on your computer and paste that same text somewhere on your smartphone. Or vice versa -- highlighting text on your phone and pasting it into a document or email on your PC.

A lovely notion, isn't it? Well, quit your daydreaming and make it a reality. A free* app called Pushbullet provides the power to create a universal clipboard that connects your desktop and mobile devices in a massively time-saving way.

Install the app on your phone and install the companion app for your desktop system. Open up the app's settings on Android and make sure "Universal copy & paste" is activated.

That's it: Your clipboards are now connected. Anytime you copy text on your computer, you can paste it instantly on your Android device -- and anytime you copy text on your phone, you can paste it anywhere on your PC. All you have to do is use the regular system-level copy and paste commands, as you normally would.

* Update: This app's clipboard function is no longer free.

5. Share Web pages, images, and files

While we're on the subject of Pushbullet, take a minute to check out the app's content-sharing capabilities. Pushbullet makes it dead simple to send Web pages, images, and any other files between your computer and phone -- no wires required.

Pushbullet

The Android app Pushbullet makes it easy to share Web pages, images, and files from your PC to your Android smartphone, and vice versa.

Whenever you encounter an item you want to share from your phone, use the regular Android share command -- readily available in most apps and system processes -- and select Pushbullet as the place to where you want to share it. On the PC side, Pushbullet offers browser extensions that you can click on anytime you want to share.

Whether it's a Web page or a file you're passing between devices, it'll pop up in a new window on the receiving system seconds after you send it.

6. Give yourself a reminder

Google Now has a great reminder system that lets you set memos for certain times or even locations. You don't have to use your phone to create them, though: From any desktop browser where you're signed in, type "Remind me" into Google to pull up an Android-connected dialog box. You can then fill in your note along with where or when you want it to pop up, and Google will ping your phone at the appropriate place or time.

(You can also save a step and type the full command at once -- "Remind me to call Myrtle at 6 tonight," for example, or "Remind me to buy pickles when I get to LAX.")

Want to see your reminders from a PC? Type "Show me my reminders" into google.com. You'll get a list of both upcoming and past reminders connected to your account.

7. Send yourself a note

Reminders are useful when you have a future time or place in mind, but if you want to make a note that'll appear right away and be ready for immediate action, the "Note to self" command is what you need.

Note to self

Send a note to your phone directly from your PC by typing "Note to self" into Google, then your note.

Type it into Google on your PC -- followed by the actual contents of your note -- and whatever you send will show up as a notification on your phone. You can then copy the text and/or share it directly to an app like Gmail or Google Keep.

8. Set an alarm

Need a full-fledged alarm set on your phone? Do the dirty work from your computer by typing "Set an alarm" into Google. That's the easy part; it's up to you to wake up.

9. Access your entire computer from your phone

We couldn't talk about connecting your computer with your Android phone without mentioning the most direct connection of all: Being able to access your entire computer from your smartphone's screen. Thanks to Google's free Chrome Remote Desktop app, it's easier than ever to do.

Chrome Remote Desktop

Accessing your desktop from your phone is easy, thanks to Chrome Remote Desktop.

First, get the app on your phone and put the companion desktop app on your computer. (The desktop app will work on any platform where the Chrome browser can run.) Then pull up the Android app the next time you need to hop onto your computer remotely. You'll be able to move around your desktop, manipulate files, and even run programs from the palm of your hand.

10. Control your phone from your computer

Last but not least, the flip side: Control your phone from your computer. Snag an app called AirDroid and go to web.airdroid.com on your PC. You'll be able to perform tasks like sending and receiving texts and looking through missed calls. With the right device, you'll even be able to see your full Android home screen and control your phone from your full-size monitor.

With that kind of cross-platform connectivity at your fingertips, there's practically no limit to what you'll be able to accomplish.*

* So long as said accomplishments revolve around, you know, syncing stuff between your phone and desktop computer. Let's be realistic, OK?

Related articles

This story, "10 ways to bring together your PC and Android phone" was originally published by InfoWorld.

To express your thoughts on Computerworld content, visit Computerworld's Facebook page, LinkedIn page and Twitter stream.
Windows 10 annoyances and solutions
Shop Tech Products at Amazon
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.