Getting a text message on your Android while you’re doing serious Windows desktop work just plain sucks. Your phone’s vibrations and chimes do a decent enough job of getting your attention, but an awful one of communicating what kind of message you’ve just received, much less its urgency.
Fortunately, there’s hope for a better future. A young and sprightly category of apps promise to fling the notifications you receive on your phone to your computer screen, and better still, let you take action on them.
AirDroid by Sand Studios is one of, if not the most, fully-featured notification mirroring apps available for Android. It’s available for Windows in the form of a standalone client, and relies on a companion app for most of its functionality.
AirDroid syncs your notifications to your PC, and does so with exhaustive capabilities. If you receive a text message, for instance, a floating window will appear on your desktop with the name and picture of the sender, the content of the text, and a host of clickable options that allow you to dismiss or reply to the message directly from your computer.
The app is capable of handling more complex notifications, too. If you receive an incoming call, you can opt to send a canned reply instead of answering it (e.g. “call you later”). And you can silence the notifications from individual apps, if, say, your Instagram friends become a tad overzealous.
Other features extend beyond notifications. Offloading a file from your PC to your phone is as simple as dragging the photo, video, or document in question to the AirDroid window on your computer. And the reverse is just as straightforward. Using the AirDroid app, you can shoot any file from your phone to your PC, and do so remotely. AirDroid stores files on its servers for later perusal if, say, your phone switches from your computer’s local Wi-Fi to a cellular signal. You can share those files with friends, too, and nearby AirDroid users.
In the same vein, the app sports automatic photo and video backup. It’s basically like Dropbox for your home network. When enabled, the feature uploads your phone’s media to a desktop folder of your own choosing at a predefined interval.
A final feature of AirDroid is AirMirror, which lets you view and control the apps on your smartphone with your computer’s inputs. If your phone meets the minimum requirements, you can remotely capture screenshots, launch apps, type in text fields with your computer’s keyboard, and share clipboard content between your phone and PC.
Pushbullet began as a simple way to transfer — or “push,” in the app’s vernacular — webpages, checklists, addresses, notes, photos, files, and more from your PC to your phone, tablet, or other Windows and Mac OS X machines. But thanks to a few recent updates, it now does a lot more.
Pushbullet’s core service is in many ways similar to AirDroid. Notifications appear in a pop-up window on your desktop, which can be dismissed, replied to, or silenced. There’s no “canned reply” option for texts or incoming phone calls, but you can still answer calls with a click, tap out text replies on your computer’s keyboard, and engage with variety of other features that work well enough.
Beyond notification mirroring, Pushbullet handles “pushes” in a novel way. Unlike AirDroid, shared content appears as a link in your phone’s notification shade that, when tapped, launches the contextually appropriate app. PDFs open in a PDF reader, for instance, while webpages open in Chrome and addresses open in your navigation app of choice.
Pushbullet’s other big feature is what it calls “channels,” which basically function as a quick and easy way to stay on top of any number of topics. It works much like an instantaneous RSS, which means if you subscribe to a channel like “Amazon Free App of the Day,” you’ll get a notification when a new promotion goes live. Pushbullet’s library features more than 100 channels, including one for Humble Games Bundles, EA’s On the House benefit, Apple news, new top iTunes rentals, and more.
MightyText is, as its name implies, primarily a text messaging service. It mirrors the text messages you receive on your phone to your computer and lets you respond to them, clear them, or ignore them indefinitely. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. MightyText lets you schedule messages in advance, create text templates, message up to 25 people at once, and block or prioritize certain phone numbers.
MightyText’s desktop client can back up your current and old conversations, too, and sync a log of calls you’ve made and missed. And thanks to a recent update, MightyText can — much like AirDroid — act as a local media storage service. If you so desire, it’ll automatically upload your phone’s videos and photos to your computer as you capture them.
Pushline is a relative newcomer among notification-syncing services. It lacks a dedicated Windows client, and as of now, it operates as a Chrome extension on Windows. This means that it requires your desktop browser to run minimized, or in the background.
With Pushline, you can reply to text messages and accept or decline incoming phone calls, but that’s about it. Unlike Pushbullet and AirDroid, which mirror options like Gmail’s “reply” button from your phone’s notification shade to your computer screen, Pushline simply displays the text and image content of those notifications. You’ll see a pop-up regarding your Twitter mentions, for example, but no buttons that allow to quickly retweet them.
Pushline’s other features make up for its notification shortcomings. It syncs your clipboard and phone contacts, for one, and sports a useful note-taking feature that integrates with productivity apps like Evernote. And it lets you share links to webpages between devices.
If you prefer a bare-bones solution to the problem of notification syncing, Desktop Notifications may be the platform you’re looking for. It’s available as a Chrome extension for Windows and as an app for Android, and acts as a simple mirror for your notifications. It displays the text of incoming notifications on your desktop screen, and that’s about it. You can’t reply to messages, dismiss calls, or interact with your phone’s alerts — only dismiss them.
It’s also worth noting that the app sports a unique assistance feature, text-to-speech, which can read the content of incoming messages. It’s in technical preview, however.
Mirroring your Android phone’s notifications to a Windows computer is, as it turns out, relatively easy. There’s no shortage of apps that’ll handle that heavy work for you — some even sync files, perform backups, and share your clipboard across devices. It really comes down to a choice in service, and that choice depends largely on how deeply intertwined you prefer your phone and computer to be.
If you’d like simply to be able to view your phone’s notifications on your computer, then Pushline and Desktop Notifications are an obvious choice given neither do much beyond displaying the content of incoming alerts. But if you want to be able to reply to text messages, answer phone calls, transfer documents, and share content with nearby friends, then AirDroid, MightyText, and Pushbullet are far superior solutions. Not every feature is free, granted, but the added convenience is often worth the price of admission.