Updated: February 17, 2016
Can you think of a dangerous software combo? I can. An alpha version of Android-x86, available for testing. Now, to make things more complicated, the actual software is 64-bit, you can use it in both persistent and non-persistent modes, so your data is preserved between reboots, and I'm not sure what happens to your hard disks underneath.
Which is why I was very keen to test Remix OS, again based on a recommendation from a merry fellow named Mehdi, but I was hesitant to try it on any one of my production or even test laptops. Plus, Android, as a PC concept, has never quite captured my heart. To wit, we'll be having a virtual machine experiment, not so much to test performance and hardware compatibility, but more to showcase what Remix OS can do as an operating system. After me.
So yes, a big fat disclaimer. The graphics resolution and the performance are probably not going to be stellar. And things won't look as shiny or as pretty as they can as when tested on physical hardware. The touch aspect is there, too. Last but not the least, I've read that a bunch of people clamored about the EULA. Not sure why, but that's something to keep in mind maybe.
The very start was a little rough. Waiting for the boot menu timer or pressing Enter to start the boot process does not work. You will need to hit Tab, edit the options, even if this means doing nothing, and then hit Enter to continue. Some people may want to add VGA=XXX to their boot line, especially if they are testing in a virtual machine, to get the system to boot in higher resolution. For me, only VGA=791 worked, i.e. 1024x768.
There are two steps before you reach the desktop - language and user agreement. After that, you will land on a pretty if somewhat predictably generic Android desktop presented in a non-standard form factor. You can immediately tell that this little operating system has never been intended for non-touch, desktop monitor aspect ratios.
Predictably, the virtual machine test was slow, with occasional graphics artifacts somewhere in the middle of the screen, resembling a blinking cursor of a terminal window, which may have been happening somewhere behind the scenes of the system. Or some such wizardry.
The bottom panel would also change between bright green and black, but a tiny border line would always remain. I am certain this does not happen on physical hardware, and things look much more presentable with a larger, higher-res screen, but then this was the limitation of our early test.
The desktop looks familiar - and then not quite. The expected volume, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth action are available in the system area, but they don't really play such a big function unless you're on physical hardware.
The system menu is simple - and rather empty. You get a nicely styled set of colors, and it does remind me of Deepin, for some reason, and then, maybe there's a little bit of Material Design, too, but the overall look & feel is distinctly happy Chinese, and if you've reviewed or tried a few Chinese Linux distribution in the past, you can begin to see a pattern. Bright colors, lots of detail, a good balance of aesthetics.
Back to the menu, it doesn't hold much. You have your browser, a few utilities, a media player, and that's about it. Not sure where Play comes into play [sic], if at all, and maybe there's really no reason for it to exist, as x86 software isn't really a priority for Android, and most Android devices are ARM-based anyway. I can't say for certain. However, the repertoire looks poor compared to press images. Or maybe I'm missing something obvious, in which case, the problem is just as big.
The browser gives you the expected behavior, except that it constantly nags about how you should use the app rather than the browser itself, as if applications aren't just a bunch of HTML code. Anyway, if you expected some kind of a functionality miracle from the browser, then you are in for a disappointment.
I could not find an easy way to share files, so I just tried the available MP4 file, which probably ships with the operating system so people can test and evaluate the playback quality. I have no complains here, but then, it's nothing special or remarkable.
The settings menu feels a little crude. It looks like something that hasn't been fully thought out and designed. You get the icons you want, and you can tweak a bunch of options, but it does not feel smooth and natural.
Before we conclude the article and discuss the merits of Remix OS, we need to ask a more philosophical question. Is there a point to having an Android-x86 project in the first place? Does it make sense to actually run a touch-designed, touch-optimized operating system on a desktop or a laptop? What kind of advantages does that have?
I don't think consistency is an answer, because there won't be any. A continuum of experience isn't there, either, because Android is designed to be used online, which means vertically, rather than horizontally, between devices. That is why you have your Google account, and this is what makes Remix OS baffling, because it does not offer you anything Google. So how does one consume a system like this then, especially when the whole sharing, cross-platform, cross-device functionality hasn't been really realized in any meaningful way?
Apart from that, Android-x86 might be useful as a hardware enabler, but then, it will probably benefit hardware companies, not you as the user. What exactly are you going to do in Android that a typical Linux - or Windows - cannot do? What is the advantage of having this setup? Yes, I know, it's more than one question, but they are all part of a larger conceptual challenge.
Whether Remix OS will do anything meaningful in the world of computing, it is too early to tell. Version 2.0 Alpha looks pretty, but it feels unfinished, rough, and I didn't get to test it on proper hardware. But there are some bugs around, and the classic Android usage model does not seem to apply at all. Which makes this system a very hard sell.
The pictures on the official site are very pretty and alluring. Yes, some video, some gaming and such. But so what? You can do the same with any one Linux distro. You can use big, monochrome icons. You can use Steam, and you can play music and movies without any problem. Again, I don't see any Play integration, and that means the chief advantage of what Android offers isn't there.
It will be interesting to see how this story evolves, and how Remix OS changes. At the moment, version 2.0 is a pretty experiment that does not meet any real-world needs in my book. You may love it, or find its Android look irresistible, but at this end of the Internet, it holds no appeal or value. Even on smartphones, Android is only meh, and it's never excited me. So this would be an ever harder sell. I shall definitely test in the future, but for the time being, I am not convinced. Touch does not belong on the desktop, as Windows has shown us in the last three years. Enough said.