Initial impressions of Console OS with Android inside, running on the Surface Pro 2
We reported on the Console OS Kickstarter project back in June this year, and now, 7 months later, the first developer preview has been released to backers. Console OS is designed to live in harmony with Windows in a dual-boot configuration. The new OS bring pure Android to Windows-based devices, and because it runs natively on Intel processors, it’s hardware accelerated and that should result in smooth performance. To give you a better idea of what Console OS is, here is an excerpt from its Kickstarter page:
“Introducing Console OS with Android Inside. We’ve taken Android apart, and put it back together for your PC. Console OS is a fork of Android designed to take everything that has made mobile awesome, and bring it back to your PC. This isn’t an emulator and this isn’t homebrew. This is real, Intel-licensed, native Android that can really toggle with Windows on your PC”
Earlier today an email was sent out to Kickstarter backers about the availability of Console OS Developer Release 1 (DR1). Two versions were made available, one specifically designed to run on devices powered by Intel Core fourth-generation “Haswell” processors and one for Intel Atom “Bay Trail” and earlier Intel Core processors. Planning on installing this on the Surface Pro 2 required the former. We’ve just installed it on a Surface Pro 2 and here are our initial impressions.
After creating a recovery drive just in case something were to go wrong, the installation process was fairly straight forward. It involved creating a bootable USB flash drive with the Console OS .img file provided, disabling Secure Boot on the SP2, booting from the flash drive and following the command line instructions to install Console OS. The developers state that this process will be a lot simpler by the time Consumer Release 1 (CR1) is ready.
That’s it. In less than 5 minutes of installing, the SP2 was transformed into a full-fledged Android tablet.
Unfortunately, there have been a few issues noticed. Starting with the Type Cover, it doesn’t work. So during the installation process, we needed to use an external keyboard, and because the SP2 only has one USB port, we had to use a USB hub to hook up the keyboard and the flash drive simultaneously.
It doesn’t end there. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, brightness control, the accelerometer, sound, and the cameras don’t work either. This may be due to the Surface Pro not making it into the official list of supported devices for Console OS, or because the OS is still really early in development.
It’s clear from the get go that that Console OS DR1 isn’t quite ready yet, so this is mainly for all you daredevils using the Windows 10 Technical Preview as your daily driver, here’s another serving of risks for you!
Android on the Surface
Console OS is based on Android 4.4.2 ‘KitKat’, and it runs smoother on the Surface than it has ever run on my Nexus 5. Right now, it feels just about on par performance wise as Lollipop feels on the Nexus, so that’s a testament to how well Console OS runs on Intel hardware.
It really is buttery smooth. Flicking through the UI, switching between running applications, and the transitional animation all flow elegantly and instantaneously. The touchscreen and multi-touch gestures like pinch-to-zoom works great.
Console OS is surprisingly stable too for a developer release, not once has it crashed it, nor have there been any graphics anomalies or other issues when apps and games, at least the ones we’ve used so far.
Speaking of games, we’ve tested Angry Birds, Cut the Rope 2 and Ski Safari so far, everything worked just as expected. Smooth gameplay, and no lag. Although the lack of an accelerometer can be limiting in games like Asphalt 8 and the lack of sound doesn’t give us the full experience, but that’s alright for now, we expect more hardware support to be added in later builds and certainly by the time Console OS is ready for primetime.
For those of you interested, Console OS supports OpenGL ES 3 & 3.1, and will support OpenGL 4 by 2015. However, for those hoping to make use of the dedicated graphics cards in your PC’s from AMD and NVIDIA, you’re out of luck as those cards aren’t supported, at least for now.
As an early release, no traces have been found of WindowFlinger and InstaSwitch yet. These are features that the Console OS developers plan to include to enhance the Android experience, and make it better suited for desktop and power users. WindowFlinger is a windows manager that will allow Android apps to run in windows and be snapped side-by-side. While InstaSwitch is designed to make it quick and easy to instantly switch between native Android, and native Windows without rebooting. These two features will make cross platform multitasking a reality and will certainly make Console OS stand out from the competition.
Lastly we’d like to address battery life. Two hours into testing Console OS on the Surface Pro, the battery life has dropped about 20%. Now we don’t know what the brightness is set to exactly, since brightness control doesn’t work, but it seems to be around 50%, and we know that other battery draining hardware like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are disabled, so taking that into consideration, battery consumption does seem normal. One thing’s for sure though, it’s certainly better compared to emulating Android within Windows with apps like GenyMotion.
It may be early, but Console OS DR1 is a great first step, being able to easily dual-boot between Windows and Android not only closes the so called “app gap” for users, but can also be hugely beneficial to businesses and enterprises that need to switch between operating systems.
Down the line, and thanks to early feedback from backers, Console OS’s developers do plan to ship the OS running Android 5.0 Lollipop, so performance should be even better than it already is, and Google’s Modern UI-inspired Material Design language will certainly be appreciated over the current implementation.
If you’re a backer, check your email, you should have received your download and installation instructions, everyone else, you’ll have to wait a bit longer. Console OS Pro will be available for $20/year covering all your PC’s. Backers, you have it free for life. You can read more about Console OS from their Kickstarter page here, or the Console OS Wiki here.Further reading: Android, Console OS, Microsoft, Surface