You take a picture on your phone, and now you want to see it on a bigger screen. You get a text message, but you don’t want to dig out your phone to reply to it while you’re working on your PC. Windows 11 lets you see that photo and reply to that message right from your keyboard. All you have to do is connect your Android device to Windows 11. Most impressive of all, with some Android phone models you can simultaneously use multiple mobile apps right on your computer.
For years, Apple has topped Windows in terms of mobile-desktop integrations with macOS‘s ability to let users text and make calls from their desktop. Apple Silicon-based Macs go even further, with mobile-app-running capability. Windows users can finally claim at least parity with mobile-to-desktop functionality described here, which Microsoft updated in March.
If you have an iPhone, you can also connect it to a computer running Windows 11, but you won’t get the same depth of experience Android users do. Microsoft has stated it wants to bring the same functionality for iPhones to Windows, but Apple has long been uninterested in releasing users from lock-in with its products. That said, you can connect an iPhone to a Windows PC for some basic file-transfer functions. Here, however, we show you how to connect an Android phone and a Windows 11 PC for a richer mobile-and-desktop integrated setup.
What You Need to Get Started
Windows 11 prompts you to connect your smartphone during its initial setup process. Assuming you didn’t do so at the time, we’ll take you through the procedure and call out a few things you should know before you start.
One important requirement is that you need to install an app on your phone called Link to Windows(Opens in a new window) from the Google Play Store and sign into the app with the same Microsoft account you’re signed into on your PC. On certain phones, the app is preinstalled. No worries on the PC side of the connection, since the Phone Link app is preinstalled on all Windows 11 PCs.
Another requirement is the phone has to be in range of the PC with Bluetooth and WiFi because, although display and control occur on the PC, the apps are still running on the phone.
Additionally, to get Android-to-Windows 11 functionality, you need to be running Android 7 or later. Any Windows 11 PC works. To test the setup, we used a Surface Laptop 3 and a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. The phone model is more important than the PC model in terms of what functions you get.
With the latest update, Microsoft has simplified its phone-linking strategy. There’s an app called Phone Link on your PC and another app called Link to Windows you install on your mobile device. Previously, Link to Windows only worked with select Samsung models and Surface Duo phones(Opens in a new window) (some Honor models were recently added for users in China). Those models still get more capabilities, like mirroring Android apps on the PC. Note this is different from the much-touted ability of Windows 11 to run Android apps, in which the apps actually run on the PC hardware.
One final introductory note about the Link to Windows system: You can install it on multiple PCs for the same phone, so if you move between a desktop and home and a laptop on the road, it’ll work on both.
Step-by-Step: How to Connect Your Android and Your PC
Open the Phone Link app on your Windows 11 PC. Here you’ll see the first page of a four-step setup process.
Sign in to your Microsoft account. If you already signed in to an account at PC setup, this is a simple matter of accepting the account in the wizard.
Install the Link to Windows mobile app. You get it either by searching in Google Play or entering www.aka.ms/yourpc(Opens in a new window) in your mobile browser. Alternatively, on recent Samsung and Surface Duo phones, simply pull down the Quick settings shade and choose Link to Windows. Long-press it to get to the syncing settings.
Pair your phone and PC. You have a choice here between pairing using a QR code or entering a text code displayed in the PC’s Phone Link app into the phone’s companion app. Note that you need to scan the QR code in the Link to Windows app on the phone—be sure to use the in-app camera. Once you’ve done either pairing method, that’s it. You’re done!
You get a congratulatory page indicating the connection was successful.
Next comes a quick visual tutorial of what you can do with the app now that your phone is connected.
What Can You Do With a Connected Phone?
As mentioned, the spiffier functions only work on specific phone models, but connecting to any Android phone you set up lets you see and reply to text messages, see and manage notifications, make and answer calls, and get photos instantly on the computer.
Microsoft redesigned the app’s interface recently to show main options (Messages, Calls, Apps, Photos) across the top. You now see recent apps and a View All Apps link when you click on the system tray icon. Notifications are tucked into a left-side panel.
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You can drag and drop photos from the phone to desktop applications.
The taskbar entry for Phone Link shows a badge with the number of notifications awaiting you. You can choose which apps to receive notifications from and whether to respond on the PC or on the phone. And not everything happens in the app. You can directly respond to messages in the Windows Notification toast at the lower-right corner of the screen.
You can reply to a text message directly from its Windows notification.
If you don’t have one of the more capable phone models, you won’t see the Apps section in the top menu.
Windows 11’s Phone Link app lets you use Android apps on your desktop, though they’re actually running on the nearby phone.
The most useful features are the ones that work with any Android device, and that’s accessing text messaging and photos from your phone on your PC. Even with the less advanced models, you see photos on your PC right after you shoot them with your phone and can drag them into a document or other app that works with photos, such as Photoshop.
Navigating apps can be slightly tricky, as you can’t use the mouse wheel to move up and down a screen. Instead you have to click and drag. But if you have a PC with a touch screen or trackpad, it’s pretty darn close to the real McCoy. A nifty attribute is that apps you run via Phone Link get their own Taskbar icons as though they were standard PC apps. That way you can minimize, resize, and close the apps just as if they were desktop apps.
For more tips and news about Microsoft’s newest desktop operating system, visit our Windows 11 page.
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