Update

4 Android apps that put SMS on your desktop

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03/19/14: Updated to include MightyText, after feedback from several enthusiastic users.

When you’re working, you use a full keyboard, with a mouse or touchpad, because you want to maximize productivity. Then you receive a text, and you can be found hunched over your phone, pecking away at your tiny distraction machine.

When you’re sitting in front of a full keyboard and large display, you should be able to use it to answer texts! More than a few developers have hear our cries, and have created some fantastic Android tools to give you the power to text (and more) from your PC. Let’s dig into what’s possible, starting from smallest to biggest commitment:

(Note: There are lots of texting replacements out there, from Apple’s Messages to Google’s Hangouts or Facebook’s WhatsApp. Here, we’re talking about honest-to-goodness SMS. The kind your friends and relatives send, regardless of who uses which phone or app.)

Pushbullet: See what’s buzzing on Chrome or Firefox

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Pushbullet lets you mirror select notifications in Chrome or Firefox.

Not everybody needs to send text messages in on-demand fashion. Maybe you only need to know what is buzzing on your phone, so you can safely ignore it. If that’s the case, Pushbullet is what you want. The core function of Pushbullet is sending links, images, and map locations back and forth from your phone, which saves time and frustration, but it also shows notifications in a browser extension.

Install Pushbullet on your Android phone, then install the Chrome or Firefox extension on your desktop. Pushbullet on Android will ask you to enable its Accessibility/administrator access so it can send you notifications. Agree to this, trust me.

Now, whenever your phone chirps or vibrates or quietly posts a notification, you’ll see that notification pop up in your browser as a little box. Not just text, but email, Facebook, Twitter, app updates… anything you get a notification for.

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Pushbullet’s notifications are one-way. You still need to grab your phone to respond to a text.

You cannot directly respond to a text through Pushbullet, but look in the settings of Pushbullet for the option to “Copy links & notes to clipboard when received.” If you want to think something over before replying, you can “Push” a note to your phone with your reply, then simply press and hold in your text message typing field to paste that reply. It’s not something you’d want to do for a rapid back-and-forth, but an adequate fallback option.

DeskSMS: Turn text messages into emails, chats, or browser pings

With DeskSMS, you can receive and respond to texts pretty much anywhere you can open a browser or check your email.

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DeskSMS lets you send and recieve SMS as email, with notifications in your Chrome/Firefox browser.

You first install DeskSMS on your phone, then give it permissions to read and send text messages. You also authenticate your primary Google/Gmail account, then let it test its connection to your Hangouts account, your email, and/or a browser extension for Chrome or Firefox. If it goes through, you’re now receiving text messages as chats/emails/notifications, and can respond in whichever form best suits your routine. If you want to get texts on your Android tablet instead of your desktop, you’ll want TabletSMS.

DeskSMS is not free. After a 14-day trial period, you’ll need to buy an annual subscription to the app for $5 per year (probably less than you spend on gum). But during those first 14 days, you will really want to make sure that you’re getting all your texts, your friends are getting your messages, and everything feels right about the connection. If so, however, you get the ability to type out texts with your most comfortable keyboard, send texts when the Wi-Fi is strong but the phone signal is weak, and archive your texts in somewhere other than your messy messaging history.

Google Voice: Give your text messages over to the big server in the sky

This one requires more commitment than the other connect-and-push options, but it’s an established system: Google Voice.

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Google Voice requires the most onerous setup, but is useful in many ways.

If you sign up for a new Google Voice number, or port your number into Google Voice, you get your text messages on your phone, but also at google.com/voice, or in one of many extensions available for every browser the sun. If you enable the option in your Voice settings, you can get texts as emails, and you can respond via email, too. You can also archive and extensively search your SMS history through Voice.

Drawbacks? Oh, there are a few. Google Voice is, for one thing, not often touched or upgraded by Google. It creates weird “second numbers” for contacts in unfamiliar area codes, which might creep into your contacts. And if you trade a lot of picture messages, know that only those who port numbers from T-Mobile or Sprint can send MMS using Google Voice. Plus, there is the non-trivial process of getting a new number, or porting in your existing number. But if you want to type out a text message without actually using your phone, it’s a tested and reliable option.

AirDroid: Total phone remote control

How would you like to send, receive, and start text message conversations from inside a browser window? AirDroid can do that. Install it on your phone or tablet, then head to web.airdroid.com on any computer and you’ll see custom desktop within your browser window. As long as you have that page open, you’ll see text notifications, and you can click “Messages” to check your archive or send your own texts.

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Airdroid provides a full desktop-in-browser for your phone, including desktop texting.

You see those other apps and widgets though, right? See how you can browse and launch files, apps, photos, and music on your phone from any web-connected computer? See how you can remotely control your camera from inside AirDroid? Take a screenshot, check the battery, trade links and notes (as with PushBullet), and track your phone’s location? Turn on a (currently beta-experimental) hotspot to share data with other devices? Then it is starting to sink in, and I’m glad you’ve made it this far.

There is very little you can’t do with AirDroid, and it works whether you’re on the same Wi-Fi network or not—though it’s a bit speedier on Wi-Fi, and there are smaller (100 MB) data caps built into the free version. There are also advertisements and promotional “recommendations,” unless you pay for a Premium account: $1.99 per month, $19.99 per year, or $38.99 for two years.

Spend a little time using any of these methods to get texts on your computer, and you might start to feel that using your smartphone to text is a step back. Your friends will marvel at your SMS speed and eloquence, your boss won’t catch you hunched over your tiny screen, and you might feel a bit more centered and focused. At least as far as anyone can tell.

MightyText: Send texts and images

It wasn't easy for me to find in the Google Play or Chrome stores, but, my goodness, am I glad Twitter followers of Greenbot tipped me off about MightyText. It's strange that Google itself doesn't offer something like this between Android and Chrome, but that's just more acclaim and revenue for these talented developers.

You install the MightyText app on your Android phone, and then either install an extension to your Chrome or Firefox browser, or bookmark the nimble MightyText website (installation links and instructions are on MightyText's site). You sign into both sides of the app with the same Google account. And then you simply click the MightyText button or load its site, and you can control the core functions of your phone from there.

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MightText offers a powerful suite of functions.

Texts? Oh yes. But much more can be done with your full keyboard and pointer through MightyText:

  • Send photos and images from the web as picture messages
  • Grab photos from your phone's camera and history to use on your desktop.
  • Edit those to-and-from photos with simple fix-up and augmenting tools.
  • Monitor your phone's battery level.
  • Dial your phone from your desktop, or ring it so you can find it.
  • Browse your phone contacts from the browser.
  • Get notifications of phone calls and texts in your browser
  • Text directly from Gmail (with a plug-in)

Those are just the features of the free version. If you pay for MightyTextPro ($2.50 per month, less per year, under "Early Bird Pricing"), you can set up message templates, bulk-message groups, block numbers, change themes, store messages forever and import them from deep inside your phone, and quite a few other little power features.

If you need to send a text message, using your normal Android phone, from your desktop or laptop browser, MightyText is the way to get that done. Other apps can work in concert with it, but this is the workhorse.

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