AirDroid, a handy Android app for managing your phone from Linux

AirDroid

In a previous article I explained how I installed and used the Windows application MyPhoneExplorer in WINE to manage the phone book (contacts list) in my HTC Desire mobile phone. Well, today I found out about AirDroid, a clever and useful Android application that can do the same thing, as well as the other tasks that MyPhoneExplorer can do, such as transfer files between my laptop and my phone, typing SMS on the laptop to send from the phone, and so on.

Last week I bought a Samsung Galaxy Note II and I needed to transfer a lot of large PDF files from my laptop to the new phone. Now, with my HTC Desire I could simply connect the phone to my laptop with a USB cable, mount the phone in KDE as a storage device, and drag the files across from one Dolphin file manager window to another. But the Samsung phone uses MTP for file transfers and, when the phone is connected to my laptop with a USB cable I can browse the phone’s file directories in Dolphin, but I cannot copy files from the laptop to the phone. Applications that use MTP for file transfer do exist for Windows and OS X (in fact Samsung provides Kies for this purpose), but my laptop runs Linux. I had not got around to installing the latest version (1.8.4) of MyPhoneExplorer to check if it works with the HTC Desire, let alone with a Samsung phone. So I searched the Web to see if there was a Linux application that uses MTP for general file transfer (i.e. not one of the dedicated music players in Linux that do support MTP for transferring music files only).

And that is how I learned about AirDroid, which allows you to “wirelessly manage your Android from your favourite browser.” The AirDroid Web site and the Android Play Store page for AirDroid explain the features of the application and both have a video showing it in operation.

From the AirDroid Web site:

What is AirDroid?

AirDroid is a fast, free app that lets you wirelessly manage & control your Android devices (phone & tablet) from a web browser. It’s designed with the vision to bridge the gap between your Android device and web browser, on desktop computers or tablet devices, on Windows, Mac/iOS, or Linux.

What can I do with AirDroid?

You can use AirDroid to send/receive SMS (text messages, if supported by the device), install/uninstall apps, transfer files between Android device and computer/tablet, and manage contacts, photos, music, videos, and ringtones, etc., all in a web browser. Install AirDroid on your Android device and open your favorite web browser to experience it yourself.

I immediately used Play Store on my phone to install AirDroid. I launched AirDroid, launched Firefox on my laptop and opened http://web.airdroid.com/, and was able to connect the laptop and phone quickly and easily. I block-selected the eighty files in the Dolphin window that I wanted to copy to the phone and dragged them to the phone’s Download directory window in the Firefox window. One by one the files were copied to the phone, with a little progress bar against each one. However, for some reason a few of the files were not copied so I dragged those across individually after the copying of the others had completed.

AirDroid in Firefox on my laptop

AirDroid in Firefox on my laptop

The above snapshot of my laptop’s screen shows the AirDroid desktop inside the maximised Firefox window. The window with the yellow folder icons inside it is actually an AirDroid window which I opened by clicking on the blue folder named ‘Files’ on the left side of the AirDroid desktop. These windows can be dragged around the AirDroid desktop in the browser window, and can even be resized.

A connection problem, and a solution

When I tried to connect the phone and laptop again later, an error message was displayed in the browser window on the laptop:

Failed to connect. Make sure your device is connected to a same WiFi network.

I was sure that the two devices were on the same WiFi network but, no matter what I tried, I could not get the laptop and phone to connect again. I looked through the AirDroid forums and found a thread indicating that this is a common problem.

Some users who posted in that thread were able to connect after they disabled the firewall on the PC, and others were able to connect by deleting the cookies in the browser. However, I think the fundamental cause of the problem is IPTables in Android Jelly Bean (see this comment). Anyway, taking all these factors into consideration, here is the way I got around the problem when it occurred:

On the laptop

1. Make sure the firewall is disabled.

As I use UFW on my laptop, all I need to do is:

# ufw disable

2. Launch Firefox and delete all cookies.

3. Open http://web.airdroid.com/

On the phone

1. Power down the phone, then power it up again.

2. Disable ‘Mobile data’ so that the phone cannot connect to the Internet via the mobile network, only via WiFi.

3. Enable WiFi.

4. Launch AirDroid.

From then on use AirDroid as usual, i.e. click on ‘Start’ and then either click on the camera icon and point the camera at the QR Code on the AirDroid page in the brower window or type the 6-character passcode displayed on the phone in the passcode box in the browser window and click ‘Login’.

That’s it!

AirDroid is a novel and useful application that now enables me to manage my Android phone from within Linux without needing to use WINE. Nice! 🙂

(My thanks to Gentoo Forums user Q-collective in the thread [Workaround] Syncing Galaxy S3: What mediaplayer is capable? for mentioning AirDroid, otherwise I would never have known about it.)

EDIT November 5, 2012: I have used AirDroid on my home network and a public network, both using DHCP, not static IP addresses. I think AirDroid does not work if you use static IP addressing, so if you still run into trouble after following all the steps listed above, also check if you have a static IP address specified in the phone and router, and set them to use dynamic IP addressing instead.

EDIT November 26, 2012: Apparently some people — even those using static IP addresses — can get AirDroid working in their home network simply by rebooting their home router, so that’s something else you could try.