Finding a way to unite the many devices we use has been one of the tech industry’s white whales for some time now. Companies sell us laptops and phones and tablets and watches, and those have made our lives simpler in many ways, but in our ongoing chase to consume everything, we fragment ourselves. The solutions beget new dilemmas, and we often have to cross extra digital bridges as result. To get from one device to another, your files need to be stored in a locker, your links have to be corralled together, and your texts…well most people just keep their texts where they are.
These inconveniences are nothing new, so there have been no shortage of developers eager to simplify our already-simplified digital doings. One of our favorite examples of this is Pushbullet, which doesn’t quite solve the device fragmentation dilemma, but makes the ride across our bridges much smoother. It’s available now for free on Android and iPhone, though we’ve been using it on the former.
Setting up Pushbullet is straightforward enough: Just download it from Google Play and sign in with your Google account to get started on your phone, then sign in again at Pushbullet.com and install its browser extension on either Chrome, Firefox, or Opera to connect it to your desktop. Pushbullet (the developer) says that native Windows and Mac apps are currently in the works, as is a Safari extension.
From there, Pushbullet does an excellent job of cutting out any middlemen between your phone, your computer, and your stuff. This is most evident in how easily it allows you to send files and links between your devices. Getting a document from your desktop to your phone is as simple as right-clicking the Pushbullet extension in your browser, selecting the “Pop out Push panel” option, dragging your file into the newly-opened window, and clicking it away.
Whatever you picked will then show up in your phone’s notification bar and start downloading within seconds, provided that your mobile device is connected to the internet. Files you send will open up in an appropriate corresponding app too — if it’s an image, it’ll pop up in your default gallery app; if it’s a PDF and you have Adobe Reader installed, it’ll go there; if it’s a Word doc, it’ll go to whatever your chosen document reader is. Videos, music files, APKs, and virtually anything else you’re holding on one device can directly go to the other, so long as its under the 25 MB file size limit.
Sending a link between the two is just as intuitive, though it isn’t as practical given that most browsers can remember your bookmarks and browsing history across devices already. It still works well as a more direct way of sharing a web page, though — sharing any link through the browser extension/web app will have it show up as a notification on your phone, which will open up the page as soon as it’s clicked.
It’s not all about files and links, though. You can create custom notes or to-do lists and send them right to your notification shade, and you can send over a Google Maps address and open it up directly in the Maps app too. All of this also works if you’re going from mobile-to-PC. The mobile app shows you a feed of all your activity by default (just like the web one), but clicking the hamburger icon at the bottom of the display allows you to make and push all the same things you can use on the desktop.
Beyond all that, you can also integrate Pushbullet with other general internet things through its “Channels” tab. This lets you subscribe to certain outlets the way you would in something like Google Play Newsstand, then have them send you notifications whenever something newsworthy happens. Most of these channels lack broad appeal, but receiving an alert whenever one of your IFTTT recipes is triggered or when a Humble Bundle sale goes live can be helpful to the right person.
Pushbullet’s killer feature, though, is how tightly it’s able to weave your SMS messages together between your devices. Once you’ve set everything up, any text message notifications you receive on your phone will simultaneously show up on your desktop, greatly reducing the hassle of checking the former while using the latter. You can then reply directly to the text in a new window, or you can click it away and ignore it until later.
With its latest update, Pushbullet also lets you create and send messages straight from its browser extension, even without a prompt. You’ll need to put your phone online for it to work, but in other words, it lets you text without touching your phone. With all the tech we’ve welcomed into our lives, it’s astounding that this kind of annoyance-alleviating functionality isn’t widespread already. It’s the kind of thing that needs be built into every mobile OS on a native level.
Pushbullet doesn’t just push texts, though: It pushes everything. Emails, phone calls, and anything else you’ve allowed to notify you on your phone will show up as a browser pop-up, and they can all be looked over and dismissed in much the same way. Anything you swipe away on your desktop will be removed from your phone’s notification tray, and you can disable any app from sending you alerts in Pushbullet’s settings if ever get flooded. You can also make it so it only does all of this over Wi-Fi. It all works as advertised, bringing your phone and desktop (and tablet, by the way) in a closer union.
As hinted by the phrase “hamburger icon” up there, the Android version of Pushbullet recently updated its design to fit in with Google’s new Material Design kick. Like most apps that have bought into Android’s new style, it looks good and runs quickly. Its simple green and white aesthetic is friendly, its two slide-out tabs make navigating the app obvious, and the little animations it does while loading or closing a tab are cute.
Pushbullet genuinely streamlines the way you use your devices, but it’s not perfect. The app’s developers note how certain texting apps play nicer with the app than others, but any texts we sent through Pushbullet’s web app wouldn’t display in Google’s popular Hangouts app until we restarted the latter. The extension’s “Notifications” tab seems to be unresponsive, and dragging files into the aforementioned “Push panel” completely crashed our browser on a couple occassions. The app is consistently quick, but it’s not immune from the occasional performance issue.
Besides that, we also couldn’t find a way to see a thread of text messages through the app, which means you’ll still need to check your handset if you’ve received a series of messages and can’t remember them all. The app is also a bit handicapped on Android if you’re not running version 4.3 and up, as you won’t be able to swipe away and customize mirrored notifications on your PC in that case.
Finally, Pushbullet lets you add friends from your email/contacts lists and push items to them, somewhat like a more forward alternative to email, but it doesn’t show you which of your contacts actually uses the app. It’s also a bit too easy for would-be trolls to abuse you with this. If somebody knows the email address you used to sign up, it’s possible for them to send you messages and notifications from the app without your approval first, somewhat like a more forward alternative to spam. For now, just be sure to only add those you trust.
Still, most of that is excusable. Pushbullet executes on an obvious concept, and brings your personal ecosystem of devices into greater harmony as a result. It isn’t the first app to push files or notifications between the phone and the desktop, but it’s just about unrivaled in doing as much as it does in such a clean, self-evident package. Also, it’s free. If you want a better way to sync your smartphone with the rest of your hardware, download Pushbullet today.