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Access your PC, anytime, anywhere

To do that, just use the new mobile versions of remote desktop apps. VINCENT CHANG reports

Published on Jun 27, 2014 5:00 AM
 

Best known for virtualisation software that enables Windows apps to run on Mac computers, Parallels recently added Android and iPhone support to its remote access app, Parallels Access.

Launched last year for the iPad, Parallels Access lets you control your Mac and Windows computers from afar.

While such remote desktop apps have been around for years, software developers have been creating mobile versions to cater to the popularity of tablets and smartphones. Google and Microsoft both released mobile remote desktop apps in the past year.

Besides being able to manage home or office computers remotely, these apps are perfect for troubleshooting technical issues. There is only so much that can be done over the phone, especially if the other person is not tech-savvy.

To let others use these apps to access your computer, you typically have to download and install the remote desktop client app before sending the other party a password or PIN.

The app then creates a secure connection between the two devices while you sit back and watch things happen on your screen without having to lift a finger.

A few caveats: Depending on your connection, there will be some latency, even over a local network.

Such apps usually require your PCs to be powered on and not be in sleep mode.

The transition from keyboard and mouse on a desktop PC to the touch interface of mobile devices can be frustrating, though some apps provide custom touch gestures that ease the process.

Here are five remote desktop apps to get you started. Note that the following apps were tested on an Android 10-inch tablet, but all are available on multiple platforms.

Chrome Remote Desktop


Free; for Android, Chrome OS, Linux, Mac, Windows

Remote desktop apps usually require you to first install a client app on the computer. But Chrome Remote Desktop works via the Chrome browser and requires adding a browser extension via the Chrome Web Store.

As Chrome is widely supported, this remote desktop app works with almost any computer. You will need to create a PIN for security purposes.

This is a fairly basic app. For instance, you cannot wake up the computer remotely. But it is fast and seems more responsive than some of its competitors.

More importantly, it is free and easy to set up. An iOS version is expected later this year.

Microsoft Remote Desktop


Free; for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Windows, Mac

This Microsoft app taps the built-in remote access feature in Windows, so there is no client app to install on the PC. You just have to configure the remote settings.

It works only with the professional and enterprise editions of Windows (from XP onwards) as the underlying feature is not available in the Home or Basic editions.

In any case, setting it up is not the most straightforward of tasks unless you have the online instructions right next to you. It cannot wake up a PC remotely, but it supports Windows gestures.

Microsoft recently released an early version for Windows Phone.

Parallels Access


$25.98 for one year or $44.98 for two years; for Android, iOS

The latest version, 2.0, adds Android and iPhone support, though the most significant change is the price. Originally, it cost $79.99 a year and was for access only to a single computer (Mac or PC).

Now, it is just $25.98 for a year to control up to five remote computers from unlimited Android and iOS mobile devices.

This is such a drastic price cut that early adopters should feel miffed, especially when the latest version includes the ability to wake up the remote computer from sleep mode via Wake-on-LAN and more screen resolution options.

Unfortunately, some of the new features, such as a touch-friendly file browser and dictation support, are available only for iOS devices.

Splashtop 2 Remote Desktop


Free with in-app purchases; for Android, iOS, Mac, Windows

Splashtop 2 has features comparable with its rivals, but it is not as responsive. This was despite the fact that I tried it on a local network, which should have minimised Internet latency issues.

Remote access over the Internet costs $1.99 a month ($16.99 yearly) via in-app purchase. If you do not buy the Anywhere Access Pack, this app loses much of its appeal.

Unlocking additional features to annotate and add short cuts is another $1.99 (or $16.99 yearly), but most users would probably skip these. Splashtop 2 can stream Flash videos running on the remote computer well enough, but be prepared for a choppy experience for games.

TeamViewer


Free for non-commercial use; for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Linux, Mac, Windows

Of the remote desktop apps here, TeamViewer is my favourite. Not only is it free for home users, it is powerful and rich in features.

You can choose to create a TeamViewer account to add your computers or send a unique nine-digit code to let someone else control your computer remotely.

Files can be easily transferred between the mobile device and the remote computer using its built-in tool. Wake-on-LAN is supported. The screen resolution can be adjusted to fit the display on the mobile device.

Overall, it is an excellent app that feels responsive, works on multiple platforms and is free for personal use.

vinchang@sph.com.sg

This article was first published in The Straits Times Digital Life on June 25, 2014.