There are times when accessing another computer remotely can be convenient -- to check on the status of a download or code that is being compiled, to start or stop an application, or to load a document to view it. It can be really helpful to be able to do this from a smartphone or tablet. We tested three services that let you use your Android device to connect to your computer remotely.
There are applications that you can use to set up your computer to do this, but the popular remote-desktop services we looked at -- LogMeIn, Splashtop and TeamViewer -- enable you to access your computer from afar, over the Internet, more easily with less hassle. With all three, you can use another computer or mobile device (like an iPhone) to connect to your remote computer, but for this review we focused on their Android client app offerings.
Price: Hosting program is free; Android client costs $29.99
Setting up host: First you have to go on the LogMeIn site and sign up for a new user account. Then from the control panel of your account page, you click "Add Computer," which downloads an installation file specifically for the computer you are using. Running this executable will install the LogMeIn hosting software on the computer, which will be automatically configured for you to connect to remotely.
Android client app: Requires Android 1.5 or higher. You enter the email you used to sign up for your LogMeIn account and its password. The app, called Ignition, lists the name of your remote computer. If it's a Windows computer you have set it so that a username and password are required for access. Then you will need to enter these into the LogMeIn Android client app before your Android connects to it.
Interface: The way LogMeIn displays the Windows desktop of a remote computer and allows you to interact with it is slightly odd. By default, the entire Windows desktop is sized down to fit within your Android device's screen regardless of whether you hold it in landscape or portrait mode. On-screen tools let you zoom in on your view of the desktop, and then you can swipe the touchscreen to move throughout it. The mouse pointer stays fixed dead center on the screen. So instead of moving a mouse pointer all over the desktop, in LogMeIn's Android client app, you move the entire desktop in order to position objects (like application shorts) under the pointer.
Features: LogMeIn is offered with two levels of service. The free version lets you connect to a computer remotely, but you can't do much else. When you subscribe to a Pro account (which costs $69.95 annually) you can hear the sound from your remote computer -- both sound and video are simultaneously streamed to the client device. Pro also includes various tools, like being able to transfer files between the remote computer and client device, but these are not available through the current version of the Android client app. When you sign up for a new account on the LogMeIn site, you are given a Pro account for free for two weeks.
Performance: Swiping throughout the desktop, as odd as the Ignition user interface feels, is fast, and the sound is excellent. I played MP3 music files on my remote computer and heard them play to my Android smartphone in a quality that sounded similar to what you expect from a streaming music site, even when connected to 3G. The audio stream quality can be adjusted from low, medium and high, and it sounded good enough set at medium.
Price: Hosting program is free; Android client costs $4.99
Host program: The hosting program for Splashtop's remote desktop service, called Streamer, is available for Windows and OS X.
Setting up host: Through the Streamer program, you choose a password that you'll enter in the Android client app to remotely access the host computer running Streamer. For some reason, it's required that you have a Gmail account; you must put your Gmail address and password into the Streamer application in order to use Splashtop's remote desktop functionality.
Android client app: Requires Android 2.2 or higher. For the first time you run the Android app, you enter your Gmail account address and password. Then you tap "Internet Discovery" which will activate remote desktop access and pull up the name of your hosted computer. Tap on it, and type in the password to connect.
Interface: The Android client has two modes for scrolling through the Windows desktop. In the first, a smaller portion of the Windows desktop is displayed within the phone's screen, and to see the rest of it, you scroll throughout the desktop by moving the mouse pointer.
The second method scales down the vertical resolution of the Windows desktop to fit within the portrait viewing mode of your Android device. So you move the pointer toward the left and right edges to see more of the desktop. (If you hold your Android device in landscape mode, the horizontal resolution of the Windows desktop is sized to fit within the Android device's screen, and moving the pointer beyond the top and bottom edges reveals more of the Windows desktop, scrolling the view vertically.)
Features: You can hear sounds playing from your remote computer, streamed to the Android client app. A version of the client app specially designed for use on the higher-resolution screens of Android tablets running Version 3.1 (Honeycomb) or above of the OS sells for $8.99.
Performance: I played MP3 song files on my remote notebook, and heard them streamed to my Android smartphone with minimal -- if hardly any -- stutter or delay on either 3G or Wi-Fi. The sound quality was good.
Scrolling through the Windows desktop wasn't as smooth as compared with the other remote desktop apps in this article, but it was workable. Scaling back the image quality from "sharp" to "smooth" improved this.
Price: Both the hosting program and Android client app are free
Host program: TeamViewer provides an executable called All-In-One that you install on the computer you want to remotely access. It comes in versions for Windows, OS X and lots of Linux distros (Debian, Fedora, Mandriva, Red Hat, SUSE and Ubuntu for 32-bit and 64-bit processors).
Setting up host: Through the All-In-One program, you register for a user account on the TeamViewer site, and then add the computer that's running All-In-One to your account's list of computers to remotely control through TeamViewer's servers. All-In-One generates an ID number for the computer and log-in password for it. (You can change this password.)
Android client app: Requires Android 1.6 or higher. There are two ways you can connect to a hosted computer using the Android app. Tap "Connection" and enter the ID number and password for the remote computer to connect to it directly. Or, tap "Partner List" and enter your TeamViewer user account name and password. The remote computer's name will be on a list for you to connect to.
Interface: The mouse pointer you see isn't in sync with your Android device's touchscreen. That is, the pointer doesn't automatically move to, or appear beneath, your fingertip where it comes in contact with the touchscreen. The mouse pointer you see is the actual Windows desktop's on your remote computer, and your Android device's entire touchscreen works as the controller to move it -- as if it is a notebook touchpad.
Features: The All-In-One software cannot stream audio playing on your remote computer to your Android device. All you can do with TeamViewer is manipulate a computer from afar.
Performance: TeamViewer ran at a decent speed whether I tested it on my smartphone's 3G or Wi-Fi. Like one of Splashtop's viewing modes, a smaller portion of the Windows desktop is shown within the phone's screen so you scroll to see the rest of it, and the scrolling movement is smooth and fast -- more fluid than Splashtop's.
Summing up our results, LogMeIn offers excellent sound streaming, but is the most expensive service in our test. Splashtop is low cost, but scrolling across the remote computer's desktop isn't always smooth. And TeamViewer is free, but it doesn't offer sound streaming.
Wen is a freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more about anti-malware in Network World's Anti-malware section.
This story, "Android remote access app shootout" was originally published by Network World.
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