Sep 24, 2010

Remote desktop is one feature that’s been around forever but never seems to break into the realm mass adoption. And with laptops and now tablets becoming more and more portable, needing to log in to your home computer (if you even have one) seems less and less relevant. But why worry when apps like PhoneMyPC are still plugging away at the age old remote desktop question. And hey, they do a pretty darn good job at a simple, seamless way to log on to any Windows PC with an internet connection.

The most dreary aspect of remote desktop is always the setup (and those who have edited port forwarding on their router config now what I’m talkin’ about). PhoneMyPC, however makes it completely pain free. Just download their desktop app (Windows only) and install. Then just type in a user name and password you want to use, download the Android app from the Market and use that same login to see your PC. Whichever PC’s you have used with said login name automatically appear in the app, and you are one tap away from remote control heaven. This simple process differs from other apps on the Market that just interface with Windows’ built-in remote desktop client.

More Than One Way to Party
Once you log in to your computer you get a list of fun stuff to do. Besides the normal “control my PC from afar” mode of operation, PhoneMyPC offers some interesting and possibly extremely useful features. The first on the list is remote mouse and keyboard control. This lets you use your phone’s touch screen as a touch pad. I found the tracking very accurate. Tap to click, long tap to right click and click your joystick to drag. Not only that but you can pull up your virtual or hard keyboard and get typing. I could see this being really useful for a media center PC. Your phone is now a great couch remote and input device.

The other extra features that seem more like icing than real meat. For example: “snapshot” and “live” view, are like “read-only” views. Maybe if you want to spy on your kids this could be useful.

Other features like “execute actions” which lets you run programs with command functions, and also an emulation of windows task manager appeal to the advanced user set.

Interact with your PC
So, how does PhoneMyPC perform at its most important task? Admirably well. You get an overview of your desktop that you can pinch to zoom in to. Just tap anywhere for a mouse click (much like the mouse control view). The joystick on my Incredible acted like a mouse pointer however and middle button provided a click as expected. Dragging was not so easy, however, as long taps trigger right clicks. One is supposed to be able to drag by pressing the trackball button, but I couldn’t figure it out.

The response time was quite respectable, even over 3g. The screen redraws are sometimes sluggish, but you can change the display quality setting from low to high with 5 gradients to balance the bandwidth. I found the medium quality display was both readable and snappy.

For a real life test I decided to attempt to email my self a document and see how frustrating it would (or wouldn’t) be. So, I logged in and went down to the task bar in search of the file explorer. After I found it, I zoomed in to tap on my documents folder. It only took one tap and I was in. Once I found my file I long-tapped to open the context menu. No problems so far. Then I found the ‘send to email’ item and up popped Thunderbird . I had to zoom out to find the section of the screen it was in. Now, entering my address was the only place I messed up. The typing with the virtual keyboard was a bit laggy, and I accidentally tapped my friends name instead of my own. This was quickly corrected and before I knew it, the file was on its way and landing in the inbox on my phone.

Not bad if I do say so myself. It’s great if you leave your computer at home and want quick access to files. Don’t expect to be able to watch videos from your computer on your phone of course, but controlling your PC is no problem. There is one big quirk to this app: if your screen times out, the app completely closes. That means you will have to completely relaunch it any time your screen turns off. Strange but true.

So there you have it. While remote desktop may only be essential for IT administrators, it can be very useful for a sizable subset of users. For a simple and fun solution, PhoneMyPC will definitely have you covered.