Date: March 28, 2011
App type: Productivity
Platform(s): iOS (iPad, iPhone, iPod touch), Android
Release date: October 18, 2010
I've been a LogMeIn customer for several years now, and while I do pay for the LogMeIn Pro remote access product, the company's free offering probably provides enough functionality for most individuals, and it can be installed on multiple PCs. LogMeIn (Pro or Free) lets you remotely control a PC, similar to the Remote Desktop Connection (RDC) software included in Windows (but it works all the time, through firewalls and so on). This is, I think, what most people mean when they say they're looking for remote PC access: A way to remotely interact with the PC desktop.
Step up to the paid Pro version for $70 a year, and you get full remote access, with additional features like remote file transfer (the feature I happen to use most frequently), document printing, file sharing, and more.
LogMeIn works on both PCs and Macs, including server versions, but the services have recently been augmented by a mobile client called LogMeIn Ignition. This client is available for the Apple iPad and iPhone (and iPod touch), Google Android, and, curiously, for Windows PCs. (Normally, you would use the web interface, which is of course free.) It's expensive: The PC version is $39.95 a year, while the iOS and Android versions are $29.99 and don't expire. I purchased the iOS version and tested on an iPad because of its more PC-like onscreen real estate, but also took a look at the solution on an iPhone to see what the smart phone experience was like.
Now you many wonder, why bother with such a solution? Surely there are free, high-quality remote access apps for various mobile platforms out there. And maybe there are. But I use LogMeIn, and now LogMeIn Ignition as well, because they just work. They always work, in fact, and always work well. And because I travel frequently and often need to access crucial work-related documents while on the road, documents that are stored on a home server in my home, LogMeIn is an absolutely critical part of my toolbox. I've really come to trust it.
So. What's it like accessing a Windows desktop remotely, using an iPad or iPhone? Actually, it's not half bad, especially on the iPad.
If you're familiar with remote desktop solutions, you know some of the basic pitfalls around the lack of performance in the display particularly, and how different resolutions on the client and remote PC can often result in less than desirable clipping effects and so on. LogMeIn Ignition actually handles both of these pretty well. No, you don't get Aero glass effects if the remote PC supports that. But the performance is surprisingly good, especially over Wi-Fi.
In the default opening UI, you'll see a list of the computers registered to your account, and if they're online, icons for starting a remote desktop or file transfer session. Choose one, and you logon.
Choose remote desktop and LogMeIn Ignition will display some hints for the touch screen interface and then show you the familiar Windows logon screen, which is scaled down if needed to fit within the iPad's smaller screen.
CTRL + ALT + DEL occurs via a toolbar shortcut, as it does in other remote access apps and virtualization solutions, and then you hit the desktop.LogMeIn Igntition uses a nice virtual mouse pointer you can move around pretty easily via finger on screen. Tap and double-tap work as mouse clicks, and you can toggle between left and right-click using another toolbar button. It all works really well.
If you chose the file transfer UI, you'll see a nice FTP-like view of the PC's file system and you can navigate in and out of folder structures and view individual files. There are buttons for copying or moving files (from the host to the client, if supported), opening files, updating the view, and so forth. What happens on Open depends on the file type. For example, on the iPad, you can open PDFs, images, and text files, of course, and the app will ask you if you'd like to save a local copy. But select a Microsoft Word .docx file and the Open option is grayed out because there's no iPad-based handler for that file type.
Obviously, the iPad experience is better than that of the iPhone. But I could see situations where grabbing a remote file from the phone is useful, and of course any access is better than no access in the event of an emergency. The navigation is a bit different; here, there's no virtual mouse, so you instead move the screen around and center clickable items over an unmoving mouse cursor. (Hey, it works.) And it does of course support all of the pinch to zoom stuff so you can get in and see things that might otherwise be unreadable on the phone's smaller display.
I happen to use LogMeIn, so LogMeIn is an obvious choice. But if you use and can recommend another remote control solution for any mobile platform, please drop me a note: I'm all ears, and I'm happy to test and recommend other solutions that may make sense for a wide range of users.
LogMeIn Ignition isn't inexpensive, but it comes highly recommended.