Smartphones and computers let you get things done anywhere and everywhere, but portability becomes more bane than blessing when you forget a critical file at home, especially if you're the type of person who dumps files on your desktop rather than a Dropbox folder.
Or at least it used to be a PITA. On Wednesday, Google released a new Chrome Remote Desktop app for Android, which lets you control your PC from afar using your tablet or smartphone.
Remote desktop apps are nothing new, but most are either pokey, pricey, or require extensive technical skill to set up. The free Chrome Remote Desktop Android app, on the other hand, couldn't be easier to use. After you download the app to your mobile device, you'll be prompted to install the Chrome Remote Desktop extension in your desktop's Chrome browser, a very straightforward procedure that asks you to allow remote connections on your computer (watch out for pop-under UAC prompts!) and set a PIN for the PC.
Once you do so, the PC's name appears in the Chrome Remote Desktop page in your browser, letting you know everything's ready to rock. All you have to do from there is fire up the Android app, connect to the PC you'd like (Google lets you connect several PCs to your account), and pop in the PIN. You can also to bypass the PIN speed bump on your mobile device once you've successfully entered it the first time, if you're so inclined, driving home the app's ease-of-use.
A small pop-up warns you that someone is remotely using your PC in the desktop browser the entire time the app is active.
The remote desktop capabilities are just as streamlined. Connecting was fast, easy, and blissfully latency-free using a Moto X connected to Verizon's LTE network. My PC's 1080p display didn't all fit on the Moto X's 720p screen, but navigating around with a finger was mostly seamless. The only advanced option you'll find is a Ctrl + Alt + Delete button next to the Disconnect option.
Android's virtual keyboard can be summoned with either a button press or by swiping upwards with three fingers; pinch-to-zoom is also supported. That's it as far as bells and whistles go, though.
The controls themselves are trackpad style. You need to swipe your finger back and forth on your phone or tablet as if it were a mouse to move the cursor, rather than simply poking where you'd like the mouse to appear onscreen. (Tapping functions like a mouse click.) The learning curve is conquered in mere minutes, however, and trackpad-style controls are actually a great input method for mobile remote desktop software once you're used to it.
I haven't had a chance to test the app with a Bluetooth mouse or keyboard. One commenter says the app doesn't play nice with Bluetooth mice, so be wary if one is a key part of your workflow.
While the new app makes grabbing a last-second file a breeze in those "Oh no" situations, that's far from the only usage for it. The app can be used to provide far-away technical assistance to family members who install the browser extension, for example, or to easily access a Flash-based website using your desktop browser. (Android and Flash don't play nice anymore.) You can also run full-fledged desktop programs while using the Remote Desktop app, naturally.
One clever early commenter on the Remote Desktop app's Play Store listing was pumped to find that "I can control my desktop from my tablet/phone while I have it Chromecasting to my TV. So good."
In the end, the new Chrome Remote Desktop app is a welcome addition to the Android family, delivering a truly user-friendly experience that's oh-so-rare in the world of remote desktop software. It's fast, it's easy, it's free, and you don't even need to install any additional software on your PC if you're already using Chrome. What's not to like?