While mobile devices go a long way to keeping you connected, sometimes you just need to access your PC at home. Let’s take a look at the best Android apps that help you stay connected to your home network.
Whether you forgot a file or you need to make sure your computer is staying on task, having remote access from your Android device is real time-saver. You can use any of the following apps to stay connected from anywhere and get done whatever it is you need to get done.
For remote access to your computer computer, there are two excellent free options. The first is Android-VNC-Viewer, which handles VNC only. It works with most major VNC servers, including TightVNC and Apple’s built-in implementation. You add your connection settings and you’re good to go!
Hitting the Menu button brings up some extra options, such as the ability to send special keys.
You can create lists of special keys for your convenience, too, and you can add practically anything to them. The list is truly comprehensive.
You can also enter text and send it to your remote computer. All in all, Android-VNC-Viewer is pretty solid. My only complaint is the way the mouse moves. There is a zoom/pan mode where the screen follows you and the cursor is in the center of your screen, and there’s a touchpad setting that allows you to use your finger to push the cursor around like a laptop’s touchpad. Both work, but neither feels amazingly smooth and easy. Aside from that one caveat, though, this works well.
If you’re looking for RDP, the best client I’ve found is Wyse’s Pocketcloud. It’s an amazing little app that handles RDP really well, and also works with VNC! There are no mouse problems like Android-VNC-Viewer’s, and there’s a nice touchpad setting that also comes up with circular quick menu.
The only major problem I had was that it get’s glitchy when you take screenshots… It also doesn’t have a fancy menu for special keys. That’s not even necessary if you use Hacker’s Keyboard, but we’ll get to that later. All in all, Pocketcloud is my personal choice over Android-VNC-Viewer. There’s a downloadable client you can use and hook up to your GMail account for almost automatic setup, and it’s completely Mac- and Linux-compatible. Pocketcloud is free, but there’s also a pay version that gives you access to premium features such as encryption, RDP sound, and RDP file redirection.
(If you’re looking to access your Android phone via VNC from your desktop, then you should look at Droid VNC Server beta.)
Who doesn’t love instant, secure command-line access? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used SSH to move things into my Dropbox folder that weren’t there, saving the day for multiple people. Connectbot is the hands-down winner, not only because it’s free but because it offers some nice features.
Aside from doing an excellent job of managing your SSH connections and keys, it also does a decent job of trying to mimic special keys like Ctrl and Alt. Here’s a screenshot of the first tutorial page:
It works better than most other SSH clients I’ve used on Android. But with the next tip, using Connectbot is heavenly.
CTRL, ALT, Tab, and the F keys
One of the largest problems with using SSH and VNC is that you don’t have clear-cut access to the Ctrl, Alt, Escape, Tab and function keys that are necessary for speedy shortcuts. Lots of clients on your Android device will offer you software buttons to fill in this functionality but they usually feel clumsy when you’re busy typing away. Enter Hacker’s Keyboard.
That’s right, you get full access to everything you need, and then some. By default, you get a standard looking keyboard, but you can enable an advanced 5-row keyboard like in the above screenshot. There’s a different layout for the landscape keyboard that gives you proper access to all of the keys you need, too.
In the keyboard’s preferences, you can adjust things like keyboard height (individually for portrait and landscape), enable the comprehensive 5-row keyboard, change scaling, and there’s a compatibility option for ConnectBot, too.
To be honest, there’s really nothing else that comes close to providing this functionality on Android, and to top it off, it’s free.
File Synching and Access
You specify a folder on your Android device and one on your remote server. Then, you can tell it whether it should upload files or download files between the two directories. In the above screenshot, I have it configured to work inside of my network, but you can have it work from outside of your network, too, using a DDNS service. And, for quick file transfers inside of your network with minimal setup, you can check out OnAir.
Valence is a beta app that lets you take control of your home theater PC. Sometimes you don’t want a wireless keyboard and mouse cluttering your living room. If you have an Android phone or tablet, you can use Valence to give you a keyboard and touchpad for your awesome HTPC. Combined with Hacker’s keyboard and the built-in options, You won’t really need anything else.
Sometimes you worry about privacy. If you have access to an SSH server, SSH Tunnel gives you a way to stay secure. Here’s a quick peak at some of the options it has.
If you can’t trust the connection you’re on, this will guarantee you at least a little security from prying packet-sniffers.
Lastly, managing your music on Android can be a pain. If you run a Subsonic server at home, however, you can download your music from anywhere right to your phone. Once downloaded, those songs will play through any music player, too, not just inside the Subsonic app. Check out guide on Wirelessly Synching Music Using Subsonic.
These Android apps make it easy to control your home computers from afar and stay connected to the services that originate on your home network. For optimum use, make sure you’re using a DDNS service to easily access your home network so you don’t have to worry about IP addresses, and that your ports are forwarded properly on your router.
Do you have any must-have apps for remote access? Prefer another app to what we’ve listed here? Sound off in the comments!
Yatri Trivedi is a monk-like geek. When he's not overdosing on meditation and geek news of all kinds, he's hacking and tweaking something, often while mumbling in 4 or 5 other languages.
- Published 08/11/11