Android Thoughts: RealVNC Viewer App for Android: Your PC On Your Phone

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

RealVNC Viewer App for Android: Your PC On Your Phone

Posted by Chris Baxter in "Android Software" @ 09:00 AM

VNC Viewer screenshot

VNC Viewer for Android ($9.78 on the Android Marketplace) by RealVNC is an app that allows Android smartphones, such as my HTC Evo, to establish a remote desktop connection to any Mac OSX, Windows, Linux, or UNIX computer running compatible VNC server technology. Using a remote desktop connection, or RDC, you can access and work with your home or office computer remotely, just like you were sitting in front of it. Macs running OSX 10.4 and up conveniently have the server technology built into the OS. For Windows, Linux, and UNIX, third party server software will have to be installed. RealVNC suggests using their RealVNC Enterprise Edition software ($50 on their website) for the best compatibility and features. For testing purposes I used the RealVNC Enterprise software for Windows 7 and Mac OSX. Read on after the break for my impressions.

Installation of the Server software was quick and painless for both the Windows and the Mac OSX platforms. As for my Evo, I just found the app on the marketplace and downloaded it. When starting the viewer for the first time it prompted me to create a new connection. Since I was using Wi-Fi to connect to my network locally, this was simply done by entering the IP address of the computer I was trying to connect to. Once the connection was established it was saved by the viewer and listed with a thumbnail screenshot of the desktop. Being a visual person by nature I liked this feature because it made it easy to differentiate between my Windows and Mac connections. Configuring a connection to work over 3G or 4G wireless proved to be a little more complicated, but I found good instructions for how to do it located here on the RealVNC website.

The experience of using the viewer to control a Mac or a PC was the same across the board. Pinching your fingers on the screen zooms in and out of the desktop, which is important since most desktop displays are usually set at a much higher resolution than your typical smartphone's display. Being able to zoom in and out is quite valuable for quick navigation. The mouse cursor follows your finger so you just need to drag it to whatever program you want to launch and double tap the screen to simulate a left click of the mouse. Likewise, tapping on the screen with two fingers simulates a right click of the mouse. The viewer also has a virtual keyboard you can pull up to use for interacting with applications on your computer. For the most part, I found navigating around the desktop and doing things like surfing the web or typing a few lines in Word to be quick and responsive, I don't think I would want to try to play a graphically intensive 3D game this way, but for simple quick tasks, I found the viewer more than adequate for my needs.

The RealVNC Viewer app for Android is a nice app that does what it advertises and does it well. I had no issues connecting to and controlling a Mac or a PC. The desktop of both computers was rendered nicely on the much smaller screen of my Evo, and I was able to accomplish just about anything I would normally be able to do when sitting in front my computer. At around $10 it is a little expensive in a market where most of the other Android apps are $1 to $5 in cost. But considering how well this app does its job, I think it's worth the extra money. The VNC Enterprise Edition software worked flawlessly with the viewer, but given its $50 cost I would think it might be beneficial to look at other compatible server software, unless you own a current Mac, in which case you don't need to worry about it. I would definitely recommend this software to anyone who needs to have access to their computer's desktop while they are out and about. It might, however, be a little cost prohibitive for anyone else.

Chris Baxter is an IT Professional and part time Web Designer who resides in North Aurora, Illinois. Playing video games, watching movies, or reading a good book are what occupies his time when he is not fixing computers or trying to get his hands on the latest gadgets.

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