Remote desktop apps are awesome when they work and supremely not awesome when they don’t. Google’s recently-released Chrome Remote Desktop app for Android manages to strike a delicate balance between both extremes, providing just enough rock ‘n roll factor to make some of its conspicuous shortcomings forgivable.
The mobile app works with any Windows or Mac computer with Chrome and the Chrome Remote Desktop extension installed, and allows you to access your home PC from a remote location via an Android phone or tablet. Google has smartly made it so users don’t have to keep a Chrome browser window open on their host computers to create a remote connection, but all linked computers do have to remain online and awake in order to be accessed.
Remote access is guarded by PIN code and Google account credentials verification, both of which are painless and straightforward to set up. Once that’s done and the mobile app is launched, you simply select which registered computers you’d like to remotely sign into and keys in your previously set PIN. For optimal security, PIN entry is required at first, but you can bypass it for future sign-ons by checking a “Don’t ask for PIN again for this device” option.
In use, the app scores huge in the area of clear and accurate rendering of the host computer screen. But it’s the fluidity of motion and the speed of response that really knocks it out of the park. Lag is virtually nonexistent and response is instantaneous, making for a seamless user experience. The app also supports portrait and landscape orientation, and comes with an easily accessible drop-down keyboard for on-screen typing.
Ease of use and fluid performance aside, there are several areas of opportunity where Google could make enhancements. For one, there’s no audio support that would enable you to remotely play a favorite MP3 file. This is an especially grievous oversight considering the app’s extremely high-quality rendering of remote video playback; that video would be all the better with accompanying audio.
Navigation could also use a bit of an overhaul to better adapt to a mobile Touchscreen environment. As it is now, the user is required to replicate gestures more often associated with a track pad than a touchscreen, directing all motion via the onscreen mouse pointer. Pinch and zoom works just as you might expect it to on a mobile device, but everything else seems clunky and cumbersome.
Launching desktop icons is as easy as hovering the mouse pointer over the desired icon and double-tapping the screen, but other mouse button functions aren’t as easy to figure out. For example, to right-click an icon you have to tap an icon once with two fingers. To click and drag, you have to long-press an icon and wait for ripple effect to appear over the pointer before you can do anything.
All things considered, though, these are minor complaints. The fact is, this is a powerful application that works incredibly well, especially when compared to others of its kind that have been around for far longer. Considering it was just released to mobile devices on April 16, it’s not a stretch to imagine that Google will address these issues in forthcoming updates.
The Chrome Remote Desktop app is currently available as a free download in the Google Play store. It’s only available for Android devices at the moment, but Google has been dropping hints that an iOS version is in the works for later in 2014. That might be enough time to convince those in need of an effective remote desktop app to forsake their iPhones for a shiny new Galaxy S5 or HTC One.