I am not writing this App of the Week feature on my desktop PC or my laptop – and yet, I am. I'm actually composing it (at least this part of it) on my iPad, on which is displayed a duplicate of my home PC, transmitted via Splashtop.
Splashtop is a remote access app. Have you ever called tech support and had them take over your computer screen to fix it? Splashtop works sort of like that.
You fire up the app on your tablet or even your smart phone (there are versions for iPad, iPhone and Android) and, via an Internet connection, your desktop PC screen is duplicated. Splashtop lets you see and touch control everything on your home/office PC from wherever you are, as if you were in front of it – only in miniature. Presumably, the screen on your tablet PC or smart phone is smaller than your main PC at home or office.
Splashtop is not the only remote access app in town. Its direct competitor is Log Mein, which does much of what Splashtop does in much the same way Splashtop does it, but with one not-so minor difference.
LogMeIn's iPad app is $30. Splashtop's is $20, and for an indeterminate period of time, $10.
To be fair, LogMeIn is actually a more professional application designed for IT managers to troubleshoot computers under their watchful eye. As such, LogMeIn offers many more options and features aimed at the more professional user.
There is a third remote desktop alternative at even a better price – TeamViewerHD, which is free (almost always a good price). But I found TeamViewer's set-up and connectivity far more difficult and confusing than either LogMeIn or Splashtop.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. What, exactly, is remote access?
Downloading the Splashtop or LogMeIn or TeamViewer app is step one. Step two is downloading a small piece of software to install a small piece of software on your PC that manages the connection between your desktop PC and your remote device. The Splashtop desktop application is called Splash Streamer. You then can sign in to Splashtop with your Gmail ID (if you have Gmail) or create a separate user name and password.
Once the app detects your remote computer, you need to tell it the size, or resolution (how many pixels by how many pixels) of your home PC screen. This resolution decision, however, is a choice between two equally unsatisfying outcomes.
Keeping the resolution low means everything on your tablet screen is bigger and you'll be able to easily see and manipulate windows easier. But this low resolution means you may not be able to get at windows off on the far side of your desktop screen, which is of higher resolution. It's like using a magnifying glass to view a page.
When you choose a resolution, your desktop PC changes to this resolution as well. When you disconnect, your desktop reverts to its previous resolution, but all the windows that were shrunk to fit stay shrunk and you have to manual re-size all of them.
I'm not sure if this makes sense without a visual, but take my word for it – it's a bit of a pain in the tuchus.
Or, you can set Splashtop to mimic your desktop PC's resolution. But this means everything on your tablet is shrunk. I don't know if you can make out the details in the photo at the top left (you probably can't), but this is a screen capture of my home PC's screen, a 27-inch iMac, on my iPad 2. As you likely can't see, maintaining my iMac's resolution makes everything on my iPad REALLY tiny.
Both Splashtop and LogMeIn allow you to zoom the entire desktop or individual windows with a Zoom control or using the by-now familiar pinch-zoom finger gesture. But maintaining your desktop's resolution means you'll be constantly zooming in-and-out to get maximum control over what you're working on.
The upside of this approach is everything on your home/office PC screen stays pretty much the same size as they were before you remotely connected.
How they work
When you access your PC from an iPad or smart phone (and the Splashtop folks admit its Android app is "a little behind" the Apple iOS versions), the app takes control of your screen. Anyone else is sitting in front of it will be locked out.
LogMeIn, however, let's both the remote user and anyone sitting in front of the PC have control, which is why it's so good for remote trouble shooting. For us average citizens, LogMeIn is an excellent way of remotely solving PC problems your elderly parents and less tech savvy friends or relatives encounter.
Other than remote maintenance, Splashtop and LogMeIn's best feature is the ability to word process remotely. Both give you a more complete keyboard than iPad's usual pop-up QWERTY, with Control, ALT/Option and, for Mac, Command keys.
Both remote apps also let you remotely play multimedia files, including Adobe Flash video, which iPads and many Android tablets can't play. Splashtop gives you special controls you may be able to see at the bottom of the screen shot to reduce the video resolution to smooth playback over the Internet, use Splashtop as a second monitor, supply up/down/left/right gaming controls and an orientation so the screen doesn't shift each time you move your tablet.
How they don't work
In order to get the most of out either Splashtop and LogMeIn, you also can employ a number of tap and finger gestures to control what's on your screen. Splashtop has six distinct tap/finger-combination gestures to mimic mouse controls, right click, scrolling, etc.; LogMeIn has 10. You'll really have to memorize all of them (or keep a crib sheet) to effectively use either app.
Using either Splashtop or LogMeIn requires a bit of practice. I suffered all manner of frustration moving around from window-to-window or accessing files, primarily because of the tiny resolution.
But for short spurts of remote access, especially in a "I forgot to email that file!" emergency, Splashtop is a handy app to have available.
But if you're interested in remote access, I'd play with TeamViewerHD first, since it's free. But overall, Splashtop is your easiest and best choice for casual remote connecting.