Parallels Access 2.0 review: Remote desktop control from your Android phone or tablet

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The ability to control my work or home PC remotely has saved my bacon more than once. From retrieving files to checking on information I leave there for security, it's just plain handy. Parallels Access 2.0 for Android (portal-based, $20 a year) isn't the only remote software for the platform, but there's nothing better—especially for small displays.

After installing Parallels Access on your Android device, you must log on using the account email and password you set up in the Parallels Access web portal. Once that's accomplished, you'll see a list of computers that are running the Parallels Access client software. In my case, I installed the client from onto my main work PC and my laptop, so both were available—the PC via a wired connection, and the laptop via Wi-Fi.

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Parallel Access 2.0 requires a client be running on any PC you want to control remotely from your Android device.

The performance across the 256-bit encrypted SSL connection was more than workable, though of course the wired connection was faster. Mileage will vary with circumstances. I was able to watch and listen to video being played on the remote PC with reasonable quality when connected via a local network.

Once you've connected to your chosen computer, the first thing you'll see is an app launcher with icons representing some common and handy Windows applications including Paint, Windows Media Center, the calculator, Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Remote Desktop. I couldn't resist and actually initiated an RDP connection. Darn if it wasn't doable controlling yet another computer two levels deep. Not something I'd like to do regularly from my Droid Maxx, but good to have in a pinch. You can add or delete applications from the app launcher to suit your needs.

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I was able to watch movies remotely across a local network connection using Parallels Access 2.0.

I did say Droid Maxx. Lacking an Android tablet, I settled for a phone—and 1,280x720 or not, remote control from a 5-inch display presents challenges.

One way Parallels Access makes this easier is by running all applications full-screen by default. When you start using an app or the desktop, there's a superimposed menu to the side of the display.

The menu sports four icons: one takes you back to the app launcher; another brings up an app-switcher with list of running programs; one invokes the Android keyboard, and the last offers a mouse simulator, command keys, and full desktop view. There's also an option to tailor the resolution to the best for your device, the display being used by the remote PC, or something called "more space." That's a new feature, as is the ability to awaken remote PCs using wake-on-LAN. 

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 Parallel Access 2.0's app launcher provides direct access to any Windows or Mac application. Handy.

My one quibble with the Android version of Parallels Access is the way it emulates the mouse—leaving the cursor in the middle of the screen, while said screen scrolls about. It's far easier to use touch with zooming, tapping, and gestures than acclimating to that distinctly different metaphor. Of course, that's just my opinion. You may like it.

Just an FYI for those used to Remote Desktop, which turns off the remote display by default: Parallel Access 2.0 leaves the display on the remote desktop enabled by default. There's an option to lock the remote PC, which in effect hides what you're doing, but that's disabled by default. Also, the remote computer can break the connection at any time by pressing the ESC key.

Beyond what I've described, using Parallels is just like using a PC or Mac with a touch display. Add "with blinders" if you're using a display with a resolution considerably less than that of the PC being controlled. And of course, as I've mentioned, Android displays are physically smaller the majority of the time, so you may find yourself zooming and scrolling a lot.

All those issues are inherent in controlling a PC from a smaller device, and Parallels Access does the best job of ameliorating them. It's excellent remote PC control software that makes your life easier by focusing on what you want to do rather than simply providing access to the remote PC desktop. Nice job.

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