We recently selected 46 great applications to synchronize content seamlessly between your Android device and your computer so you can enjoy the same content on the go and on your computer without having to worry about manually transferring data.
Today, we’d like to push things a little further and make Android interact directly with your computer. We’ve handpicked a bunch of apps to remotely control or access your computer from your phone, stream content from your computer directly to your tablet or phone, and even use your Android device as an extra monitor.
Android as a Remote Media Controller
Let’s imagine you’re sitting comfortably in your couch, watching a great movie on your computer while enjoying some snacks and you inadvertently drop a peanut — no, I did not imply you’re a couch potato… or did I? Here you are fetching this miserable peanut and missing the most exciting scene of the movie! How annoying is it to stand up, reach for your computer and replay that section while you could have simply paused the movie straight from your couch? Have no fear, with our selection of remote media controllers for Android , you’ll be able to sit even more comfortably and control your media through your Android device.
With this application, you control YouTube playback on your computer directly from your Android tablet or phone. You can create playlists straight from your device and select which screen to play them on. You also get direct access to playback controls, so you can comfortably go fetch that peanut!
Remove for VLC is a simple application that allows you to remotely manage what you’re playing on your computer through VLC. The application automatically recognizes which file is playing and offers direct playback controls on the screen. If you’re playing an audio file with an embedded album art, the app will fetch it and display it on your screen as well. Lastly, Remote for VLC lets you browse your playlists and library directly from your Android device so you can switch between media without having to reach for your keyboard.
Remote for iTunes is very similar to the VLC app above, but offers some added features exclusive to iTunes. For instance, it supports volume controls separately depending on which playback device you’re using. It also lets you rate tracks directly form your handheld device, start a Genius playlist and also connect to different iTunes accounts. Lastly, Remote for iTunes sports a built-in widget, which makes it even easier to control your playlists from your Android device.
Retune is in essence an iTunes remote control too, but offers a much nicer interface than the previous application. In terms of features, it’s very similar, as it also offers volume control and supports various accounts and libraries. Other functions such as playlists, genius mixes, search, artwork display and ratings are there as well. Retune also has some nice additions, such as lockscreen and expandable notification controls, making changing tracks a breeze.
As its name suggest, Mac Remote can only be used with Macs, but isn’t specific to a unique application, offering more possibilities than the apps mentioned above. It is compatible with VLC, iTunes, QuickTime, Spotify and iPhoto. In terms of features, Mac Remote is somehow more limited than the individual remotes, but also simpler to use. You can access basic playback controls for the supported apps, in addition to volume control. A nice touch with Mac Remote is its ability to change the screen’s brightness, put your Mac to sleep or turn it off. If you’re looking for basic remote features in an all-in-one package and need support for the aforementioned added elements, then Mac Remote is your app!
Because the previous app was specific to Apple computers, it would only be fair to tell you about one that only works with Windows [Editor's note: support for Mac is promised in version 3!]. It’s also by far the most complete one in this section, as it supports a countless number of applications, ranging from media programs such as YouTube, VLC, Netflix and Spotify, to other Windows software like Chrome, Firefox, the Windows File Explorer and even your keyboard. As if this wasn’t enough, the application looks like a hybrid interface between Windows Phone’s Modern UI and Android Holo, which makes it even nicer to use.
XBMC is one of the most popular media centers available on Windows, Mac, Linux and other platforms. It’s a central, visually appealing, and well organized library of all your music, movies, TV series, pictures, and other online media sources. The Official XBMC Remote app lets you control XBMC on your computer from your phone: you can browse your library and control playback without having to stay near your computer. This remote is perfect if you want to listen to XBMC music while moving around the house, or if you want to relax on a sofa and enjoy a movie or TV episode several feet away from your computer.
Android as a Content Streamer
Many persons store massive amounts of movies, series and other media files on a home computer that’s not even used to view the said content. Instead, it’s simply designed to be a server to which other machines connect and stream content from, such as a TV or a laptop computer. There’s an easy way to extend the list of devices to your Android phones and tablets too, so that you can enjoy your content away from your computer. What’s even better is that most of the applications below let you stream media through the internet, which means that as long as your computer is on, you can access your library from anywhere in the world!
Plex is a media center quite similar to XBMC — it’s even based on the same source code — but distincts itself by being less complex to use. The Plex for Android app on your phone or tablet doesn’t allow you to remote control playback on your computer, but instead lets you access your media library and stream all the content to your device. Movies, music, TV episodes and more are played instantaneously when using the same WiFi network, but Plex can also be set to work remotely via 3G or different WiFi access points.
The recently redesigned Subsonic is a clean and elegant music-centric streaming app. Thanks to a server app installed on your Windows, Mac or Linux computer, you can stream music — and videos to a certain extent — in several formats to your Android phone or tablet. Subsonic also functions as a remote control for music playback on your computer. However, the differentiating feature is its ability to cache streamed music so you can play it later offline, without needing to have the server computer or your android connected to each other.
If you want a WiFi file sharer and streamer in one, then AirStream is your solution. By installing a server on your computer and the app on your phone or tablet, you can browse the computer’s folders and files, copy them over to your phone, or simply stream them over the same WiFi network. AirStream automatically categorizes media between Images, Audio and Video to make it easier to find what you’re looking for.
Tonido is one of the most impressive apps in this category. Along with a clean design and an interface that adapts to tablets, Tonido carries the best features of AirStream, Subsonic and Plex and adds on top of them. It works over WiFi or a remote network connection, lets you browse your content, download it or stream it. It supports several video, audio and image formats, including iTunes playlist streaming. And the best part is that it even lets you upload files from the device to your computer, so you can quickly backup photos, videos or documents.
Yatse has evolved from a simple remote control for XBMC to a full-featured XBMC streaming app. It picks up where the Official XBMC Remote app left off, by offering a modern and tablet-optimized interface, offline access to your library, widgets, remote control and streaming capabilities, and much more including lockscreen and Dashclock support. If you use XBMC as your media center, there’s really no contest between this and the official app.
Android as a Remote Desktop
Accessing and using a computer from a handheld device doesn’t just exist in James Bond movies, it’s a reality. Whether you’re providing support to a client, fetching a file you saved locally on your computer or even running specific software on your computer, the apps below are just what you need. Some might seem pricey, but the majority is also available in a Free version — with some limited features.
Splashtop 2 is one of the most complete and advanced remote desktop applications around. It works with Windows, Mac and even Linux and supports the programs installed on your computer. Thanks to an advanced channeling system, you can benefit from high quality and speedy video, up to 1080p. In addition, this app interprets multitouch gestures so that you can easily navigate your computer screen.
An interesting element about Splashtop 2 is its price, which is free! Of course, not all features are available in the free version and additional ones are charged on a subscription basis. Given this last point, power users may one to consider an application charged on a one-off basis and not a SaaS model.
LogMeIn is a very popular solution to access your computer from a variety of mobile devices and is designed for professional efficiency. For instance, it can automatically wake your computer when you access it from the application and supports multiple monitors. LogMeIn can also stream sound transfer and print files remotely, but will require a Pro version, which is sold at an additional premium. Given the high price tag of the Android application to begin with, you might want to think twice before spending even more on the professional version.
TeamViewer is my personal all-time favorite in terms of remote controlling a computer. It’s extremely easy to use and effective, in addition to supporting a handful of features and strong encryption. And best of all? It’s absolutely free for personal use! There are very little limitations in terms of not using the professional version. Indeed, free remote access session are simply limited in time but not in features and won’t prevent you from immediately reconnecting.
However, the main difference between TeamViewer and the above applications is the way they access your computer. While Splashtop and LogMeIn are always-on services, TeamViewer needs to be launched manually. There is however an option to have the service running at all times and to use a custom password to access your computer, making it a very decent — and free — replacement to the applications above. Nevertheless, if you’re thinking about playing games or running heavy applications remotely, we’d suggest you use adapted and more powerful solutions such as the ones above.
TeamViewer QuickSupport lets you remotely control your Android device from your computer, meaning you can access your phone’s screen form any computer that’s connected to the Internet. Its use is mostly for assistance purposes, as accessing a phone from a computer screen makes little sense, but it’s a perfectly valid solution if you’d like to demo something or use your computer to write WhatsApp messages. However, the developers state that the application is only compatible with Samsung devices and requires an official Samsung firmware to be installed, making it incompatible with custom ROMs or devices from other brands.
PocketCloud is very similar to Splashtop and LogMeIn and has been awarded many times for its excellent app. It supports both Windows and Mac and can connect to a machine either through a local network or the Internet. Like the previous apps, it has full support for multitouch gestures, but seems to lack the same integration as the others. For instance, sound streaming is not supported on all platforms and it seems Mac usage may not be as seamless as the other apps. However, PocketCloud integrates well with Microsoft solutions, including proprietary encryption and authentication.
Jump Desktop is again very similar to the other applications above and offers multitouch gestures, sound streaming, encryption and multiple monitors. The app can even support Linux systems and is designed not to lose the connection when you switch applications on your phone. Its lower price tag may make it more attractive, especially because it can be bought once and used on several Android devices at no additional cost.
The last app in this section is exclusive to VNC, a universal network computing protocol. It’s also much more complicated to set up, since it doesn’t have its own computer client. Indeed, as VNC is a universal protocol, the developers suggest to “Obtain and start VNC-compatible Server technology for the computer you want to control”, which is clearly not the best tutorial to write when you sell an application. It is however true that Mac computers and some Linux distributions have VNC capabilities built into the operating system, but these still need to be manually set up, which can quickly become a hassle.
In terms of features, VNC Viewer supports pinch to zoom, scrolling and dragging gestures, as well as an automatic performance optimization, depending on your connection speed. It also offers encryption and authentication for a secure connection to your computer. Altogether, this solution is geared more towards power users and requires more configuration than any of the previously mentioned apps. However, because it’s not specific to a particular client, it’s cross-platform and much more flexible.
Android as a Wireless Display
The applications below are extremely handy when you need some additional screen space and don’t want to invest in an extra monitor. What they do is fairly simple: they transform your Android device into an additional monitor. This way, you can benefit from your 10 inch tablet as a second screen for your Twitter feed or emails, letting you focus better on your tasks. You can also use this solution to hand your tablet or phone to a client during a presentation and control it from your laptop. The possibilities are endless and much more flexible than using an actual screen!
iDisplay turns your tablet or phone into an additional monitor for your computer, and works with both Mac and PC. The app supports touch input, which allows you to tap on the screen to imitate a mouse click, but also to zoom and pan using multitouch gestures. iDisplay can work through both USB and WiFi, which makes it very convenient in case wireless connectivity must be disabled, or if the network is too slow to handle the service.
Air Display is very similar to iDisplay, also works with both Mac and PC and supports multitouch input. This application only works through WiFi though, as the name may suggest, but the developers emphasize the app’s responsiveness and ability to suppress lags. Altogether, both iDisplay and Air Display are very similar and choosing one over the other is really a matter of personal preference.
Android as a Download Initiator
The last episode of your favorite series is legally available for download and you’d like to have it when you get home. The problem is, with your crappy connection, it’ll never be ready on time. No problem! Just tell your computer to start downloading the file straight from your phone or tablet and have it ready when you get home! [Ed Note: Or, you know, you can use these to download open source and legal torrents and files]
This is the official µTorrent remote application and allows you, as its name suggests, to remotely control the µTorrent client from your phone and add, remove, start, stop or check the progress of torrent downloads. It even integrates with your Android browser, so you can add a torrent to your computer directly from a webpage on your phone! Another great feature is the option to move content you’ve downloaded back to your device, so your can play it on the go. If you use BitTorrent, the exact same features are also available in a dedicated app on the Play Store, as BitTorrent and µTorrent are developed by the same teams.
Transmission is a great Mac Torrent application and is well known within the community. If you have a Mac and use it — you should, really! — this remote is a great way to control it from your Android device. You can view your torrent downloads and add new ones straight form this application. The app also has an option to see which downloads are complete, being seeded or still currently downloading. There’s also a handful of advanced options, such as limiting download and upload speeds and managing several computers.
This Transmission remote is very similar to the previous one, but has some added features — and a great name! You can obviously still view and manage your torrents, sort and filter them and handle several accounts. The nicer features are both the Holo user interface — we’re big fans of eyecandy apps at Android.AppStorm — and the ability to toggle Transmission’s Turtle mode, which is a reduced speed mode that’s predefined directly in the app on your Mac.
jRemote is specific to jDownloader, a well-known download client that works with direct links as opposed to torrents. The app is full of features, as it lets you check the status of your downloads, start, stop, pause and restart them, set speed limits and even add new downloads straight from your handheld device. A nice touch about jRemote is its simple and uncluttered interface, which is a rare occurrence for download manager apps.
Establishing an efficient and automated communication between your Android devices and your computers can definitely make your life easier and more enjoyable, be it because you’ll always have access to your files and apps from afar or simply because you’ll be able to use your phone or tablet to monitor or control information from your PC.
We hope that reaching out for your PC will soon be part of ancient history thanks to this selection of apps. But don’t hesitate to share with us which apps you use to make your PC or Mac communicate with Android and how you remotely control one using the other.