Parallels just announced the availability of Parallels Access for Android and iPhone — a mobile version of its remote desktop access software (already available for the iPad). We gave it a test drive and see how the software fares when attempting to control a pair of Windows 8.1 PCs using an Android phone.
Setting Parallels Access up was pretty easy. We headed over to the Google Play Store and downloaded the app. Once installed, Parallels Access gave us instructions for how to connect a PC or Mac to it. This required us to create an account and download a companion desktop program. Once you’re signed up and have your account, the software can completely connect your PC to your Android device.
Using Windows … from our phone
Once connected, Parallels Access’ home screen presented us with a simple, clean interface that displays icons for a collection of apps on our PC, including Office 2013, Skype, Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, File Explorer, and more. You’re not forced to have these apps on the Parallels Access home screen by any means, and switching them out is easy.
To do so, we tapped a button in the upper right hand corner of the home screen (symbolized by a trio of vertical dots), and tapped “Edit Applications list.” From there, we could either choose which apps to add to Parallels Access from a list, or search for them manually. Once the Parallels Access home screen is filled up with apps, any others you add to it will appear on different pages, which you access by swiping left or right. Deleting an app from the home screen is also easy: just tap, hold, and drag the app’s icon to “Remove” at the top of the screen. To add it again, do so via “Edit Applications list.” The experience is very Android-like, so you’ll feel right at home if you’re rocking a device that’s powered by Google’s mobile OS.
Accessing the content on our Windows PC was an experience best described as slightly bumpy and sluggish, but smooth overall. Whenever we did anything, whether it was typing in a Word 2013 document, or scrolling from one side of the screen to the other, there was usually a delay, but it was always brief.
We tried performing a few routine tasks, like editing a Word document, using Windows Update, running a malware scan, and updating graphics card drivers. All of these went off without any hitches.
There were some issues when it came to using Windows 8 apps via Parallels Access on our phone. Early on, when opening one of these apps, all we saw on our phone was a black screen and nothing else. Once we restarted the app on our Android device, Windows 8.1 apps displayed and worked normally on our phones, with one exception.
Parallels’ announcement noted that any desktop apps with microphone functionality will also work on your tablet or phone using the built in microphone, but only on iOS devices. There was no mention of this feature for Android devices, so we decided to test that out using Windows Sound Recorder, but had no luck after trying a variety of techniques.
Connecting to multiple computers
With Parallels Access, you can connect to multiple computers (up to five in total) remotely from an unlimited number of mobile devices. To test this, we went back to the initial setup screen in Parallels Access for Android. From here, all we needed to do to connect to another PC was swipe right until we ended up at the New Computer screen. From there, we tapped the middle of the display, and we received the same setup instructions that we did when we initially fired the app up. We followed the same exact setup process (aside from the fact that we had to install the companion desktop program on another PC), and we were up and running in a few minutes.
Switching between multiple PCs is a cinch. To do so, tap the button in the upper left corner (symbolized by a cloud), to go to the setup screen. From there, connecting to any of your PCs or Macs is easy. Doing so requires swiping (left or right) over to them from this screen, and tapping on them. Once connected (connection/reconnection takes only a few seconds), you’re hooked into whatever PC you tapped on.
By the way, Parallels Access differentiates between different PCs by presenting them with whatever name Windows 8.1 gave them when the OS was installed, so there is no danger of confusing the two.
A subscription to Parallels Access normally costs $20 per year, but until June 30, you can buy two years for $30. Either way, that’s still a bargain compared to either GoToMyPC or LogMeIn Pro, both of which cost $100 per year. For those rates, LogMeIn Pro grants you remote access to up to two computers, while GoToMyPC is a solo deal: just one computer. You can increase the amount of computers you can get access to with GoToMyPC, but doing so doubles the subscription price for each additional computer you want remote access to.
Parallels Access is cheap, easy to use, and performs well (a couple of hitches aside). The interface is easy to navigate, and setup just takes a few minutes. If you think you could benefit from having remote access to PCs, whether you want to edit locally stored documents, or run annoying (but necessary) tasks like malware scans and software updates from afar, we highly recommend Parallels Access.