How to control your computer from your phone

Use your PC from the couch -- or anywhere -- with these apps

There are plenty of reasons to have a remote control for your computer. Maybe you need a way to access your files from outside your home, or you use a “headless” system without a monitor, or you want an easy way to control a home theater PC without a mouse and keyboard cluttering up your coffee table.

There are two general ways to achieve remote control. You can use a full remote desktop client, which will transmit images from your monitor (and sometimes even speaker sound) to your phone or tablet. This option is generally more powerful, but it’s also a bit more complicated, and is preferred by more advanced users.

A standard “mouse and keyboard” app doesn’t transmit video or sound, and works more or less like a TV remote control for your computer. For all of them you’ll need an active connection on the local network (preferably Wi-Fi, but you can connect your computer to the router via Ethernet). Most remote desktop clients offer control over the Internet as well.

Here are the five of the best options on Android, iOS, and Windows Phone.

Google Chrome Remote Desktop

Chrome Remote Desktop

If you’re a regular user of Google’s Chrome browser on your desktop, this is probably the best bet for remote controlling your PC. Once you install this Chrome extension on your computer (Windows or OS X), you’ll have easy access to it from the corresponding official app on Android or the iPhone.

Despite “Chrome” in the name, the app can in fact access anything your computer as if you were sitting in front of it — file browsers, administrator tools, whatever you want. Google’s interface makes it easy to connect to your computers, even on mobile networks. Installing the extension into your desktop’s Chrome browser also lets you access it from other laptop or desktop operating systems.

Google play iTunes

Microsoft Remote Desktop

Microsoft Remote Desktop

Long-time Windows users will be familiar with Microsoft’s first-party remote desktop solution. While it will only connect to Windows machines (and even then, only “Professional” versions of Windows or better), it’s available on Android, iOS, and (naturally) Windows Phone. Microsoft updates this app on a pretty regular basis; Android users can even give the beta app a spin for newer fixes and features.

Google play iTunes Windows Phone Store

Virtual Network Client (various)

Virtual Network Client

The VNC protocol has long been a favorite remote access solution for engineers and power users — long before the rise of smartphones, in fact. The original design is open source, so there are a variety of clients on both desktops and smartphones, some paid, some free. Most of them should work with each other, though the various versions and branches can create compatibility issues. For free users TightVNC on the desktop is a common Windows favorite, and there’s a cross-platform Java version available. OS X actually includes a VNC-compatible remote desktop feature built in.

The TightVNC developers have an official and free Android remote access client, Remote Ripple. On iOS, Mocha VNC Lite is a free option, with paid apps from the popular RealVNC Viewer and iTeleport offering more support and reliability at a high price. On Windows Phone TinyVNC is the current favorite, and it’s free. Keep in mind that VNC apps are intended for more advanced users — if you don’t know how to find your computer’s IP address, you might want to look for something else.

Available from Google play Available from iTunes Available from Windows Phone Store
Remote Rippl Mocha VNC Lite TinyVNC
VNC Viewer
 iTeleport Remote Desktop

Remote Mouse

Remote Mouse

Unlike the remote desktop options above, this app emulates a computer’s mouse and keyboard only. You’ll need to be able to see your screen or monitor in order to use it, and it only works on local Wi-Fi networks.

That said, using a simpler app is sometimes preferable, especially for the mouse/touchpad functionality. Remote Mouse is a free download on both Android and iOS, as is the Windows, OS X, or Linux server program you’ll need to run on your computer to operate it. Extra features like media controls and access to function keys requires an in-app purchase upgrade. This is probably the best bet for anyone who just needs to use basic commands via their phone or tablet.

Google play iTunes Windows Phone Store

Unified Remote ($4)

Unified Remote

This app is similar to Remote Mouse, but includes more functions built-in, like wake on LAN support, voice commands, infrared and NFC tools for supported phones, and controls for various music services like iTunes, Spotify, and VLC.

The app is free and works with the free server on Windows and OS X, but you’ll need to unlock the full version for all the advanced features. On Android this is done with a separate app, on the iPhone and iPad you can unlock the features with an in-app purchase, and on Windows Phone you can either pay or use the Windows Store’s trial feature. It will cost you $4 whichever version you use, which isn’t unreasonable for the expanded functionality.

Available from:

 Google play iTunes Windows Phone Store

These aren’t the only options for remote control, but they’re the most economical and the best-reviewed. If you’re willing to spend a little more money, end-to-end solutions like Splashtop and TeamViewer offer paid tiers with easy interfaces and more hands-on user support. Some remote desktop clients offer file transfers right in the app, but in general it’s much easier to use a cloud storage tool like Dropbox or Google Drive to move files to and from your phone.

Deals

Get your hands (and ears) on Apple’s new AirPods — here’s where to find them

Apple's new AirPods with wireless charging are the latest version of the much-loved wireless earbuds. Unfortunately, they aren't widely available yet. Here's where you can find them right now, and where they will show up soon.
Photography

Looking to keep prying eyes at bay? Here's how to hide photos on your iPhone

People take tons of photos using their smartphones, but not all are meant to be shared or seen. Luckily, hiding photos on your iOS device is easy, whether you want to use built-in utilities or apps with added security.
Home Theater

The best Dolby Atmos movies for your home theater sound as good as they look

If you've got your hands on some sweet Dolby Atmos gear, the next step is to find films that take advantage of it. These are our picks in several genres for the best Dolby Atmos movies currently available on Blu-ray and streaming services.
Computing

Calibrate your display to get it looking just the way you like it

Want to see images the way they're intended to be seen? Here is our quick guide on how to calibrate your monitor using your operating system or another tool, to make what's on the screen look as good as it can.
Computing

Get the most out of your high-resolution display by tweaking its DPI scaling

Windows 10 has gotten much better than earlier versions at supporting today's high-resolution displays. If you want to get the best out of your monitor, then check out our guide on how to adjust high-DPI scaling in Windows 10.
Mobile

Got gadgets galore? Keep them charged up with the 10 best USB-C cables

We're glad to see that USB-C is quickly becoming the norm. That's why we've rounded up some of the better USB-C cables on the market, whether you're looking to charge or sync your smartphone. We've got USB-C to USB-C and USB-C to USB-A.
Deals

Looking for a Chromebook? The Google PixelBook just got a $200 price cut

Once relatively obscure, Chromebooks have come into their own in a big way in recent years. One of our favorites is the super-sleek Google Pixelbook, and it's on sale right now from Amazon for $200 off, letting you score this premium laptop…
Computing

Nvidia’s GTX 1650 graphics card could be just a slight upgrade over the 1050 Ti

Rumors suggest Nvidia might soon launch the GTX 1650, and a leaked benchmark listing from Final Fantasy XV suggests that the new graphics card could be just a slight upgrade over last generation's GTX 1050 Ti. 
Computing

Get ready to say goodbye to some IFTTT support in Gmail by March 31

If This Then That, the popular automation service, will drop some of its support for Gmail by March 31. The decision comes as a response to security concerns and is aimed to protect user data.
Computing

Get the new Dell XPS 13 for $750 with this limited-time deal

Dell is currently running a limited time deal lasting through Thursday, March 28, where you can bring home a version of this year's new XPS 13 for around $750 with the use of a special coupon code. 
Mobile

This is the easiest way to save your iPhone data to your computer

Living in fear of losing your contacts, photos, messages, and notes on your iPhone? Fear no more -- in this guide, we'll break down exactly how to back up your iPhone to your computer using Apple's iTunes or to the cloud with iCloud.
Mobile

Here are the best iPad Pro keyboard cases to pick up with your new tablet

The iPad Pro range can double as laptops, but they do need proper keyboards to fill in effectively. Thankfully, there are loads to choose from and we rounded up the best iPad Pro keyboard cases right here.
Computing

Microsoft’s Clippy came back from the dead, but didn’t last very long

Before Cortana, Alexa, and Siri even existed, Microsoft Clippy dominated the screens of computers in the 1990s to help assist Microsoft Office users when writing letters. He recently made a bit of a comeback only to die off again.
Computing

Nvidia faces attacks from AMD, Intel, and even Google. Should it be worried?

Nvidia announced an expanded array of RTX server solutions designed to leverage the power of ray-tracing at GTC 2019. The effort will help Nvidia take on Google's Stadia in game streaming with GeForce Now, and the company's investments in…