Cool apps for controlling a phone with a computer and vice-versa

Post date: Jun 7, 2016 5:34:43 AM

I have written at length about my Dream Phone Initiative(TM). In one sentence, my Dream Phone is the ability to use a smart phone and a computer interchangeably for all of my communication needs. I maintain that smartphones are great when you are on the move, but when you are stationary, even the largest and most powerful smartphone can't compare to a laptop or desktop computer. Sometimes, using a one device to replace another just isn't possible. In these cases, using one device to control the other is a reasonable facsimile.

Controlling a computer with a phone

Controlling a computer with a phone is hard. The largest smartphone screen is dwarfed by even the tiniest of computer screens. If you are prepared to scroll, *A LOT* it is possible to use a smartphone to control a computer with the right apps.

I have been a huge fan of TeamViewer for many years. I use it mostly to control my computer at home when I am at work. This is my take on reverse telecommuting. The experience on a smartphone is not ideal, but it is a good way to add full computer functionality to a smartphone in the field. I once found myself in the UK once with an American mobile that I had no intention of roaming with. I wanted to enable international calling on a VOIP account, but found myself on the wrong side of an IP address-based access control system. Basically, I had never accessed my VOIP provider's website from outside the US, and my accessing the account was seen as malicious. Since I had a sort of chicken-and egg problem, I circumvented it by using TeamViewer on my phone (via WiFi) to access my desktop in the US. From my desktop, I was able open the VOIP provider website from a "safe" IP address and enable international calling. It was a total pain with my tiny smartphone screen, but with a bit of patience I was able to get it done.

I never did figure out how to dial British numbers from my VOIP account, but thankfully the English still use payphones :-)

When it comes to getting a full Windows computer functionality on Android, Citrix Receiver is probably the best thing I have personally experienced. For my day job, I have sometimes used an Android tablet paired with a Bluetooth keyboard that has a mouse pointer in place of a laptop for remote access.

If you are on a Local Area Network, your options improve significantly. If you are in the same room as the computer you want to control, you can eliminate the screen size differential by using your smartphone as an input device or peripheral to your computer. Asus SmartGesture lets you use your smartphone as a wireless keyboard, mouse, presenter, and laser pointer for controlling your computer. If you are using your computer as a media center, Unified Remote turns your smartphone into a remote control of sorts.

Controlling a phone with a computer

When you use a computer to control a phone, the screen size differential is a non-issue, but other issues arise. Unlike a PC, smartphones are not optimized for fast input or multi-tasking. If you keep these limitations in mind, you can use your computer to access your phone. I find that this is handy for viewing a two-factor security app, such as Google Authenticator. Using a computer to input messages on your phone can be frustrating, so I recommend using the PC or Mac version of an instant messaging app, and using the Google Voice page for text messaging.

If you are using an Android app that has no PC or Mac equivalent, then putting your phone's screen on your computer's desktop, or pushing your keyboard and mouse over to your phone are two options. If you have a Samsung smartphone, you can use Samsung SideSync. WIth SideSync running on both your phone and computer, you pair the apps up and you are able to get notifications on your PC for events on your phone. Honestly, this is the handiest feature. SideSync works either over WiFi or USB, and in addition to the notifications, you can use it one of two additional ways.

The first way puts your mobile phone screen up on your computer's screen. In this mode, your phone is just another window. You can move it around, minimize it, shrink it, or grow it. You can move between screens with your mouse, and us your keyboard to type on your mobile. In my experience, this isn't a good solution for long term use, because the screen performance is a bit laggy and input via the keyboard is extremely error prone. I don't see these issues so much on my gaming laptop, but on my PC at work (which has significantly lower specs) the experience is pretty frustrating.

The other way is to share your computer's keyboard and mouse with your smartphone. To switch between the computer's screen and the phone's screen, you simply move the cursor off the computer's screen and it appears, on the phone, much like using multiple monitors. I find this method to be smoother for input, but it's also not ideal. I can type fast on my mobile screen using my computer's keyboard, but I am forced to use my phone's tiny screen. This is why I prefer the native Windows versions of my instant messaging apps for long term use.

One issue with SideSync is that you can't access your phone remotely, TeamViewer-style. If you find yourself in this situation often, perhaps Mobizen would make a better solution. Mobizen will put your smartphone's screen on your desktop or in a browser via the Internet.