In my first teaching job, my school at the time had a remote desktop system going where I could use my dodgy old computer at home to remotely connect to a desktop at school which gave me access to all of the programs I needed to prepare my lessons. I remember thinking it was almost like witchcraft – having more than one computer on your computer! It actually worked pretty well in the early days of broadband (despite having to set it to 16 colour mode!). This was a feature that I sorely missed when I moved schools. Jump in the DeLoren and get to 88.8 mph and fast forward to today. Fast connectivity and mobility everywhere means that we don’t have to rely on a meaty central server at a place of work to provide these connections, you can do it yourself at a fraction of the price. This is where Edovia’s Screens software comes in.
I have a beautiful late 2012 iMac at home which I love working from and unfortunately my school isn’t about to cough up over a grand to get me one for my classroom. I can however, do the next best thing. With Screens I can remote into my Mac from my iPad as if I am using my Mac on my iPad screen. Screens takes the Apple mantra of keeping everything simple and clean and they have applied it to the notoriously tricky world (for non-techies like me anyway) of remote desktops.
Set up is very straightforward. Download the Screens app from the App Store on the iPad, and download the free companion program, ‘Screens Connect’ to your Mac or PC. Create a Screens account, sign in on both devices and you should be able to discover your computer on your iPad. From here you can control your computer from your iPad screen as if you were sitting in front of it.
Quite clearly, how a remote desktop performs is reliant on upload and download speeds. Here are my settings. At home I have a wired iMac which has about 30 meg download and about 10 meg upload. I normally tether my iPad to my phone 3G connection when using Screens, which is about 10 meg download and 3-5 meg upload, on a good day. With these speeds I get a pretty flawless experience using Screens. Everything is very responsive and there is maybe a fraction of a second in lag, but not much more than that. Clearly, this would be more with lower upload and download speeds, but I get a very good experience with what has been reported above. If you have a really good connection, 4G for example, and depending on how you use your computer, Screens may actually save you having to buy an MacBook Air or laptop such is the experience.
So, how does Screens differ from the myriad of other ways you can connect to your remote computers? Firstly, it’s simple, as described above. Secondly, the user interface is very smooth to use. Thirdly, the controls when you are in a remote desktop session are excellent. There is a small bar at the bottom of the screen on your iPad which can be scrolled to replicate different keyboard presses and shortcuts. The way this is handled is non-intrusive and very elegant. Screens also uses a bluetooth keyboard very nicely, giving the ability to use shortcuts for Windows and Mac. You can also configure different ways of using the mouse, either in straight press and follow mode, or you can replicate an Apple Magic Touchpad. There are also various gestures which control scrolling and double clicking and so on.
The other reason Screens gets a big tick in the box is the prompt customer service. I wanted a setup where I didn’t have to leave my computer physically on all day to access it and emailed Edovia to see if they had a solution to this. I got a response on the same day in answer to my query. For those who are into geekery like me, here it is: Use Mac schedule to turn your Mac on and off at specific times in the day when you might want to use it. The Mac will automatically sleep once it has come on automatically. Screens can then wake it for you to use and there is a setting in Screens which will automatically put the Mac to sleep once you have finished your Screens session. I now have access to my Mac on demand! They also have a very active and responsive Twitter feed which deals with customer queries.
Screens strikes me as one of those apps where the developers have put a lot of time into thinking about how to make a great, and more importantly simple, user experience to accomplish a slightly difficult task. The app is a relatively expensive initial outlay, but the bonus for me is it does not charge a subscription fee. The one off fee covers you forever. Edovia also update the app regularly to keep things ticking over nicely. The bottom line here is that if you want access to your computer on an iPad, you can’t go far wrong with Screens.
There are plenty of other remote desktop apps out there for the iPad and it would be great to hear your experience in the comments section below, especially if you can provide approximate upload and download speeds.
* Screens can also be used to hilariously prank your other half by remotely setting off Chesney Hawkes “The One and Only” really loudly when she is in the middle of a meeting at home, and using the FaceTime camera to see the results of your prank. Sorry Karen!
Screens VNC is available here in the App Store priced at $19.99.
Disclaimer: I purchased Screens VNC with my own hard earned cash.