Screens Makes Remote Desktop on iPhone and iPad Easy


Looking for a remote desktop solution for your iPhone or iPad? Screens, a new app by developer Echovia, could fit the bill quite nicely. Screens is a universal app, so it lets you access your Mac from either your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, using an interface optimized for each device.

Screens is better than other remote desktop apps I’ve used for iOS in the pass. For one, it’s cheaper. At $14.99, it’s half the price of LogMeIn Ignition, the other leading remote Mac and PC control application currently available in the App Store, though this is a limited time sale (the regular price is $24.99). There are other, even less expensive alternatives, but in terms of features, design, and reliability, these two are the class leaders.

Setting up screens is incredibly simple, and doesn’t require a companion app if you’re using it with a Mac. It does require that you turn on Screen Sharing, which the included Getting Started Guide will tell you how to do using, simple, step-by-step instructions. If you’re using a Windows machine, you’ll need to use virtual network computing (VNC) software. Screens includes clear instructions for using TightVNC, a free VNC server.

Remote access (when you’re away from your home network) can be tricky with remote desktop clients. Screens gets around this by providing a free OS X utility called Screens Connect that will manage all your settings for you. It’s a little bit trickier than just setting up Screens for local access, but again, the app provides step-by-step instructions, and I found it much easier than trying to do the same thing with other remote access iOS apps.

In terms of design, Screens is gorgeous. Usually with remote desktop apps, the look and feel of the UI seems like an afterthought, probably because most of your time spent in the app will involve interacting with your home computer, not with the app itself. Screens shows how much of a difference a little spit and polish makes when it comes to graphics and UI elements. The app stores your remote machines (called “Screens”) on a woodgrain background as framed captures from your last session. You swipe through these captures with as smooth a transition animation as can be found anywhere in Apple’s native software.

Besides your saved screens, the home view has only four other buttons, including a new screen button, an edit icon, a settings button and a trash icon. It’s a spare interface, but it provides you with everything you could possibly need. Settings might be better named “Help” however, since it actually stores the app’s Getting Started Guide and an About section.

Once you’ve actually connected to a computer remotely, the interface remains minimal, with a bar at the bottom and one at the top. There’s a button to activate your device’s keyboard (including an attached Bluetooth one), one for commonly used functions (copy/paste, undo, log out, quit, etc.) and a slider to end your remote session. At the bottom, you’ll find commonly used keyboard commands (escape, tab, shift, command, arrow keys, and a few others).

Most importantly, the actual connection between Screens and your remote machine is solid. I tested the app with both my Mac mini and my iMac, on my local network and remotely using Wi-Fi and 3G, and on both the iPhone 4 and the iPad, and it was always snappy and responsive. Extras like full support for multi-touch gestures, and a special Pull-to-Dock feature that lets you call up your Mac’s Dock anytime are icing on the cake. Screens even works correctly with the three-display setup I’m using with my Mac mini, even though one of those monitors is plugged in using USB and DisplayLink drivers. If you’ve been waiting for a remote desktop app that feels perfectly at home on the iPad and iPhone, this is it.

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