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How to control your PC with your Android phone

Alex Garnett | April 10, 2013
PCs and Android go together like Garfunkel and Oates, so seal the deal with these free remote control solutions.

VNC--a.k.a. the cream of the crop

VNC--Virtual Network Computing if you're feeling fancy--is the best remote media sharing system you've probably never heard of. At the most basic level, VNC is an alternative to Unified Remote for when you just want to be able to move a cursor around on the screen--but with a little creativity you can come up with all sorts of other uses. For example, I've managed to access my office PC to scan, convert files to PDF, and mail documents while watching a movie on a different computer in another room.

Installing a VNC server on your computer is fairly uncomplicated--Windows users just need to grab the free version of the RealVNC client from the RealVNC website, install it, and set it up on your PC with a good strong password.

The RealVNC server client is free, simple to set up, and relatively lightweight-start it up, and it should just run in the background on your PC.

Ubuntu Linux users must install x11vnc from the Ubuntu Software Center, then open the Startup Applications menu and add this entry: x11vnc -forever -passwd xyzzy -rfbport 5900 -bg, where 'xyzzy' is your chosen password.

You're good to go on the PC side! Now you just need to get a VNC app for your phone. There are lots of Android VNC apps of varying quality, but my favorite one by far is Free bVNC. The configuration page isn't anything special, but that's okay because all you need to do is input your PC's name, IP address, and chosen password, then hit Connect. You may then want to hit the menu key and change the input mode to simulated touchpad (I find it more intuitive), but otherwise, that's that!

Now you can use your phone to manipulate your PC from anywhere, though you'll probably want to do restrict yourself to accessing your PC while your phone is connected to your home network, since streaming a high-res PC desktop requires a significant chunk of bandwidth. Accessing your PC remotely via a 3G or 4G cellular connection can be spotty, but VNC's performance is excellent if you're on a solid network--I have a combined desktop resolution of 3360 by 1050, and a wireless network that runs about 150 megabits per second, and I get around 10-20 frames per second while remotely using my PC on my phone while I'm in the garage. It's not quite seamless, but it's more than fast enough for most tasks.

Wake-on-LAN powers up your PC from anywhere

If you're interested in managing torrents or streaming media from your PC, but you've got it configured to sleep when idle and you're either out of the house or too lazy to go into the other room to wake it up, I'm about to blow your mind. Most machines have--and have had for years--a feature called Wake-on-LAN that allows their network card to stay awake while the rest of the machine sleeps, and to switch the PC on when it receives a network message.


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