Controlling a desktop computer using a remote-access app on an Android device is generally like trying to run underwater; you can move forward, but only at a frustratingly slow pace.
Google’s new Chrome Remote Desktop app, released Wednesday for Android devices, is, unfortunately, no exception to this rule. Yes, you can remotely access your Windows or Mac computer using the app. And unlike some other remote-access services, this one is free. But after a few minutes of using the app, you may feel like forgetting the whole thing and going out for a beer.
Before you can use the free Google app, you must install the Chrome Remote Desktop app from the Chrome Web Store on your computer and assign a six-digit (or more) PIN for secure access.
Once everything is set up, you launch Chrome Remote Desktop on your Android device. (Your computer must not be in not sleep mode.) In the app, you see whatever is on your remote computer screen. So far, so good.
Unlike LogMeIn, a remote access service with mobile apps, Chrome Remote Desktop let me see all three display attached to my home office computer. (I use an iMac with two additional displays, both in portrait orientation. And to answer your question, yes, my setup looks like it belongs to a stock broker or air traffic controller.) LogMeIn only shows me my iMac’s screen.
To fit onto a Google Nexus 7-inch tablet screen, of course, everything on my desktop screens appears in miniature. When you add to that a tiny cursor in the Chrome Remote Desktop app, and no obvious way to enlarge it, selecting things to open was nearly impossible. For example, I was never successful in navigating to the Mac OS’s Dock to open the Finder and navigate to a file I wanted to open. When I clicked the cursor in the dock, something else — such as an application — opened instead of the Finder. Only when I watched the cursor in Chrome Remote Desktop move across my Mac’s screen was I able to click and open the Finder, something I wouldn’t have accomplished had I actually been away from my office.
Another downside: When you use your device’s on-screen keyboard, even less of your remote desktop screen is visible. Your underwater jog just got slower. There’s no iOS app yet, though one is promised.
With some patience, you can probably figure out some use for the Chrome Remote Desktop app. And again, it’s nice that it doesn’t cost anything. LogMeIn’s Pro service, by contrast, is $99/year. But for me, keeping files in Dropbox and accessing them through Dropbox's mobile apps is a much more efficient form of "remote access."