So a good friend recently came down for a visit. Being the tech geeks that we both are, a lot was discussed on recent technologies, gadgets and the such. One of the things he displayed that stood out to me, although nothing new, was being able to remotely control his laptop back at his home directly on his iPhone. Again, remote desktop is nothing new and I’m sure there are dozens of iPhone apps out there that can already do this. But when he told me that he could do all this for only $.99, I was shocked. I’ve never had a big need to access my computers at home remotely since Dropbox allows me access to my files from any computer. But for the price of just $.99, it was really hard to resist! Not only are you able to just access your files but remote desktop allows you to pretty much do anything you could on your computer/laptop right on your iPhone or iPad! That includes streaming videos, listening to your entire music collection without having to load it onto your phone first and even as far as playing video games! Of course, I ultimately gave in to pressure and decided to try it out for myself. I sure as heck spent a lot of money in the past for products that cost a deal of a lot more so what’s $.99 to me?!
Splashtop Remote Desktop
The name of the app and service is called Splashtop Remote. For a limited time only, you can get the iPhone or iPad app for just $.99 in the Apple Store. Regular price is at $4.99. In my honest opinion, that is still a extremely good deal.You can download and find more information about Splashtop from here. Also note that there is a free version for download as well. However, this free version limits each session to only five minutes before cutting you off. This is an excellent way for you to test Splashtop first before plunking down your hard earned $.99! If you want a absolutely free alternative to control your desktop computer with your iPhone or Android device, take a look at TeamViewer’s smart phone app.
There is two pieces of software to make the magic happen. The first is the streamer piece, which you’ll install on your computer or laptop. This piece is completely free. The second piece, which allows you actual access to the remote computer, is the Splashtop app which you can currently download from the App Store. There is also a version for Android based devices so don’t feel left out!
So first, we’ll install the streamer piece. The download currently weighs in at a little under 9MB. The current supported operating systems includes Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7 and the Mac. The streamer installs effortlessly. In fact, once you accept the EULA, the installation proceeds automatically. After two welcome screens, you’ll be asked to configure a password which will allow access to this computer remotely with the Splashtop app. As usual, you must make sure that this password is strong and cannot be easily guessed. Once you’ve set the password, that’s it! The streamer piece is now ready to accept incoming connections! However, there are still some other important pieces of information we need before being able to make a connection.
The Splashtop Streamer application will sit in your system tray from now on waiting for incoming connections. Open the application on your computer and you’ll see some very important information. Let’s go over each one (except the About tab).
In the Status tab, you’ll see your computer’s IP address. If you are behind a router, this IP address is most likely an un-routable IP address (should usually start with 192.x.x.x). This means that you can only use this IP address to connect to this computer if your iPhone or iPad is also connected to that same network segment. For example, if you are upstairs in your bedroom connected to your home Wi-Fi connection, you can use this IP address within the Splashtop iPhone app to connect back to this laptop or computer sitting in the living room downstairs. Once you travel elsewhere, say when you’re at work, you cannot use this private address. For that to work, you’ll need to use your public IP address instead. I’ll talk about this later.
The second tab is Settings. You’ll be allowed to configure whether the Splashtop Streamer application starts automatically upon computer startup, signing in to your Google account for more connection management options, and whether or not to redirect sound of the remote computer to the client (your iPhone). In most cases, the default settings should suffice.
On the Security tab, you’re allowed to change the password.
Under Network, you’ll see the current network port used for incoming connections. This setting is very important. Think of this port as a door. You can assign a different network port for Splashtop incoming connections as long as it’s not already in use. Splashtop will also use the next two consecutive port numbers from the one you have designated. When you initiate a connection to your remote computer using the Splashtop app, it needs to know which “door” or port to enter through otherwise it would get lost. For many, the default port should suffice. If you want a little more security, go ahead and assign it a different port number. When you use Splashtop on a different network segment than the remote computer, you’ll need to configure port forwarding and these port numbers are needed. I’ll go over this part towards the end.
Splashtop iPhone App
Once you’re ready, tap on your remote computer’s icon to initiate the connection. You’ll then be presented with the password screen. Type in the password you’ve configured earlier in the Splashtop Streamer application. When you’re through, you should then be presented with the Hints screen. This screen shows you how to access your remote computer using your device. Close that screen out and you’ll be presented with your remote computer!
From my usage so far with Splashtop on my iPhone 3GS, I can definitely say it works as expected. However, it’s always difficult to navigate your way around a full size computer, laptop or desktop, from such a small screen. I would think that the experience would be 10x better if the device used to access the remote computer was on the iPad instead. Expect to be zooming in/out of your screen a whole lot. Please remember that the windows and applications you open on your remote computer stays the same. Their buttons and text don’t somehow magically re-size themselves to be easier to press or to be read on your device. There are a lot of videos on the Splashtop website submitted by users showing off the remote desktop component in action. Check them out in the Videos tab of this webpage.
Speed wise, I’m pretty shocked at how well Splashtop performs. Of course, there is going to be some lag between what happens on the remote computer and your Splashtop device. Even in your home network under the perfect conditions, there still will be some lag. Accessing my remote laptop with a 3G connection again was very smooth and very workable. I wouldn’t want to stream a movie through that connection but for editing files and doing other types of trivial tasks, Splashtop definitely excels in that area.You must also remember that when you connect to your remote computer, the processing is done on that computer and not on your Splashtop app device. Splashtop is in charge of streaming whatever is on the screen of the remote computer to your device. For example, you can use Splashtop to connect to your remote laptop at home and have it convert a 1080p video file to 720p using your favorite media converter. The processing is performed only on that laptop. However, once you begin watching that video, it’s Splashtop’s job to sync whatever’s on screen. Even though the movie plays fine on the laptop, it might skip when you’re watching it on your iPhone because your connection might not be able keep up with streaming that huge amount of data.
Using Splashtop Outside of your Network
One of the major uses of Splashtop is allowing you access to your computer when you’re not at home. However, for that to work, you’ll need to do some configuration, especially if you’re behind a router of some sort. What I displayed above worked easily because my iPhone was connected to my home Wi-Fi router and my laptop was similarly connected to the same network segment. Once my iPhone travels outside that network, it will no longer be able to access that laptop. Here is where things get iffy for many users. You’ll need to program your router so that it will allow a Splashtop incoming connection to our remote computer. For that, we need to perform port forwarding. You can read more about how to do that from article link below in the Wake-On-Lan section. Here is a quick rundown:
To successfully configure port forwarding, we need our public facing IP address, our remote computer’s private IP address and the network port Splashtop uses for incoming connections (default is 6783-6785). I’ve also configured a port forward for the WoL packet to that same computer’s private IP address (default port is 9 for WoL).
Next, we create a new computer listing from within our Splashtop app. All we need to tell the app is the name of the computer (could be anything you want) along with the public IP address on which this computer can be found in the big wide world of the Internet (remember, we are trying access this remote computer from *outside* of our network). If everything went correctly, you should be able to connect to the remote computer via your 3G data connection or from a different wireless network. When you initiate the connection, the packets will get sent to our router. The router knows that this connection uses ports 6783-6785 (remember the doors?). It then consults the port forwarding table. It sees that anytime a connection is coming in from those port numbers, route/forward that connection to the IP address listed in that table (in this case, it’s to our remote computer). The connection succeeds. If port forward was configured incorrectly, the router will not know how to forward the packets/connection and will drop it instead.
With every remote desktop technology, WoL always gets mentioned because it plays such a big part. Being able to access your computer remotely from anywhere in the world is awesome but in order for the remote computer to accept incoming connections from your Splashtop app device, it needs to be turned on! Do you really want to leave your computer turned on 24/7 each and every time you leave the house just in case you might have a need to remotely connect to it? I highly doubt it. WoL is a feature that allows you to wake your computer up from a suspend state (sleep, hibernate, shutdown). A special network packet is sent to your router and that in turn gets sent to your WoL enabled laptop or computer. Because the network card is still functioning even if the computer is turned completely off, it can still process this packet and wake the computer up. It sounds really good on paper but it doesn’t always work as it should. I’ve written an article dedicated to this subject matter here. I highly suggest you to read it over if you will be using Splashtop on the go.
In the End…
Seriously, how can you not like Splashtop after reading about it? If you purchase it right now, you’ll have the ability to remotely control your computer on your iPhone for just $.99. That’s less than a cup of coffee or a bottle of soda. It might however take some time for you to configure Splashtop to work correctly outside of your home network. Also, the biggest issue right now in my eyes is WoL. It’s a distraction because for many people, WoL works sometimes but not others. But whatever the case may be, I’m sure there were a ton of things you’ve regretted buying that costs more than $.99. Definitely give Splashtop a try and impress your non-techie friends!