Despite all of this talk of the “post-PC” era, genuine computers aren’t quite finished yet. As much fun as tablets and mobile phones can be, they don’t hold a candle to a good PC from a productivity standpoint. For some things, you just need a genuine computer. Any serious Photoshopping, video editing, or typing requires a real PC. Trust us, any large amount of typing is utterly impossible without a physical keyboard.
However, there’s no reason that PCs and mobile devices can’t play nicely together. Instead of focusing on how mobile devices supplement computers, why not look at how they can help each other? The creators of Unified Remote apparently had that in mind when they designed their app. That tiny phone screen should never go wasted when you have Unified Remote handy. Here’s how it helps.
Unifying PC and Android
Unified Remote is yet another example of something that is exactly what it sounds like. It’s an app that turns any Android phone into a handy all-in-one controller for some of the most-used PC apps. Just about any major program has a controller in Unified Remote.
Through a simple and painless wireless connection, your phone can send commands to a connected PC. These commands integrate with popular programs like Firefox, Netflix, and Spotify. The Spotify music controller was by far our favorite, with options for pause/play, skip, volume, shuffle, and repeat. This sort of media remote is even better if you have a media setup controlled from the PC.
The file browser is ingenious as well. Anyone vaguely computer-savvy should be able to navigate the trusty C:\ drive. Find your files and tap them to open. They don’t open on the phone, but rather send a command to open that file on the PC. Ingenious.
The remote I ended up using most was probably the mouse one. Swipe anywhere on the screen of the phone to move the mouse. It’s kind of like a high-tech touch pad. It comes with the best touch pad features, too. Two finger scrolling, two finger tap to right click, and regular mouse clicking all work quite well. We don’t recommend using this for any extended length of time, though. It feels a bit rough on your hands.
There’s also a keyboard included for the sake of completeness. Any input on the phone’s virtual keyboard will be replicated on the PC screen. We did not get much use out of this feature as physical keyboards are a thousand times better than virtual touchscreens.
An interesting but much appreciated addition is a complete set of browser controls. Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, and even Opera are all supported. Stop, reload, forward, zoom, and scrolling are all just a tap away for an enterprising user. The scrolling isn’t very good, though. You’re better off with the mouse remote’s two finger scroll.
Those in business might appreciate the PowerPoint remote. Giving a presentation suddenly becomes much easier when you can flip through slides from your phone. We can’t help but think that this would look incredibly cool in a presentation. It would certainly show off your technical skills.
Another highly useful addition is the Task Manager remote. With just a single tap, Unified Remote can bring up a list of all the programs running on the PC to which it is connected. Tap a program to bring it to the front, long-press for details or to kill that program.
For those of you who don’t use Spotify, Unified Remote includes controls for a large variety of media players. This is one app quite clearly targeted at people with media center PCs. Hulu, iTunes, J River, Media Portal, MediaMonkey, MPC HC, Netflix, Pandora, Picasa, VLC, Winamp, Windows Media Center, Windows Media Player, Windows Photo Viewer, XBMC, and YouTube all have their own remote.
The remote that helped most with productivity, though, was the Custom Windows Shortcut app. It lists common tasks like Open Explorer, minimize all, maximize/minimize one, and basic window placement control.
Switching between remotes is fairly easy as well. Unified Remote includes a list of “favorite remotes” that you can quickly swap between without having to dig through layers and layers of menus. Plus, there are built-in gestures in the app for quickly bringing up the mouse and the virtual keyboard. Between the favorites list and the gestures, Unified Remote is fairly easy to use.
Setup Unified Remote
Setting up a connection between a PC and Unified Remote is not difficult. UR requires the app and a PC-side server to create the connection. Building that initial connection is extremely painless. The app can connect through several different ways, so syncing up isn’t an issue.
What was an issue, we found, was maintaining that connection. Unified Remote had an irritating tendency to lose the server and take its time reconnecting. Be sure to use reliable wireless internet.
Unified Remote is a pretty neat app. With its impressive collection of media player controls, this can be an invaluable tool to anyone with a media center PC. Really, UR goes out of its way to support as many players as humanly possible.
Personally speaking, we appreciate that stuff. We often watch Netflix on a larger television with the video outputted from a PC through HDMI. With Unified Remote, now we don’t have to get up every time to pause Game of Thrones.
Besides, even if you’re not a media center person, it’s nice to have something to change the song in Spotify. Unified Remote helps.