You can't always be at the office, but you can always have access to your work computer. With your smartphone or tablet, and the right remote desktop app, you can access your files and desktop computer programs from anywhere. Remote desktop apps act as a direct portal back to your office machine, allowing you to remotely view and use your work computer directly on your mobile device. Desktop operating systems such as Windows 7 or Windows 8 weren't designed to be used on a small smartphone screen, but if you really need to check a file or briefly run a program on the go, remote desktop access can be a lifesaver. Here are six of the best remote desktop apps for Android, iOS, Windows Phone and BlackBerry.
Microsoft Remote Desktop (Free) – iOS, Android
Microsoft Remote Desktop (available for iOS and Android) uses the same Remote Desktop Protocol that Microsoft has employed for years, and supports any Windows PC that has Remote Desktop enabled. That option can be toggled on and off in the Control Panel. For small business owners, the app is a reliable — and secure — way to connect remotely to your office PC from anywhere. It might be most useful on tablets with screens big enough to display your entire desktop at once, but the app is also compatible with iPhone and Android smartphones. It lets you zoom and pan to use desktop applications on a small screen, and features a pop-up touch keyboard. Another version of the app for Windows Phone handsets is also reportedly in the works.
Splashtop (4.99) – iOS, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry
Splashtop (available for iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry) is one of the most popular remote desktop apps, and it's available for just about all smartphones and tablets. After the app is set up, it provides quick access to your desktop computer, including your documents and media library. Splashtop lets you use all desktop programs, including Microsoft Office and Outlook. By default, the app only lets you access your computer on your smartphone or tablet if both devices are connected to the same local network. For cross-network access from anywhere, a subscription to the Splashtop Anywhere Access Pack ($1.99 per month) is required.
RemoteDesktop ($1.99) – Windows Phone
RemoteDesktop (available for Windows Phone) is a solid remote desktop application that's exclusive to Windows Phone. The app provides a secure connection to the desktop of any PC running the Professional version of Windows XP, Vista, 7 or 8. Once installed, the app lets you access all of your files and desktop programs right from your Windows Phone handset. Unlike some competing apps, RemoteDesktop does not require users to run a dedicated client application on their desktop computer; instead, it interfaces directly with the remote desktop service built into Windows.
Parallels Access (Free) – iOS
Parallels Access (available exclusively for iOS) differs from other remote desktop apps in that it has the ability to "appify" your desktop programs. In other words, it lets you launch full Mac or Windows programs from your iPad as if they were mobile apps, giving you access to Microsoft Office, Photoshop or other desktop programs, without launching the full remote desktop environment. To use these apps, you must have the remote desktop app installed on your mobile device and an agent program running on your desktop PC. Although Parallels Access used to connect iOS devices only to Mac computers, a recent upgrade lets you connect remotely to Windows PCs as well.
2X Client (Free) – iOS, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry
2X Client (available for iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry) is a free, multiplatform remote desktop tool that lets you access your home or office Windows PC from just about any mobile device. Once you're connected, 2X offers a full desktop experience on the go, giving you access to your files and desktop programs from anywhere. The app features a variety of security features to keep your data safe, including support for two-factor authentication. It also includes the ability to set configurable touch gestures that can be assigned to specific actions, making it easier to use desktop programs on the small screen of your mobile device.
PocketCloud (Free) – iOS, Android
PocketCloud (available for iOS and Android) lets you connect to your Windows PC from your mobile device. Like other remote desktop apps, PocketCloud lets you access your files, media and applications (such as Excel, PowerPoint or Photoshop) from anywhere. The standard app is free, but iOS users can upgrade to PocketCloud Premium, which includes a slew of added features, for $5 a month. That includes a native file browser that's optimized for touch-screen devices, video streaming over 3G or 4G, and desktop search to help you find the files you're looking for.