Managing computers can be a tricky affair - you can’t be everywhere at once, and sometimes remote connections may be the best, and often only viable solution. This is the niche RemotePC are attempting to dominate.
The main concern that would immediately spring to mind is how secure can this service be, and how can it protect you from remote hackers?
As you’d expect, your account is password protected - the more complex the password, the less likely anyone can gain access it to. Further, RemotePC uses TLS v 1.2/AES-256 encryption when transferring data between the local and remote computer. On top of which, each computer needs a Personal Key - a user defined password. Without it, you can’t remotely access the remote computer.
So in a word, it’s a secure as anything can be online.
In order for RemotePC to work, you need to download the RemotePCSuite program from their website. There’s a version for either Mac or PC.
Once you’ve logged in, you can choose the ‘Always-On Remote Access’ option: as long as the remote computer is awake, it can be controlled and monitored from afar.
The local computer can save the Personal Key so you don’t need it the next time you log in, or for greater security, simply select not to save it, or make sure the remote computer changes its key regularly.
Another option should you rather the remote computer not be accessible on a regular basis is to select ‘One-Time Access’ instead.
You will notice a small lag between initiating an action and seeing it take effect on the remote computer. This is to be expected, and most of the time - depending on your network - this is almost always only a second or two at the most.
Once you’ve got control over the remote computer, it’s as if you were in front of it. You can move files around, open programs, write documents, control settings, etc.
If the remote user is present, you can communicate with them via a chat window. You cannot send your voice across which is a shame as it would make communication much quicker and likely more efficient. However, if you happen to be in a crowded office, text communication would often be preferable anyway.
If chats aren’t enough, there’s a whiteboard feature. This allows you to draw on the screen, so you can point out exactly where the problem might be, for instance. This essentially treats the screen as a drawing pad. You can change the thickness and colour of your pen, even erase lines you’ve drawn, and to get back to controlling the screen remotely, just click on the cursor icon.
Keyboard shortcuts can pass through from the local computer to the remote one, but if you’re going to use shortcuts beyond the basics such as copy/paste, you need to make sure “send key combinations” is enabled. It seems like an odd decision not to make this an on-by-default feature.
Bare in mind that if you control a PC from a Mac or vice versa, you need to use the remote PC’s shortcut. RemotePC will not translate Command-C to Control-C for instance. You have to type it properly yourself.
It’s also possible to record your sessions. Once activated, there’s no indication that anything is actually being recorded, but the moment you select “stop recording”, RemotePC asks you to name and save your recording. The only drawback we found was that we the cursor isn’t preserved, making it hard to follow what’s going on during playback.
Transferring files is treated like a separate feature. Once activated, you’re shown the local and remote hard drives, which you can navigate through. To move a file over, just drag and drop it. It’s that simple.
One-Time Access mentioned above limits some of these features. However, although the service asks you initially if you’d like to remotely control the computer or just share files, we found that if you choose to control it, you can then initiate the file transfer protocol as well. It’s an odd apparent limitation which isn’t actually there in practice.
RemotePC also lets you control a computer from a phone or tablet running either Android or iOS (you need to download the app for the relevant online stores).
Navigating a computer via a phone can be tricky, and even though the app comes with a small graphic explaining how various hand gestures are designed to simulate left and right mouse clicks, window scrolls or drag, it does take a while to get used to the idea. However, when you’ve on the move, having that option available is fantastic.
If you have neither your computer nor a phone at hand, you can still access a remote machine, via RemotePC’s website. Just log in, choose the computer you need to have access to, and this will launch the web version called RemotePC Viewer Lite. As its name implies, it’s not as full featured as the program installed on your computer, but in a pinch, it’s great to know this feature is available.
It’s important to inform you that there was a massive problem getting the service to work on my setup. My service provider happens to be TalkTalk and they have a feature called “Scam Safe” which is on by default, and which bars access to all services like RemotePC, assuming they are all operated by scammers. Informing TalkTalk that this was a mistake didn’t change their mind regarding that policy.
Instead, I had to disable “Scam Safe” (which can’t be done online but only by calling tech support), and even that wouldn’t grant me access to the service.
The next step was to change TalkTalk’s Router’s DNS servers to Google’s (188.8.131.52 and 184.108.40.206 for the Primary and Secondary DNS Servers respectively).
Only then, after hours of struggling did the service work as expected.
Now this is not the fault of RemotePC, but of an overzealous ISP. It is worth pointing out though, in case your own ISP is just as mistakenly eager to protect you from this type of service.
Plans and pricing
All of these features come at a price of course, but RemotePC do include a free tier which is a great way to try the service out. It enables you to control a single computer and you lack any of the other features such as chat, whiteboard, remote printing and file transfer.
For $52.12 a year, the Consumer/SOHO package allows you to connect to up to 10 computers, and also includes the features lacking from the free version, including web access.
Team bumps up the number of computers to 100, with an unlimited number of users, for $374.62 a year (this tier comes with a 30-day free trial)
Finally you have Enterprise. This has the same price and features as Team, but introduces the ability to group computers and set roles and access permissions for users. It too comes with a 30-day free trial.
This is a great service with a good number of features and a versatile means of accessing computers remotely. If you’re part of a team that need to help a large number of users, it may well be worth giving RemotePC a serious look.
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