Sure, it can be convenient to use a tablet or smartphone to log into a remote computer. But it can also be a huge pain, not least because you still have to manipulate your Windows or Mac OS X software using a Frankensteinian hybrid of poke, drag, and swipe gestures. The release of Parallels Access from virtualization vendor Parallels aims to fix that, at least on the iPad.
I've downloaded the app to try it out, and Parallels does seem to have improved upon the interface experience somewhat by enabling touch-screen gestures for application running on the remote machine. But there are a few features that could use a little polishing.
In the basic gestures category, Access doesn't offer anything much different than what LogMeIn has for either its free LogMeIn app or the $129.99 LogMeIn Ignition app. The advanced gestures, such as on-the-fly screen magnification to better tap desktop controls that get a lot smaller on your iPad screen, are more interesting.
What stands out is the way Access shifts the entire desktop experience into an app-centric screen that does away with desktop-centric tools like toolbars and Start menus. Just tap an icon on the screen and the application on the remote desktop starts right up—no need to first drag the desktop's mouse over the icon. Switching apps with the App Switcher is a nice feature, too.
Where Access Starts To Get Denied
Where things go awry is in the connection to the desktop itself. Access automatically shifts the remote computer's screen resolution to a size that will work on the iPad, and that's fine. But there's also a significant delay in resetting the desktop resolution back to normal after you turn off the Access app. You also have to confirm the disconnect on the desktop, not the app, which means that when you get back to your workstation, it might be awhile before your system is ready.
This wasn't a deal breaker, but it was kind of annoying after the first few disconnects.
Pricing is another consideration. Access offers a 14-day trial, but after that, you'll need to pay $79.99 annually. That's a goodly chunk of change, but it's still $60 lower than the cost of LogMeIn Ignition, which near as I can tell offers many of the same features but is not an annual fee.
Another option would be to just install the free LogMeIn app on your iPad and then the LogMeIn Free client on your desktop machine. You can't beat the price, even if the features are more limited.
Parallels Access is fast, responsive and with just a couple of exceptions, pretty easy to use. But you should carefully weigh the costs with this class of app. After all, if you have to do a lot of work remotely, maybe you should just get a laptop.
Update: Story updated to reflect the annual pricing of Parallels Access.
Images courtesy Parallels.