Screens: An Elegant VNC App for iPhone and iPad

Have you ever wished you could access any computer you need from the comfort of your iPad on the couch, or from your iPhone in a park, all with the same simplicity of using a native iOS app?  iPads and iPhones are powerful on their own, but you still can’t do everything from them.  Whether you’re needing to change network settings on your work computer or start a movie download on your home computer, your iOS device just can’t do it on its own.

Since the early 2000’s, VNC (Virtual Network Computing) technology has been widely available for most mainstream operating systems to let you remotely login to your computer and use your programs and data without being in front of it.  The latest wave of powerful smartphones and mobile devices have sparked an increasing interest in using your computer remotely, and the App Store currently contains many VNC apps for iPhone and iPad.

There’s only one problem.  Most VNC apps make you drag the remote mouse cursor around, treating your iPad as a giant laptop touchpad.  That’s where Screens comes in.  This new VNC app from Endovia aims to bring the best of the iOS touch interface and VNC together to make your desktop feel like a native iOS app.  Best of all, it’s a universal app so you can use the same app on your iPad and iPhone.  Let’s take a look and see if this is the app that can make remote computing easier for you.

Get More Screens on Your iOS Device

Screens brings the iWork feel to a VNC app.  When you first launch the app you’ll get a quick overview of how it works, and then can quickly add your VNC accounts.  Each appears as a screen on a wood background, much like documents and presentations do in the iWork apps.

One of the most refreshing things about Screens is that it’s a universal app that really works the same on all iOS devices.  Many apps work differently on iPad than iPhone even when they’re universal apps, but Screens feels the exact same on either device.  The only difference with using it on an iPhone or iPod Touch is that the screen is much smaller!  The iPad’s screen size makes using VNC much more enjoyable, but Screens does a good job making it usable on a smaller screen, too.

PC, meet my little brothers.

If your computers aren’t already setup for VNC connections, you’ll find detailed instructions in the Help menu for setting them up in Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.  For OS X and Linux computers, you’ll simply need to enable Screen Sharing or Remote Desktop, respectively, from their system preferences.  On Windows computers, you’ll need to install a VNC program on your PC such as the recommended free TightVNC app.

Once you’re ready to start adding computers to Screens, tap the New Screen button in the top left corner of the app.  Screens will automatically detect nearby Linux and Mac computers, so you can add their info with two taps.  Alternately, enter your computer’s name and address manually.

Now, whether you automatically added a computer or entered it manually, you’ll need to enter the computer’s VNC password and select the operating system manually below.  If you don’t select an operating system, your keyboard and special key settings may end up messed up.  Finally, if you’re using SSL tunneling for extra protection, you can enter those settings below.

Select OS X and Linux machines directly, or manually enter the IP address or name of Windows computers

Now you can login to your computer by just tapping the screen image.  You’ll see a status indicator as your iPhone or iPad connects, then seconds later you should see your computer’s desktop.  If not, tap the edit button in the bottom left corner of Screens to edit your settings.  Or, if you want to remove a connection and start over, tap the trash can in the right corner.

Once you've entered your settings, it'll only take a few seconds to login.

You can get right to work as soon as you see your desktop.  Just tap on buttons and links on your remote computer as you would in an iOS app, and the virtual cursor will automatically move to the spot you tapped.  Pinch to zoom in or out of your screen, scroll in apps with two fingers as you would on a laptop touchpad, right click by tapping with a second finger after clicking with the first, and press and hold to move a window or select text.

You can even access common system shortcuts from the handy buttons on the bottom that automatically customize to your OS.  Screens includes a Windows key for Windows VNC connections, and a CMD key for OS X connections.

Windows, Mac ... Landscape, Portrait ... Screens works with them all!

Need to type in your computer?  Press the keyboard icon on the top left of Screens to open the full normal iOS keyboard.  Alternately, press the button beside it to open a keypad with special buttons for accessing system functions.  You can copy and paste text between your iOS device and your remote computer, minimize a program, open the Task Manager in Windows or Spotlight search in a Mac, and more.

Type or access system commands with the two included keyboards

You can even use a wide variety of multitouch gestures to access standard Windows and Mac features.  Swipe up or down with 4 fingers on a Mac VNC with to activate Expose, or swipe left or right on a Windows or Mac VNC to open the app switcher (Alt-tab) interface.  Screens also lets you customize your three finger swipes to enable a wide variety of functions.

Multitouch gestures make VNC connections fun and easy to use

Once you’re finished, swipe the green screen button on the top right of Screens to end a VNC connection.  Screens will now show the way your desktop looked when you logged out in the screen icon for that system.  You can now choose another connection, add a new VNC computer settings, or get back to whatever else you need to do.  Screens makes it quick to login, do anything on your PC, Mac, or Linux computer, and get on with your life.

Keep all your Windows, Linux, and Mac machines only a tap away.

Login From Anywhere

If you’re using a Mac and have a router that supports UPnP, you can use the free Screens Connect app to login to your Mac no matter where you are without messing with tricky router configurations.  Simply download the free program from their site, and you’ll find a new Screens option in your system preferences.  You can then enable the service and add a unique name for your computer and login to it from Screens wherever you are.

Remote VNC can be tricky, but not with Screens Connect!

Screens’ Performance

After using Screens with Windows 7, Mac OS X Snow Leopard, and Ubuntu 10.10 machines, we were overall very impressed at its performance.  Windows 7 did run noticeably slower than the others over VNC, though switching to the Windows Classic color scheme instead of the default Aero glass did improve performance.

With all OSes, though, the experience was fluid enough to do common tasks directly from an iPhone/iPod Touch, or iPad.  One thing that didn’t work, though: painting or drawing in Photoshop, Paint, or similar apps.  Since Screens tries to make the experience as touch friendly as possible, there’s no “mouse” to drag in a painting application, so if you’re wanting to turn your iPad into a Wacom + Photoshop mashup, it just won’t work (try Air Display instead).

We did experience a couple problems as well.  The app did crash while testing a couple times, and some of the special tricks such as taskbar/dock expose by dragging the screen down didn’t always work correctly.  Also, we had some odd behavior when multitasking with other apps.  For the most part, it works best to not multitask while in the middle of a VNC session.  Everything seemed to work best when we logged out of VNC, then used another app, then logged back in.  You can multitask with it, but it did seem more likely to have quirks when you come back.  Overall, though, these were minor problems, and Screens works great for almost everything we tried it with.

Screens rarely crashed on us, but when it does it gives you the option to submit crash data to the developers

Conclusion

Screens does a great job merging the simplicity of your multitouch iOS devices with the power of your laptops and desktops.  Rather than having to think about where your remote mouse cursor is on the screen, you can just tap, pinch, and scroll just as you would on most iOS apps.  It’s an especially great tool on an iPad, as the larger screen lets you do even more with your VNC-connected computer.

However, since it’s a universal app, the great thing is that you can use it on any iOS device you want.  Whether you need to remotely login to your work computer from your couch at home, assist a client while you’re walking through the store, or just want to check something on your Mac in your room, Screens is a handy and useful app that’s a great companion to any sysadmin’s toolkit.


Summary

Screens lets you connect to your Mac, PC, and Linux computers via VNC from your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. It's an elegant way to use the power of your desktop from the convenience of your multitouch devices.

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  • Mashi

    I really wanted to get this, but the UPnP requirement for Macs rules out my 2WIRE router. Unfortunately, we’re sort of stuck with Uverse.

    Maybe there’s a better way to link a Mac to Screens? Don’t care how “advanced” the set-up. Until then, Jaadu is on my wishlist for iPad VNC. I don’t even have an iPad yet (would rather VNC from that than an iPhone), or a reason (yet) to VNC into anything. We’re in the planning process of setting up a Mac Mini media server, which I will be manning from my own Mac. Hypothetical Macs, currently.

  • Torsten

    Using Screens with my iMac (27” + external FullHD Display) often causes a complete system crash! I had to force restart my iPad several times.
    Everyone with a similar setup should spend the 20€ for something better!

  • JD

    I have screens. I WANT to love it. I use it on my 27″ iMac with 27″ LCD and it crashes after about 20 seconds of use. Not only that, but it leaves the AppleVNCServer in a way that won’t let you log in locally to your Mac, leaving you completely locked out. You have to power your Mac off and back on to regain control, or try get into Screens and kill the AppleVNCServer service, which eventually leaves your system unusable anyway.

    I have bought almost all the remote desktop type apps when I switched to a Mac and none compare to the clients for Windows. Jump Desktop is stable with excellent controls. Too bad Windows blows so bad I don’t use it anyway.

    Screens could be great, but its way too buggy right now.

    • http://sinanyasar.com Sinan

      Thx for the comment, I have exact same setup as you have, so i won’t buy it after reading your this here :) I am using teamviewer with colleagues it crashes pretty often too but not in every 20 seconds, and it is not a vnc. You can try Apple Remote Desktop but it is a bit expensive.

  • Anna

    hello!

    I bought the Screens app and I followed the instructions but my ipad will not connect to my Windows Vista desktop. Does anyone know what I should do? I tried everything including different VNC clients.

    Thanks you.

  • Dr Jeff Ennis

    I am sure if you can get this software to work, it is great. I could not on 10 systems. The IT from the company was worse than mediocre and all they seemed to care about was defending their software. Take a look at Teamview which is brilliant and free. If you must pay for something, take a look at Pocketcloud. It is $10 and much more reliable. Save your $20 dollars and stay far away from this software.

  • Simon Fastgender

    Think twice before buying screens. You can get teamview for free and it is very reliable. This $20 program is not. This program would not work for me and their IT department was unable to help. I was advised to get a refund from Apple. I wrote a negative review about Screens and in response I started receiving harassing letters from the company. Check out Teamview or if you must pay, Pocketcloud. It is 1/2 the price, more reliable and has more respectful IT.