App review: SplashTop for iPad and Android

There’s a handful of apps that we keep linking and referring to from time to time, and every time we do, we have to make the choice of what exactly to link to. The review? A search string? The last post? Truth is that in the world of apps, updates make reviews outdated so quickly that it’s hard to give new readers an introduction that isn’t just a messy mix of old information and random updates.

Splashtop is definitely an app we’re fond of here at NBT, and with the original review of the app being a week shy of a year old, it’s time for an update. A lot has happened to Splashtop in the year since we first looked at it, and it has become a bigger player than ever before. It’s one of the most popular apps on either platform, and there’s a reason for that.

Splashtop is a remote desktop service. It allows you to remote control your Windows or Mac computer from a mobile device, either via local WiFi or over the Internet. To get started you need the computer side software, called Splashtop Streamer. It’s free, and takes you through the process of setting up and securing your computer. You can also log in to your Google account there, which is Splashtop’s method of linking devices over the internet.

Next up you need an app that can link to the streamer app. Splashtop actually offers quite the array of apps these days, where Splashtop Remote is the default, fully featured remote desktop app. The other apps include XDisplay, Filehound, Remote Browser, CamCam, Connect, Presenter, Whiteboard, and Touchpad. These other apps are essentially more specialized versions or offshoots of the main app, designed to do only part of what the main app can do – but also faster. CamCam for instance lets you see your computer’s web cam remotely, which you could do with the main app too if you just opened up a webcam enabled app while remote controlling your computer. These minor apps are mostly annoying nuisances, as they fragment the Splashtop experience more than necessary by existing as separate products instead of features in the main app. The fact that they’re mostly only for iOS isn’t exactly helping their usefulness either, as Android users are left with using the main app anyways. Lastly there’s Splashtop Pro, which is a business version which I won’t go into.

As for the main app, Splashtop Remote Desktop, it’s available on a wide range of platforms. The iPhone/iPod touch, iPad, Android phones, Android tablets, Android Tegra 3 tablets, Windows, Mac, the HP Touchpad, Kindle Fire, Blackberry Playbook, and Nook Android devices. I will get into the difference between a few of these later on.

With your app purchased and in hand (expect to pay up to $10 depending on version), setup is simple. It will automatically detect computers on the same network, and prompt you for the password you entered. You can also save the password for quicker connections later, as well as change what resolution the computer will run at while being remote controlled. I haven’t tried all the versions though so there might be subtle differences between them. If you want to connect over the Internet, you need to log in with your Google account to get access.

Performance will vary depending on both you connection, source computer, and mobile device. The iPad works extremely well with Splashtop Remote Desktop, running so smoothly on a fast/local connection that you’d be hard pressed to notice it’s a remote controlled setup. We’re talking a connection that’s more than fast enough for playing video, where Splashtop also sends the audio to your device. 1024 x 768, the resolution of the first two iPads, is also a standard computer resolution supported by pretty much all graphics cards out there, so forcing the computer to run at that resolution will make the experience nothing short of excellent. Splashtop has also added some features to make sure you can control the computer properly, like switching between direct touch mode and trackpad mode, switch between screens, switch between smooth and sharp viewing, and some extra computer buttons to augment the built in keyboards of the devices.

On Android, the many different chipsets used cause some issues. My Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus for instance isn’t able to use the tablet version of the app because of the video decoding system used for the streams in that app, despite being technically faster than tablets that are supported. Simple incompatibility. I can set it to run at the 1024 x 600 resolution that the 7.0 Plus is, but that’s blatantly ignored by both the computers I use Splashtop on because that resolution isn’t supported by the graphics card. Since Android tablets have that pesky status bar taking up space you wouldn’t ever be able to get true 1:1 pixel mapping using the entire screen anyways, unless you use tools to get rid of that status bar. For the 7.0 Plus, the smartphone version of the app is way too slow to make it usable anyways, being so far from the iPad experience that you wouldn’t think it’s the same basic system. This totally depends on many factors though, in this case the tablet and app version. The connection and source computer is the same as what works beautifully with the iPad.

I haven’t been able to test any other tablets with Splashtop, but i know for a fact that my experience isn’t the only possible outcome. As you may have spotted, there is a Tegra 3 version of the app, and it’s something different altogether. It has been shown off at CES as remote controlling a gaming computer playing Skyrim, and even has some special features that enables it to work fairly well for that. When Splashtop gets to be really optimized for a specific chip like in that case, it’s a whole other beast.

What makes Splashtop unique in a sea of various remote desktop solutions is the consumer friendly nature of it. It’s easy to set up, cheap, and works across many platforms. While connection speeds, source and receiving components still matter, it is possible to make Splashtop run at a speed which essentially makes it a computer replacement in many situations, especially when you hook up a mouse or keyboard (on the devices that support this).

All in all, Splashtop is a must-have app regardless of platform. At least if you have any use for remote controlling your PC whatsoever, which can be surprisingly useful. While all the components that make up a Splashtop setup still cause it to be a rather useless experience at times, that’s when it gets to run at its full potential it’s really a killer system. I think – or at least hope – that this is the future of Windows on mobile devices. Not Windows 8. There’s a lot of things that need to work perfectly for that dream to become a reality, but if you went back 10 years and told someone that in 2012 you can remote control computers from half way across the globe on a 8mm thick device, that would have seemed equally unlikely.

If you want to try it out for yourself, point your device to whatever app store it’s using and see what is being offered up for it.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets and tends to stick with his choice of device for a long time as a result of that. After a five year break from writing, he's back to share this view with the world once again.