Hands-on: Parallels Access 2.0

Getting Started & Overview

Parallels Access gives you remote access to your computer from your smart device, mirroring your desktop experience. Above, we are using Internet Explorer on the iPhone.

Palm-sized Desktop

Parallels Access was launched as an iPad-only app for remote access to Mac computers, which is not surprising, given its strong branding as a Mac app with its Parallels Desktop virtualization software. Now, about a year later, Parallels Access updates to version 2.0 and supports full access to both PCs and Macs, from a variety of mobile devices including iPhones and Android tablets/smartphones. Although the apps are free, it is a subscription-based service that costs S$25.98 a year after a 14-day trial. 

We are especially concerned with the experience of using a desktop app on a small screen -- shrinking the desktop from a 15-inch notebook to a 4-inch smartphone screen. Will it be a pleasant experience or frustrating nightmare? That's what we intend to find out by documenting our usage experience as we use Parallels Access 2.0 on our Toshiba Portege Z30 notebook, an Apple iPhone 5 and a HTC One (M8).



Getting started is a simple process. First, you download the Parallels Access app from the App Store or Google Play, depending on the mobile device you are using. You will also need to download the Parallels Access agent from the Parallels website for your PC/Mac to allow remote connection.

Then, you’ll be asked to sign in to your Parallels account. If you don’t have one, you can register for a new account when you first fire up the mobile app or the PC/Mac agent. You can also choose to login via your Facebook account - a new feature introduced in this version. For security reasons, you will receive an email every time you login to Parallels Access on a new computer or mobile device. According to Parallels, "data is fully secured using SSL and 256-bit AES".

You will be asked to log in when you first launch the app on your computer.

Once you are logged in, you'll see this screen, and your computer is ready for remote access.

Similarly, you'll be asked to login on your mobile device. You can also login using your Facebook account.

Once you are logged in on the mobile app, you will see the name of your computer and a corresponding icon. Click the arrow to proceed.

Basic Navigation

Once you've logged in and selected your appropriate system, you will then see the App Launcher with icons for desktop apps such as Internet Explorer, Skype, Paint and File Explorer, alongside others that you may have installed on the respective system. You can also modify this list such as adding, removing and re-positioning the apps quite easily, using the menu on the top right corner (bottom right on the iPhone in portrait mode). You can also use the search function to find the app you want.

 You can modify the applications list in the App Launcher and they work like desktop shortcuts, giving you quick access to your apps.

There are two ways to add apps to the App Launcher -- by searching for the application or tapping on the Edit menu.

When you tap on the icons, the app will open and you will see a toolbar on the right with some useful shortcuts, which you can hide by swiping to the right. So far we've only achieved this on an iPad. For the other devices, such as the iPhone 5 or HTC One (M8), we had to swipe up or down to reduce the icon strip to just one icon when we want it out of the way.

The toolbar (right) may be slim, but using desktop apps means you will need every pixel you can get.

We couldn't hide the toolbar completely on the iPhone 5, but could swipe down (or up) to reduce it to one icon instead (bottom right).

The first icon on the toolbar is the App Switcher, which works a little like the taskbar in Windows. When you bring it up, you can tap on different apps to switch between them. If you have multiple windows open in the same app, such as Word or Chrome, you can also tap the arrow above the app to navigate to the specific window directly. The number next to the arrow tells you how many windows you have open in that application. We find this feature really intuitive and an excellent way to quickly switch between open apps and return to the App Launcher if necessary.

 If you have more than one window open in a particular app, you can click on the arrow to view the windows and jump to the exact one you need.