The smartphone and the tablet have dethroned the personal computer as many people’s go-to digital gadget. But the PC remains a necessity for many. Last year, despite yet another sales decline, around 300 million new PCs were sold.
All those laptops and desktops contain apps and files that aren’t necessarily duplicated on the ubiquitous phones and tablets we carry around. Heavy-duty PC or Mac versions of key programs still have features that their mobile versions lack. And large local storage on computers means that, even in an age of cloud storage, many documents and photos live on your laptop.
This week, I’ve been testing a new, improved version of an app for phones and tablets that lets you remotely control your Mac or PC smoothly from your phone or tablet, either iOS or Android. With this app, you can run computer programs and open and edit computer-based files right on your mobile device, using the touch gestures familiar to you.
It’s called Parallels Access 2.5, and it comes from the company of the same name, best known for its product that allows Windows to run on Macs. It costs $20 a year, or $35 for two years, a price that gives you the right to control up to five remote computers from an unlimited number of iOS and Android devices.
Despite a couple of minor hiccups in the app, I can comfortably recommend this latest version of Parallels Access to any mobile user who might even occasionally need to access what’s on her computer when the computer is somewhere else.
In my tests, I was able to use an iPad Air, an iPhone 6 and an Android Nexus 5 to remotely control an Acer Windows laptop and an Apple MacBook Air running their latest production operating systems. I did this from all over my house, as well as from a coffee shop a few miles away. It worked over Wi-Fi and high-speed cellular connections.
I wrote and edited Word documents on both the PC and Mac. I browsed and tweaked photos on the Mac. I played music from both computers and listened to it through the phone and tablet speakers.
I first reviewed Parallels Access when it launched in the summer of 2013, and liked it then. I like it even better now. In the intervening period, the company added support for Android devices as well as Apple’s.
This latest version adds a couple of other nice features. First is the ability for one computer to remotely control another via a Web browser — even if one is Windows and the other is Mac.
The second is what Parallels calls a “universal file manager” for iOS devices, which shows the files on your remote computer, files in your Dropbox and Google Drive accounts, and files you’ve chosen to store locally on the mobile device via Parallels. You can open all these files, regardless of source, and copy them among devices and to and from the cloud services, without launching other apps.
I tested these two new features, and they worked well. I copied and pasted files to and from both computers, my iPad, and both cloud storage services without any problem.
Even the setup is easy. You download the appropriate Parallels Access app for your mobile device and install it. Then, for each computer you want to access, you download a small program that runs in the background to make it visible to the mobile app, as long as both are on the same Parallels account.
You then optionally tie in your Dropbox and/or Google Drive account.
When you open the Access app on, say, your iPad, the first thing you see is a graphical array of the remote computers registered to your account and equipped with the Access software. The large icons tell whether the computer is a PC or Mac and what its name is.
To connect to one of the computers, you just tap its icon. What you see next is one of the best features of Access. Instead of showing you the computer’s native home screen, it shows the machine’s key apps as iOS or Android-type icons. These include the file explorer on PCs and the Finder on Macs, so you can locate individual documents.
Once you’re in an app, a small control bar appears on the screen of the mobile device with five buttons, one of which displays a quick switcher for moving among open apps on the computer. Another brings up the Universal File Manager. The others bring up an onscreen keyboard, the launcher screen, and a set of options for things like showing a mouse pointer (if you need it) or changing the display resolution. You can shrink or hide these controls.
The onscreen keyboard contains extra keys useful on a computer, such as Escape, Tab, Control and F keys. It also includes the Windows key and the Mac’s Command key.
When you’re editing a computer document remotely, Access lets you use either the standard native-editing gestures and commands of your mobile device, or those of the computer program you’re using.
This is one of my favorite features of Access: While it allows you to emulate a mouse and native commands, it doesn’t force you to do so. For most editing, the iOS and Android techniques will be fine.
I did run into a few small issues. I discovered a bug in a feature that lets you hear audio from the computer on your mobile device — but it has already been fixed in an update.
I saw a warning message saying the network connection was “unstable” at one point in my tests, but the actions I was performing kept on working smoothly, and the message quickly disappeared.
Access does have one big limitation: If your remote computer is off, or the Access program installed on it isn’t running, the product won’t work. If the computer is merely asleep, the mobile app can try and wake it up, but I found this process had mixed results.
Still, I like Parallels Access. It is fast, smooth and easy to use. And it’s helpful in a world that may be post-PC, but not PC-free.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.