An Android phone is an infinitely programmable remote control that can be used to control any network-connected device. With a single app, you can turn your Android phone into a remote control for video playback on your laptop, media center PC, or smart TV. Any type of wirelessly enabled device can be remote controlled, from computers to WI-Fi-enabled thermostats and even some automobiles.
We’ll cover some of the many options here, for everything from media playback and BitTorrent downloading to remote desktop access. If there’s something you want to remotely control with your phone, there’s probably an Android app for you.
Google allows you to control YouTube video playback from your couch. Whether you’re watching YouTube videos on your laptop, in a browser on a media center PC, or on a smart TV, this app is a convenient way to browse for videos and control playback from your phone.
Google offers an officialapp for this, but it’s no longer necessary. You can do this with the official YouTube app that came with your Android device.
To get started, open the youtube.com/leanback website in your browser (on your computer). Click the gear icon and select Pair device to get a pairing code.
On your Android device, open the YouTube app, tap the menu button, and select Settings. Tap the Connected TVs option, select Add a TV, and enter the pairing code. You can now browse videos in the Android app and play them on your PC or TV. After they start to play, you can use the YouTube app to pause and resume playback.
Bottom Line: The YouTube remote control is useful, allowing you to set up a Chromecast-style remote control system on any PC in just a few seconds. The only problem is that you’re limited to YouTube. Unlike with a Chromecast, you can’t use this along with Netflix or Hulu.
µTorrent BitTorrent Downloads
BitTorrent, Inc. offers an official µremote app that allows you to control your µTorrent BitTorrent client remotely. If you leave µTorrent running on your computer, you can start downloading torrents and monitor the download process from your phone.
You can also use this app to download completed torrents directly to your Android device. This will be friendlier on battery life than running an entire BitTorrent client on your Android phone or tablet.
To get started, launch the µTorrent program on your computer, open the Preferences window, and select the Remote category. Enable remote access and enter a computer name and password. Log into the uTorrent Remote mobile app with the same computer name and password.
Bottom Line: µTorrent remote access is great for BitTorrent users who use µTorrent on their computers, especially if they regularly leave them running. It has all the same limitations BitTorrent does — you have to hunt down torrents and wait for them to download.
One of the many features VLC offers is a HTTP interface. Remote for VLC uses this HTTP interface to access VLC remotely and control playback. The app allows you to remote-control VLC playback, pausing playback, adjusting volume, and selecting files from a playlist.
Whether you’re watching videos in VLC on your laptop or using VLC on a media center PC, this app allows you to control playback in a much more convenient way than the typical clicking that the standard VLC interface requires. Before using this app, you’ll have to enable VLC’s HTTP interface and restart VLC.
Bottom Line: Remote for VLC allows you to control the VLC interface from your smartphone, making watching videos in VLC from the couch a much more comfortable experience. This isn’t a complete media center solution like XBMC and its accompanying Official XBMC Remote app is. It’s simply a more convenient way to control the VLC player you’re probably already using.
Unified Remote offers a wide variety of “remotes” to remote-control your computer. You’ll find everything from a Basic Input app that allows you to use your phone’s touchscreen as a mouse to touchscreen keyboard remotes. There are also remotes designed for media playback and file management.
To use the Unified Remote app, you’ll have to install the Unified Remote server program on your computer. The app can scan for Unified Remote servers on the local network and quickly connect to them.
Bottom Line: Unified Remote is flexible and the mouse input feature allows you to do things that you normally couldn’t. For example, you could use Unified Remote as a mouse to control playback on the Netflix website. On the other hand, as a powerful tool, there are quite a few remotes to choose from and it can be a bit unwieldy compared to dedicated remote solutions.
TeamViewer Remote Desktop
When dealing with a PC, remote desktop is the ultimate remote control solution. This is obviously a bit unwieldy with a phone — sure, you could remotely access your PC and use its desktop from your Android phone, but the screen size is hardly ideal for that. On the other hand, if you have an Android tablet, you could use your Windows, Mac, or Linux desktops on your large tablet screen.
If you’re looking for a free, easy-to-use remote desktop solution, get TeamViewer. Download the TeamViewer application on your PC and you’ll get a code. Enter the code into the TeamViewer app on your Android tablet and you’ll be able to connect and use your desktop from your Android device.
Bottom Line: TeamViewer is a full-featured remote desktop solution, but accessing remote desktops from an Android can be a bit awkward. You’ll want a tablet with a reasonably large screen for maximum comfort, although pinch-to-zoom helps. Ultimately, the experience will never be as smooth as it would if you were sitting in front of your PC.
This is just a snapshot of the many possible options. There are apps for controlling everything from Nest thermostats and DSLR cameras to BMW automobiles. Want to remote control something on your computer or another network-connected device? Search for an app in Google Play. You’ll probably find what you’re looking for.
Do you use another app that turns your Android phone into a remote control? Leave a comment and share it!
Image Credit: espensorvik on Flickr