How to Use Microsoft's Remote Desktop App for Windows Phone

remote desktopMicrosoft has made the Windows Phone version of the Remote Desktop app available for free. The app works both on Windows Phone 8 and 8.1 and allows you to connect to your remote desktop PC(s) from the local network or from the Internet, provided the IP address of the remote computer is public. While accessing a desktop computer remotely from a smartphone might not be the best experience, especially if the screen is not very large, there are situations where having this app is useful. Let's see how to use it on your Windows Phone:

How to Install the Microsoft Remote Desktop App on Your Windows Phone

As with any regular app install, we will need to access the Store on your Windows Phone. Follow this guide and install the Microsoft Remote Desktop Preview app.

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When this tutorial was published, the app was made available as a preview, meaning that it was in development and that new features and bug fixes are likely to be added to it.

How to Start the Remote Desktop App on Your Windows Phone

When the install has finished, you can tap the View button on the bottom of the screen. This will take you to the app list, where you will notice the Remote Desktop app. To access the app later you can pin its tile to the Start screen or you can swipe from right and find the app in the list of installed apps.

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How to Create and Manage Remote Desktop Connection Profiles

When you start the application for the first time, you will need to add a remote computer profile to the list. To create a profile, tap the + button at the bottom of the screen.

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When creating a profile you are asked for the remote PC name and connection credentials. There are two pages for setting the connection parameters, but only the first one - named general - is mandatory for the connection to work. We'll have a look at this page first.

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Here you will have to fill in the mandatory information as follows: PC name - the name or the IP address of the remote computer. From the credentials selector, choose the desired option:

  • "Enter every time" - highly recommended for security reasons. We strongly suggest using this option, to make sure that your computers are not exposed if your smartphone is lost or stolen.
  • "Add credentials" - if you want to save the username and password in the profile, so that you don't have to enter it every time.

If you choose to save the credentials, fill in the requested data accordingly: in the User name field type the IP address (recommended for remote PCs outside your current network) or the computer name (recommended when the remote PC is in your network) followed by a backslash and the user name you want to use(1).

Type the user password in the next field (2) and hit save (3).

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As mentioned earlier, the profile setup screen contains two pages. The second page lets you configure additional connection parameters such as a friendly name for the profile, sound playback options (local PC/remote PC /no sounds), mouse button swapping and connecting to admin session. The latter setting configures the app on your phone to connect to the administrative session of the remote computer.

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To edit a profile, while viewing the list in your Remote Desktop app, press the desired profile a little longer, for about 2 seconds.

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This will reveal a menu with options to edit or remove the profile.

Windows Phone, remote, desktop, app, connections

Editing a profile will provide the same previously described screen with the two pages, general and advanced. The general screen will allow you to modify the PC name and the password.

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The advanced screen will allow you to set or edit (if initially defined) a friendly profile name using the Friendly name field, choose sound playback options, swap mouse buttons and connect to admin session.

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To save your changes, press the save button or hit cancel if you change your mind about modifying the settings.

How to Connect to a Remote Desktop

To use a connection, tap on it in the profile list. If the information you typed while creating the profile was correct, you should be able to connect to the remote PC.

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If you receive an error about a certificate, simply select to ignore it, but only if you are sure you are connecting to the right remote computer.

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Next you should see the remote desktop on your smartphone's screen:

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Note the magnifier button (1), the remote computer name (2) and the keyboard icon (3) areas of the top toolbar.

How to Work on the Remote Desktop

As noted earlier, the user experience is not comparable with the remote desktop experience from a Windows tablet or PC. We have two input options, a virtual keyboard and a virtual pointer which can be used alternatively. Tap the keyboard icon to display the keyboard. The virtual keyboard will take up most of the remote desktop screen estate while open.

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The pointer can be activated after we dismiss the top bar by tapping it in the middle, where the computer name is displayed. You'll notice a sidebar popping up on the right side of the screen with a toggle button which will activate/deactivate the mouse pointer functionality.

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The application also offers a magnifier. Tap the lens button on the top bar. The screen will be magnified to a predefined scale, which we were not able to change. We also noticed that pinch zoom is not working either, though we would normally expect it to.
The user can move around the screen by tapping and holding the circle in the center then, while keeping the finger on the screen, by dragging the screen to any direction.

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When done using the remote computer, press the Back key on your Windows Phone. This will bring a notification message which warns the user that tapping the back button again will disconnect the remote session.

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Tap it again to disconnect. The app returns to the profile list.

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Note that the profile now has a screenshot of the remote computer screen instead of the generic remote desktop icon. This image will refresh after each session. Tapping the screenshot will start a new session/connection.

Conclusion

We have tested the Remote Desktop app using a Lumia 925. We connected to an overseas hosted server running Windows Server 2012, and to a local network computer running Windows 8.1 Update. The app performance was good and both remote desktops reacted as expected. Overall, the app will provide a reasonably good experience for a smartphone. It might not be your ideal solution for remote access, given the screen size on a smartphone, but it works properly.

As always, we would love to hear about your experience in the comments below.