If you’re an Android user and you’re reading this site, it’s safe to assume you’re smart and something of a geek. Something that all us geeks have to deal with sooner or later are local area networks (LANs). If you’ve ever wondered how you could put your Android devices to use on your LAN, then read on. This is a list of my favourite five networking applications for Android. Read on to see if you agree, and if not, let us know in the comments!
1. Remote Web Desktop (Full)
This is by far, my favourite of favourites when it comes to Android networking applications.
In my experience of Android devices, I’m often leaving them on charge at my desk, while I take the laptop elsewhere to write. This means that if a message comes in, you have to stop what you’re doing, get up and go check the phone. Remote Web Desktop solves that problem, and does much more besides.
The Web Desktop part of this app turns your Android device into a web server, allowing you to control certain aspects of the device via your desktop browser. The Web Desktop is designed to resemble a generic desktop user interface, with icons and task bar along the bottom of the screen. Depending how advanced your desktop browser is, the windows for each ‘applet’ can be repositioned within the desktop area.
There are lots of services available via the Web Desktop:
- Messaging. Here you can read text messages stored in your device, and send new ones. To me this is the ‘killer feature’ of Remote Web Desktop. Being able to leave my Nexus One charging on my desk, but still communicate with the world through SMS via my laptop saves me a lot of time.
- Shared Clipboard. As the name implies, this presents you with a text field, displaying the contents of the phone’s clipboard. What’s more, you can type or paste text into that box and have it sent through to the phone. Very useful for getting complicated passwords from your computer to your phone when setting up new apps.
- WiFi keyboard. This allows you to use your computer keyboard as the input method on your Android device. It’s nice to know it’s there, but is too slow to use seriously.
- FTP Explorer. This is a web based extension of the FTP server that Remote Desktop offers, more on this later. It is cool to see, but is made redundant by the file explorer, which is detailed next.
- File Explorer. This is a full file manager for your Android device, running in the Web Desktop. You can upload single or multiple files, create folders, rename and delete files, etc. There is even a right click menu to quickly access file management features, including the ability to make the phone play music files.
- Wallpaper. With this you can remotely change the phone’s wallpaper. It is supposed to work by either selecting a local file on your computer or entering a URL. However, I found that the URL method doesn’t work properly, so best to upload images stored on the computer.
- Screen capture. This allows you to remotely take a screenshot of your Android device, but it only works with rooted devices.
- Webcam. This feature will send a low frame rate video stream from your device’s camera to the Web Desktop. I’ve yet to find a use for this, but I guess it might be interesting to use a spare device as a security camera or child monitor.
FTP Server. In addition to the web server features, Remote Web Desktop can also turn your Android device into an FTP server. This means that you can browse your device’s file over the network.
Remote Web Desktop also offers an application backup system, allowing repackage your installed applications into .APK files, for offline re-installation.
There’s a free version of Remote Web Desktop, which limits file transfer speeds. The full version is only $1.79, well worth the price. See the QR code above.
2. VLC Remote Beta
If you’ve ever wanted to use your Android device as a remote control on movie night, then this is one for you. As the name implies, you need to be using the famous VLC media player on your computer. Someone could spend years learning all the features of VLC, but one very neat feature to remember is its web interface, which is exploited by this app. In VLC, if you select View -> Add Interface -> Web interface, VLC will create a web server on your computer. Anyone navigating to the address of the VLC web interface will see a simple HTML version of the VLC user interface. All that VLC Remote beta does is give an improved user interface on top of the VLC web interface.
Once connected to your computer, VLC Remote beta can browse files stored on your computer, and even create playlists. There is a playback progress bar, which updates in real time, and you can use it to shuttle back and forth. There’s an on-screen slider to adjust VLC’s volume, but you can use the hardware volume buttons instead, as long as the screen is active.
If you’ve ever wanted to use your Android device as a mouse or keyboard for your PC, then RemoteDroid is the app for you. You’d be right to say that this is a sub-optimal solution, compared to dedicated media remote controls (such as VLC Remote beta, above), or presentation controllers. However, the strength a generic controller is that it will work with anything. Very useful if you’re not quite sure what your needs will be when remotely controlling your computer.
The main view of RemoteDroid looks like a big touch pad, which is exactly what it is! There’s a button between the mouse keys to bring up the virtual keyboard. If your Android device as a trackball (e.g. G1, Nexus One), then you can use it as a scroll wheel, which is much more pleasant than dragging a scrollbar!
In order to make this work, you have to run a JAVA program on your computer. This means that it’s compatible with Linux, Windows and Mac. You can download everything you need from the developer’s website or his Google Code project page.
If you want to try it out, you can install the Android app by clicking or scanning the QR code above.
4. WiFi Analyzer
Whether you want to sniff out new access points, or diagnose connection problems at home, this is the tool for you.
WiFi Analyzer comes with a tonne of options, such as: automatically turning WiFi on and off as needed, keeping the screen active, setting which channels it should scan, and many more. The app offers five views of your wireless network environment, all of which update at a frequency set by you (between one and ten seconds). A simple finger swipe lets you cycle through them all.
- The channel graph gives you a display of signal strength versus radio channel. It’s great for seeing how neighbouring access point signals are overlapping, and where to find free spectrum space.
- The time graph gives a simple graph of signal strength over time of all the access points in range.
- The channel rating screen, gives a ten star score for the signal strength of all available radio channels. It will also recommend better alternatives if your current connection channel isn’t the best.
- The access point list gives a list of all access points in range. For each, it shows the: SSID, signal strength, security method, MAC address, frequency and channel.
- The signal meter displays a simulation of a galvanometer, showing the signal strength of the current WiFi connection.
WiFi Analyzer is available in the Android Market for free, and is ad supported. Click or scan the QR code above.
Saving the most hardcore application till last, here’s my favourite SSH client for Android. If you’ve spent much time in a computer lab, or have been responsible for a website for a number of years, the chances are that you’ll have had to deal with a remote terminal. There are times when you just need to login and check things directly on a server, rather than relying on HTML interfaces!
ConnectBot can handle multiple SSH and Telnet sessions, it can even create secure tunnels via its port forwarding service. ConnectBot has plenty of options for controlling the display, like font colours and terminal emulation mode. Disappointingly though, there’s no font size option, which makes the terminal difficult to read on devices which have 480×800 resolution or higher.
The most convenient aspect of using ConnectBot was its support for SSH keys. If you don’t know, SSH can use public key authentication, saving you having to type a password at every login. No matter the platform, setting up SSH keys is always fiddly. However, the process in ConnectBot isn’t THAT painful, considering you’re doing it on a smartphone.
ConnectBot is available for free in the Android Market, just click or scan the QR code above.
What are your favourite networking apps for Android?
Do you have other favourite networking applications that you just HAVE to have installed on your Android? Let us know in the comments!
David Gilson for The Mobile Fanatics, 18th May 2011