Parallels Access for iPad

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IMG_4240I’ve used most variants of tablet on the market, from the iPads to Windows 8 devices and every Android offering in between.  My main bugbear with the iPad and Android tablets though are that they are pretty useless for content creation.  This is where Windows comes in a lot stronger, and is why most cannot yet give up their home computer in favour of a tablet.  To fill this void the new app Parallels Access provides a neat solution to having access to your deskstop applications on the move.

 

The Setup

Parallels Access aims to allow you to run virtually any desktop application full-screen on your iPad wherever you happen to be.  Being a PC user all of my tests were based on accessing my Windows 7 desktop computer from an iPad (version 3).  Parallels also connects happily with Mac OS, so it can still prove useful in those Apple-dominated households and businesses.

SetupAccountPC1Setting up the software was very straightforward.  First of all I signed up for a Parallels account, a straightforward process that didn’t involve me giving them any unnecessary personal information.  Once registered I downloaded the Parallels desktop client from their website, which comes in at just over 53mb.

Back on the iPad I downloaded the Parallels app which is free (at least for the first 90 days – enough for my testing), and after installation I signed in with my Parallels account.  It then came straight up with my desktop PC, which happily connected first time without any laborious setup.

photo 2 (2)

 

The Launcherphoto 4

Having gone through the painless setup I was then greeted by the application ‘launcher’.  The launcher is essentially an attempt to make it a lot easier to choose applications to run through parallels and to make switching between multiple programs easier on the touch-only interface.  To start with, a basic selection of applications were available including my default browser (Google Chrome) as well as a Windows explorer, Notepad, Wordpad and the MS Paint – though the last three seem next to pointless and were no doubt included as programs they could be guaranteed every windows computer would have preloaded.

So my next port of call was to add a bunch of other applications, which is literally as easy as ticking boxes next to a list of applications you’d like to use within Parallels Access.  I added Microsoft Word, Photoshop, Steam, TweetDeck and Age of Empires 3 for a bit of gaming that I thought might work with the touchscreen.

photo 3 (2)

 

The Experience

Parallels Access is not the first of this kind of application I’ve used.  When I first got my Asus Transformer, Asus had developed their own Virtual Network Computing viewer (VNC) that was a thoroughly hit and miss affair.  Unlike Parallels there was no launcher or special adaptation for the resolution of the tablet, so attempting to use desktop applications was a patchy experience at best.

When running, Parallels adjusts the desktop resolution of the attached computer to match the iPad’s aspect ratio, so tended to switch to 1024*768 to ensure everything on-screen on the iPad was big enough to interact with via touch.  They’ve also included their own on-screen keyboard which is different to the stock Apple keyboard in that it also includes arrow keys, a Windows key and other commonly used keys you’d find on a full size keyboard.

On the right of the screen there’s a movable dock that allows you to bring up the multi-tasking menu, settings, keyboard and the launcher. Handily this dock can be moved around the screen so that it does not obstruct whatever software you are running in the background.

photo 5   photo 1 (2)

 

You can also see from the screenshot above, that you can use Parallels in a

 

The Applications

photo 3I first tried web browsing through Chrome, as you can see in the screenshots above.  Everything worked as expected with swipes allowing me to scroll up and down, as well as pinches allowing me to zoom in and out.  Because everything is rendered on the PC and then streamed to the iPad, there was no limitations with compatibility, or restrictions for viewing a dumbed-down mobile version of websites.

I visited a few other websites as well as TechNow, including YouTube which played at a reasonable frame-rate, and the sound came clearly though the iPad speaker.

photo 2Next up I tried Microsoft Word 2007, my word processor of choice that I often use to write preliminary versions of reviews or proof read content from other contributors.  I loaded up a recent review I did for another website and had a play around.  I could quite happily use all the options on screen without trouble, and I found a nice little feature Parallels have included which essentially allows you to interact with the text on screen in the same way you would on an iPad, with the ability to highlight, copy and paste text being made an awful lot easier because of this.

My main gripe with Word and most other applications that I tried was that due to the compression used in the streaming technology Parallels has employed, sometimes it takes a while for the quality to come through, leaving obvious artifacts on screen for a second or two after scrolling through a page or switching to another application.  You can see this artifacting in the screenshot of Microsoft Word below:

photo 1

 

Conclusion

Other than the artifacting, I had no other major complaints using most Microsoft Office applications through Parallels – as this is what Access was really built for.  Most other apps worked fine, though the interaction with them was a little hit and miss at times, purely due to the limitations of the touchscreen rather than anything else.

Age of Empires 3 even loaded up and worked absolutely fine, though I couldn’t actually play it in the way I’d hoped thanks to the limitations of not being able to ‘click and drag’ through the Parallels Access interface.  I’m sure there are other games that might play properly, but obviously playing games isn’t the main selling point of this software, and so it is not tailored for gaming interaction.

IMG_4236If you’re an iPad ‘power user’ that is used to having access to desktop applications then Parallels might just be the ‘killer app’ you need.  Windows integration is still in beta, and is reportedly a more polished experience with Mac OS, though in my time testing Parallels I could easily see the potential use of an app such as this on a device which otherwise has limited abilities to be productive through native apps.

 

Positives

+ Access your desktop anywhere with Wi-Fi.

+ Launcher makes VNC accesible.

+ On screen controls and keyboard work well.

+ Very easy setup.

 

Negatives

– Some input limitations from touchscreen.

– Occasional compression artifacting

– Pretty expensive after trial.

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Price:  Free 90 day trial, then $79.99 per machine per year.
More Info:  Parallels
System Requirements: An iPad (second, third, or fourth generation) or an iPad mini, with iOS 6 or later.  To use Mac applications, a Mac with OS X 10.7 Lion or OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion. To use Windows applications, a PC or virtual machine with Windows 7 or Windows 8.

 

 

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