Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Gmote - App icon

Every once in a while a free application or service comes along which makes us wonder why the thing is being given free. The app or service could generate huge profits by selling it to consumers, but the developer doesn't do that. Google services (Gmail, Maps, Search) would be a good example of this. In this article we will look at one such Android app. We may be slightly exaggerating the nature of this app by comparing it to Google’s set of services, but the Gmote app – which we are reviewing today – makes us still wonder why it is free. Regardless of the fact that our primitive mortal minds are unable to comprehend the zero-cost of this app, the Gmote app still continues to exist in the Android Market for a sum total of nothing - which made it a prime candidate for our weekly review. Why do we like it so much? You're going to have to click through to find out.

Purpose

Gmote – presumably “G” for Google and “mote” for remote - is an app which converts your mobile phone into a touch screen remote control for your personal computer (PC). The latest version of the app also supports media streaming to your Android device. We know that having a touch screen remote for your personal computer would be cool, but a wireless router is a pre-requisite for this app to work. We will now walk you through the steps required to get the app working.

Installation and configuration

Step 1 Download the app from the Android Market and install it on your Android device.

Gmote - First launch

Gmote - Wifi alert

Gmote - Wifi settings

Step 2 On your pc (which we are assuming is connected to the internet), head over to http://www.gmote.org/server. Choose your operating system (Windows, OS X and Linux are currently supported) and download the application (although the website mentions only XP/Vista for the Windows version, we found it to work smoothly on a few PCs running Windows 7 64-bit as well). The size of the windows Gmote server application was 23.2 MB when we downloaded it. The Gmote server will host the media files (songs, pictures and videos) from your PC, so that your Android device can access them wirelessly. This method of functioning also ensures that you don’t need to mess with complex “network shares” and privacy concerns in Windows. While installing, make sure you give access to the Gmote to bypass the firewall (if your PC is using a firewall utility). Once installed, the software will ask you to provide a password. Next, you must choose which drives or folders you want your Android device to access, which is a simple process. (Check the second screenshot below)

Gmote - System Tray icon

Gmote - Desktop shares

Gmote - Desktop options

Step 3 Launch the Gmote app on your Android device. The software will search and find the Gmote server and ask you for the password. In certain cases, we had to find the IP of the PC, and manually enter it on the Android device. Once the password has been entered, you’re good to go.

Gmote - Enter password

General usage

You can use the Android device to browse through and control your media on your pc. The latest version allows you to listen to music and view pictures on your Android device itself. Other functions involve using your Android device to control Powerpoint (we haven’t tested it with OpenOffice.org Impress – but we doubt it would work) and slideshows of pictures on your PC. The reason why this app amazes us is that usually, alternative methods to control media remotely will involve some kind of extra investment mainly in terms of hardware. In this case you will be using your existing devices to perform actions tht have been non-existent so far, for free.

Interface
The interface of the app is fairly simple with a browse button on the top left portion of the screen. Using this we can choose the media content we want to view or playback. The basic functions (Power, play, pause, previous, next and stop) are available at a touch along with volume controls. The app will display the album art of the song which is playing, which is an essential “feature” for us – we hate listening to songs without looking at the album art. (Another incentive for us to purchase original music!)

Gmote - Remote interface

The remote


Gmote - Menu options

Menu options


Gmote - Browse shared folders on PC

Browse files to play on PC


Gmote - Browse for playing on phone

Browse files to play on phone


Gmote - List of shared files

List of files for playback on PC

Performance
The touch screen remote part of the app worked extremely well with our Android devices for audio, images and video (including divx, mp4 and mkv formats). When we tried to stream compressed video onto the Android device, the results were disappointing – from what we could see, the video needs to be something which the Android device can natively playback on its own, which kind of beats the whole point of trying to stream video from a PC wirelessly. On the other hand, music streaming (mp3 format) worked well. Let us remind you that the streaming function is in the experimental stage, so we are expecting better results with the next version. There was also a web video feature where the developer tried to integrate Youtube, Hulu and Google video into the app. This feature was in beta stage and so (we presume) did not work well at all. The response time for the app was generally good even though we had shared over 38 GB of audio files and over 33 GB of video with the device (in one case). However, the app hangs when we returned past the initial opening screen.

Gmote - Play MP3 on PC

Playback of an MP3 on PC, controlled by the Android phone


Gmote - Play MP3 on phone

Playback of an MP3 on the Android phone, from the PC - wirelessly


Gmote - Touchpad interface

The touchpad interface (mouse-like); the keyboard icon uses the keyboard present in Android, so you can use whichever keyboard you have installed (Hello Swype for Android!)

Final thoughts
This app is definitely recommended to all Android users for two simple reasons: ease of control over your audio and video files on and off your pc and for the fact that the app is free. Even though we found glitches on the app, we found the app more or less pleasant to work with, and mighty useful. If we could rate it, we would give it a 4 out of 5. So, stop reading this review, grab your friendly Android device and hit up the Android Market – a copy of Gmote is waiting with your name on it. Seriously.

2 comments:

James J said...

This is a wonderful app that I have been using for months. I just wish it had the port forwarding ability to stream outside of your own WIFI network. I hope to see that update in the future, but until then I will be using my Remote Access app. I am a DISH Network subscriber/employee, and I use their app to stream live TV, DVR recordings, and on demand content remotely to my Android.

The Indian Geek said...

Hi James,

Thank you for the info. Yes, this app is amazing - but it still lacks some well-rounded edges, and certain key features. We can't blame the app, because for the cost of nothing - it's well worth it.

Thank you for letting us know about the Dish TV app for remote viewing - we hadn't heard about it previously. We're glad that you let us know.

Cheers.

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