Review: Edovia Screens for Mac
Virtual Network Computing, or VNC, is a very specialized product category. While it’s used for Apple’s own Screen Sharing client, often invoked through Finder windows or iCloud’s own Back to My Mac features, Apple’s client is rather basic. Sometimes you’ll need to connect and control computers that aren’t on your own local corner of the network, or you’ll want some added flexibility once you do. Enter Edovia’s Screens, a $35 Mac app that offers quite a bit more functionality.
While there is an iOS version of Screens, this review will focus on the Mac version. Besides being sold on the Mac App Store, Screens is also available as a trial (10 successful connections is the limit) or a full version direct from Edovia. All include Dropbox support for synchronizing connections across machines (and with the iOS version), but the Mac App Store version is the only one that includes iCloud support. As many other vendors have dealt with, this is an Apple limitation, so it’s nice to see Edovia offer Dropbox as an option.
Screens features an initial window that lists all of your connections and also has a column where it will search for possible connections on your local subnet. If it finds one, you can simply connect to one of those, enter your credentials and the software does all the work for a one-time connection—this is a lot like Apple’s client. If you’d rather connect to a device manually, clicking the “New” button will offer you a dialog box with a lot of options, including the IP address, port, operating system, and authentication type. If you’re using VNC on a Windows or Linux computer, you’ll need to install a server application. Additional options, like securing the connection, what to do upon disconnect, and how you’re presented the computer are also available. For those on a bad connection, switching from “millions” of colors to “thousands” should help performance.
A favorite feature of mine is the actions upon disconnect—Screens will either “move” the cursor to a corner of the screen, log out the current user, or issue a Ctrl+Alt+Delete. I use the lower-right corner on my work iMac for forcing a locked screensaver, so I have screens do this to make sure my computer is secure when I’m away.
Once connected, there are a lot of options in the toolbar, including taking a screenshot, toggling between observing or controlling the computer, scaling the screen to the window size or working in 1:1 (good for those controlling iMacs from MacBook Airs), hiding the cursor, toggling multiple displays, issuing some commands that you would normally use keyboard keys on a local Mac, transferring the clipboard to and from a remote computer, and disconnecting. Screens also allows you to work in full-screen mode, putting the remote computer in its own space.
If you like Screens, you can actually set it to intercept all VNC connections, rather than Apple’s client. This feature allows you to invoke the Finder’s “Connect to Server…” command or the Screen Sharing button and the resulting connection will be routed to Screens instead of Apple’s Screen Sharing application.
Speaking of the preferences, another handy option is to put a Screens menu in the menu bar. Unfortunately, you have to have Screens running to use it, but it does allow for quick connections. Mix that with the option to hide the Dock icon and Screens could be left running at all times. You can also change key bindings, allowing you to set up shortcuts for system functions. Most are the same as OS X’s, but replace the Command key with Control, preventing interference with the local machine.
Finally, Edovia offers an additional free tool to allow you to take Screens anywhere—it’s called Screens Connect and runs on any remote machine. Once you create an account with Edovia, you can log in on a Mac or iOS device running Screens and access any devices (Mac or Windows PC) running Screens Connect from anywhere on the Internet. The idea works a lot like Apple’s Back to My Mac, but is platform independent. Although it works as advertised, I couldn’t regularly test it, as my work network has a lot of ports blocked. Still, if you have an extra computer at home (or a lenient IT department), this can be an added bonus with Screens.
My work has a VPN, allowing me to be “on the network” while elsewhere, so I tested Screens with this. Not only did it work seamlessly, but I still find it delightful to connect to and control a computer 25 miles away with no lag.
I used Screens extensively over the past couple of weeks and really enjoyed its additional features and flexibility. As I was setting up a headless Mac mini server two buildings away, Screens really saved me the trouble of having to get out of my seat, walk to it, connect a display, keyboard, and mouse, and configure settings. I found a lot of the functions to be convenient and worked with little frustration. Even on an arguably poor quality connection, I was able to connect to other Macs and control them.
You might be wondering why you should spend $35 for a VNC client, when Apple’s works well enough, and there are a number of others already on the market. In short, Edovia put a lot of work into making this client powerful, beautiful, and a joy to use. It reminds me a lot of Pixelmator, not due to actual purpose, but the care that is put into every feature and pixel—it’s that good. A lot of the free clients work well, but once you get into a routine with Screens, it’s hard to use alternatives. If you’re the type of person who connects to maybe one machine occasionally, the cost and features may be a bit overkill, but for anyone else, along with Screens Connect, makes this a very attractive product.
If there was anything to complain about, it would be that it requires OS X 10.9 Mavericks and is is strictly a VNC client. While the Mavericks requirement is partially due to technical reasons, users who want to repurpose an older Intel Mac as a VNC viewer will have to look elsewhere. As for the other complaint, I regularly connect to Windows Servers with Microsoft Remote Desktop and, while it works, I find myself missing some of the features and functionality of Screens. Obviously, licensing and a lot of extra code are probably preventing this from happening, but one can wish, right?
The One-Sentence Verdict™
In its current form, Screens offers a powerful alternative to Apple’s built-in VNC client, and adds some useful features for even casual users.
Pros: Great interface, quick connections, Screens Connect
Cons: None significant, Screens Connect may not work on all networks