App review: Mobile Mouse for the iPad
Unified Remote is one of my most used Android apps. It allows me to remote control my PC, which also happens to be my “TV,” so I often use it when relaxing with a movie or TV show. Ever since getting the iPad mini, however, the mini has become my companion during such sessions, which left me searching for a replacement for Unified Remote- which has gotten horribly unstable over the last few updates anyways. The choice landed on Mobile Mouse.
Mobile Mouse’s core functionality is to give you a mouse (or specifically, a trackpad) and keyboard for your computer, using your iOS device. You start by installing a server program on your Windows PC or Mac, make sure your iPad and computer are on the same network, and launch the app. Server discovery should be automatic, meaning that it should find and connect to your computer automatically. This normally takes just a couple of seconds, and once it’s connected, you have access to all the app’s features. This in itself is a huge upgrade over Unified Remote, whose idea of “automatic” server discovery requires that you actually press a button to set it up automatically, which, well, kinda defeats the purpose.
Front and center in the app is the huge trackpad. Even on the iPad mini, the thing is huge, and that actually makes it more usable than many laptop trackpads. Think Apple Magic Trackpad on steroids. The layout for the trackpad includes mouse buttons, but there’s also support for pretty much every feature you find on a normal trackpad, like tapping to left click. Along the sides you have scroll fields that are great for scrolling web pages or adjusting the volume in media players, though I had to set the sensitivity of this all the way down to make it usable. Multitouch gestures are also supported, i.e. use two fingers to scroll or tapping with two fingers to simulate right click. Other than that, it’s a standard trackpad, but one large enough that you can move the mouse across 4-5 monitors without having to lift your finger. It’s very responsive, and very easy to use.
Naturally, there’s also a keyboard. This is the standard iOS keyboard, augmented with an “add-on” that contains computer-specific keys like the Windows button or function keys. The size of this extended keyboard unfortunately makes it better suited for portrait mode if you also want to use the trackpad at the same time, as the landscape mode keyboard covers most of the screen with these extra buttons. Still, it’s nice to have them there, especially typically used special keys like F11 (fullscreen) and F5 (refresh). Like the trackpad, the keyboard is also very responsive, with no lag I’ve seen from when you type to when the text pops up on your computer.
Aside from the keyboard and trackpad, the app has a few special controls for certain apps. There’s a media control panel that you can use to control your media player, or more specifically iTunes, as it wasn’t able to control the same programs that the standard media keys on my physical keyboard can. There’s also a special toolbar for when you’re in a browser, which includes your typical toolbar keys like address entry, home, refresh, and stop. Unfortunately the presentation mode available in the iPhone version of this app is not available in the iPad version. Neither is the motion control mouse feature. I don’t know what’s worse, there being two separate apps (instead of a universal app) or having the more expensive iPad version actually have less features. It’s also more than a little ironic (not to mention illegal in many countries) to claim in the app description that this app is the most feature-rich remote control app for iOS, when the iPhone version of the app actually makes that statement untrue for the iPad version of it.
Finally, the app ha two more special features up its sleeve. First off you have a file browser, which essentially lets you browse your computer’s file system using an optimized touch interface on your device rather than on the PC. This is useful for finding files you want to display on the computer, be it photos, video, music, or anything else. The other special feature is the dock, which looks like the dock on Max OS X. It’s populated either from the pinned or quick launch programs in Windows, (I assume) the dock in Mac OS X, or from a specified folder. Unfortunately this feature is weirdly bugged, displaying programs that are nowhere near being pinned on my computer, and that I can’t even figure out where it gets from. There’s also no way I’ve seen to permanently disable it (you can temporarily hide it), so if you don’t use it, it frankly ends up being something to accidentally hit when you’re using the trackpad. For me, it would have been useful if there was a way to make it display currently open programs and nothing else, but with the mess of pinned, open, and who-knows-where-from programs it jams into the thing, it’s useless to me personally.
The thing I’m missing the most in this app is more special remotes, specifically one for universal media controls. I never used anything but the mouse in Unified Remote, because a phone screen isn’t large enough to display both those kind of controls and the mouse/keyboard on the same screen. The form factor of the iPad (mini) means that there’s no problem fitting everything into the same screen, which this app actually does with the special remote panels it does have, but the problem now is the lack of the remotes I need. All I’m asking for is simple media controls that emulate media controls on a keyboard, making them compatible with so many more programs than the so-called media controls currently in the app.
All in all though, I’m satisfied with Mobile Mouse. I find it highly peculiar that this isn’t a universal app with the same features for both the iPad and iPhone/iPod touch, and I wish more was done with the special controls, but at the end of the day I’m happy that it connects quickly, flawlessly, and gives me a functional mouse and keyboard. This app is gold for anyone with a home theater PC, and it’s amusing to think of how you can now replace expensive accessories with a $3 app for your iPad.