Gmote: the Android Remote Today I am reviewing Gmote 2.0 application for Android. If you found this review then you are more than likely familiar with what this app does, but for those who may have stumbled across it I will give a fairly brief description. Gmote 2.0 turns your Android Phone in to a PC remote, enabling you to browse and control what music and movies are playing. It does this by communicating with a server you setup on your computer, thereby allowing your phone to access and browse your music and movies. For a more detailed description visit the Gmote website (gmote.org). And I know this might sound a little complicated but the folks at Gmote do their best to make this process as simple as possible so that even the "non-techie" can accomplish this. Before I get to into the guts of the review, a little disclosure on my part - this app will be running on my Motorola Droid and depending on your phone (and your PC for that matter) your experience may differ from my own. The Set-Up After installing the application on your phone, you will be asked if you would like to send an email to yourself with a link to the download page where you can install packages for the Gmote-Server. A simple thing but it goes a long way to make the setup as easy/seamless as possible. After opening the email and link, I found myself at the download page where I was ask to download the Gmote-Server package that corresponds to your computer - whether it be a Windows, Mac, or Linux machine. Though I am a Windows user currently, I like knowing I have the option to set up the server on other machines in the future. After installing the Windows package, I was prompted to set up a password for the server. I'll warn you now, this is the password you'll have to type into your phone in order to access this server, so I wouldn't make a million characters long. After creating my password, I was then asked to designate what folders and paths I want my phone to have access to. Anybody familiar with importing your music/movie library into a program like iTunes or Windows Media Player should be familiar with this. You are essentially telling your phone where on your computer your music/movie library is stored. From Gmote.org After all that was accomplished, I thought I would be ready to start playing my music. I made sure the server was running on my PC (you can see the icon in your task-bar), double-checked to make sure my phone was on WiFi, and then started the Gmote app. No luck. Apparently my phone could not find the server, and it then asked me to enter an IP address. A little lost and unsure about what exactly it was asking me, I went to the little icon on my task-bar thinking there might be a help button. It was like the people at Gmote knew this was going to happen because once I right-clicked on the little icon and hovered over the help menu I found "Show local IP address". I am not the biggest techie but it appeared to be what the phone was asking for, and not to my surprise it was. I simply typed in the IP address into my phone and I was able to find my PC. Upon clicking my server I was prompted for the password I created earlier on my PC - typed it in and I was good to go. So aside from this small hiccup with the IP address, the installation and running of the application worked like a charm. I can't attest to what the experience might be on a Mac or Linux machine, but I can't imagine it be any more difficult. User Interface Opening the app, your first confronted with a rather plain looking interface consisting of music and volume controls, a browse button, and a power button. It's not very "exciting" to be completely honest, but there is something to say about a minimalistic approach that has a certain elegance/appeal to it. I would end up pressing the browse button where I would find the two file folders that I had designated earlier on my PC, "My Music" and "Videos". Also along the top there was a bullet option where I could specify if I wanted to play the files over my computer or on my "Phone (beta)". I'll return to this later but for now I left this on computer and clicked on the music folder. The phone quickly produced a list of the 5 albums I had on my computer, and after clicking on one of them, I was given a list of all the music located in that folder. I was happily surprised at how snappy the phone was able to communicate with the computer and compile the list of music I had in my folders. The library I tested this phone with was fairly small though, so those with larger music libraries might experience this differently. Moving through the files was much like moving through them on a PC, jumping through folders in a list-view. It's nothing flashy but it gets the job done and that is the important part. Finally one last note on the interface - its portrait only, which is fine but it wouldd be nice to see it support a landscape mode in the future. Music Playback After selecting a song from the list compiled on my phone I noticed a 1-2 second delay before the music actually started playing. This was also experienced when hitting any of the buttons that controlled the music itself - stop, play, pause, etc. It is not a big deal , but those of you who are wanting to pause the music at a specific instance are going to be disappointed (all two of you). On the subject of the controls, it is not apparent but in order to move between tracks in your album you need to hold down on the back/forward buttons - pressing them merely rewinds or fast-forwards you through the current track. To my surprised there were no options to make one song repeat and the only way to shuffle your music is to do so from the task-bar icon on your PC - more on this in a second. Another small but nice touch, was how the phone displayed the album artwork (a slightly desaturated and stretched version albeit) in the background of the remote which corresponded with what song I was currently playing. It definitely gives the main control interface a little more "eye-candy". Unfortunately though this is the only time I could view the album artwork, so anybody expecting to browse music in an iTunes-coverflow like interface will be sorely disappointed. Notice how Sinatra's face is squashed into the Droid's screen One thing I immediately noticed on the PC side is that there didn't appear to be a program that was playing the music itself. Apparently there is some java application going on in the background that plays the music - which I was able to tell from starting up my task manager. While I enjoy the ability to play/control my media from my phone, I think there are benefits to having a corresponding interface on the PC side that will in the very least display the track information. Returning to the task-bar icon, this is the only place where I could control any of the music playing from the PC. The options on here are just as limited as they are on the phone remote - play, pause, next, and previous. Like I mentioned before, this is the only place where I could find the option to shuffle my music. The (limited) controls for the taskbar icon. All in all, the music interface and options left a lot to be desired but when it was all said and done the music playback was smooth and I could easily move through my library on my phone. Video Playback Hitting the browse button again, I was able to navigate to my Videos folder where I placed three files I had on hand. The first was a video I recorded from my phone and moved to my PC via USB - the file format being .3gp. The second was a .wmv file and the last a .mpeg file. Again the 1-2 second delay was apparent when pressing play/pause, but I didn't expect any differently at this point. The overall playback was smooth, and everything was immediately played at full-screen in what appeared to be the same java application. There were no controls on the PC side and because everything was in full-screen the task bar was not available to play, pause, etc. I was able to play all the movie formats with no problems, but when I switched from different movies I did experience a force-close on the application and the server had to be restarted on my computer. I played with it a couple times, switching back and forth between the files, to see if it was a continual issue but was only able to reproduce it 2-3 more times out of the 15 times or so I switched movies. It was not apparent from the controls but in order to close the video application from the remote you have to hit the power button in the upper right hand corner. Hitting stop on the remote merely seemed to work like the pause. The only other way to close video playback was to hit "Escape" on the PC keyboard, which will take you out of full-screen and thereby exit the program manually. Beta Music/Movies There are two beta processes that you can use with the remote. The first one I'll talk about is the playback of files from your PC on your Phone. Music buffered quickly on my phone and played pretty nicely too. I think it is important to remember this is all be doing over WiFi, so if you are thinking this might be a solution for you to play music on your computer at home while you are at work, you are better off looking at something like doubleTwist which can accomplish this over 3G. In terms of movies, I wasn't able to playback any of the 3 files on my PC, not even the .3gp file that I had originally recorded from my phone to begin with. Pretty disappointing but these are beta features. I have a feeling it has more to do with the format and ratio of the video files. Beta Web I found this to be the most useful and exciting of the beta features available as it allows you to essentially open/push web-pages from your phone to your PC. Using Gmote here your able to navigate to a website like Hulu for example and open/start a video you can play on your PC, even though your phone might not be able to play it back (since its flash). Sitting on your couch, I can imagine this could be quite useful - and it works really well to be honest. Closing these webpages however was a little more tricky and required the use of the next feature. Gmote Touch This feature turns your phone's screen into a touch-pad - think touchpad on your laptop. Again, in conjunction with the Beta Web this can be a very useful feature when navigating a web-page you've already opened on the PC. It also enables a keyboard, which was pretty useful when trying to do google -searches from my couch. One small note on the interface, it was only within this Gmote Touch that I was able to use the phone in landscape mode, and I could even use the slide out keyboard on my Droid if I chose to. This brings up some more possibilities/idea, though I did not have the opportunity to test them. Because your able to use the keyboard, its seems plausible that if you were to use a program like Winamp(?) where you can designate custom hotkeys, you might be able to use your phone's keyboard to navigate through music similar to using the hotkeys on your PC keyboard; and with the Gmote Touch you could sift through your library with a fair amount of ease. Conclusion It's really a mixed bag to be honest depending on your needs. For those out there, like myself, who were looking for a media remote which could potentially control an HTPC, I think you will be slightly disappointed with the current build. For those who just like the idea of being able to playback music on their PC while there in the other room or sitting on their couch, I think they'll be pretty satisfied. And while I was in the former camp, I am still very eager to see this app continue to develop, because I think the Beta Web and the Gmote Touch are features alone that warrant downloading this application. Again, nothing here is a deal breaker - especially for the very pocket friendly price of FREE. I look forward to revising my review with the next updates! Also, there is a donate version (of course) - and if you're a daily user of this app I urge you to support your developers and donate! Pros: Fairly easy sync with computer Pulls and compiles music/movie library pretty fast Can play music/movies a distance a way from PC (as advertised) Generally solid performance, with only a few force-closes Beta features look very promising Cons: Library view not very robust - should be able to view album work Limited Controls found on remote - needs repeat/shuffle PC Interface very lacking Rating: 3.5-4 out of 5 Stars Other Thoughts: I don't think it would be right of me to criticize the implementation without at least trying to offer some ideas on how it could be improved. The first would be the library interface on the phone itself - I think being able to view album artwork even in a traditional list view would be very useful. Adding additional controls like repeat and shuffle to the remote itself is a must! And personally for me, creating a simple interface on the PC side that would be able to translate the same controls and information that is being displayed on the phone would be very helpful. In a perfect world, I'd like for others to see my library as I am scrolling through it on the PC as I look through it on my phone.