Remote access software makes everything on your computer available to you anywhere you go. Whether you need to quickly check something or grab a locally-saved file, you can. Your entire desktop is right there, in a window on another device that you have at hand, and you can take control of your computer as though you’re sitting in front of it. Perhaps more importantly, remote access software also lets you take control of someone else’s computer when they need help.
In that second scenario, remote access is useful for diagnosing and fixing computer problems, like an application that won’t load or even a hardware driver that isn’t working. You can take control of the faulty computer remotely to fix the issue or even show someone else how to navigate similar problems in the future—all as if you were sitting right in front of the device. Not everyone needs to buy remote access software, however, as it’s possible to remotely troubleshoot another computer using programs that come included with Windows PCs and Macs. But those programs aren’t designed for unattended access, which means accessing a computer remotely without someone else sitting in front of it. And unattended access is where remote access software truly shines. Once you get used to having full access to your devices no matter where you are, it’s hard to imagine living without it.
Here we list the top five remote access services we’ve tested, followed by in-depth information about what to look for when considering one for yourself or your business.
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More About Our Picks
Best for Personal Use
- Easy access
- Works with or without an account
- Seamless file transfers
- Completely free for non-commercial use
- Expensive for business use
- No self-service way to unsubscribe
Why We Picked It
TeamViewer does everything. It’s easy to use, great for providing support, and it works well for accessing your own devices. Features like file transfer, remote audio, and video chats are all offered, making it one of the more complete tools in this list.
What really makes TeamViewer the first remote access app most people should check out is its personal-use version, which is completely free and offers all features. The only string attached is that you can’t use the free version for any kind of work, which is fair enough.
Who It’s For
If you’re the informal IT person for your family, and need access to their devices. TeamViewer is what you’re looking for. The same goes if you just want occasional road access to your home server. TeamViewer is also an excellent tool for work, especially for larger organizations. But small businesses should look into cheaper alternatives first.
Best for Small Businesses
- Excellent performance between Windows PCs
- Works in the browser, in a pinch
- No free version
- No built-in audio or video chat
Why We Picked It
RemotePC offers every feature offered by TeamViewer and works about as well, especially if you’re connecting Windows devices to each other. It’s also much more affordable than TeamViewer if you only need access to a handful of your own devices.
That’s because RemotePC is affordable without skimping on quality. Every feature you’d expect is offered, from audio chat to file transfers to whiteboarding, all at a price point lower than competitors.
Who It’s For
RemotePC hits the sweet spot for small businesses, in particular those who only want access to just a few computers without breaking the bank. It’s a fraction of the price of other applications and works just as well.
Best for Straightforward Business Use
- Impressive performance
- Click-and-drag file transfer, even across platforms
- Enthusiastic customer service
- Whiteboard only works on mobile
- Complicated pricing
Why We Picked
Once it’s set up, Splashtop works wonderfully. Performance is excellent, drag-and-drop file transfers work between different platforms, and there’s even audio chat
The only real downsides are that Splashtop is a little bit complicated to set up, and the pricing plan isn’t straightforward to figure out. Splashtop makes up for it with a very responsive customer service team—one that proactively reaches out to answer questions.
Who It’s For
Splashtop is a product built with businesses in mind and it’s businesses that should consider using it, especially businesses who value good customer service. It’s competitively priced, reliable, and works well, all things medium and large businesses will value.
Best for Controlling Mobile Devices
- Affordable remote access
- Generous free version
- Can control mobile devices
- Integrations with Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Google Contacts
- Stuttering performance compared to other apps
- Can’t hear remote audio
- Cluttered user interface that’s occasionally hard to browse
Why We Picked It
Most remote access software focuses on giving you access to computers. Zoho Assist can also give access to mobile devices, a feature other apps in this list don’t offer. Having access to your phone or tablet is great if you need to troubleshoot such devices, and Android devices can be remotely controlled. Even better, there’s a free version.
Apple devices, because of operating system restrictions, can’t be controlled using Zoho Assist, but you can see everything on the display, which is better than nothing if you’re remotely troubleshooting an issue.
Zoho Assist also runs completely from the browser, which, on the one hand means there’s some lag, yes, but on the other hand it means you can access your devices from anywhere—even computers you can’t install software on.
Who It’s For
Zoho Assist is built with technical support teams in mind, and that’s who uses it. Savvy Android users should check it out for the mobile support, too.
Best for Legacy Users
- Free version for home use
- Quick and reliable connections
- Mobile support for remote viewing
- Low frame rate compared with other apps
- Confusing to set up
- No built-in audio chat, video chat, or whiteboard
Why We Picked It
VNC is the original remote access protocol; VNC Connect builds on that legacy to make a reliable cloud product. With this cloud service you can connect to VNC servers outside your network in a couple of clicks, a trick that’s hard to pull off otherwise.
VNC Connect fully supports the VNC protocol but also builds on top of it, adding functionality like chat, session recording, and an (admittedly clumsy) file transfer tool. An instant support feature, ideal for companies, lets a support person easily take control of a customer’s computer because the customer only has to run temporary software (not install and set up a full program).
Who It’s For
VNC Connect makes the most sense for small businesses that don’t have to connect to many devices. The pricing is per device, meaning it could work out economically compared to other apps if you’re only connecting to one or two devices.
What Is the Best Free Remote Access Software?
TeamViewer is our top pick for best free remote access software. It’s completely free for personal use, and that’s not a gimmick. Free users get access to all the same features that commercial users get. Whether you want to offer remote support for family and friends or just have road access to your own computers, TeamViewer is by far the best free option.
Note that this free version is enforced by an AI designed to detect commercial usage. Some people have run into issues with the AI flagging legitimate personal use as being business related. A quick email to customer support can usually get you back up and running.
If you need a free application in a commercial context, check out Zoho Assist, which offers a limited free version that gives one technician access to five computers. It can’t match TeamViewer in terms of features, but it’s the best free option you can use in a work context.
Is Remote Access Software Safe to Use?
Remote access software, once set up, provides total access to your device, meaning all of your data is at your fingertips. That’s convenient, but not without risks. You don’t need to worry too much, though, because all the applications mentioned in this list use encryption, meaning there’s no chance of your remote activity being intercepted.
As with most software, a lot of the security is on you. Make sure you’re using strong passwords and multi-factor authentication, so that it’s not easy to compromise your accounts. Most of these applications also require a password for connecting to specific devices even after you’ve signed in, so someone would have to go through a lot of trouble to get access to your devices. Be sure to set up a password manager if you have trouble keeping track of all those passwords.
The most important thing to keep in mind, however, is never to install remote access software if someone you don’t know tells you to do it. Hackers and scammers routinely use such software to steal information and access financial accounts. For example, a common scam involves someone from “tech support” calling you, unprompted, to “diagnose a problem” or similar. If this happens, hang up—tech support for major companies will never call you out of the blue and ask you to install such software. You can always call the company back if you’re worried. Just make sure you look up and call the actual customer service number, not the number that called you.
What’s the Best Remote Access Software for Windows?
Every application on this list works well on Windows, but I think the best choice for most people is TeamViewer. It’s a very feature complete application with a generous free version, which makes it hard to match for the vast majority of users.
TeamViewer’s paid plans for businesses start at $418.80 per year, however, which is a lot for small organizations. If that’s you I suggest checking out RemotePC as a capable Windows alternative.
What’s the Best Remote Access Software for Mac?
Most applications on this list work about as well on macOS as they do in Windows, but there’s usually at least one feature missing. Not the case with Splashtop, which has great feature parity between its Windows and macOS clients.
First, it’s the only application we tested that offers drag-and-drop file support between macOS and Windows computers, meaning you can drag a file from Finder on a Mac directly to File Explorer on a Windows device and watch the files transfer. It’s hard to overstate how useful cross-platform drag and drop is for Mac users that need to connect to Windows devices.
The main downside with Splashtop is the lack of a free version for home use. TeamViewer is the best option for Mac users that want a free tool. Good thing the macOS version of the application is very capable, if not quite as nice as Splashtop.
What’s the Best Remote Access Software for Mobile Devices?
Every application in this list allows you to access computers from mobile devices. If you want remote access to mobile devices from a computer, though, Zoho Assist is what you’re looking for.
Zoho Assist is the only remote access application we reviewed that can access mobile devices. Android phones and tablets can be fully controlled from a computer, which is useful for diagnosing issues but also means you can do things like send text messages from your computer. You can also remotely monitor (but not control) an iPhone or iPad, which nevertheless could come in handy while trying to troubleshoot a problem over the phone.
Zoho is primarily an application intended for IT staff, so getting it set up is going to be a bit of a learning curve. Once you do that, however, you’ll have a way to access mobile devices from a computer, which is really handy.
Can’t I Just Use Zoom Instead of Using Remote Access Software?
Zoom offers both a screen sharing feature and the ability to control another person’s screen, as do some other video conferencing applications. Given that, you might be wondering whether you need remote access software. For one thing, remote access software allows for unattended access, meaning you can connect to another computer even if there’s no one sitting at it. Zoom can’t offer that feature—you need to be on a call to start sharing.
A second problem with Zoom in this context is performance. Zoom’s screen sharing feature works well, but it’s considerably more laggy than the apps mentioned here.
If you’re still learning about remote access software and deciding how to use it in a business, you should also read our explanation of why you might need enterprise-grade remote access software.
For more business software advice, see which products and companies have won PCMag’s Business Choice Awards.