Chrome Remote Desktop: easy steps to get started

Want to sign into a computer from another desktop or a mobile device? Here’s how to use Google’s Remote Desktop to make the connection.

Once upon a time, in a world not so far away, accessing a computer remotely required all sorts of costly, complicated software and technical know-how.

These days, it’s a different story. Google’s free Chrome Remote Desktop service makes it dead-simple to get on any computer — Windows, Mac, Linux, or Chrome OS — from practically any other desktop or mobile device. You can access all of the remote system’s contents and even click around as if you were sitting right in front of it.

Chrome Remote Desktop can be useful for signing into your own personal or work computer from afar, and it can be equally valuable for peeking in on someone else’s system — be it your co-worker’s or your mother’s — to provide hands-on help without having to be in the same location.

And best of all? Getting the service up and running is easy as can be. In fact, all you need to do is decide what type of connection you want and then complete a couple quick steps, and you’ll be remotely connecting like nobody’s business.

Using Chrome Remote Desktop to access your own computer

Step 1: Prepare the computer for connections

If you want to be able to access your own computer from another desktop or mobile device, start by opening up Chrome on the host computer (or downloading and installing Chrome, if you’re using a Windows, Mac, or Linux system that somehow doesn’t already have it). Within Chrome, navigate to Google’s Chrome Remote Desktop web app and click the circular blue arrow icon inside the box labeled “Set up remote access.” (If you see a blue button labeled “Turn On” instead of a blue arrow, congratulations: You’re one step ahead! Skip the next paragraph, and you’ll be back on track.)

You’ll then be prompted to download the Chrome Remote Desktop extension. Click the blue “Add to Chrome” button on the page that appears and confirm that you want to proceed. Then, go back to your original tab, and you’ll find a prompt waiting for you to name your computer and move forward.

Once you’ve given the computer a name and clicked the “Next” button, you’ll be prompted to create a PIN with at least six digits. For security purposes, you’ll need that PIN — in addition to being signed into your Google account — in order to access the computer remotely. (Google says all Remote Desktop sessions are also encrypted for extra protection.)

And that’s just about it: Your operating system may pop up a warning making sure you want to allow the app access to initiate a remote connection (and some versions of macOS may additionally require you to grant a couple permissions to Chrome Remote Desktop in System Preferences), but after you’ve confirmed that, the Chrome Remote Desktop tab will show you that the computer is online and waiting.

The computer will remain available anytime it’s powered on and Chrome is running (and since Chrome typically starts itself automatically and runs in the background, that means it’ll probably be available anytime the computer is awake — period). Just note that if you want connections to remain possible for an extended period of time, you may have to visit your computer’s power management settings to make sure the system won’t enter hibernation mode (even if the display shuts off).

If you ever want to disable remote connections, just go back to remotedesktop.google.com/access or click the Chrome Remote Desktop icon to the right of your browser’s address bar. You can then click the trash can icon alongside your computer’s name to remove it from the app. Alternatively, you can simply uninstall the app altogether by right-clicking its icon and selecting “Remove from Chrome.”

Step 2: Connect to the computer from another desktop or mobile device

Here’s the easy part: With your host computer all set for connections, all you’ve gotta do to access it from another desktop computer is go to that same Remote Desktop website — remotedesktop.google.com/access — within the Chrome browser. You’ll need to be signed into Chrome, using the same Google account you used on the host system, but you won’t need any particular apps or extensions installed; you’ll just see your computer’s name appear, and you can click on it to start the connection.

After tapping in your PIN, you’ll be in — and you can move around your screen, click and run anything you want, and generally just use the computer as if you were sitting in front of it. A panel at the side of the screen will provide options for adjusting the display and sending complex commands such as Ctrl-Alt-Del. It’ll also allow you to synchronize the clipboards between your current computer and the host computer, if you’re so inclined, so that you can copy and paste text seamlessly between the two.

For mobile access, you’ll want to download the Chrome Remote Desktop app for iOS or Android. Provided your phone is signed into the same Google account you used on your computer, the app will automatically show the computer and allow you to connect to it with one quick tap and a typing of your PIN.

You’ll then be able to mouse around on your desktop using your fingers. You can scroll by sliding in any direction or zoom by pinching. In the Android app, swiping downward from the top of the screen will reveal a control bar that’ll let you switch into a trackpad mode — in which you can left-click by tapping with a single finger or right-click by tapping with two — and switch to a keyboard mode to pull up your device’s on-screen keyboard and enter text. In iOS, click the menu button in the lower-right corner of the screen to access the same options.

It isn’t the most elegant way to get around a computer — and you probably wouldn’t want to use it for any sort of intensive work — but it can be handy for quick-hit tasks like restarting your system from afar or grabbing a file you forgot to save to the cloud.

Using Chrome Remote Desktop to access someone else’s computer

Step 1: Prepare the computer for connections

If seeing someone else’s screen is what you’re after, the process for setting up Chrome Remote Desktop is slightly different. And since you presumably won’t be physically present at the host computer, you’ll need to provide these instructions to the person who will be there and able to complete this part of the setup.

On the computer you want to be accessed remotely, start by going to the “Support” section of Google’s Remote Desktop web app. Click the circular blue arrow within the box labeled “Get Support,” then click “Add to Chrome” in the box that appears and confirm you want to install the Chrome Remote Desktop companion extension. (If you don’t see the blue arrow, the extension is already installed — and you’re one step ahead. Give yourself a pat on the back and keep going.)

Go back to your original tab, and you’ll find a prompt instructing you to click a “Generate Code” button in order to give someone else access. When you do that, the site will create a one-time access code that’ll remain valid for only five minutes. Share that code with the person to whom you want to give access — on the phone, in an email or text message, or whatever works best — and then sit back and wait for their connection to begin.

Step 2: Connect to the computer from another desktop

Once you have the access code and are ready to connect, simply go to remotedesktop.google.com/support within Chrome on any other computer. Enter the access code in the “Give Support” box and then click the “Connect” button to begin.

(If you want to connect from a mobile device, you’ll need to open a new tab within Chrome on your phone, check the box in the browser’s main menu to request the desktop version of a site, and then navigate to that same link from there. The Chrome Remote Desktop mobile app works only with connections that are associated with your own Google account, so you won’t be able to use it in this context.)

The person on the other end will have to manually click a button to approve the connection (and macOS users may also have to grant permissions in System Preferences), and then you’ll be connected to their computer and able to click around and control it in the same manner described in the first part of this guide.

Google still has its original version of the Chrome Remote Desktop app published and available in the Chrome Web Store, by the way, but that version is now officially deprecated and no longer being actively supported or maintained. So if you had that on your system from previous use, now’s the time to uninstall it and move to this newer setup instead.

Chrome Remote Desktop

Chrome Remote Desktop is a remote desktop software tool developed by Google that allows a user to remotely control another computer through a proprietary protocol developed by Google unofficially called “Chromoting”. It transmits the keyboard and mouse events from one computer to another, relaying the graphical screen updates back in the other direction, over a network. This feature therefore consists of a server component, for the host computer, and a client component on the computer accessing the remote computer.

Software

The Chrome Remote Desktop client was originally a Chrome extension from the Chrome Web Store requiring Google Chrome; the extension is deprecated, and a web “portal” is available at remotedesktop.google.com. The browser must support WebRTC and other unspecified “modern web platform features”.The client software is also available on Android and iOS.

If the computer is to host remote access, such as for remote support, a server package is downloaded and Chrome must be used. This is available for Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux and Chrome OS.

The Chrome Remote Desktop remote assistance mode has a variation, allowing a permanent, pre-authorised connection to a remote computer, designed to allow a user to connect to another one of their own machines remotely. In contrast, Remote Assistance is designed for short-lived remote connections, and requires an operator on the remote computer to participate in authentication, as remote assistance login is via PIN passwords generated by the remote host human operator. This method of connection will also periodically block out the control from the connecting user, requiring the person on the host machine to click a button to “Continue sharing” with the connected client.

The protocol uses VP8 video encoding to display the remote computer’s desktop to the user with high performance over low bandwidth connections. Under Windows, it supports copy-paste and real-time audio feed as well, but lacks an option to disable sharing and transmission of the audio stream. The software is limited to 100 clients. Attempting to add further PCs after reaching 100 will result in a “failed to register computer” error.

As I start to churn out this article, it dawned upon me that a fair few of the articles I’ve produced of late have been around Google services. The bizarre thing is, I part with much more of my cash to go into Bill Gates retirement kitty than I do contributing to Alphabet.

Perhaps these are the early signs that I’m unknowingly jumping ship across to operating only in the Google ecosystem. I dunno. Maybe. Still going to need Microsoft around for back end server-based services like Azure, SQL and 365 though, so maybe just the desktop ‘front end’ will be the change, for me, for now.

Anyway, I digress. The point of this article has to tip the hat towards Chrome Remote Desktop, which allows you to remotely access another computer just using the Google Chrome web browser. This might be really useful to access your work computer which is loaded up with all your business applications, from your home computer, laptop or dare I say it Chromebook. This way you needn’t worry about loading the applications on your home computer, it could literally have nothing else installed apart from the Chrome browser and you’re good to go (once you’ve enabled the relevant Chrome Remote Desktop plugin and set up a secure access method).

I’ve found it useful linking back to one of my previous articles about using a Chromebook or Chromium OS for work. Using Chrome Remote Desktop I can easily log into a Windows-based computer to do the few things I can’t do on the Google-backed devices. Yes, I can fire up my laptop as I mentioned in a previous article, but this method means I don’t have to move. At all. Bad for my health. Good for Google.

For people with a small setup, and just have the one main computer, this could be a really neat solution for accessing that computer when you’re out and about on the move, given you just need an Internet connection and the Chrome browser, most people would be able to easily get to grips with it.

Ah – but I bet it’s not secure! You’d be wrong. It uses something AES encryption within an HTTPS tunnel, which in plain English terms, means it is secure. The word encryption is normally a good sign (unless it’s to do with ransomware, but that’s a story for another day), and that combined with a secure web traffic tunnel, makes this secure. Just to be clear though, anything can be broken in the right hands, with the right effort. I’m just saying Google has done their bit to make this as secure as possible without hindering the user experience. You will need to have a strong secure password for both your Google account and your access password for the remote computer itself. But that’s just common sense, right?

Another plus to this method is the cost. Nothing. Nada. Gratis. You can’t really argue with that. A secure remote access tool for nowt.

You may need some help setting your remote computer not to go to sleep, as that will bring everything to a halt, likewise you may need someone at your office to turn on the remote computer if you’re saving the polar bears and turning off your computer at night. Which you should. Also good for your social life.

So my advice is to go forth, have a play if you’re in the market for such a solution and see how you get on. The chances are, if you’re after a simple remote access method, you’ll like this one.

Chrome Remote Desktop review

Check out our Chrome Remote Desktop review to learn more the program can do for businesses and IT departments.

Remote desktop access can be extremely helpful for a variety of businesses, and Chrome Remote Desktop is one of the most popular applications out there. That said, due to its limitations, it’s better suited for personal than business use. Nonetheless, it’s worth considering if you’re looking for the best remote desktop software that’s free.

In our Chrome Remote Desktop review, we take a close look at the program’s features and compare it to the competition. While a few paid options provide some additional features, Chrome’s convenience and accessibility probably make it the best free tool for remote desktop access.

Chrome Remote Desktop: Plans and pricing

Chrome Remote Desktop is entirely free to use, and there aren’t any perks, subscriptions, or other types of premium content. You’ll simply be asked to sign into your Google account to set up remote desktop access.

The program is available as a Chrome extension, so it can be used on any computer that supports Chrome. You can pair the target computer with another computer or with a mobile device running iOS or Android.

Chrome Remote Desktop: Features and utilities

Chrome Remote Desktop provides several helpful features that streamline the experience and enable cross-device functionality. While using a desktop from another location can introduce some logistical problems, Chrome Remote Desktop makes it easy to avoid most common issues.

For example, if you’re using a mobile device, you can switch to keyboard or trackpad mode through the menu button on the lower-left corner. The app also includes dedicated menu options for Ctrl-Alt-Del and Print Screen.

We tested Chrome Remote Desktop by accessing a 2015 iMac through an iPhone SE. Unfortunately, the app was missing critical keys like Command, Control, and Option, so many important keyboard shortcuts were simply unavailable.

On the other hand, you should be able to use your computer remotely without any issues on another desktop or laptop. You can reconfigure key mappings as long as both devices have a physical keyboard. That said, Chrome Remote Desktop doesn’t let you transfer files between devices.

There’s also an option for Remote Support, which gives remote users a one-time code to access a desktop in order to troubleshoot any issues. This enables IT professionals to quickly fix problems without being physically present or receiving ongoing access

Chrome Remote Desktop: Setup

To set up Chrome Remote Desktop, start by downloading the browser extension on the computer you want to access. You can find the extension in the Chrome Web Store. After installation, you’ll be able to use remote desktop features through a button in the top-right corner (next to the favorites icon).

Once the extension is installed, you’ll only have to enter the name of the desktop along with a PIN to start accessing the computer remotely. Keep in mind that you may need to adjust permissions to give access to remote devices.

Of course, you should install Chrome Remote Desktop on any devices you want to use to access your desktop. You’ll be able to view all remote devices from the desktop or mobile app as long as every device is signed into the same account.

Chrome Remote Desktop: Interface and performance

Chrome Remote Desktop is highly responsive, with only a small delay as long as you’re using a strong internet connection. In our tests, the remote device was consistently within one-quarter of a second of the original display. The entire experience is extremely smooth, and videos look nearly identical on both screens.

The program itself has a minimalist feel, with just a few functions and menus. In the desktop app, for example, the only options are to edit your computer’s name and PIN, connect to remote support, and ask for help. Since it runs on Google Chrome, you won’t be able to use it through any other browser.

Chrome Remote Desktop: Security

Chrome Remote Desktop requires a PIN every time you try to access a device remotely. You can set and change PINs for each individual device. PINs have to be at least six characters long, but they only need to contain numbers.

For Remote Support, the app provides a one-time access code which expires after the first connection. Users are asked to confirm that they still want to share their screen once every 30 minutes.

Chrome Remote Desktop: Support

To access the Help Center, just click “Help” in the desktop or mobile app. This page offers a simple guide for setting up remote access, sharing your computer, or removing the application.

If you’re still having trouble, you can also search the Help Community for similar issues or post your own question. While there’s an option to send feedback about the Help Center itself, there’s no way to contact Google directly for one-on-one support. Fortunately, most community posts get at least a few helpful replies.

Chrome Remote Desktop: Final verdict

Chrome Remote Desktop offers excellent performance and accessibility, and it works well for accessing a remote desktop on Mac, Windows, and Linux. While the mobile app doesn’t provide quite the same functionality, it’s still a decent way to access a desktop remotely. The Remote Support tool perfectly adapts Chrome Remote Desktop for support contexts.

On the other hand, the lack of features such as drag-and-drop file transfers, remote printing, and live chat between devices makes the application substantially less efficient in some use cases. Furthermore, you won’t be able to access live support if you run into any issues. Overall, Chrome Remote Desktop is a simple and straightforward option, but it’s missing several features that are critical in a variety of business contexts.

Chrome Remote Desktop: The competition

The main advantage of Chrome Remote Desktop over comparable alternatives is its free cost and convenience. You can share your desktop in a few seconds through Chrome and access it on a wide range of devices using your existing Google account. That said, it’s missing a few key features that are available with paid solutions.

RemotePC, for example, offers plans for businesses at $187 and $374 per year. It allows drag-and-drop file transfers between host and client computers, and users can print documents stored on the remote desktop without transferring them to the computer they’re physically using. Like many other paid solutions, RemotePC also provides 24/7 support to help troubleshoot the application and resolve any issues.

To find our more about Chrome Remote Desktop’s competition, read our Best remote desktop software guide.