Your Android is great at doing smartphone stuff on its own screen, but it's also remarkably adept at controlling devices and applications entirely separate from itself, from desktop applications to entire operating systems. Here's a look at our favourites.
VLC Remote (Beta)
There's another, seemingly popular option bearing the official-seeming VLC Remote tag, but it cuts off certain features unless you're paying $3.08 for the full version. Peter Baldwin's VLC Remote app works just fine, and does just what you want it to — controls your playback on any machine that has VLC (or a compatible control scheme) running.
Remote for iTunes
It's $5.14, so you have to really want the iTunes-specific access this app provides. But it's very slick, near-total in the access it provides, and a great way to make the switch from the hard-to-beat Remote app for iOS to the Android life. It manages songs and volume, playlists, the iTunes "DJ" during parties, and works with AirPlay setups too.
It's a very well-done remote, front to back, that can control multiple Roku boxes with all the features of the real remote. You can skin the remote for a nice background, access the info screen and the quick 30-seconds-back button, and add a widget to your home screen. That last feature allows for a really killer setup — make one of your home screen panels devote to the widget, and you've got a remote with just a swipe of the finger.
If you like the basics, there's a stripped-down version, but we like the improvements this version has made to the basic seven-button Boxee remote. Along with navigation, selection, menu, back and typing, there's a better "Now Playing" screen, support for gesture mode (i.e. mouse-like cursor movement) and a pretty helpful Settings section.
YouTube's own Android remote is meant to pair nicely with their big-screen-focused Leanback experience, but it's much more than a play/pause tool. You can preview videos in your queue or channel on your small screen, so you're always sure you're playing the right video for other viewers (yeesh, how bad it is when that happens). You can queue up multiple videos, skim through videos already playing, and check on your subscriptions through your YouTube login.
YouTube Remote | App Brain
The niftiest feature of this remote? The visual scroll view of your video library. XBMC is the best at detecting and recognising the TV and movies you've got stashed away on your storage drives, and the remote offers a compact view of everything waiting for your eager eyes, right on your phone.
General Remotes and VNC
This one is Windows-only, but if you're using Windows, it might be all you need. Unified Remote packs a lot of remote features into one launcher, as you can see from the screenshot: Windows Media Player, general media controls, task switching, file exploring, keyboard/mouse input, and PowerPoint.
Gmote takes a kind of hybrid approach to remote media control. As a direct remote, it only technically supports VLC (and Windows Media Player, with a hack) on Windows, Mac and somewhat on Linux. But Gmote also works as a generic keyboard, a PowerPoint remote control, and has standard play/pause/skip buttons for most apps that would accept them from your keyboard buttons. In other words, it might cover everything one user needs, or nothing that another user might want, but it's a nicely ambitious remote control app.
After you install the app on your Android and the server software on your system (Windows, Mac and Linux), you've created a proxy mouse and keyboard for your media machine out of your Android. Nothing more, nothing less — full cursor and text control from a small screen onto a much bigger screen.
RemoteDroid | App Brain
Being as cheap and open to developers as Android is, there are many VNC-style apps for remote screen access to a system. We like TeamViewer's app, though, because of its control scheme, which makes finger-as-mouse scrolling a bit more intuitive, and offers just the right ratio of screen display to controls. The desktop software is also fairly well tested, and making a connection requires only a few numbers punched in on your phone, rather than a network IP address hunt. The app requires that you have non-Market source installation enabled your Applications settings.
What's your favourite remote control app for Android? Tell us all about it in the comments.