Avvenu - Browse Your PC From a Phone

Avennu Avvenu, which was recently acquired by Nokia, is similar to SoonR (review) in that both provide remote web access to files on a desktop PC from a phone or another PC.  I'm a satisfied SoonR user, is Avvenu good enough to switch?

To use Avvenu, you start off by installing the Avvenu client program, which runs all the time in the background, on the PC (Windows XP and Vista only). Then, when you log into Avvenu's mobile (https://mobile.avvenu.com) or PC site (https://www.avvenu.com) with a phone or another PC you're able to browse the remote PC's entire file system and download files. You can also share files with another user - Avvenu emails them a link granting time-limited, read-only access to specific files. Avvenu doesn't allow sharing audio or video files, however. If Google Desktop search is installed on the PC, Avvenu integrates with it letting you search the PC for files. You can upload files to the PC from another PC or a mobile device that supports file uploads from the browser - like Windows Mobile and Symbian S60 phones. Or you can upload to a single pre-configured folder using MMS with almost any phone.

Another Avvenu feature is the Avvenu Music Player which streams music from the iTunes library of a PC running Avvenu to any Windows or Macintosh computer or to a Windows Mobile 5 Smartphone or a Palm OS device which has Kinoma Player installed. I don't use iTunes so I couldn't try this feature although it looks quite nice with a slick GUI and playlist support.

The basic Avvenu service is free. It requires that the remote computer be turned on and a user logged in to access it's files. There's also a premium service, called Anytime Files, that stores copies of selected files on the Avvenu server permitting remote access even when the PC is turned off. Anytime Files is $9.99/month, $79.99/year for 10GB of storage or $19.99/month, $149.99/year for 30 GB.

I'd be a lot more excited about Avvenu if SoonR didn't already exist. SoonR does everything that Avvenu does except for streaming iTunes music. SoonR also does a lot that Avvenu doesn't; like giving full remote access to Outlook e-mail, contacts and calendar; allowing you share any file, including video and audio, which Avvenu blocks and offering 100 MB of free AnyTime Access, the SoonR equivalent of Avvenu's Anytime Files.

Everything I tried in Avvenu worked as advertised and without error but there were several areas were I felt usability could be improved:

  • I seemed to get logged out after about 5 minutes of activity, mobile applications need to persist logins until the user explicitly logs out, even across sessions, as mobile use tends to have a lot of interruptions including temporary loss of connectivity and because logging in with a phone keypad is a much bigger pain than with a keyboard.
  • The mobile web site seems to waste a lot of screen real estate , displaying only 7 files at a time on a 176 x 220 screen resulting in a lot of scrolling and clicking of the next page link.
  • Avvenu forced me to the PC site if I used it with Opera Mini even though I was using the mobile specific URL of mobile.avvenu.com. The PC version was usable in Mini but only displayed 2 files per screen, requiring even more scrolling. A mobile. m. or .mobi URL should always go to the mobile version of a site regardless of the browser. Users aren't stupid, they don't type "mobile...." unless they want to visit a mobile site.

SoonR also supports Apple Macs (OS 10.4 or later) and Windows 2000/XP/Vista while Avvenu is strictly XP/Vista. I also like that SoonR lets you restrict remote access to specific folders while Avvenu gives you everything. It's not that I'm worried about security, it's just easier to work with remote access on my phone if I limit it to certain folders. Avvenu does let you specify a single folder as your starting point for remote access which helps but with SoonR I have immediate 1 click access to the four folders (my documents annd source code) that I care about when I'm away from my PC plus a link to My Computer root so I can still get to any file if I want. Avvenu forces me to drill down through folders to reach content that's not in the default folder. SoonR also lets you view Word, Powerpoint, Photoshop, Visio, TIFF and Framemaker documents on any phone, while Avvenu just downloads files, it's up to your device to suppy a compatible viewer for each filetype.

If you are looking for a way to remotely access files on a PC from any device, take a look at both Avvenu and SoonR. They are both do the job. Although I prefer SoonR, I may have missed some neat feature in Avvenu that would swing the balance in it's favor for you. If use Avvenu, what do you like about it? Comments are open.

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