By Todd Bernhard updated on 05/06/2010
While attending CES, I blogged about the trend of using an iPhone or iPod touch as a universal remote. Since then, I have had a chance to play with the Rē from NewKinetix.
I really wanted to like the Rē. I am the gadget guy, who always has the latest of everything. I have owned numerous high-end universal remote controls, from Philips, Sony, Logitech (Harmony) and Monster Cable. I am not opposed to spending $100 or more for a device that can connect all of my audio and video equipment and displace multiple remotes.
However, this is not a case of "too little, too late". Rather, with the Rē, this is a case of "too little, too early." There are some shortcomings. To NewKinetix' credit, many of these issues are not their fault. But the result is that I will be sticking with a dedicated universal remote.
Here's what the Rē does well:
Interface - They have paid attention to usability and have chosen button designs, colors, and gradients that give the app (a free download, but the $70 device is required to use the app) a high-end look and feel.
Devices supported - The app supports tons of devices out of the box, and can learn the remote signals of other devices.
Room for improvement:
Power - The Rē device plugs in to the dock connector of the iPod touch (or iPhone). While the device does not need to be charged, when it is plugged in, the iPod cannot be charged. My Logitech and Monster remotes come with a cradle. They can be set down on the cradle and always be ready. I would like to see a cradle or extra mini-USB jack to allow charging while the device is connected.
Transmission - IR (Infrared) is the standard for most A/V equipment but my Logitech and Monster remotes transmit their controls in RF (Radio Frequency) to a box with IR emitters. This allows the remote control to "work through walls" and throughout the house. I would have preferred a Bluetooth to IR device so the iPod or iPhone would not need to be pointed at the electronics, and this would have eliminated the power issue, mentioned earlier.
Tactile - Even the cheapest remote control has physical buttons which allow you to change volume, channels "by feel". This is a limitation of the Apple devices, but it highlights another reason why a dedicated universal remote may be a better choice. Perhaps haptic feedback will be available in future devices, but still this isn't the same as a dedicated button.
Size - Universal remotes often have larger real estate so there are plenty of buttons (perhaps too many). But with the Re's app, I had to scroll up and down to accomplish a task, such as recording a show, because of the limited screen size. An iPad might be a better solution, but it would be hard to justify a $500 device just for service as a remote control.
Interactivity - Instead of trying to be a replacement for a universal remote control, this class of devices should try to bring more to the table, in the way that Apple's iBooks have done, through interactivity. Don't just replicate the experience but improve upon it. I would like to see two-way communication, and let the iPod leverage the power of the Internet. Imagine watching a TV show and having information about the actors and chats from fellow viewers at your fingertips. Indeed, tvChatter from Frog Design (designers of many computers from Apple and Sun Microsystems, where I worked for many years), CrowdZone, and IMDb are examples of apps that can be great companions while watching TV. I would like to see a remote that really leveraged the iPhone platform. Otherwise, a dedicated device will always be more affordable and better suited for such a single purpose.
Many of these criticisms are not the fault of the Rē and would be true of similar devices. So if you are okay with the limitations mentioned earlier, the Rē may be for you. It just didn't push the right buttons for me!