By May 17, 2011

Gear4 UnityRemote review

Gear4 UnityRemote review Here at tracyandmatt.co.uk we like to review interesting products and this one that I’ve been given for review is no different, here I have the new product from gear4 the UnityRemote. It is a very clever attempt at a universal remote and I have been putting it through its paces for over a week now.

Question is, is it good enough to be top of the universal remote market or is it just an expensive product that will end up at the back of shelves?

To find out, read on for the full review.

 

What’s in the box?

 

  • UnityRemote
  • 3 AA Batteries
  • User manual

 

The 10 Second review:

  • Product: gear4 UnityRemote
  • Price: £99.95 from various and £99.99 from www.gear4.com
  • Summary: A nice little device that does its job quite well, but it’s downfall is the fact that it requires an iOS device for it to work.
  • Best of: Simple iPhone App interface, easy to use, size.
  • Worst of: Requires an iOS device, price, battery life.
  • Buy from: Various

 

Gear4 UnityRemote Product Specification:

  • Connectivity: Bluetooth
  • Powered by: 3 AA batteries 1.5V
  • Product Dimensions H x diameter (mm): 51 x 64
  • Product Weight (g): 143

 

 

General

As there isn’t really much to see with the UnityRemote I only have this picture to show you below.

Gear4 UnityRemote review

 

In the picture above you can see that there is a red ring going all the way around the device, this is the Infrared sensor which also has a Bluetooth sensor in it to enable the remote to connect to an iOS device. Around the other side of the remote is the multifunctional button and the MicroUSB slot.

On the top of the remote there is only the gear4 logo, and on the bottom is the battery cover.

 

Review

I will be honest right from the off and say that I have never used a universal remote simply because I’ve seen no point in it, so when I was told that there was a new product from gear4 available to review called UnityRemote I was a little sceptical at first, but I told myself that I was going to test it out with an open mind as it could surprise me.

Well guess what it has surprised me! A LOT! I wasn’t expecting something like this to work for me but it has done.

What the device is-is basically a normal everyday universal remote that utilizes Apples’ iOS devices for it to work, all the user has to do is visit the App store on their iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch and search for gear4 and the UnityRemote application will be there to download. Once downloaded it is super simple to set up the synchronisation between the UnityRemote and your device, all that is required from you the user is to turn your Bluetooth on your device to On and also to press the button for a second or 2 on the remote itself until the red LED flashes, then on your iOS device in the Bluetooth menu the remote should come up as either UnityRemote or misc. Then it is as simple as connecting to the device and away you go, it really is that simple, the way that the remote does it is by turning the Bluetooth signal that it receives from the iOS device into an infrared one, very clever really and it works really well.

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As for the design of the product I find it to be very finger print friendly which if you leave it alone isn’t a problem but if you have synchronised devices all over the house then you are going to have to move the device closer to them in order for the application to work properly, other than that slight issue I think it’s a nice little device. I have found that there is a major flaw in the design though; the battery life is nothing short of awful! The remote is powered by 3 AA batteries and I have used the device every day for maybe 20 minutes at a time to just test out etc and I’ve changed the batteries twice! In my opinion a rechargeable battery would have worked so much better with a device of this type so I wasn’t very happy with this set up.

When the device is powered up though it is probably the easiest product I’ve ever used (Other than an actual remote of course) The operations are done with the iPhone application, so what I thought I would do is show you the screenshots and write a simple explanation underneath each one instead of rambling on.

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As you can see in the shots above the application interface is very simple and easy to understand as everything is written in bold and is logically laid out also. The left screenshot is of the application when the UnityRemote isn’t connected to the phone so it is useless to be honest, but it is really simple to re-connect the 2 devices together as all you have to do (if Bluetooth is turned off on the iOS device) is turn the Bluetooth back on and the 2 devices will automatically re-connect to each other. There is another reason why the devices wouldn’t be in sync anymore and that is the power saving feature that the UnityRemote has, it will automatically switch itself off after a while if the iOS device is out of range or the Bluetooth connection is not there, simply to save battery power. It works quite well really, but it can get quite annoying if it thinks that your device is out of range but really isn’t but that didn’t happen too often while I had it.

Once the devices are connected up again and you re-open the application, the screenshot to the right will appear once the application has re-configured any synchronised devices again. As you can see not a lot changes other than a couple of options have appeared that weren’t there before. The process of setting up a device to work with the UnityRemote couldn’t be simpler if it tried, to get to the section to do so you just go into configuration, devices and then the below screenshots explain the rest.

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As you can see in the above shots the steps to set up to work with a device are super easy, and once you have completed the above steps there are just a couple more to complete and then you will be ready to control your home device with ease. One thing that you can’t forget to do when you want to set the remote up is to place it right in front of the device in your home such as HDTV so that the UnityRemote can find the code, if the remote isn’t in front of the TV it won’t be able to find a code.

Below are the next few steps in the set up process.

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The above screenshots are of the next steps in the set up process and as you can see they are basically just checklists to see if buttons work and if the power on and off works correctly, once the processes have been identified as working properly the remote is set up and ready to control your device, so simple.

Now I’ve told you about the set up I think I will move onto the overall usage of the UnityRemote.

Once you have set the UnityRemote up to work with you devices, using it is very simple as I will hopefully demonstrate with my screenshots of the application. Unfortunately I was unable to video the device whilst working because I lack the equipment to record decent video.

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The first step to take when you want to control your devices is to press ‘devices’ at the bottom of the screen and any synchronised devices will be there ready for you to control. The left screenshot is the device screen that lets you choose to turn all devices on/off and also allows you to choose which one at one point you want to control at any one time.

The right screenshot is when I pressed into my HDTV and as you can see it shows all of the button options that you are likely to see on your normal remote, when you see this screen it means that the UnityRemote knows the code for the product and further on in the review I will show you a screenshot of when the remote does not know a code for a device.

Below you will see the rest of the screenshots that will be available with a fully synchronised device such as my TV

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Hopefully you will be able to notice how detailed everything is but also how simple everything is to read. When I first saw these screens for myself I was actually really surprised at how everything showed up as I would normally expect, I checked all of the shown buttons with the ones on the actual TV remote and they were exact. Now I am sure it isn’t just me that thinks that is super cool? How can a little device like this find my TV just at the press of a button in an iPhone application? I guess it just shows the leap in technology since the first Universal remote all those years ago.

When using the device to control my products I did notice that there was a 2-4 second delay between me pressing the buttons and for example the sky channel changing, now if you think about this for a second it isn’t that bad at all because thinking about it logically there is a Bluetooth and an infrared signal involved in the same process. So for me this little delay wasn’t a problem at all but I thought I should add it in the review.

There is another really cool feature that I thought I would share with you and that is, Gestures. This is a feature that I didn’t expect to see when I started to use the device but as the days went by I thought how logical is actually is, what the gesture allows you to do is set for example a ‘swipe up’ to change the channel up, and there are quite a few combinations that you can use for various devices that make using the application even simpler.

Here is a screenshot of the gesture screen just so you can see what it’s like.

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I doubt that you will be able to make them out but all the way around the edge of the screen and also in the middle there are the names of the gestures that I chose, to be honest though I am sure that you will agree that the gesture screen isn’t very good? And as this is a direct screenshot you should also know that this is exactly what I saw too so you have to have a good memory if you are to use the gestures properly or else you could change the channel at the wrong time or something silly.

Another little feature that the application has is the chance to create an Action for your devices, so for example you could add an action called ‘Turn on’ and what this would be used for is to control multiple devices at the same time, I found this to be one of the features that I didn’t really use because I found it simpler to turn my TV and SKY+ box on separately, I guess that it could definitely work for some people though but just not for me.

I will now talk to you about one of the main and most important features of the UnityRemote, teaching it devices. Now I am pretty sure that I won’t be the only person to own randomly branded devices? One example of a randomly named device that I have is an F & H Blu-Ray player, this was a brand that wasn’t in the remotes’ database so I had to teach the remote to control it.

Below is the process that has to be taken in order to teach the UnityRemote.

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On this screen all you have to do when you know that the brand isn’t listed is press ‘Make Not Listed’ and then the below screen will appear, then you enter the brand of your device and the screenshot next to it comes next asking what type of device it is so as you can see even the most complex of things is made to be so easy with this device.

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Once you’ve done that stage what comes next is the teaching part, I did honestly think that this bit would be the most difficult because of what it involves but because the remote is actually really good it was so easy to do.

What you have to do is basically teach the remote all of the buttons on your devices’ remote control, now I know this sounds daunting but the UnityRemote has a readymade list of what it calls ‘Keys’ to choose from.

The process of teaching the keys is based on you pressing ‘Start Learning’ on your iOS device and as soon as the UnityRemote starts flashing a red LED you have to press your chosen button just to the left of the LED and hopefully if you’ve done it right the application will tell you with a nice big tick that teaching was successful. You have to complete this for as many buttons that the remote knows and then you will be ready to control your device.

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Because I know what I’ve just written sounds jumbled I have provided some screenshots of each of the explained steps to illustrate how simple it is to do.

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There was one problem with the teaching that I found and that is that there aren’t really that many buttons listed that are actually on a lot of the remotes that I have at my house, for example for the Blu-Ray player that I synchronised some buttons that weren’t in the list include rewind, setup and these are 2 buttons on my remote that I often use to faff around so it was annoying not to have them available.

Also I thought that I would mention that although the device told me that everything had worked and was set up to use, not all of the buttons worked. An example of this is when I tried to fast forward and it just didn’t respond to the action, I wasn’t sure whether this was the UnityRemote or whether it was something that I did wrong but I tried re-doing the process a few times and not once did the same buttons work so maybe it just needs a software update and then it will work properly.

 

Conclusion

Here I am at the end of my review and I have to say that I feel very strongly about this little device because I found my experience with it to be quite enjoyable, I do unfortunately have my doubts about it, one doubt in my mind is whether anyone will actually go out and buy it at its current price of £99.95. The reason that it’s a doubt is simply because I definitely won’t be one of the people who will buy the product because yes it is a pretty good piece of equipment but it isn’t at all groundbreaking.

All in all though I’ve quite enjoyed this review because it’s something a bit different to what I normally review, the only problem with it as I’ve already mentioned I’m not too sure it’s good enough and cheap enough to stack up against some of the other leading universal remotes that don’t have to use an iOS device.

 

 

Posted in: Gadgets, Reviews

About the Author:

More than 20 years in the IT industry. Blogging with a passion and thirst for new technology since 2005.
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