Over the past couple of months we've seen a huge boom in the universal remote adapters for the iPhone. They're all part of the quest to make the iPhone the one ultimate device to control everything. After all you can already control your lights, garage, start cars, or for those who caught my Plant-Mate post, you may even be able to water your garden with it. Currently most of the infrared transmitters out there are coming as either dongles or parts of iPhone cases as can be seen with FLPR or PowerA products. Think Flood's RedEye Remote is a little different though as it's a stand alone dock which transmits the signal instead. Does this make it better though?
Well that really depends on the situations you're planning on using your new "universal control" in. First let's take a look at the hardware itself and how it works. You wouldn't think it's anything too special just by looking at it, simply a Apple Universal dock made out of clear blue plastic instead of white with LED's glowing on the inside. This $188 plastic dock sports a whole lot more than just a charging port though. The 6 glowing LED's are actually IR transmitters (and receivers) strategically placed and aimed to allow a signal to be beamed in almost every direction of a room at the same time. This is important obviously as it allows different items throughout a room to be controlled by the same dock without a need to reposition it. These signal bursts are sent via the Wifi card built directly into the dock itself which, by default, creates its own wireless network or it can also be set to easily join a preexisting network instead. Joining a current network is the recommended option as it allows for extended range and usability of the internet on your phone at the same time plus increases overall system performance.
The use of Wifi is really where the bulk of the differences of this device stem from when comparing it to other IR options. One advantage is the ability to use the remote without being in a direct line of site of your device. This would be helpful for example if you're in an adjoining room to a TV which is too loud to hear you company. Instead of leaving your guests to find a remote and turn down the volume it could quickly be done without ever breaking conversation. The Wifi also allows more then one iDevice to control your systems at once, while this could start controller wars in some homes, the more diplomatic ones could find many advantages to it. I did have some concerns about latency with the transmission from Wifi to IR but it was relatively minimal and keeping the remote sound clicks option on helped with keeping it intuitive. Signal drop off was also negligible, especially when tested on stronger networks. Additionally the dock on the top comes with all of the standard dock inserts so that any Apple iDevice can charge on it making the RedEye hardware more than acceptable.
The software, aka the RedEye Remote app, on the other hand could still use some work. It's not that the app is bad exactly, in fact it's quite feature rich with the ability to make Macros, custom remote layouts, and personalized buttons, more on these in a moment. The overwhelming feeling I got though was unintuitive. Being a stereotypical male I started my testing by tearing open the box and completely bypassing the instructions. I know this is a bit reckless and pigheaded but I review and work with tech products for a living, I rarely need instructions to get something working. I admit I often have to go back and read them in order to learn all of the features but to simply get it running is usually a boom, boom, pow, process. For the RedEye though it wasn't until I went back and actually watched the tutorial video online that I truly had a firm grasp on setup and use of the device.
Once I got over that hurdle though things went swimmingly. I mentioned before that you're able to make your own Macros which with one push of a button can switch your TV input, adjust your receiver volume, and turn on your DVD player so you can watch a movie. This is pretty cool stuff plus you can create your own custom controller layouts with different size buttons which can even be set as TV favorites for taking you to your favorite channel. Every once in a while the macros, called activities in the app, would get confused and think my TV was off instead of on. I was able to advance a couple of menus to manually override it and get it back on track but it was a little annoying. The remote layouts can be a little tricky at first also, I read somewhere a suggestion for ThinkFlood to create a desktop app to help designing layouts which I think would be a great idea. Fortunately all of the remote setups are actually stored in the device and not the app itself which means any iPod or iPhone that connects to it will instantly have all of the same layouts. A cool feature, although not very useful, is the added gesture control the developers included. It's an interesting idea but the truth is I kept accidentally flipping channels when I put the phone down or my hand would end up getting tired from flicking it to the right while trying to turn the volume up a couple of notches.
Fortunately the biggest flaws, which aren't enough to keep me from recommending it, are with the software meaning it could end up being updated at any point to make it better. ThinkFlood has already committed to updating it for at least adding to it's already extensive IR remote database. I should also mention that if your remote isn't in the database theres no need to worry, there is actually a learn buttons feature with the product as well that you can teach your RedEye how to mimic the unsupported remote.
As I alluded to at the beginning of this review, is this the universal remote solution for you? Well it depends, the remote dongle accessories out there are cool but they're something you always have to carry with you to use everywhere. Sure you could easily pick it up and move it to another room but that also means you could easily loose it or leave it upstairs, that'd be annoying.
The other design has been to integrate it with a case, which is great except what happens if a different size iPhone comes out, or if you switch to an iPod Touch? So the best solution really depends on your situation, however, ThinkFlood has recognized the need to be portable too. Coming out this spring is the RedEye Mini which is a dongle that connects through your headphone port and will only run $50. I'm not exactly sure how it will work since remote data is stored on the RedEye itself, but I'm hoping that there is a way to sync the two together. This would give you the best of both worlds without a need to recreate the same remote layouts with 2 devices and for less than $240 it's still a bargain compared to a Logitech Harmony.
One more note for the ultra creative and handy folks out there, I came across this video a few days ago and was amazed. Hopefully a guy controlling his car with his iPhone will give you some inspiration for other things you could do with a great device like this.
Model Reviewed: RedEye
-Runs on Wifi
-Doesn't Require Repositioning
-Universal Dock for Charging
-Supports Multiple iPhones at Once
-Only Used in One Room
-App Not Intuitive
-Chance of Wifi Latency