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Gear4 iPhone remote appcessory: 60% of the time it works all the time

Home electronics are incomplete until they each have a black box you can point at them in order to avoid ever having to leave that comfy groove you’ve made in the sofa.

When you find yourself with eight million remotes cluttering up your living room, it may be time to consolidate. And what better way to do so than to replace them all with your iPhone?

iPhone remotes are nothing new – you’ve been able to use your iPhone to control your iTunes player since the year dot, after all – but when it comes to your home cinema set up, are they worth it?

Like actual magic

We tried out Gear4’s UnityRemote with an iPhone 4. This appcessory sits by your TV and communicates with your iPhone using Bluetooth. You can then control your television using an app on your handset.

Setting it up is very easy once you get the hang of how long to hold the pairing button down for. Simply placing the cylindrical receiver by my Samsung TV was enough for the UnityRemote to magically know how to control it. Eyes all agog and mouth hanging open, I breathed “It’s like magic!” to myself. So far, so brilliant.

Once paired, you can change channels, adjust volume, access the program guide and pretty much do everything you can with the TV’s remote, using a free accompanying app. The novelty of using my iPhone as a television remote took at least twelve minutes to wear off.

UnityRemote should work with most major manufacturers, and can control DVD players, set top boxes and all that jazz as well.

Bluetooth blues

Unfortunately, the iPhone-UnityRemote combo is not the most reliable remote system.

The main problem is the Bluetooth connection, which was temperamental at best. It’s entirely possible that this is an iPhone 4 issue – we’re willing to admit that it’s not the most reliable handset known to mankind. Regardless, it was incredibly frustrating; one minute we’d be happily flicking through channels, the next we’d be staring at a nonsensical settings screen.

The other major issue is that having the Bluetooth on constantly drains your iPhone’s already rubbish battery. This might not be too big a deal if you have a handy plug near your sofa but we don’t. Considering that most remote controls need two tiny batteries replacing once every three years, it seems like quite a trade-off.

We had some trouble getting the UnityRemote to work with all my AV equipment too. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything fancy – just a DVD player, which was the main troublemaker. Not only could it not automatically set itself up, manually programming the functions using the UnityRemote didn’t work either. So that’s at least one remote I’d have to keep kicking about.

Finally, while the iPhone owner of the household will be happy to chuck away all the other remotes in lieu of their handset, the non-iPhone owning contingent may have a couple of issues. What if the iPhone owner goes out – do you expect us to get up and manually change the channel? What is this, the ’50s?

Conclusion

A brilliant idea that when it works, works really well, the UnityRemote is more of a clever toy than a serious remote replacement. We’re all for cutting down on remote controls, but the using the iPhone and an unreliable Bluetooth connection is not quite the answer.

If we could somehow control our TV using the data connection, then we could be talking. Until then, unless you have a spare £100 burning a hole in your pocket, we’d stick with the remotes.
 

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