Saturday, 8 January 2011

NewKinetix Rē: Universal Remote - Review

At the last count I had 8 remote controls cluttering up the coffee table in my sitting room, and another 3 upstairs in my bedroom on the bedside table. Of course, they are really sitting on the tables. They end up all over the place; usually somewhere where they can't be retrieved in a hurry. That's also a lot of batteries to have to manage. Like many other people in a similar s situation, I've looked at universal remotes, and even bought a Logitech Harmony 555 some years ago, but gave up struggling to programme it using flakey Windows software, and it now lives in a drawer somewhere in the gadget graveyard.

Recently I read an article in Australian MacWorld (it's quite surprising what you'll end up reading when needs must - and you have Zinio installed on the iPad!) ) comparing 5 universal remotes designed to work under iOS. Whilst they all seemed to be an improvement on previous technologies, one in particular caught my eye; the NewKinetix Rē. After a bit more research, I decided to give it a try, and as I've now been using it for two weeks since my return home, I thought I'd share my experiences with you.

Rē with standard Apple dock connector
I have to say that I was a bit unsure of how I'd get on with the Rē. I had high hopes, but memories of the Logitech device still lingered uncomfortably in the back of my mind. But what exactly is the Rē. The initial press announcement describes it as  a "Plug-in Universal Remote Control accessory for IR control of AV Devices using the iPhone and iPod touch". It goes on to add that "the plug-in requires no batteries, cables, charging or network connections", and that it "includes an extensive database of IR codes that will control most popular AV entertainment devices". All this is achieved by means of a little black oblong of plastic that plugs into the bottom of your iOS device, and a 'free' app downloadable from the App Store. The app is now in its version 2 status and supports the iPhone 4 and the iPad in native full screen mode.

You configure the device through the App by setting up your 'Rooms' first. Then in each Room you can add your devices. This is done by selecting a device from the very extensive database of devices included as described in the blurb. Even if your specific device isn't available, it's quite likely that one very similar is in the list and you can at least get the basic functions working such as power, menu, volume, etc. You can then tweak the settings to your specific requirements by switching to learning mode, whereby the Rē can learn from the device specific remote control.

It took me about 10 minutes to get my Samsung TV and BT Vision boxes working with the Rē. I was particularly pleased that the BT Vision box was supported because I was having trouble with the supplied remote (a not uncommon problem it appears, as my girlfriend is already on her second, and I've seen a number of similar complaints). My Sharp Sound Bar took a little bit more effort to set-up as it wasn't directly supported, but by using an unlisted docking station device it found a close enough match, and that now works fine. The Apple Remote Control and Apple TV devices are supported straight off.

Adding buttons, modifying button behaviour and changing layouts is very simple, but it is worth printing out the 21 page manual (or at least save it locally as a PDF file) to have a reference guide handy. The great thing about the Rē is that you can get up and running very quickly and then spend as much time as you wish tweaking and adjusting things to your own specifications.

The Rē also supports Activities and Macros to enable you to perform various related functions. An example Activity would be "Watch A DVD" whereby you can set up the app to power on all the appropriate devices and select the DVD input on the TV. I have set up the "Watch TV" activity, which was very easy as it is largely a wizard driven operation. The system prompts you to select which devices are responsible for specific operations, and the result is an Activity screen with a selection of buttons from each device. The wizard builds the appropriate macros to control the critical operations. These Activity screens can be modified in the same way as any other device screen. My Watch TV activity screen allows me to power all the necessary devices on (or off), and then use a selection of BT Vision and Sound Bar buttons to control the system. It's a lot easier to get it working than it is to describe it here!

Rē showing the Watch TV screen on an iPhone 3G
Settings can be transferred across multiple iOS devices either by "bumping" them or via email. This is great if you need to charge a device and want to swap the Rē to a different device. I'm using my old iPhone 3G as the standard remote, but swap over to the iPad when it needs charging. This frees up the iPhone 4 for... well... being a phone!

The Rē cost me about £50 from Amazon (UK) including P&P (I use Amazon Prime), which is a bit pricey compared with some of the more common universal remotes but significantly cheaper than a similar Logitech remote. However, it performs much better than any of the universal remotes I've used, better than some of the supplied remotes for my devices, and cuts out all the clutter and battery management issues. Next on the list of things to programme are the Sony Amplifier, CD Player and DVD Recorder, and then I'll have a further play with the Activities options.

I'm really pleased with the Rē. It does what it says, and with a bit of style. My high hopes were completely realised and I'm happy to recommend it. However, one word of advice. Don't waste your time trying to replace the remotes for any energy saving power sockets you may have. These generally use RF rather than IR signals to control them, something it took me about 30 minutes to work out!! Doh !! Oh, and one more thing. It would be very easy to take control of the TV in the pub without anyone realising but do so at your own risk!!!

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