Considering a Universal Remote? Use Your iPhone!

The VooMote Zapper turns your smartphone into a multi-room, endlessly configurable universal remote control. 1/17/2012 9:36 AM Eastern

Considering a Universal Remote? Use Your iPhone!

Jan 17, 2012 2:36 PM, Reviewer: Jason Bovberg

The VooMote Zapper turns your smartphone into a multi-room, endlessly configurable universal remote control.

VooMote Zapper

In my house, the notion of the universal remote control is something of an impossible dream. I’ve always had an assemblage of various single-purpose remotes surrounding me in my living room—and now, in my home theater. Part of me likes having the full, granular control of each individual remote available at all times, even though I understand that I almost never need all that functionality for everyday use. If the perfect universal remote were to come my way, requiring very little configuration, I’d probably make the jump. But I’m so particular about usability that it would still be a tough sell.

Over the years, I’ve considered moving to a time-tested, critically acclaimed universal remote such as the Logitech Harmony, but I’ve always backed away because of my aforementioned predilections or simply because of cost. Some of those higher-end remotes reach up into the $400 range—more expensive than some AV components themselves! Heck, I could buy four Blu-ray players for that amount of cash.

So I’ve always been relatively content with my jumble of remotes, regardless of how often family members and visitors ridicule me.

You might say I’ve been waiting all this time for the perfect solution to come along. It would have to be a solution that was comparatively inexpensive, and it would have to be simple to program. Ideally, it would be something unique—an evolution away from the established players in the arena of the universal remote. And I think I may have found that solution in the form of tiny piece of hardware and a free smartphone app.

Apparently, universal remote control accessories for smartphones are quite numerous in the market. I had no idea. The VooMote Zapper ($70) is my first hands-on experience with this kind of solution, and I have to say I’m very impressed. It works with the iPod, the iPhone, and even the iPad. (There are also remote solutions available for Android, but I could find none for Windows Phone. Apple iOS boasts the most options, predictably.)

The VooMote Zapper is a two-pronged solution that pairs a diminutive Dock Connector plug-in accessory with an iOS 5 app. (I learned the hard way that the Zapper won’t work at all with any previous iOS version; I had to go through the lengthy iOS 5 installation process before I could even begin playing with it.) It lets you control any number of AV components and displays, and it lets you configure multiple rooms, so that you can have a truly universal remote—for your entire home—in the palm of your hand.

The VooMote Zapper comes in a small, unassuming, red-and-white plastic box. The accessory is couched in white, reminding me of Apple packaging. Behind the device is an instruction manual that you will need a magnifying glass to read. The Zapper comes in black or white; my test device was black. Once you plug in the accessory, the iDevice flips its screen, and you use it with the accessory pointed toward your components.

The download of the free iOS application, VooMote Zapper, begins immediately after you plug in the accessory. This is a very nice, clear, easy-to-use app; frankly, having no experience with these kinds of smartphone remote apps, I didn’t expect this level of usability and design. In minutes, you walk through the process of setting up your rooms and configuring as many devices as you want within each room. Easy-to-read prompts walk you through device setup, trying first for brand and model number (included in a fairly extensive database), then going for an interesting trial-and-error method that was mostly successful in my tests. The Zapper found my new Samsung TV effortlessly, but it had more trouble discovering the functionality of my older Denon 5800 receiver. I had to go through several screens that asked me “Does this button work as you expected?” before the Zapper landed on the correct one. But it eventually did.

For my living room, I added UIs for my TV, my Blu-ray player, my cable box, and my AV receiver. You can view the UIs one at a time, wiping through the screens depending on the component you want to control. You can also dig more deeply into each component’s UI, swiping through pages of functionality. (An inevitable drawback is that a smartphone’s screen offers only so much real estate for functionality.) So it offers many more features than I expected, and it even lets you customize the features you see. On top of that, you can link devices together for OneView functionality so that you can combine, for example, volume control on your AV receiver with your cable box’s channel control. The customizability is quite impressive.

Is a smartphone app something I’m going to use often in my home for the purposes of universal remote control? Right now, this thing has a cool factor that’s hard to deny. I’ve taken the step of stashing away all my individual remotes and attempting life with only my smartphone (and the VooMote Zapper) sitting on the arm of my favorite chair. I have to admit it’s a bit of a chore to plug in the tiny accessory and prepare the iPhone for remote-control use. It seems like a small complaint, but it is an extra step or two. And this accessory has the very real potential for getting lost somewhere—say, in the inner recesses of your chair’s cushioning.

The device’s setup is intuitive and simple—although the packaging’s mention of “30-second setup” is a definite stretch. Once you get your components set up, you’re certainly not done with the entire configuration. In fact, you’re probably looking at hours of setup to get the VooMote Zapper humming along perfectly to your satisfaction. But that’s just to completely customize it.

In the end, the VooMote Zapper is a top-tier alternative to solutions such as the Logitch Harmony universal remote (particularly considering the price differential), and I love that it takes advantage of the increasingly ubiquitous smartphone to get its job done. Considering that you probably have your smartphone with you at all times anyway, the VooMote Zapper is uniquely situated as a perfectly targeted solution in this age of consumer electronics.

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