PowerA has been kicking it on the iPhone block for a while, but a few weeks ago they launched their Universal Remote (Control) Case for the iPhone. It’s not the first of it’s type to accomplish this feat, but one of the few that works almost right out of the box. Intended only as a learning remote, the PowerA Universal Remote Case is certainly limited in functionality but what it lacks in feature set is made up for in simplicity.
The case itself consists of two pieces: the bottom which docks into the iPhone’s 30 pin connector and the top, which secures the bottom and protects the iPhone’s back and sides. Accompanying the case is a free downloadable app, The Unviersal Remote App.
Configuring the application is just like any universal remote; point the bottom portion at the corresponding remote, select the button you’d like to program and that’s it. Unlike other iPhone universal remote apps that I’ve tested, the PowerA app requires you to create separate remotes for each device, which you first select or create when you launch the app. During initial setup the app will prompt you to enter a custom lablel – I choose my brand of TV, Vizio, as my label along with my other corresponding gear’s brand. Keep in mind that every remote layout is exactly the same with no modification or deletion of buttons allowed – it’s intended as a catch all button layout, just like a physical, lower end universal remote.
The app quickly to learns new buttons and unlike the universal remotes of my childhood and teens, it was able to learn the commands in a second at most. Once the commands are programmed you just need to save and then presto, you controlling your IR gear. If need be you have the option to go back and amend, add or remove commands from each respective remote. Buttons that haven’t been programmed will still appear in your remote during use, but will be circled in blue during programming if they have yet to receive a command (a popup let’s you know you haven’t programmed the button during remote use).
The bottom of the case, the IR part, contains a small LED that glows blue when the remote is properly plugged in. Because the bottom of the case is the infrared receiver and sender, you’ll need to hold the iPhone backwards or upside down to send commands to your gear. Why PowerA didn’t channel the commands through the top of the case is beyond me, but my best guess is costs. I found this ‘feature’ annoying since no other apps or the iPhone’s menu for that matter are set to this orientation. So I constantly found myself rotating the iPhone 180 degrees to accommodate the PowerA iPhone Remote. Also of note, the app’s universal remote does not fit on one screen, requiring you to scroll down to reach the input button in addition to other buttons.
It’s a bit hard to gauge what the battery drain is on the iPhone while using the remote, but from what I can tell it’s negligible, unless of course you’re doing some serious controlling. With that said, the PowerA iPhone Universal Remote is as easy as pie to operate right out of the box. Unlike my Redeye experience, there is no mulltistep setup process or WiFi to mess with. Just pop on the case, download the app, program and you’re done. Best of all, it’s just a remote, with no fancy macro settings to figure out, or button layouts to configure.
I’m a bit frustrated that you can’t download the app and play with it before purchasing. Correction: you can download the app, but when you launch it you can’t interact with the remote, instead you can ‘learn more’. As a consumer and reviewer this grinds my gears. Of course I would like to try before I buy, even if I can’t control any physical gear.
So here’s the bottom line: you’re dropping $60 for a Universal Remote that doubles as a case, that is if you’re so inclinded to always walk around with some added bulk in your pocket. The PowerA Universal Remote Case works almost flawlessly despite its aformetioned limitations. But at the end of the day, putting aside the actual product, do you really want the iPhone to be your remote? I’ve used universal remotes to change inputs, adjust volume but to channel surf, I hardly think so. So if you’re cool with a zero tactical remote experience and want something easy and simple out of the box, the PowerA is for you. But if you’re looking for a more robust remote experience with macros and perhaps even RF capabilities I suggest you invest in a stand alone device that can be pre-programmed using a library of codes.
- Can be used right out of box; easy and simple
- Doubles as a protective case, dumby bottom included as well
- One remote layout for simple home theater setup
- Limited functionality, no RF
- Learning remote, no library of codes
- Not good for advanced systems
Available at Apple retail stores only for $60.