New Potato Technologies’ FLPR (Fast Learning Programmable Remote) for the iPhone and iPod touch running OS 3.0 or higher is a hardware/app combination for controlling electronic devices via infrared remote. In a nutshell, it worked better for me than the POWER A Universal Remote Case I reviewed recently (click here to read), but had a couple of annoying issues that make it difficult for me to recommend without reservations.
Note: I’ve been testing similar products — hardware/software combinations that turn your iPhone into a universal remote control — and will be reviewing all of them here in the next couple of weeks. So please bear with me if I say one of the products lacked a desirable feature found in another product… I’ve reviewed one already (The POWER A Universal Remote Case) and will review several additional iPhone universal remotes here in the coming weeks.
I don’t have a comprehensive selection of devices for testing this kind of product; all I can do is report on how it performed with the devices I do have, which are:
- Samsung Series 4 Plasma TV
- Toshiba XD-E500KU DVD Player
- Onkyo HT-R410 Audio/Video Receiver
- Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300HD Cable Box
- Phillips 32-inch CRT TV
- Sony DVP-NS501P DVD player
- Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300 Cable Box
Each of these devices has its own infrared remote control.
Setup is relatively simple — just insert the FLPR hardware accessory into the dock connector of your iPhone and launch the FLPR app, which is available at no charge from the App Store. Here’s the FLPR hardware:
The FLPR hardware is among the smallest I’ve seen so far.
Photo courtesy New Potato Technologies
Just tap the Add button and choose the type of device you wish to control remotely, a Blu Ray, DVD, or laser disc player in the image below, and then tap the Next button.
Choosing a device is a snap.
Next you select the device’s brand (a Toshiba DVD player in the image below) and tap the Next button again.
Choosing a brand is just as simple.
Now select the type of device (DVD player in this case), tap the Next button, name this remote (Toshiba DVD), and then tap the Next button again. Finally, select a skin — the wallpaper this remote will use (Tie-Dye in the image below) — and then tap the Save button.
Not all of the skins are this garish.
Here’s a composite image of what the finished Toshiba DVD player remote looks like:
The finished remote for my Toshiba DVD player.
Note that you’d have to scroll (i.e. flick) to see the items below the black line. And you have to tap the arrow button at the bottom of the main screen (on the left) to see the “More Controls” items on the right.
Overall, setting up a remote control device was a piece of cake. And almost all of the remotes I created worked as expected with no further work. That said, a handful of buttons didn’t work as expected and needed to be “learned.” This is done by aiming the physical remote at the FLPR accessory and pressing the key you want it to learn. In the image below I’m training it for the power on/off button on my Phillips TV remote (more on this shortly).
Programming (or reprogramming) a button is a piece of cake.
Finally, you can create macros that perform a series of actions in sequence. For example, a macro could:
- Turn on the TV
- Turn on the DVD Player
- Turn on the A/V Receiver
- Switch the TV’s input to DVD
- Switch the A/V Receiver’s input to DVD
To record a macro you tap the Add button and choose Macro instead of a device type. The Macro Recording screen appears as shown here:
Recording a macro is relatively easy.
Now you tap a button at the top of the screen to select a device, then tap the button for each action you want to include in the order you want them to occur (i.e. the power button for the TV remote, followed by the power button for the DVD Player, followed by the power button for the A/V Receiver, and so on).
Overall the FLPR was a pleasure. It figured out what most of the buttons on most of my remotes were supposed to do without much effort on my part; it was easy to teach it what to do for buttons that didn’t work right initially; and setting up macros was easy. That said, a couple of issues made my experience less than perfect.
The first and most troubling was that FLPR was unable to learn a couple of important functions for the Phillips TV in my bedroom. It couldn’t turn the power on or off and couldn’t operate the “sleep timer” button. In its defense, almost all the other buttons on the Phillips and all other remotes worked properly, the power and sleep timer buttons refused to work properly. Unfortunately, those are two of the functions I use almost every time I watch TV in the bedroom, so it was kind of a deal-breaker for me. I’m hoping a future update to the app fixes the issue, but there have been a couple of updates (current version 1.1.1) and none of them has done the trick.
Another irritating issue is that macros can’t be edited or revised. You have to record them exactly the way you want them to work or you have to delete the whole thing and start again. It would have been nice to be able to replace a step or undo a mistake, but you can’t.
Finally, while there is a setting to show or hide “inactive” buttons, there’s no way to edit, rearrange, or rename the buttons on a remote. If you don’t like the default button graphics, layouts, or labels, you’re out of luck.
The Bottom Line
The FLPR is easy to set up and use, and worked with almost every button on almost every remote I tested. And I could have lived with the inflexible macros, button layouts, and labels. Unfortunately, the functions it was unable to learn were functions I can’t do without and the main reason its rating isn’t even higher.