i-Got-Control IRB1 (Universal Remote) Needs to Get Better

| In-Depth Review

i-Got-Control IRB1 is the third in a series of universal remote control hardware/app combinations I’m reviewing. Like the first two I tested, it can control most of your electronic entertainment devices — televisions, AV receivers, cable boxes, and such — as long as they use an infrared remote control. Compatible with the iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad (all must run iOS 3.0 or higher), i-Got-Control IRB1 shows promise, but isn’t something I will continue to use in its current state. 

Note: I’ve tested two similar products in the past few weeks — the POWER A Universal Remote Case; http://www.macobserver.com/tmo/review/power_a_universal_remote_case_close_but_no_cigar and the FLPR (Fast Learning Programmable Remote); http://www.macobserver.com/tmo/review/flpr_fast_learning_programmable_remote_for_iphone_good_but_not_quite_great) and will review at least two or three more in the coming weeks. 

Testing

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: 

Den: 

Samsung Series 4 Plasma TV

Toshiba XD-E500KU DVD Player

Onkyo HT-R410 Audio/Video Receiver

Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300HD Cable Box

AppleTV

Bedroom:

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

One thing I really liked about the i-Got-Control IRB1 app was how easy it was to set up for each device. Just attach the dongle, launch the app, tap the Add button, and select the device type (TV in Figure 1) and brand (Phillips in Figure 1).   

iGiDevice 

Figure 1: The interface for selecting a device type and brand is excellent. 

The green slide control at the bottom of the screen is a nice touch… you use it to quickly scroll through the hundreds of brands for each device, so you don’t have to flick the “wheel” a million times to get to brands like Sony, Phillips, or Yamaha.

Once you have selected the device type and brand you need to determine which of the IR Code Libraries (0000, 0009, 0017 in the figure above) will work with your device. The way it works is that you test whether the device’s power switches on or off for a given code number. In the figure above, I’m testing IR Code Library number 0000. You can select code numbers manually and tap the Test Power button for each, or tap the Start Search button and let the app test one code number every few seconds. Either way, you watch for the device to turn itself on or off, and when it does, you tap the Done button. At this point, at least in theory, the remote for that device should be ready to use.

Unfortunately, it rarely worked so smoothly. Most of my devices tested positive for several code numbers. So even if a code number did turn the power on or off, the rest of the buttons might or might not work. I almost always had to go back and try different code numbers until I hit upon one that worked with most (or even some) of the buttons for a particular device. 

Performance 

Each remote you create comes with two pages of buttons; Figures 2 and 3 show these pages for the Phillips TV in my bedroom.

iGIPhillips 1

iGIPhillips2

Figures 2 and 3: Each remote has two pages of buttons; swipe left-to-right (or right-to-left) to switch between them. 

In theory all of the buttons on the two pages shown above should just work at this point but that was rarely the case. In fact, I don’t think all the buttons worked for any of my devices at this point. Fortunately, it’s easy to train a button manually. You merely tap the Edit button on the main screen as shown in Figure 4. 

iGIMain

Figure 4: To train a button, tap the Edit button and then tap the device.  

Now just point the physical remote at the i-Got-Control IRB1 dongle and press the appropriate button as shown in Figure 5. 

iGITrain

Figure 5: Training a button manually is easy. 

That’s the good news; the bad news is that many functions could not be learned this way. For example, I could never get the Sleep command for the TV to work at all. I trained, retrained, and created macros that included pauses between button presses. I even took the whole shebang into a room at the other end of the house (something that occasionally worked while training recalcitrant buttons on another universal remote) and tried training it there, far from the TV it was meant to control. But it never worked. If I want to use the Sleep feature on my TV I have to grab the Phillips remote control, which kind of defeats the purpose of having a device like the i-Got-Control IRB1.    

Furthermore, you can’t rename or rearrange the buttons on the two screens — what you see in Figures 2 and 3 is what you get. Period. 

On the other hand, there is a third page for each device with 12 “macro” buttons. And you can rename these though you can’t rearrange them. 

Figure 6 shows the this page and the overlay used to create a macro. 

iGIMacro

Figure 6: Tap the Learn button, then point the physical remote at the dongle and press the button for the function you want this macro to execute.   

A macro can consist of a single command or you can string together several commands in a row. So, for example, a single macro could turn on your TV, turn on your AV receiver, switch the TV input to “Cable,” and switch the receiver input to Video 1. 

Unfortunately, I rarely succeeded with macros, either. Some functions would execute as expected but others would either fail completely or perform an incorrect action. And some functions couldn’t be learned by the i-Got-Control IRB1 system at all. In addition to the aforementioned sleep issue, I was unable to use the up, down, left, or right arrow keys. I couldn’t teach the appropriate keys on the i-Got-Control IRB1 remote (the four triangles below the Input and Menu buttons in Figure 3, which meant I couldn’t use the onscreen menus on my TV.

Finally, having two pages of buttons chosen arbitrarily by the app just didn’t cut it. For example, on the left side of Figure 7 are the two pages of buttons the i-Got-Control IRB1 app created for my Onkyo AV receiver; the actual Onkyo remote is on the right. 

iGIOnkyo

Figure 7: i-Got-Control IRB1 on the left and the actual Onkyo remote on the right…

As you can see, even if I used all 12 macro buttons there would still be quite a few AV functions I couldn’t control with the i-Got-Control IRB1 remote. 

The Bottom Line

While it does some things very nicely, its shortcomings and overall performance make it hard to recommend. 

Product: i-Got-Control IRB1

Company: i-Got-It (iGi)

List Price: US$69.95

Pros:

Thoughtfully-designed user interface.

Cons:

Inflexible, unable to learn many critical commands.

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