The Beacon Universal Remote puts up a gallant effort at ridding the world -- and overly cluttered living rooms -- of unwanted stacks of remote controls. Originally released for the iOS market but now also available for Android, the Beacon effectively turns your Bluetooth-enabled mobile device into a remote capable of controlling your TV, DVD/Blu-Ray player, DVR, Xbox, stereo, cable box, you name it. Those seeking one less reason to stir from their comfy chairs on lazy Sunday afternoons now officially have one more enabler in their corner. But is the Beacon's performance really worth its asking price? Read on to find out.
First, let's talk Android device compatibility. The Beacon Universal Remote, which operates in tandem with a free application called Dijit Universal Remote, lays claim to being compatible with "any Android phone, mp3 player or tablet running 2.3.3 or later." Unfortunately, this may or may not rule out usage with your mobile device of choice and is a fact that could forever sideline you to an existence of juggling remote controls. Initial tests using a Samsung Galaxy S proved fruitless, which probably had something to do with the operating system's 2.2 limitations (go figure). Subsequent testing on an ASUS Eee Pad Transformer, on the other hand, worked well, but in practical use also evoked images of a youth spent racing remote controlled cars. A universal remote should be small, after all. But if a tablet's all you have to put you past the 2.3.3 OS threshold, it'll have to do. As long as you've got Bluetooth capability, you're good to go.
The setup of the Beacon Universal Remote is refreshingly simplistic, which earns it mega-bonus points over the typically cumbersome and unnecessarily complex setup that accompanies most traditional universal remote controls. The Beacon itself is an inconspicuous looking battery-powered device that rests on your nightstand or coffee table, roughly 4 x 4 inches with an egg-shaped infrared light reader sitting on top. This is the translator that empowers your Bluetooth-speaking Android device to speak the infrared lingo native to your home electronics. To connect the two, you simply tap the Beacon until the light flashes, access your mobile device's Bluetooth settings, pair up, and you're set to launch the Dijit application that controls everything.
Configuration is done entirely through the Dijit app, which offers manual setup or wizard setup, both of which are straightforward and intuitive and save you the hassle of having to locate your TV or stereo or cable box and key in some ridiculously long alphanumeric code just to test its functionality. All operation of the remote control functions happen in the Dijit app interface as well, which is laid out in two separate panes: one for remote control operation, and the other which lists TV shows by time and channel and even delivers an episode summary, dates and times of upcoming episodes, and Wikipedia links to cast and crew members. Want to read up on the filmography of Grimm's Reggie Lee? Or find out who did the voice of Fred Flintstone? It's all a click away. Guide listings are populated automatically after you've completed the initial keying in of your area code and informed Dijit which cable service you're subscribed to. Conveniently, you only have to do this once and the app saves your location. The Beacon also lets you program multiple Android devices to operate your equipment, with the limitation that only one can be used at a time.
Another cool feature of the Beacon Universal Remote is your ability to program "activities" so that you don't have to scroll through an endless list of electronic devices on your Android to do what you've set out to do. Just tap a single pre-programmed button and all of the associated electronic devices will fire up. Similarly, you can program certain "rooms" so that you can move from various locations throughout your home without confusing remote operations. The only issue is, the Bluetooth range isn't conducive to giving you much running room between the Beacon base, and in order to control devices in other rooms the base has to be brought along as well.
Performance and Conclusion
During testing, the only real issue encountered was the Beacon's propensity for falling asleep after a few minutes of non-use, after which reconnection – which consists of tapping the base and reconnecting via Bluetooth – was required. If you're seated relatively close to the transmitter base, this is only a minor hassle. But if you're just out of reach, this might end up being almost as painstaking as standing up and walking across the room, a cardinal sin among universal remote aficionados and dedicated couch potatoes everywhere.
Priced at $70, though available for approximately $50 at the time of this review from various outlets, the Beacon is something of a tough sell, especially considering IR blasters are now available on many Android tablets, including the Droid Xyboard and Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus. Yes, the Beacon has functionality up the wazoo and it's a gateway for enabling you to spend slovenly weekends (or even weekdays) couch surfing with the best of them. But its shortcomings, which may or may not qualify as nitpicky to point out, make every one of those 70 dollars a bit of a stretch. If Griffin Technology could somehow work that asking price down closer to the $35 range, recommending the Beacon would be easy-peasy. Otherwise, it's not.
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