GEAR4 Unity: The ultimate iPhone remote control?

GEAR4 turns your iPhone into a universal remote without ridiculous plug-in hardware. Instead of connecting your iPhone to a bulky and usually unflattering add-on peripheral, the UnityRemote sits in the centre of the room and interacts with the iPhone via Blueooth, meaning no physical connection is required. As soon as you walk in the door and boot up the app, you’re ready to go.

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As a Bluetooth device, the remote not only works with the iPhone, but also the iPod touch and iPad. And it’ll control everything from TVs to Hi-Fis, Blu-Ray players to digital TV boxes – anything that has an infrared receiver. Even if your home entertainment kit isn’t listed in the device’s extensive library, it can learn how to control the product – there is almost no product that this won’t work with.

The device itself is a small, black sphere with four infra-red outputs set in opposing positions to flood the room was infra-red instruction. It’s powered entirely by three AA batteries, so there are no trailing cords to worry about. Although there’s no word on battery life, with Bluetooth and IR,  it’d be safe to assume that purchasing some rechargeables would be a good (and green) idea.

The iPhone app, the brains of the operation, takes full advantage of its medium. Alongside traditional buttons, users can set gesture-based controls to affect the TV – swipe up to change volume, for example, or to the side to scroll through channels. It’s a totally novel way of television control – one that definitely needs to come as standard on new TV remotes.

The app’s interface is also extremely customisable, letting the user programme it to display only relevant controls. It can also mix and match, so television volume controls can be merged with the DVD player’s ‘play’ and ‘stop’ functions, for a one-stop solution to home movie playback.

Users can also set-up ‘actions’ to control multiple devices simultaneously. For instance, after setting the system up, one touch of an ‘action’ and the remote could turn on the TV, DVD player, digital TV box and their home cinema sound system.

The UnityRemote is available now from John Lewis retailing at £99.

GEAR4 AlarmDock Halo iPod review: iPod dock around the clock

GEAR4 offered us the chance to spend a few nights with their new AlarmDock Halo speaker docking station. How could we say no?

The UK-based audio brand have release a relatively stylish little iPod dock that doubles up as an alarm clock. Small enough to fit on a bedside table the Halo has a little LCD clock just above your iPod and a big old fashioned snooze button just on top of that. The white plastic finish reminded me of iPods of yesteryear and the curved design goes beyond functional.

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The sound quality from the dock was decent. Whilst lacking in room-filling bass it managed to subtly boost audio to acceptable levels for what is a bedroom-based device. As a living room dock it would average, but for day and night time listening in the bedroom the Halo, which has a built in subwoofer, displayed a relatively robust performance. There is a supplied remote that deals with volume and song playback. It’s a nice and click but a little bit hard to read in the dark – a little frustrating as I spent a lot of time using the unit in the very late or very early hours.

As any reader of this site should know, decent iPod docks are in no short supply. What makes the Halo special is the alarm dock functionality they have included thanks to the SmartDock app that “unlocks” additional functionality – or provides a more appealing way to access it. Installing the app from the walled garden is simple, and syncing is easy – just plug your iDevice in. You can set alarms on the device or on your iPod and they will sync on connection.

The Halo comes with a built in FM radio and has a little aerial out the back for reception. The SmartDock app has an autoscan function that makes tuning easy, and there is a fine tune option if you have signal problems. You can also control iTunes from within the dock, which is nice if you want to set some music to fall asleep to – or indeed a play list to wake up with. If you set music to sleep mode the volume will slowly decrease until the unit switches itself off, which was handy for obvious reasons.

The £99.99 dock should be yours to buy in shops from November.