Change the channel? Pass me the cushion

Hunting for the remotes in our house is never an easy task – we lose the tiny remote for the DVD player more times than Andy Murray has lost at Wimbledon and end up having to sit in front of the telly pressing the buttons to fire up a film.

Pillow-Remote

It looks like those days might be behind us thanks to the lovely folk from Red5, who sent me a Cushion Remote Control to try out. No, don’t be silly, of course it doesn’t control your soft furnishings – it’s an actual cushion that can be set up to control up to six devices – so TV, DVD, satellite or cable, Hi-Fi and so on.

The good news is that it’s soft and strokable and comes in a brown colour that should fit into most decors without looking too out of place. It’s also far too big to slip under the couch or down the side of the chair cushion, so I’m hoping (and all looks good so far) that our days of hunting for the remote might be in the past.

Setting it up can be easy. The cushion comes with some reasonably simple instructions, and a rather alarming looking book of codes that relate to all the makes of electrical device you can think of. When I went to set up the Toshiba DVD, I was worried as there were about four lines of codes – happily, I only had to try the first one and it worked. Same for the JVC TV – quite impressive as none of our electrical equipment is very new (in fact most of it is pretty old!).

However, getting our Sky box synced to the new remote control proved far more problematical. I tried the Sky UK code from the book. No good. I tried using the automatic search facility – that didn’t work either. In the end I had to resort to contacting the PR people to help me out. Eventually it was concluded that the remote is not compatible with Sky + HD boxes (which is a shame because Sky tells me that they have been issuing these as standard for the past five years or so), so unless you have the older, standard Sky box, you won’t be using the Remote Cushion to switch satellite channels.

My first thought when I saw the press release was ‘what a gimmick’. But in actual fact, it’s a great idea (although don’t squeeze it too hard when you’re hiding behind it watching Dr Who or you might change channels just at a crucial point). There is no way we will manage to mislay a whole cushion so I may well have gained many hours of my life back from the soul-destroying task of playing hunt the remote – although the lack of compatibility with Sky + HD boxes will be a deal breaker for many.

The Remote Control Pillow costs £19.95 from Red5 (which offers free delivery).

Is it a plane, is it a bird? No it’s a Sky Car

We’re overrun in our house with remote control cars, so something has to be pretty special to grab out attention.

Enter the Sky Car – is it it a car? Is it a helicopter – well, yes, it’s both!

Sky-Car

This is a neat little piece of kit (it measures just 19x8x9cm) -– get it out of the box and you could be forgiven for thinking that it feels rather flimsy, but take it from me, it has survived being bashed by a broomstick handle (more of which later) so is far stronger than your first impressions may suggest.

The other thing that might be disappointing for anyone who is overrun with battery-run gadgets is that you’ll need six – yes six! – AA batteries to run the remote control – and the cheap ones won’t last long as we discovered.

However, it does work really well – in fact a bit too well. I took the helicopter out into the field behind our house (we’d tried it indoors and nearly decapitated the cats, so outside it was). Unfortunately while I was busy marvelling at how quickly it had shot up high into the sky, I suddenly realised that it was heading over the hedge and into the field behind – sometimes empty, sometimes full of sheep, so I panicked, dropped it down and got it stuck on a 10ft hedge.

After much muttering, poking and prodding, my lovely husband came to the rescue with a broom handle (hence the bashing it got). I nervously picked it up off the ground, expecting bent rotor blades, missing wheels and so on, only to find it in perfect working order (The makers do include spare blades in the box, so they obviously expect some collateral damage).

This is a cool piece of kit – its headlights turn on when you switch on the sky car, and it can be charged using USB – it took about 20 minutes on my laptop.

However, be aware that it takes a bit of practise to perfect your flying skills – and it moves pretty quickly, so you’ll need more space than you might expect from a small device. Driving it in car mode is far easier!

At a smidge under 30 quid, it’s not bad value, but it is definitely more suitable for an older child or adult than younger kids unless they have a good bit of supervision.

Available from Gizoo

SmartControl Motion: Wave hello to your new remote control

Universal remote controls have long been a part of our lives and I for one definitely remember the magic of being able to control the TV and the VCR (just saying VCR feels like it sprays my face with wrinkles) with just the one remote and how cool that was. I even remember one of the rich kids from school having a remote control built into his watch and turning the TV off whilst we were trying to watch a video in science class. The stuff Just William tales are made of I’m sure you’ll agree. But unlike Greece, who invented the phrase resting on one’s laurels and don’t appear to have done much since, remote control manufacturers have been moving with the times.

SmartControl-Motion

One For All have released a clever new remote control that introduces gesture-based input to sofa surfing. It’s brilliantly simple in execution (although I’m sure it took some pretty nifty engineering to get going) and has a relatively natural feel to it. I can’t look at a mobile phone screen without instinctively touching it as my primary form of interaction and One For All’s SmartControl motion could quite possibly have a similar effect – after a few days of using it I found myself gesturing with my regular remote controls and looking quite the idiot.

So how do the gestures work? Well the ‘Goodnight’ feature means you can power down all your devices by flipping your device on its front. I can see this going a little awry if you’re careless with your remote control use, but mine mostly just sits on the coffee table untroubled by the world. The SmartControl Motion is pre-programmed with six pre-defined gestures that reduces set-up hassle for the average TV viewer. Want to skip through commercials when watching programmes recorded on Freeview+ or Sky+? Of course you do. Just flick the remote to the right. You can also change channel, skip DVDs backwards, play or pause. There’s even the ability to mute with a simple tap. The gestures were relatively easy for me to learn – but then I’ve spent years of Super Street Fighter II so have been training for this day most of my adult life. However, I’m guessing a normal person would easily be able to remember most of the more common controls and integrate them into their day-to-day TV use.

SmartControl Motion works with all your digital equipment. It will control up to six different devices including HDTV, DVB-T (eg. Freeview), IPTV, Blu-ray, iPod docks, Home Cinema, PS3, Xbox 360 and more, across all brands. It has dedicated keys for media devices such as Blu-ray players, iPod docks and media playback from video game consoles such as PS3 and Xbox 360.

SmartControl Motion doesn’t require any device codes to be input to get A/V equipment set up and programmes in less than three minutes with just three key presses for all the most popular brands, thanks to One For All’s unique SimpleSet technology.

SmartControl Motion is out now at Dixons, Currys and PC World, as well as online at www.amazon.co.uk priced £34.99.

Gear 4 Unity remote for iPhone review

Part of the magic of smartphones, those tiny touchscreen computers that we carry around in our pockets, is their ability to extend so many experiences – be it running, cooking or selling old CDs. The smartphone-app landscape has brought simplicity where there once was chaos to many areas of modern life (although admittedly they are guilty of doing the reverse as well). And obviously one area of modern life that could do with some streamlining is the living room. As you would expect for a tech journalist and nerd, I have many many boxes in my living room all with new and exciting ways of piping season two of Louie to my TV. As you might not expect, I have at least 4 universal remote controls – none of which I actually use. As someone with a very low tolerance for fiddly remote control set ups (who will bizarrely however, happily spend hours tweaking sickbeard, plex and sabnzb to get everything *just* right) will the Gear4 Unity Remote for the iPhone be fiddle free enough to work its way into my everyday life?

Gear4-Unity-Remote

Set up is remarkably simple. Jam some batteries (provided) into the tiny puck-shaped unit, press the one button on the device and you should be able to pair with you iPhone or iPad. There’s a lovely little set up slideshow with a bowtie-wearing assistant if you need help with this. From here you need to fire up the app (bonus points for having an app configured for iPhone and iPad screens) select your remote and then add devices. This is another straightforward process where you place the Unity next to your device of choice and run through a few short tests. It’s a little bit of work, but little enough that I’m not overly annoyed by the process (my universal wand remote control will never be used due to how annoying the set up process is).

The best thing about the Unity Remote is the ability to configure actions. I have Blu-Ray player, AV Receiver and TV, all of which need to on and set to a certain channel before I can do a simple action such as watch a movie. With Unity you can configure actions such as these so they become one-button tasks – Watch a Movie would have all the steps needed configured – like a macro or AppleScript for real life – which is pretty cool and great incentive to actually use the device.

For more information head to Gear 4.

Top Christmas gifts for kids

Okay, so we all know children get far too many presents these days, but hey, it’s Christmas, so here’s a few ideas for gadgets for kids of all ages.

Kids-Gadgets

Hello Kitty fans will love the Samsung Tic Toc MP3 player, which comes in a special edition Hello Kitty version.

At less than 4cm long, this tiny player can fit in a little pocket, or be clipped to clothes, and you can give it a shake to change tracks or alter volume – a nifty gimmick that younger music fans will love.

If they’re not into Hello Kitty, the Tic Toc also comes in pink, blue and black and retails at £39.99, although we’ve found it at Amazon for a fiver less.

Ben 10 is hugely popular with four to six year olds, so if you have a fan of this cartoon character in the house, you can score some brownie points by slipping the Omnitrix Walkie Talkies under the tree. For anyone who doesn’t know, the Omnitrix allows Ben to change into a number of alien creatures, and I would think any Ben 10 fan would love being able to play with these, and talking to his pal on the other waklie talkie. £13.99 from Boots and other retailers.

Another stocking filler priced gadget that looks like it will be a lot of fun are Hexbugs. These micro robotic creatures – choose from crabs, inchworms, bugs and ants – each have their own characteristics. Crabs head for a shady area until chased out by loud sounds or light, while ants race forward until they hit something, and then race backwards. Loads of fun for Christmas day and beyond. Prices start at £10.99 from www.hexbug.com.

For a touch of nostalgia, how about BigTrak? If you remember this programmable vehicle from your own childhood, you can now share your memories with your own child, or niece of nephew (or just get one for yourself!). The six-wheel tank is chunky and there are two versions. The BigTrak can be programmed to execute 16 steps, Big Trak Junior 32 steps – and there’s the option to buy a connectable webcam. The price might decide for you – we’ve seen Big Trak as low as a nudge under £35 and Big Trak Junior for £25.

If Harry Potter fever has hit your house thanks to the launch of the Deathly Hallows movie, give your young wizards a touch of magic with the Wand Remote Control. Out of the box, it will take a bit of practise, but waving the wand in a clockwise or anticlockwise direction will adjust volume up and down on the TV, flicking up and down will change the channel. But if you don’t fancy letting the kids loose on the TV, it can also be programmed to replace most standard remote controls – we watched it being used on a remote control helicopter, which really did look like magic!

Not cheap at £49.90, but very cool. From www.find-me-a-gift.co.uk

We know that Christmas is a pricey time, so we found a gadget that costs just £2.99. Firefly’s flashing toothbrushes are the bestselling make in the US and they’ve made it across the Atlantic in time for Christmas. Anyone who has bedtime fights when it comes to getting kids to brush teeth, might find that Spiderman, Hello Kitty or Spongebob Squarepants can encourage them. We got our hands on a Spiderman model – it has to be the coolest toothbrush we’ve ever seen!

From Lloyds pharmacy and Argos at £1.49 to £2.49. http://www.facebook.com/fireflytoothbrush

Another product aimed at avoiding bathroom battles is Cuddledry’s colour-changing bath mat, which changes colour when warm little wet feet touch the mat – a great incentive for getting kids out of the bath. (We think grown-ups might like it too!) £14.99 from www.cuddledry.com

IOGEAR’s HTPC wireless keyboards: A new type of remote control?

As technology and gadgets are becoming progressively smaller, the latest device to get a miniature makeover is a wireless keyboard – or two to be precise – designed to making navigating your HTPC a more luxurious experience.
The GKM571R and the GKM581R are elegantly designed, the former so elegant in fact that it can fit in the palm of your hand. Both of these interesting and innovative keyboards have an optical trackball, work in a 2.4GHz frequency band and have a 1200dpi sensor with a scroll wheel and hot keys. In simpler terms IOGEAR’s new keyboards provide a refreshing alternative to ungainly full-sized keyboards, and being wireless, you can snuggle on your bed or sofa and work your Home Theatre PC to your heart’s content.

IOGEAR-keyboard

As well as possessing ‘hotkeys’ to speed up the remote control process even further, the GKM571R key’s are also backlit so that they are easily visible in even the most dimly lit of surroundings. Whilst the GKM581R is slightly bigger than its palm-sized sibling, suiting those with ‘clumsier’ of fingers, and looks more like a conventional keyboard, both have been acutely engineered for aesthetics, ergonomics and mobility, and provide a comfortable solution for managing multimedia content of up to 33 meters away.

Both lazy-encouraging devices cost well under £100, and like any gadget aimed at making life easier, IOGEAR may well be onto a winner with its two new wireless HTPC keyboards.

Although innovative and languorous-enhancing remote controls do not stop here, as remote control apps for Smartphones are becoming increasingly popular. Earlier this year Verizon introduced a mobile app for HTC Imagio and Motorola Droid, that enables users to control channel changing, volume and DVR scheduling via their Smartphone for its FiOS TV digital TV service.

Whilst the traditional TV remote control, despite all the family bickers it has caused, has had an impressive 60 year run, we fear its days might be numbered, because as the world becomes more reliant on compact, wireless and rapid-functioning devices, squabbling over a mere remote control may be as antiquated as a VCR video recorder.

Remote control battle: Logitech Harmony 300i vs Kymera Wand

Anniversaries with lovers are fraught with danger- forget them when you’ve been with someone for a long time and you get accused of not caring anymore. Make too much out of them with someone new and you’re accused of being too ‘serious’ (whatever that means). Fortunately, here at Latest Gadgets we are simpler beasts and know a good anniversary when we see one, which is why the news that it was the mighty remote controls 60th birthday led us to reflect on just how far these little arbiters of happiness have come, and in doing so offer up a little remote face-off between two high profile entrants new to the market

Logitech Harmony 300i

Logitech-300i

A very popular choice, it kicks against the traditional opinion that universal remotes are little more than a faff not worth having with the consumer having to manually program each appliance. The Harmony 300i kicks against this by requiring you to simply plug the remote into the compute, log onto www.harmony.com and input these into the site. Logitech has a list of 225,000 devices from over 5,000 brands, so even that knock-off Blu Ray you bought in Tenerife is likely to be on there. Much stock has been put by its constructers in its ease of set-up as their previous Harmony efforts were accused of being fiddly and stacked with frustrating software; the biggest indicator of this is the simple Watch TV button at the top of the remote. This being the most used function they have then clubbed DVD/CD player etc together so you scroll through them when necessary which is fine unless you have a helluva lot of machines. Reviews have been near universally positive, so we’re going to give it a…

8/10- For the Mums and Dads that want an easy ride.

Kymera Wand

Kymera-Magic-Wand

Recently shot to prominence when its inventor secured a record £200,000 investment from notorious Scottish grump Duncan Bannatyne on Dragons Den, the jury is out on whether this is a gimmick or genuine solution to all the worlds remote control issues. In a nutshell, it can memorise 13 separate flicking and twisting wand-like movements from you to change channels, turn up the volume etc, and like the i300 can do so for all your home gizmos’s. Its stylised look (as in it looks like a wand and comes in a fancy box) certainly make it different from anything else out there and at £49.99 its (just) cheap enough to be (relatively) mass market, though we can’t help but think the joy of turning up the sound whilst shouting ‘voluminous uppipus’ will get pretty dull after a while and we’ll want to just press a handily placed button. Reviews, whilst being appreciative, haven’t been gushing and have criticised the long and frustrating process of programming the moves and actions. So…

6/10- Bit of a flash (or a flick) in the pan

Thus the winner is the Logitech 300i. It might not impress the kids so much but it will do what its supposed to do with the minimum of fuss and will appeal to techies and non-techies alike.

Will ‘Magic Wands’ replace traditional remote control?

Without even mentioning Harry Potter, wand remote controls used to be the stuff of fantasy. Not any more. Whether or not you think it’s a gimmick, you cannot deny their appeal. Already proving popular, the Kymera Wand flew off the shelves at Christmas. This £50 magic wand remote control was created by two British inventors and is set to meet its sales target of 200,000 by the end of 2010.

The Kymera Wand can control infra-red controlled gadgets and gizmos using up to 13 personally programmed gestures. From your laptop to your DVD player and even your iPod dock, you can flick, twist and glide through all your gadgets’ functions without the press of a button, which is something of a novelty.

And now magic wands are popping up faster than you can say ‘Abracadabra’. Sony has announced the launch of a PS3 motion-sensor controller, due for release Spring 2010. Similar to Nintendo’s Wii controller, the Wiimote, and the Wii’s Motion Plus, Sony’s wand-shaped remote is tracked by the Playstation’s Eye cam. Sony also claim that it will be able to track correspondence between screen and game to under a millimetre making virtual gaming a lot more responsive with the magic wand technology.

In addition, LG has manufactured a wand remote controlled with a ‘magic’ user interface. Announced at this year’s CES, it’s a motion-sensitive remote control that will be offered alongside its new TVs this year. LG’s remote responds to rotating motions to turn the volume up and down and a flicking motion to change the channels. While this is a welcomed change from the boring button-controlled remote, magic wands have limitations too. It appears LG doesn’t have complete confidence in the remote’s motion-sensitive abilities, however: four buttons also feature on the remote for volume, channel changing, mute and home/select button. While the buttons are not a dominant feature, their presence suggests users may give up on flicks and twists for an old fashioned press of a button.

Will wand remote controls make controlling your gadgets magical? All I know is – buttons require the muscle capacity of my thumb, whereas a Magic Wand, well, a ‘flick’ might involve a whole arm movement and even a degree of finesse. Magic Wands? Intriguing. Yes. Practical. Not sure.