Review: New Potato Technologies TuneLink Home
As an at-home followup to New Potato's prior TuneLink Auto, TuneLink Home ($100) combines two features that haven't been seen together in a single unit. In addition to Bluetooth audio streaming from your iOS device to a speaker system -- with 100 promised feet of distance rather than the typical 33 -- TuneLink Home also has universal remote control functionality, acting as an Infrared blaster to control your home entertainment system. A wall adapter, Mini-USB cable, and 3.5mm to RCA stereo cable are included, while a free app enables you to control the universal remote features from your iOS device. While we'd generally recommend an Apple TV or AirPort Express for wireless music playback, New Potato's addition of remote control functionality to an audio streaming device makes this accessory very interesting.
TuneLink Home starts with a mostly black plastic housing that’s light enough to feel hollow. The tall, narrow shape seems somewhat unusual for a media device, but has a stable enough base that we had no concerns about accidental tipping. Ports on the back allow you to add an IR extender (not included), perform audio through TOSlink/optical or analog ports, and supply power via any Mini-USB cable, including the one in the package. The large oval-shaped IR blaster on the front is ringed with an LED that alternates between blue and red.
Once TuneLink Home is physically connected to an audio system, the setup is straightforward. There’s no need to press any button for pairing, as it automatically enters Bluetooth mode once it’s powered on. At that point, it’s ready to stream audio from your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch to any connected source, and sounds as good as the speaker you’re using; although Bluetooth is theoretically a less capable audio streaming standard than Wi-Fi, we noticed no obvious degradation in audio quality. Since TuneLink Home streams whatever audio iOS devices are playing from their Music, Videos, and other Bluetooth-friendly apps, here’s no need to use the TuneLink Home app as a middleman or assistant, but if you do, the “My Music Player” button will simply take you to your device’s music app with the streamer selected as the source.
The remote control feature works well for controlling a TV, receiver, media box, and other devices, relying on the TuneLink Home app for control. While it’s not the best-looking remote app we’ve seen, the list of built-in remote control codes is extensive, and learning capabilities make it so that even if your accessory isn’t already listed, it can easily be added. You also have the ability to add Activities, or macros, for multistep processes. It’ll all works well, and without much of a learning curve. We’ve seen superior apps with fully and easily customizable single-screen universal remotes, but New Potato’s use of Activities and multi-page swipe-ready remotes is pretty good.
Despite the fact that the IR blaster is seemingly only emitting light in one direction, unlike models from Gear4, Griffin and others, it lives up to the company’s promise of omnidirectional functionality. In our testing, it worked well in pretty much every location relative to Infrared-ready devices, even including when it was placed behind the television it was controlling.
Considering that standalone universal remote accessories generally cost between $70 and $100, and a pure Bluetooth- or Wi-Fi-streaming receiver is another $50-$100, TuneLink Home represents a very good value for users who want to stream audio to a television set or receiver while wirelessly controlling the whole setup. It delivers on everything New Potato promises, and does so with almost all the ease of use we’d hoped for—the remote app isn’t the best we’ve seen, but it’s solid, while the hardware combination of a Bluetooth streamer and remote system makes a lot of sense. TuneLink Home isn’t for everyone, but merits a strong general recommendation.