Review: Apptwee Ri Universal Remote Control
"You get what you pay for." The maxim's decades old but not particularly accurate in the market for Apple accessories, where great values can occasionally be had at really low prices, and plenty of money can be wasted on very simple, overpriced junk. So we approach each new accessory that arrives with an open mind: it's always possible that one company's $30 case will be better than another company's $100 option. Or that Apptwee's new Ri Universal Remote Control ($30) might possibly outperform Gear4's $100 UnityRemote, the best Infrared universal remote accessory we've yet tested for iOS devices. Like the many other similar accessories we've tested over the past year, you buy Ri and then download a free iOS app from the App Store, which to Apptwee's credit has been modestly reformatted for the iPad, featuring an upscaled version of the same interface that appear on Apple's smaller-screened devices.
Rather than dragging our conclusion out, we’ll get right to the point: Ri follows the old maxim, and turns out to be a very basic and somewhat inconvenient option, albeit at the lowest price point we’ve seen. What you get here is a glossy white plastic Infrared dongle that attaches to the headphone port of an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch rather than the Dock Connector, with a footprint smaller than even the impressively tiny Square Reader we’ve previously covered. One side says “Ri,” the other “a,” referencing the Apptwee name. Ri is packaged with a headphone plug protector that doubles as a mini pocket clip, but nothing else. Fully assembled, it’s 1.5” long and around 0.75” wide, jutting out only 0.9” from the headphone ports of Apple’s devices.
Apptwee’s decision to use the headphone plug as an accessory connection port is noteworthy for a few reasons. First, the company designed Ri to work with most cases, and in our testing, it did, a feature we appreciated—some of the rival dongle-based remotes are big enough to present connectivity problems with cases. Second, there’s very little battery drain attributable directly to hardware connected to the headphone port, as performing audio is one of the lowest power-consuming things an iOS device can do.
But really, Ri’s reliance on a headphone port was a cost-cutting measure, freeing the company from the need to pay for Apple’s Dock Connector plugs—and possibly related licensing fees. And practically, its benefits are offset by an inconvenience that we haven’t seen in any other iOS universal remote: you need to turn the device’s headphone port volume all the way up to the maximum in order for Ri to work, every time you run (or resume) the app. The application will literally refuse to send remote control commands to the accessory unless you do this, using either the integrated volume buttons or an on-screen slider, and you’ll hear high-pitched tones if you try to connect headphones instead. Thus, a piece of advice: don’t connect headphones. You’ll wish you hadn’t. And if a call comes into your iPhone in the midst of using Ri, answer it with the speaker or disconnect Ri to take the call. No, this isn’t an elegant solution, but that’s what apparently happens when you try to save $20 or more relative to the least expensive Dock Connector-based alternative on the market.
We’d frankly have been willing to deal with the modest inconvenience if the rest of the Ri experience was great, but it’s all sort of so-so. For instance, the Infrared transmitter inside Ri isn’t particularly powerful, so we found that we couldn’t control certain devices if we moved more than 6 feet away from their sensors—dramatically weaker than the remote controls they originally came with. Other devices worked fine from 15-foot distances but began to fall off after that. Your devices and results may vary, but we weren’t particularly impressed.
The Ri application isn’t exactly a thing of beauty, either. Beyond the bland-looking interface, which can offer multiple screens of buttons for individual devices but doesn’t allow for much remote customization, you’re limited to using a remote for one device at a time, switching between remotes using top and bottom of screen buttons. What this practically means is that you’ll need to change your TV’s integrated volume with one remote, press two buttons to switch to a different remote, and then wait while the second remote loads—then repeat the process to go back to the other device you’re controlling. If you’re performing an Apple TV’s audio through an AV receiver and video through a TV, you’ll have three remotes to switch between for various functions. Some of the other remotes we’ve tested are intelligent enough to link several devices together, but this one’s simple, just providing you with an alphabetical list of manufacturers, then device types, and letting you try-and-err your way through possible codes that may work. It’s clunky in a way that better-developed software like Gear4’s UnityRemote app puts to shame.
Ultimately, Ri isn’t the sort of accessory we can easily recommend to most of our readers. Between the threadbare app and the so-so accessory, the experience users will have with this universal remote control will be at best less convenient than with rival iOS products, and at most will frustrate people seeking greater simplicity than they’d have experienced with their old remote controls. Its only saving grace is the low asking price, which is appealing, but frankly isn’t low enough in our view to justify the purchase. Should Apptwee radically improve its application with a more streamlined, unified remote interface, and enhance the Infrared performance of the accessory, it could turn Ri around, but for the time being, we’d call this a clear “pass.” The company earns a slightly above average rating for trying to offer competitive pricing, but hasn’t succeeded in actually selling something we’d want to buy.