Review: L5 Technology L5 Remote
In March, we reviewed the first two universal remote control accessories released for the iPhone and iPod touch -- New Potato's $80 FLPR and PowerA's $60 Universal Remote Case for iPhone 3G/3GS. Our conclusions were straightforward: neither of the companies had gotten the overall accessory, application, and pricing formula quite right, but each accessory had advantages that might endear it to certain users. Today, we take separate but overlapping looks at two more options, L5 Technology's L5 Remote ($50), and NewKinetix's Rē ($70, aka Re). Once again, these developers tackle the universal remote control question from somewhat different angles, though the results are a little better than last time.
Of all four accessories, the one that we’d be most inclined to actually use would be the L5 Remote, though our reasoning might initially seem somewhat counterintuitive. L5 has the lowest-priced accessory in the bunch, and like the $80 FLPR, all you get is a tiny black dongle that plugs into the iPhone’s or iPod touch’s accessory port, as well as a frosted clear plastic cap to cover the Dock Connector when it’s not in use. Like most of the others, the accessory’s small enough to be easy to lose between sofa cushions, and it’s so non-descript visually that it’s hard to praise as anything other than minimalist. The L5 Remote would have been a perfect match in all but black glossy texture for the old iPod mini or earlier iPod nanos, with a thickness that’s just a little shy of the iPhone 3G/3GS.
Plug L5 in and you’re prompted to download the company’s free L5 Remote application, which takes only a moment to install and launches soon after doing a firmware update to the Remote accessory. When the accessory’s unplugged, the app presents itself in the normal iPhone/iPod touch orientation, but as soon as you plug the dongle in, the screen rotates upside down so that the dongle is pointing outwards towards the TV. You’re given the choice between “Basic” and “Custom” remotes, with the ability to customize either one with the additional buttons of your choice—a grid appears on screen to help with the alignment of buttons, and you can choose from different shapes, text, and icons, with manual and automatic resizing of elements to make your finished gray remote look good.
Like PowerA’s Universal Remote app, L5 Remote app is “dumb” in the sense that it requires you to teach it, button by button, the commands for each of the remotes you want to use: you can set up one remote with all the features you need, or multiple separate remotes with device-specific functions to flip through.
But it’s a cheaper, more device-agnostic, and frankly nicer-looking overall solution than PowerA’s design: you can incorporate slide-open panels within the remote, and L5 includes a collection of templated buttons for TV, cable box, DVD/DVR, and audio devices that can save you the trouble of laying out your own designs. Yes, you’ll need to gather up all of your remotes and set up everything on your own, but at least the end result with L5 looks and feels pretty good.
As of today, the choice between iPhone OS universal remotes isn’t as clear-cut as we’d like, nor is any option as likely to satisfy users as it should be. With PowerA’s design, you get a “dumb” app and a case-based accessory that only works with specific iPhone models; with L5 Remote, you pay $10 less and get a similarly “dumb” but better application that still requires lots of manual user programming, plus a more compatible accessory. This combination strikes us as worthy of our baseline general recommendation and flat B rating. FLPR and Rē each have certain advantages, with the higher-priced FLPR offering a better accessory design and more intuitive “smart” application, while Rē sells for $10 less and offers a more powerful but unnecessarily convoluted piece of software that will reward tinkerers—the people our limited recommendation is targeted at—but stifle average users to the point of complete frustration. Our top pick for the moment is the comparatively straightforward and reasonable priced L5 Remote, which is as close to “what you see is what you get” as anyone is offering, but all of these accessories could really benefit from major software improvements. That will be the single biggest reason to prefer or stay away from a given option in the weeks and months to come.