Review: TEN Technology naviPro EX Remote Controls
Pros: An easy to use, fully featured wireless remote control with album, playlist, and chapter-switching buttons, repeat and shuffle mode toggles, too. Best infrared-based remote we’ve tested.
Cons: Playlist-switching buttons didn’t always work properly on 4G iPod we tested with; infrared signal can’t go through walls; still on pricey side for a remote.
The iPod universe has changed plenty since TEN Technology first introduced naviPod, its circular infrared wireless iPod remote control system, in mid-2003. At the time, iLounge reviewed naviPod for early FireWire-based iPods, initially concluding that while the product’s limited five-button wireless control functionality was somewhat useful, the practicality of an iPod remote without a screen was limited.
Subsequently, the companies Engineered Audio and DLO have released competing remotes, but no wireless controller has represented a major technological advance. All three products were relatively pricey at $50, offered the same simplistic five-button controls, and had the same limitations: none includes a screen, and though each has volume controls that affect the headphone jack’s output, none can control the volume of Dock Connected accessories. As a result, companies such as Altec Lansing and Bose have sidestepped these remote solutions, and packaged their own simple but fully accessory- and iPod-controllable remotes with the inMotion iM3 and SoundDock speaker systems. And other companies are working on competing products, too.
TEN’s newly renamed naviPro EX remote controls ($49.95) - yes, plural - are the first standalone iPod wireless remotes to break the five-button mold. While the core functionality remains the same - five buttons for play/pause, reverse track, forward track, volume down and volume up - and the infrared wireless technology hasn’t changed, TEN has made two key changes: one to the remote transmitter, and one to the receiver.
The naviPro EX Remote
Abandoning the unusual saucer-like shape of the naviPod’s remote, each naviPro EX now includes a long rounded oval transmitter that now more easily and comfortably fits into your hand. It’s also considerably larger, including the necessary surface area to accommodate an expanded collection of 13 total buttons: the five old ones sit up top, and are compatible with all 3G, 4G, photo and mini iPods. Four new rows of two buttons sit below, and are not 3G-iPod compatible.
The first two new buttons are Previous Playlist and Next Playlist, indicated with a square icon and a 1, 2, 3 list of lines. These buttons are supposed to let you switch from playlist to playlist, and as before, you can use the reverse track and forward track buttons to navigate within the playlist you’re in.
Next are Previous Album and Next Album, indicated with a black circular CD icon. Parallelling the Playlist buttons, these buttons are designed to let you easily flip between albums in your collection and then use the track buttons to toggle individual songs. However, the feature is limited to switching between albums of a specific artist, and moreover, only switches between songs in the genre you’re currently listening to. Therefore, if you’re listening to The Beatles and have categorized their music into several genres, but are only listening to Classic Rock, you’ll only skip through the Classic Rock-genred Beatles albums.
Then there are two Chapter buttons - Previous Chapter and Next Chapter. These buttons support audiobook chapter-by-chapter listening, and are indicated by an open book icon. The audiobook in question must include chapter or section markers in order for the naviPro EX to be able to navigate with these buttons.
Finally, there are two buttons marked with the icons for “shuffle” and “repeat.” You can press either to activate the iPod’s specified feature without digging through menus.
The naviPod EX Receivers
In a second major design twist, TEN now produces three versions of the naviPro EX receiver that match the bodies of different iPods. The naviPro EX and naviPro EX Black are color-matched to 4G/photo iPods and U2 iPods, respectively, with the same-sized and shaped top-mounted receiver as was used in the original naviPod, while the naviPro EX mini receiver is white, modestly smaller, and has curves that closely match the iPod mini’s top casing. We received and reviewed only the naviPro EX, as the others appear to be only cosmetically different; the standard version works with the iPod mini, but doesn’t look ideal on top of it.
As before, the back of the naviPro EX receiver includes a pass-through audio port that allows you to connect speakers - or conceivably, but pointlessly, headphones - while the receiver is installed in the iPod’s top port. TEN also includes a detachable metal stand that slides into grooves on the receiver’s sides, propping your iPod safely up on an angle when installed. We’ve never had any problems with the 3G naviPod stands, and the naviPro EX one is no different.
There are two dimensions to the naviPro EX’s performance: first, its broadcasting ability, and second, its button functionality. Good news on the broadcasting front; like the naviPod before it, the naviPro EX’s remote does a good job considering that it uses infrared rather than RF radio to communicate with the iPod’s top-mounted receiver. It’s noticeably better than DLO’s recently released iDirect, requiring less of a direct line of sight with the receiver, and working from an even greater distance. While you shouldn’t expect it to work through walls, the naviPro EX will work just fine in a room - and frequently even if it’s not pointed directly at the iPod.
When all of the new buttons are considered, the difference between the naviPro EX and all earlier iPod remotes becomes more pronounced. Even though TEN and its competitors still haven’t delivered a much-desired LCD screen remote, naviPro EX attempts to take a few really positive steps towards making the non-LCD experience easier to deal with. Adding the new buttons for chapter switching can help those who love audio books, and the button worked to quickly switch chapters in the books we tested. The album-switching buttons, randomization and repeat features are even more logical and conceptually useful for everyday listening. They also worked without any incident on the 4G and photo iPods.
Playlist switching was a little less predictable: it worked fine on our iPod photo, and even on our iPod mini, but was shaky on our 4G iPod. If you choose a playlist from the Playlists menu and then use the remote to go forward or backwards, the iPod will recognize the button presses but revert back to the iPod’s main menu instead of switching from list to list. Under some conditions, playlist switching occasionally seems to work, but we weren’t able to determine the rhyme or reason behind it, and TEN’s web site didn’t have any pointers.
Originally, we thought that it might be the firmware: the 4G iPod hadn’t been updated to the latest 3.0.2 firmware - as recommended on TEN’s web site - and the feature didn’t work on the 3.0.1 firmware installed. But when we installed 3.0.2, nothing changed, and playlist toggling still didn’t work predictably. Our feeling is that this may require another 4G firmware tweak before it works perfectly, but iPod photo and mini owners shouldn’t have any issue.
Another aspect of the naviPro EX’s performance is certainly firmware-dependent. Currently, remote controls cannot switch between photos in the iPod photo’s slideshow mode, and everyone is waiting on Apple to update the iPod photo’s firmware to enable this functionality. TEN says that the naviPro EX will support the photo switching whenever that happens, but as of today, we’re still waiting.
All in all, the naviPro EX units represent a major step forward for iPod remote controls. Shipped at the same price points as their predecessors, they now bump the less functional naviPod into a lower price category and offer superior functionality, besides. While a naviPro still doesn’t remove the need for a LCD-equipped iPod remote control, and still does not offer control over the volume of Dock Connected accessories, it’s more useful than before. If you have a need for a wireless remote solution today, this would be the one we’d recommend.
That said, we still expect that TEN will make good on its promise of iPod photo support - though that feature depends on updated firmware from Apple - and clarify whatever is going on with the naviPro EX’s playlist-toggling feature. For the $49.95 price tag, we expect a fair bit from a remote control, and want to see the naviPro live up to its full potential.
Jeremy Horwitz is Editor-in-Chief of iLounge.