“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.