Universal remote control accessories for iOS devices have become so numerous — and frankly similar — over the past two years that the reviews could almost write themselves. They either take the form of Dock Connector plug-ins or oversized Infrared blasters with Bluetooth/Wi-Fi wireless links to Apple devices, using all but identical iOS apps to let you control TVs, DVRs, optical disc players, and receivers. So while Zero1.tv’s just-released VooMote Zapper ($70) is in fact new, and a little different from many universal remote add-ons we’ve tested before, there isn’t a ton of unique ground to cover here; this is merely a more polished variation on earlier alternatives.
VooMote Zapper arrives in a simple plastic and cardboard box with a multilingual instruction manual that’s much larger than the accessory itself, made half from matte plastic and half from glossy plastic with a metal Dock Connector plug at the top. Black or white color options are currently available, with other colors depicted but not for sale through the company’s web site. A consistently red VooMote badge on the top and softened, trapezoidal curves are the only distinctive cosmetic design elements here, though Zero1.tv has subtly extended the Dock Connector plug with plastic in a manner that enables the accessory to work well with cases. Unlike VooMote’s earlier accessory VooMote One, Zapper is compatible with all iPod touches, iPhones, and iPads running iOS 5.0 or later. While virtually every Infrared accessory we’ve tested to date looks somewhat like Zapper, Zero1.tv deserves credit for producing something that looks at least as nice as its peers, and offers comparable or superior case and Apple device compatibility, as well.
The only omissions with VooMote Zapper are common to rival dongles. There’s still the risk of losing or misplacing the small attachment, there’s no wrist strap hole, carrying case, or other means to tote it around, and you still need to figure out a way to attach it to your iOS device every time you want to use your entertainment system. Competing products such as Griffin’s Beacon and Gear4’s UnityRemote free you from the need for dongles, but do so at a higher price, and with their own battery consequences. You’ll have to decide which usage scenario better fits your needs.
Where Zero1.tv really succeeds relative to many of its dongle-based competitors is in its free iOS application, VooMote Zapper, which automatically downloads to your device after you plug the accessory in and authorize the transfer. To be clear, it’s not that the Zapper application is perfect, but rather that it’s cleanly designed and in no way frustrating for a typical user to figure out, which can’t always be said about other universal remote apps. Zapper notably benefits from all of the refinements Zero1.tv made to the app during its sales of VooMote One.
Zero1.tv’s app guides you through setting up rooms and individual devices within them, using very clear on-screen prompts and buttons to help you control devices that aren’t already in the app’s database. Setup is relatively quick, checked by the user against automatically prompted options, and followed by an option to integrate multiple devices together for linked “OneView” functionality—your TV and Apple TV controls, for instance, can be blended together to “Watch TV,” “Listen to Music,” or “Watch Recorded Content,” with clear additional options presented if you add additional devices.
The actual remotes are only somewhat less than totally satisfying. On a positive note, the buttons themselves are large, attractively designed, and automatically laid out in a logical enough fashion—they look at least as nice and work just as responsively as buttons we’ve seen in the best competing universal remote apps. But with the big buttons comes the need for scrolling, here across multiple left/right-scrolling pages, some of which are almost comically bereft of content. The default Apple TV remote, for instance, has most of its navigation buttons on one screen, with scrub buttons sitting in the upper left corner of the second, almost as an afterthought. There’s a gesture-based control option for the Apple TV on a far left page, albeit without the keyboard options of Apple’s official Remote app.
Thankfully, you can edit any remote control to customize its buttons to your liking, and create the aforementioned OneView remotes to merge different devices’ controls together. The only residual issue is the tiny size of text on some button labels, and even then, it’s still legible even on non-Retina Display devices, just a little small.
VooMote Zapper’s IR performance was better than expected. We had no problem getting it to communicate with our home entertainment system devices at more than reasonable distances—greater than 30 feet away on straight lines of sight, plus off angles where only the dongle’s edges were pointing at IR sensors. The trapezoidal shape works better than the tiny circles and forward-facing ovals we commonly see on remotes, and power drain from the accessory is entirely unremarkable, as well.
Overall, though VooMote Zapper isn’t a groundbreaking new universal remote accessory, it rates a strong general recommendation—the same B+ rating as the best non-dongle solutions we’ve tested. It’s not the cheapest universal remote solution we’ve tested, but it’s so polished in most regards that users will have very good experiences with it should they be searching for a dongle-based accessory. Further improvements to the app and more aggressive pricing would be the only ways we’d really hope to see this very good accessory evolve in the future.
Company and Price
Model: VooMote Zapper
Compatible: iPad/iPad 2, iPhone 3GS/4/4S, iPod touch 3G/4G