Name: Griffin Beacon
Type: Universal remote control with iOS app
Specs: Click here for full specs
Price: £57 from Amazon
One device to rule them all? That's the idea behind the Griffin Beacon, a universal remote control kit that works in tandem with your iOS device to control all the gadgets in your house that use a remote control. But is the Beacon a shining light in a murky sea of universal remotes, or is your best bet to dig under the sofa for that dusty lost zapper? Read on to find out.
The Griffin Beacon is quite the looker. Best described as a similar size to a black Apple TV box with a shiny black pebble placed on top, it'll sit comfortably and stylishly alongside most AV set-ups. Powered by four AA batteries, it syncs with your iOS device via a Bluetooth connection and, when used alongside the Dijit controller app, lets you control as many as 200,000 home entertainment devices from your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch straight out of the box.
Set up was incredibly simple. Once the batteries are placed in the bottom of the Beacon, you push down on its curved top till you hear a "Frustration" style click, which sends out a Bluetooth signal. It's then just a case of syncing the device with your iOS gadget through the Bluetooth device menu of your Apple phone, mp3 player or tablet. Rather than an actual remote control, the Beacon actually works to convert Bluetooth signals from your iOS device into infra-red ones that your entertainment devices can understand. Therefore line of sight thankfully isn't needed to control the Beacon's many functions (though you'll still have to carry it around if you want to use it in multiple rooms). There are no control buttons on the Beacon; this is left up to the free Dijit app, which is very good indeed.
Upon firing up the Dijit app (which syncs and recognises the Beacon very simply) you'll be presented with a quick set-up screen which lets you select all manner of AV gear, from TVs to home cinema receivers, games consoles to stereos. Everyone from the big name brands like Samsung and Sony right down to the sort of budget brands you'd find in a supermarket bargain bin are supported, which is a great achievement. There are inevitably gaps in the device list (Roberts DAB radios weren't supported for instance) but the majority of gear is there. App software updates will continually update the device list, so it's worth checking back later, and the Beacon can also be "taught" other unsupported devices too, though that's not worth the complicated set-up it needs.
The Dijit app is simple to navigate and select different units to control, but perhaps its best feature is the level of customisation it offers. You can add tens of buttons for each device you want to control through the app, resizing buttons to fit what's comfortable for you, add custom buttons to run controls not found on your regular remote, or even remove buttons that you find no use for. The days of squinting at remote controls for a hard to find tiny button are long gone, and you can even use it to invent touchscreen gesture controls, like a two-finger swipe to adjust TV volume for instance.
Another great touch is the Activities feature. This lets you program the Beacon to perform numerous buttons at the press of a single button. For instance, you might set up an activity that turns on your TV, Digital TV box and home cinema speaker system all at once. It's a great time saver, and one that once set up would suit to a tee a technophobe who finds multiple controllers confusing.
As you can probably guess, we were very impressed by the Beacon. But it's not without its faults.
Firstly, the decision to run off of regular batteries rather than a rechargeable built-in one seems an archaic one. Two months worth of battery life is considerably less than I squeeze out of my remote controls. Though the wire-free set up is handy, it would have been nice to have had the option of using an AC adapter for those not planning on moving the Beacon about.
The lack of Android support is understandable for a device that's launching as "Made for Apple", and though there is an app in the works, it's disappointing not to see it ready at launch. Even more disappointing is the lack of native iPad app support; using that big screen to house multiple remotes at once would have been a superb addition over a blown up, stretched iPhone one.
Lastly, the Beacon lacks some functionality in the UK that its US versions have. In the US, users can check TV listings and share them via social networking sites with their pals; in the UK you cant. Likewise Netflix accounts can be browsed and managed in the US with the Beacon and Dijit app, and while Netflix may not be available in the UK, no suitable alternative (like Lovefilm) has been added to fill the gap.
Despite some quibbles, the Beacon remains a superb solution to having tens of chunky remote controls laying around your living room. iPad support and a rechargeable battery are the main issues holding it back from top marks, but the amount of customisation easily lets us see past the Beacon's few faults.