All-in-one universal remotes have been around for a very long time now, becoming a standard in any home theater setup with more than a couple components. And in a world of set-top media devices, cable/dish boxes, gaming consoles and home theater PCs, keeping it all under control can be a task even with a universal remote. The emerging alternative is to ditch the traditional remote altogether and turn to where else, but apps!
Early designs for universal remote and iPhone combinations often took the form of cumbersome add-on plugs and cases that connected via sync slot, offering infrared control of devices. Now there's a new wave of accessories that ditch the add-ons and offer a more streamlined setup for both iOS and Android users:
Gear4 UnityRemote - iOS only
Unfortunately at this moment the UnityRemote is iOS only, but this remote+app system is one of our favorites. All the system requires is three AA batteries and the free UnityRemote app which connects via Bluetooth. Everything required to set up remote control lies within the fully customizable app; use your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad to control components. Up to 8 devices can be memorized and it blasts infrared signals outwards at a full 360 degree range for full coverage within a room. $100
The Griffin Beacon powered by Dijit features apps for both iPhone/iPod Touch and iPad. Like the aforementioned the Beacon is Bluetooth-only and doesn't connect via any other means. We like the Beacon beyond control features for its unique decor-friendly design; even while not in use, the pebble-shaped receiver has a sculptural presence which makes it a unique addition. Although currently only available for iOS, an Android version is reportedly on the way.$80
Logitech Harmony Link - iOS and Android
It just wouldn't be a list of universal remote accessories without mentioning the Logitech Harmony. Where the Harmony differs from the UnityRemote and Beacon is that this device uses wi-fi rather than Bluetooth. The minimalist design Harmony Link has a ton of customizing options and additions; the most notable leg up upon the competition is the infrared mini blaster, which makes this device ideal for use when you've stored away components behind cabinet doors or even in another closet/storage room.
The included app is highly customizable and interactive, going as far as to use your location to feed local listings delivered right to your remote. It goes without saying that the Harmony Link was designed optimally for the larger screen iPad, but it works fine enough even on a Touch or iPhone. Prerecorded activities can be programmed to make everything accessible very easily. Of course, the problem that arises with all these customizable additions is the simplicity of use is dminished. This we only recommend this last listing for those who love messing around with customizing of their home theatre setup.$100