Small device brings home entertainment remotes to smartphone (May 6th, 2014)
Product Manufacturer: Flyover Innovations
- Easy to use
- Small footprint
- No video streaming support
- No mounting options
- Dongle/requires audio cord
Any modern living room is certain to have a mass of remotes for the various electronics the family gathers around. The television, surround sound, and even gaming consoles often have them for the various functions users need to access from the comfort of a couch. But what does a family do when they've had enough of the remotes taking up their tables and falling into couch folds? One solution might bethe Blumoo from Flyover Innovations. But what does the Blumoo do, exactly?
Small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, the Blumoo utilizes Bluetooth 4.0 and infrared communications in order to condense the controls of a house full of electronics to a single device, much like a universal remote. Announcing its iOS availability today, the Flyover Innovations unit communicates through Bluetooth to the device. With the use of the free Blumoo app, users control their home entertainment system with their smartphone or tablet.
When talking about the size of the Blumoo, it is no exaggeration to say that the unit is small. At 2.24 x 1.96 x 2.81 inches, the device takes up an insignificant amount of space that can easily be somewhere out of the way, such as under the lip of a flat screen or on a densely-populated DVD shelf. The configuration of the base means that it can only stand upright, but it does have rubber feet on the bottom of it to keep it from moving around. This is a good thing, since the device is constructed from lightweight polycarbonate and aluminum.
Even though the unit feels solid and doesn't show signs of damage if dropped, there are notable oversights in the design. There is a dongle hardwired into the back of the unit that contains the three connection ports (power, IR extender and 3.5mm audio). It is unclear why this route was taken in the design, when it appears that there is ample room to put the three ports in the back if the polycarbonate area was extended. It is functional, even helpful, to have the extra 8.25 inches of cord; the issue is it ends up limiting positioning options.
This limitation is important, because it also lacks any sort of notch or mounting hole that would allow the Blumoo to be mounted to a wall. The Blumoo's size and weight immediately suggest that it should be mounted on a wall. Then it would be out of the way of existing devices, and have no obstructions for the Bluetooth connection. While the infrared can travel up to 150 feet, Bluetooth would be compromised at far shorter distances.
Using the Blumoo is simple. The interface of the app is quick to setup and easy to learn, in part because it offers a familiar format. Setup asks the user a few questions, mainly the zip code and programming situation, such as DirecTV or local cable options. Afterwards, it asks for information about the electronics in the home.
Setting a device up for the first time with a year-old Samsung television was a breeze. No model number information was needed to be searched for, as the Blumoo can scan through a database of 200,000 electronics to find the right one. Some specific devices are populated in lists sorted by type and manufacturer, but often these are bulk groupings. Finding everything doesn't always happen on the first try, though this isn't uncommon in the world of universal remotes. While a Sharp television was found easily in addition to the Samsung, a Yamaha receiver and a standard DirecTV set-top box offered some trouble.
When attempting to add a device, the Blumoo will send a power on/off command to see if it is the right one, and ask if it worked. Thankfully, in the list of options a checkmark is placed on the items that a user answers "no" to. In the case of the Yamaha receiver, the first option selected turned the unit off, but wouldn't allow it to power back on. Standard set-top boxes for DirecTV aren't listed in the options, but selecting a DirecTV DVR at random allowed operation anyway.
The Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 are listed as streaming devices within the Blumoo app, but neither of them was able to be used during testing. The Playstation 3 control lacks the start and enter buttons needs to sync at remote to the console. Unfortunately, one cannot add the buttons in this case either, as there is a request to read notes that aren't in the app to get this done. Buttons won't respond otherwise. As for the Xbox 360, nothing would work with either media remote option selected in the system settings.
Blumoo's application happily makes navigation between and use of different remotes a simple task. The home screen fills with the different devices that have been added. Devices don't need to be added every time, as they are remembered until manually deleted. Sliding the screens from left to right brings up the next device in the list. No navigation back to the home screen is needed to access another remote. Remotes on the home screen and the buttons on each remote can also be moved around. The app also allows for custom buttons to be added to each remote through an easy window. Navigating these menus does feel a little slow on an iPhone 4S, but it operates smoothly.
Being able to look at a programming guide within an app simplifies the process of watching television without fumbling through satellite navigation screens. The guide within the app uses a delayed signal to send a button press for each number of the channel you wish to watch. This means that it is possible to issue too many key presses, or cause them to roll over if the user doesn't allow for the signal to complete sending. A command for a 200-block channel takes about two seconds.
There was a small issue with the application when trying to select antenna-based programing. When the list would populate for programming, it would never seem to come up with a listing -- causing us to force close the application and start over again. Given how terrestrial television signals are listed, this is hardly a surprise. The Blumoo is attempting to find information that isn't collected in a manner as accessible as other options. Selecting a DirecTV listing, on the other hand, only took a few minutes.
If there was a missed opportunity for the Blumoo, it is that it doesn't include any options for popular streaming services like Netflix or Hulu. Given how common it is for customers to forego cable or satellite options in lieu of streaming services, it seems like adding these features in would have been a common-sense add. While these options are not currently available, the Blumoo does feature and open API and SDK that could mean those options will arrive in the future. Audio from an iPhone or services like Pandora can be streamed to the device, and passed through the 3.5mm jack to a stereo receiver.
The Blumoo gathers all of the electronic devices in a home, and makes them easier to control with something small. The ability to control multiple items within an app without having to navigate through numerous menus or screens adds to the convenience the devices offers. At $130, however, it might be priced too far out of consideration for some. It'll depend on just how burdened a user is by remotes. The Blumoo is good at what it does, offering an all-in-one solution in a sea of remotes -- if you can get it to recognize all of your devices.