Smart Home Remote Controls (ISE 2016 report)

 Savant Remote - Photograph courtesy of Savant

Savant Remote - Photograph courtesy of Savant

In this fourth report from the ISE 2016 show, I would like to introduce you to an exciting and blooming trend for smart home enabled remote controls.

For a long time already universal remote controls have been a great solution for living rooms which are literally invaded with remote controls. Replacing all devices with one single product takes away the mess and simplifies daily operations on your AV installation.

With the development of smart home solutions, the challenge gets even bigger. Now in addition to remote controls we also have to deal with numerous apps which all control separate systems. Wouldn't it be better to have a set of a single remote control and app that enables you to control all your products at once? Better even, having the ability to create activities and scenes which combine the use of any set of devices?

That's precisely the promise of this new generation of remotes, offering you a universal control point for your smart home and entertainment centre.

Neeo

Neeo is the new kid on the block. A Kickstarter project, one of the most successful campaign so far, raising above $1.5M. Last month at CES Las Vegas it even received the prestigious 2016 CES Innovation Awards in the Smart Home category.

With an attractive design and a strong focus on making smart home easy, the team behind Neeo hopes to offer with their remote the ultimate control interface. Its layout offers a minimalistic set of physical buttons for playback and navigation and a large high definition touch screen for more advanced functionalities. The Remote works together with the Brain which is an IP based hub. It hosts all the "recipes" of your smart home like "Good Morning" or "Watch Apple TV", combining the control of your AV equipment together with lighting, heating, security and all of the other connected solutions you may have around your home. The app is basically the reflexion of the touchscreen from your phone. It allows the control of all the functionalities and can be used without the remote if you actually prefer it this way. In this case the only thing you need is the Brain module.

Neeo team is keen on emphasising the quality of the integration with other systems and claims the compatibility with more than 30,000 devices including Apple TV, Roku, Sonos, Philips Hue and NEST. In terms of key features, it is compatible with Wifi, Bluetooth, Z-Wave and ZigBee and embed a 360 degree IR blaster to control your AV equipment.

The Remote offers a luxury aluminium body combined with a "retina" grade 3 inches touch screen. The back of the remote packs hand recognition sensors for personal profiles and easy login. The battery is rechargeable via a docking station and also replaceable which should potentially extend the product life time.

Unfortunately, Neeo was supposed to come to market for a while already and is only expecting to ship "soon" which means some of the early backers are desperately waiting for their precious remote to come home. This kind of delays are not unusual in the tech industry and doesn't necessarily mean they won't become a reliable brand, but it remains a question mark whether the product will truly deliver on its promises and whether Neeo will be there on the long run.

 Neeo Brain - Photograph courtesy of Neeo

Neeo Brain - Photograph courtesy of Neeo

As of now, the product is available on pre-order with the following pricing (prices should go up once released):

  • NEEO Combo PRE-ORDER FOR $339
  • NEEO Brain PRE-ORDER FOR $219
  • NEEO Remote PRE-ORDER FOR $139

Although present at ISE, I missed the opportunity to meet with them and experience the product first hand so I can only report on available information gathered from their website and the online press. I do hope I can get hold of a sample for a full review. Keep you posted.

Savant

 Savant Remote services - Photograph courtesy of Savant

Savant Remote services - Photograph courtesy of Savant

Founded in 2005, Savant is not a very old company but it quickly became the luxury choice for home automation solutions. Clearly focused on prestigious projects and VIP clientele, it represents an exclusive niche within the niche.

With the introduction of their new Savant Remote, the company seems to be opening up to a much broader audience, trying to capture some shares of the upcoming connected smart home market. The proposition is very similar to the one from Neeo with a hub called Host. You can also buy additional Blasters for remote infrared control and Lamp Control plugs for on/off and dimming of halogen, incandescent or dimmable LED lamps.

Savant's unique selling proposition is the addition of voice control. Indeed, the remote includes a microphone which lets you control your system to trigger light scenes or start your favorite channel. The system is proprietary and works similarly to Siri and other voice control solutions. I did not test the product so I can't really say how reliable is the feature but I did get a demo on their ISE stand and it seemed to do basic things fairly well.

The other strong selling point is the user profile functionality which allows the system to create specific profiles for each member of the family. With the experience of Savant in premium home automation, you can expect this to work well but it remains to be tested to fully appreciate the added value and experience. Neeo also claims user profile features with actually hand recognition to make it even fancier. It is too early to say which of the two systems offers the best experience but they do seem very similar.

Savant Host - Photograph courtesy of Savant

In terms of look and feel, the product although similar to Neeo in functionalities looks totally different. It roughly shares the same height and width but it's much thicker and almost twice the weight. It does look premium but not necessarily more than the Neeo product except maybe for its weight. The screen seemed of good quality although not as good as a smartphone and the navigation was really comfortable with a very reactive screen. The app looks really sleek and you can see it borrows some parts of the experience from their premium home automation solutions. Just like the Neeo, you can use the app in combination with the Host without necessarily having to use the remote.

You'll be hard pressed to find a product that does not work with this set as Savant claims it is compatible with about 380,000 devices including smart home products. Similarly to Neeo, you can check directly on their website the compatibility engine which lets you enter the name of the product and tells you whether it is compatible or not.

Savant Lamp Control - Photograph courtesy of Savant

Savant App - Photograph courtesy of Savant

SAVANT REMOTE scene selection - PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF SAVANT

Regarding the availability, the Savant Remote is also late as it was supposed to be launched last quarter of 2015. I understand that it should now hit the shelves in the US within the first semester and will follow in Europe the second part of the year. I am already in touch with RGB their EU distributor to get a sample when the product will be available so stay tuned for a full review.

Here is the anticipated pricing for the US:

  • Remote + Host: $499
  • Remote: $399
  • Lamp Control: $99
  • Host: $199
  • Blaster: $169

This product actually received the 2016 ISE award for "Best of the Show" in the residential system category!

Logitech Harmony Elite

I could not possibly talk about remote controls without mentioning Logitech, the leader in universal remote controls. Although not present at ISE with their Harmony remotes, Logitech is also extremely well positioned in this market with their Hub based remote controls. In fact, most of the features offered by Neeo and Savant are already available with the Harmony Elite model. The Elite is available for several months already and I am currently testing it for a full review. It is also the second generation of hub based remotes from the manufacturer which means their products and services have already matured and improved.

 The Logitech Harmony Elite in hand - Photograph Philippe Regnier

The Logitech Harmony Elite in hand - Photograph Philippe Regnier

THE LOGITECH HARMONY ELITE on the charging dock - PHOTOGRAPH PHILIPPE REGNIER

The remote shares similar features but does have a more mainstream look and feel, although still very sleek. The screen and navigation is clearly "cheaper" than those from Neeo and Savant with a more basic user interface. The remote also hosts a lot more physical buttons including a complete set for smart home controls functionalities. I must admit that while I enjoy fewer buttons, I do appreciate the possibility to trigger light scenes with these extra buttons.

What Logitech does not offer is the user profile system and voice commands. For the rest, it connects to basically any piece of AV equipment and most of the smart home solutions like Philips Hue, Nest, Belkin Wemo, LIFX. In the battle for numbers, Logitech arrives second with "only" 270,000 devices compatible.

Logitech Companion - Photograph courtesy of Logitech

Good to know, Logitech offers a step down version of their remote, the Companion, without the touchscreen but including 3 activity buttons which are customisable. Of course, this remote and hub combo is compatible with the app (iOS and Android). For those that think remote controls are old school and prefers the app only, you can buy the Hub for even less.

Logitech is obviously a more mainstream brand and with this portfolio it offers a good set of options for those that are interested in combining the control of their AV equipment with their smart home devices.

See below the pricing in US dollars, to compare with the other two solutions:

  • Harmony Elite at $349.99
  • Harmony Companion $149.99
  • Harmony Hub $99.99

Conclusion

Logitech as the veteran and pioneer in this field is leading the way in the smart home remotes and apps. Tough competition is coming though with attractive designs and very promising user experiences. In the next weeks, I will publish the full review of the Logitech Elite model and will provide an in-depth analysis of its functionalities. Later this year I hope to be able to provide reviews of these two upcoming propositions from Savant, the luxury home automation brand, and Neeo, the tech startup. In any case, I believe these devices are a welcome move for the smart home industry. One that can help developing the market beyond early adopters. The convergence of technologies and solutions is only meaningful when the user experience and the interoperability between systems are truly seamless. If you are interested in this matter, stay tuned on The Dandy Domain as there will be more to come.

 

Interested in my previous posts on ISE 2016, check out the links below:



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