For all the noise we make about the integration of entertainment systems and the smart home, the simple fact of the matter is that even those of us with control systems ruling over both domains generally use quite different interfaces to operate them. If that sentence makes no sense to you, consider this: My Control4 system ultimately operates nearly everything electronic in my home, from my home theater systems to my lights and distributed music, as well as security, climate, and lighting control. In terms of automated events, they're all interconnected. Unlocking my front door after sundown (as determined by an astronomical clock) illuminates a pathway into my kitchen; turning on my main home theater system in the summer dials the thermostat back a couple of degrees. But if I want to directly operate one of these devices myself by way of Control4, I'm going to take a different route depending on the task.
For lighting control, I'm likely to whip out my iOS app or pick up my touchscreen remote. But would I use either of those to operate my home theater system, beyond merely firing it up? Nuh uh. For that, I want a "clicker."
The flipside of that is that I would rarely, if ever, use my Control4 SR-260 remote control to operate lights or climate control. Is it capable of doing so? Sure. It's just not the right tool for the job.
Viewed in that light, the Neeo remote for Control4 can be seen as the home-control equivalent of a really fancy-ass Leatherman Multi-Tool. It's a hard-button handheld remote, after all, with volume, channel, and D-pad navigation controls, among others; but it's also a touchscreen interface, with an elegant, three-inch, super-high-resolution display.
That display, by the way, doesn't merely mimic the look and functionality of Control4's mobile apps, touchscreens, or onscreen interface. It's a new and unique UI purpose-built for this remote and its dual nature as both an AV controller and a smart home portal.
That alone makes Neeo interesting, although, to be fair, not wholly unique. Harmony attempted to do much the same with its Elite Universal Remote, although the laggy and fussy operation of that remote when attempting to control lights, not to mention its less-than-stellar touchscreen display and seemingly disposable hard buttons, keeps the Harmony from being a resounding success in either department. Of course, in the continued interest of fairness, it's worth pointing out that Neeo and Harmony aren't really direct competitors. Being a Control4 offering, Neeo is limited to those who have or want a professionally installed control and entertainment solution, whereas the Harmony Elite is almost entirely a DIY affair.
But in the realm of professionally installed control and automation systems, Neeo is, in many ways, exactly the sort of remote that Jerry and I have been barking about wanting for some time now (he for Crestron and I for Control4, so I guess I win in that respect). In lieu of a black plastic body, Neeo features a gorgeous machined aluminum chassis (in your choice of silver or black) that somehow manages to feel both lighter and more substantial than other remotes of similar size.
Even the glass over the touchscreen is as hardy as it is lovely, and although I don't have the equipment necessary to establish its place on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, it seems as least as durable as the Gorilla Glass on the front of my iPhone, which is a rare treat for a remote. It also has a wonderful soft-touch back that allows the remote to sit on practically any surface without slipping or scuffing.
If all of this is ringing a bell in the back of your head, by the way, there's a good reason for that. This isn't the first time that some form of Neeo remote has hit the market. The result of a massively successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2015, Neeo first appeared as a standalone remote control and hub back in 2017, and reviews at the time indicated that while the hardware was gorgeous and well-designed, with excellent material quality, the software needed some work.
Before that work could be completed, Neeo was acquired by Control4, who announced support for existing customers and even an upgrade path, but who also took it off the market. Until now. This reborn Neeo, which sells for $600, looks in most respects like the previous effort, at least in its hardware, though the Control4 team tells me that they have doubled the amount of memory and storage, and made a few other hardware enhancements. A few other minor details, like the notch on the bottom that previously allowed you to remove the back panel and replace the 1,370 mAH Li-ion battery, have also changed, but all in all the physical hardware looks much the same as it did when Neeo sold as a standalone control solution.
Needless to say, its touchscreen UI is drastically different, and the sheer number of devices it supports has increased substantially. And programming it is a completely different affair altogether.
Getting Neeo up and running for the first time involves a somewhat different process as compared with your typical Control4 control interface. But to explain why, we probably ought to discuss the normal process of setting up a Control4 remote or touchscreen is like. When programming within the Control4 Composer Pro software--available only to those who've gone through a nearly-weeklong training program--you normally don't give much thought to the control method at first. You install drivers for your components, make necessary connections between those components, establish things like the primary video and audio endpoint in a room. When it comes time to add controllers, you simply drop the drivers for your touchscreens and SR-260 remotes into each individual room in which they'll reside.
Adding Neeo to a Control4 system, by contrast, doesn't involve opening the Composer Pro software at all. So, if you're a Control4 homeowner, you could conceivably bop over to your dealer's showroom, pick up the remote, skip the programming charges and truck roll fees, and install Neeo yourself, assuming you're already running the latest version of Control4 OS 3. You simply need to fire it up out of the box, give it WiFi access to the same network on which your existing Control4 gear lives, pick a default room, and that's really the long and short of it. Neeo then goes out and grabs all of the programming it needs from your existing system. You will need to make sure to have a 2.4 GHz SSID turned on, since Neeo won't connect to 5 GHz WiFi. But assuming you have a pretty typical AV system, that's really the beginning and end of the setup process.
If, on the other hand, you have some more complex AV control macros written for your existing SR-260 remotes, your dealer can replicate those on Neeo by opening up Composer Pro, naming up to five custom touchscreen buttons in the System Design tab (a significant step up from the three custom programmable buttons on the SR-260), then defining what those buttons do in the Programming tab. It takes mere minutes to cook up pretty much any macro you could conceive of, no matter how elaborate. But just as a reminder, in most cases these custom buttons will be unnecessary. (One necessary example in my case is that I have a button set up to switch to the Chromecast input on my TV and the ARC input on my AV preamp without fiddling with multiple button presses, which is a necessary evil since Amazon yanked the Twitch app off of Roku and Control4 isn't really designed to handle smart TVs and ARC connectivity without a little bit of extra programming).
The only other functions of Neeo that can only be reconfigured using the Composer Pro software are things like locking it to a specific room (by default you can press the "4" icon at the top of the screen, select Change Rooms, and bring the remote along with you as you move around the house), disabling "Confirm Room Off" (again, by default, when you press the Room Off hard button on the remote, a confirmation message pops up on the home screen), disabling WiFi sleep (in case you're having connectivity problems), and removing "Show On Screen" from the handy favorites list on the main page of the UI. That button, by the way, works the same as the big red "4" button on Control4's other remotes, and is a quick and easy way of bringing the Control4 OSD up on your TV or projector, though I can imagine that some people might want to move it from the home screen of the remote if they don't use the OSD much. Personally speaking, I use it tons for distributed music, so I like having that direct access right at my fingertips.
Other than that, any configuration or customization that the homeowner wants to do can be done without the assistance of a dealer. This mostly boils down to using the Control4 iOS or Android app to assign Favorites--like lights or other devices you use the most and want one-touch control of directly from the main screen--which are then placed on the main screen of Neeo.
All in all, I don't think any amount of homeowner personalization and customization allowed by Control4 would satisfy the hardcore DIY crowd, since Neeo does ultimate require a connection to a professionally installed automation solution. But for those who are into the custom lifestyle and still want to be able to do some level of tinkering and tweaking without calling a dealer, I think the company has found the right balance here. There's no way to mess the system up, but still plenty of meaningful ways to make it your own. Another cool thing is that Neeo keeps itself up to date without input from either you or your installer. As functionality is tweaked or new updates roll out, they're simply pushed directly to the remote itself, generally overnight as the remote sits in its charging cradle.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...