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.
Of all the metrics by which you might judge a remote control’s performance, perhaps the most important (at least for me) is ergonomics. In that respect, I’ll admit that I didn’t love Neeo at first, though this is somewhat unsurprising. When a select group of journalists received their early Neeo review units, two of them almost immediately texted me with the same question: “Do your hands just swallow this thing, or what?” And to be honest, the answer at first was, “Kinda, yeah.” I’m not Rachmaninoff or anything over here, but I do have a hand length of 8.5 inches and a span of just over 10.25 inches from thumb tip to pinky tip, which puts me in the safely into “Wookiee paws” territory.
After an hour or so of use, I honestly considered sending the review unit back with a note explaining that I just wasn’t the right Wookiee for this review. And then a weird thing happened. After a few more hours of using the remote just for funsies, thinking I was going to be scrapping the review, I realized that I had started to subconsciously hold Neeo differently. And this new grip that my body just discovered on its own very much worked for me.
To explain why, it’s important to point out that Neeo is a thin little wisp of a thing, measuring in at just 0.36-inch thick (with a height and width of 7.1 by 1.9 inches). What I found my hand gravitating toward without any conscious decision-making on my part was a grip whereby the remote sits flat on my pinky, ring, and birdie fingers, with my index finger resting along its narrow side.
Another thing I didn’t like about Neeo at first, but have grown to love, is its utter lack of sculpting. The bottom is mostly flat, with soft rounded edges, meaning there are no protrusions or bulges to grip with your fingers. That flat design, though, combined with my finger-up-the-side grip, makes it really easy for me to reposition the remote in my hand with a little bounce, depending on whether I need to focus on the touchscreen up top of the hard buttons on the bottom.
So, in terms of ergonomics, I’d call Neeo a big winner. Definitely not what I’m used to, and definitely not something that my hands took too immediately, but after just a few hours of use I found myself adapting to it with absolutely zero issues. Granted, given that I’m a cord-cutter, I don’t really need the channel up/down buttons, but I find the volume control and navigation hard buttons really easy to find and operate by feel alone, which is like 90 percent of the control experience for me.
The next important metric is responsiveness, and given that Neeo is a WiFi-connected remote, there are two areas in which it could potentially fail to measure up in this regard. The good news is, it performs unimpeachably on both fronts: the responsiveness of the buttons themselves, as well as the remote’s wakeup time when pulled from its charging cradle. Never once during all of my extensive testing did Neeo fail to spring to life immediately when I picked it up off the arm of my sofa, and never did I run into any lag between pressing a button and having its effects translated into action on whatever device I was controlling. I even, at one point, took the remote all the way to the far fence of my backyard, set the remote on a small outdoor table, left it alone for a few minutes, then picked it up. It woke up instantaneously and was connected to the network before I could push a single button.
I mentioned the charging cradle in passing there, but it deserves a little more direct attention. Neeo has a round charging base of roughly 70mm (2.76-inch) diameter. The remote stands up in the cradle, and there’s a magnet securing the two that gives you a satisfying little tug, both when you put the remote down to charge and pick it up the next day for use. Control4 claims up to five days’ battery life for the remote, but that’s a bit generous in my experience. I can only assume they mean “if you don’t use it.” In practice, in daily use, I could get about two days out of a charge without needing to return it to its cradle. But after a few days, I honestly got into the habit of returning it home every night.
The last criteria by which Neeo’s performance should be judged come down to its functionality with both AV device control, as well as smart home control. In my experience, it does both very well, although I tend to think it performs better on the latter than the former. This mostly boils down to the fact that the Neeo UI (which, again, is quite different from Control4’s mobile and touchscreen UIs) is specialized in the direction of smart home controls you would need to access when engaged with your entertainment system. This, in many ways, is very in keeping with the “different horses for different courses” ethos that Control4 has developed for OS 3 and beyond.
Take lights, for example. While Neeo isn’t limited to lights that you’ve added to your Favorites list, the way the onscreen UI is, it does limit you to lights that are in the same “room” you currently have active. I put “room” in quotes like that, because depending on how your home control system is configured in Composer Pro, you likely won’t have a different “room” for literally every room of your house. Think of these more as zones.
Neeo lives in my den, for example. But the “Den” zone in my Composer Pro project also includes the two main hallways leading off the den, as well as the front foyer and kitchen. So, if I pull up the lighting interface on Neeo, I see all of the lighting loads in those areas. But I don’t see loads in my living room or bathrooms or office or what have you. That’s a good thing, in my estimation, because if I fire up a movie and realize there’s a light on that I need to turn off or dim, it’s going to be one of those lights.
For what it’s worth, swiping over to the Lighting Scenes screen does give me access to scenes that cover the entire home. But, if for whatever reason I’m sitting in my den media room and a tickle in the back of my brain reminds me for whatever reason that I might have left on my bedside lamp, I would need to change rooms on Neeo to access that lamp.
Overall, the UI of Neeo has a very vertical structure. You can see this when comparing, say, the screen that gives direct access to all of the apps loaded on my Roku on both Neeo and the iOS app. In the latter, the services are all represented by big, bold icons, three wide across the screen; In the former, it’s a list, one app per line, with a small icon to the left. It’s much the same with lighting, with the slider bar for dimmers taking up most of the width of the screen.
In terms of entertainment control, as I said above, most of the buttons you need the most are easy to find by feel alone, and as I’ve transitioned more toward my Roku Ultra as my primary day-to-day video source, I really appreciate that my eye can scan the list of installed services by their distinctive icons instead of merely their names, the way I have to do with the SR-260, the screen for which is text only.
That said, while Neeo does a really great job of serving as both smart home and AV entertainment controller, it’s not perfect in either respect. While the hard buttons on the remote are great and intuitively laid out, a few essential buttons are missing. Namely, transport controls. Add another row of buttons, with a pause/play button flanked by forward and rewind, and the remote would be nearly perfect for TV and movie-watching alike. Moving those controls to the touchscreen means that when you need to pause, you have to look down, and that’s a bit of a bummer. It’s true that the OK button and left/right D-pad buttons do function as pause, forward, and back in some apps on Roku, but not all of them. And this doesn’t work for disc players or my Kaleidescape Strato.
In terms of smart home control, there are also a few key omissions, though some of these are apparently temporary. Neeo won’t, for example, access climate control devices like my ecobee smart thermostat for now, although Control4 assures me that such functionality is coming via an automatic update by year’s end. I’ll be happy to see this update drop, because although I mentioned above that my Control4 system automatically drops the temperate by a couple degrees when we fire up the AV system in the den between the months of May and September, for the rest of the year the right temperature for our media room can be a bit of a moving target. So, I still find myself needing to ether whip out my iOS app or pause the show we’re watching long enough holler at Alexa to tweak the thermostat.
There is one more thing worth pointing out here, although I hesitate to call it a downside. It’s really more of a concerning unknown. I mentioned in the intro that the little slot on the back of the old standalone, DIY Neeo, which allowed you to remove the back panel to access the battery, is missing from this new Control4 version. What I was hinting at there is that the battery–a 1,370 mAH Li-ion unit–isn’t user replaceable at all. That ultimately places an expiration date on the remote itself, and there’s no real way of knowing yet how far away that date may be.
You could make some back-of-napkin calculations based on, say, the lifespan of an iPhone battery, but I’m not sure that’s overly helpful. My iPhone 8 Plus, for example, with its 2,691 mAH Li-ion battery, hasn’t really lost any significate capacity after two years of heavy use. The iPhone 6 Plus it replaced, by comparison, wouldn’t hold more than a half-day’s charge on its 2,915 mAH Li-ion battery after three years in heavy rotation. Consider, though, that in my experience the battery in Neeo needs charging less than half as much as either of those devices. So, I don’t think the iPhone comparison is a great one, and we’re right back into unknown territory. Will Neeo run for six or seven years before giving up the ghost? Ten? Twelve? Honestly, I have no idea. And the environmental sensitivity of Li-ion means that the likely answer for me, whatever it is, may be significantly different from the likely answer for you.
Competition and Comparison
Comparing control solutions of this nature to other comparable products isn’t quite so easy as, say, comparing one AV receiver to another. After all, Neeo is part of a larger control and automation ecosystem. So, if you’re currently a Control4 homeowner or are thinking about becoming one, your alternative to Neeo mostly comes in the form of the aforementioned SR-260 System Remote, which sells for $330 and lacks Neeo’s touchscreen interface, as well as its aluminum chassis, but does include a larger selection of hard buttons and a design that’s closer to what you’re already accustomed to in terms of remote control ergonomics. If you’re looking for bang for your Control4 buck, the SR-260 is where it’s at, especially given that the Control4 mobile companion app is free.
If, on the other and, you’re shopping around for control and automation systems and haven’t settled on one yet, Savant has its roughly comparable Pro Remote, which also mixes touchscreen smart home control and hard-button AV system control. The Savant Pro has more hard buttons, including transport controls, and also features built-in Siri integration, but lacks Neeo’s minimalist industrial design, hardier construction, and more luxurious materials. I also have absolutely no idea how much it costs.
Crestron, meanwhile, has its TSR-310, which also combines touchscreen smart home control with hard-button AV control. Its overall design seems to strike a balance between the Control4 Neeo and Savant Pro, with a flat façade but a more rounded back contour. It also includes a lot more hard buttons than Neeo, but lacks is sexy aluminum construction and overall build quality. Pricing for this one is a gulp-inducing $1,000, not including programming and installation.
If, by any chance, any of you hardcore DIYers have made it this deep into the review, there is also, of course, the $350 Harmony Elite, which… well, you can read all about that one in my in-depth hands-on review.
Here’s a refrain that you’re probably tired of me repeating if you read my reviews with any regularity: my job as a reviewer, as I see it, isn’t to proclaim from on high whether a product pleases me personally or not. Instead, my job is to give you enough relevant information that can’t be found in product listings and marketing material so you can decide for yourself whether a product meets your unique needs or not.
Being a potential Neeo owner of course means that you need to either have an existing Control4 automation and control system or be open to having one installed. So, we’ll take that threshold as a given. Once you get past that, it really depends on your lifestyle and aesthetic sensibilities. If you do a lot of AV and smart home control concurrently (in other words, if you find yourself wanting to tinker with light levels when you’re watching TV, etc.), you should definitely give Neeo a look. If you’re looking for a sexier, better-built controller that seems likely to stand up to some abuse, you should also swing by your Control4 dealer and put hands on this beauty for yourself.
It’s a bummer, it’s true, that the battery in Neeo isn’t user replaceable, and I have a feeling that’ll keep some of you away from the remote even if you fit the criteria above. But even taking that into consideration, Neeo is one of the sleekest, sexiest, most intuitive control solutions I’ve ever put my front paws around. And also one of the best-built, by a country mile.
• Visit the Control4 website for more information.
• Check out our Remotes + System Control Reviews category page to read similar reviews.
• Read Control4 DS2 Mini Door Station and Intercom Anywhere Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.