Peel Universal Remote Control and iPhone App Reviewed

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Peel Universal Remote Control and iPhone App Reviewed

Peel_Universal_Remote_Review.jpgThe idea of controlling your entertainment system using an iPhone is not new. For years now, owners of wholehouse entertainment and automation systems have had the option to control their systems via their iPhone--as just about every major control and automation company now offers iPhone integration. Likewise, big-name A/V manufacturers like Samsung, Sony, and Panasonic offer free apps that allow users to control that company's gear with their handheld device. The next logical step falls in between: the iPhone or iPod touch as a standalone universal remote control. You don't need a wholehouse control platform, and you're not locked to one manufacturer's app and equipment. Several companies have recently introduced an iPhone-based universal controller, including Peel, Griffin, and Harmony. The Peel system is the first one we've had a chance to test.

Additional Resources
• Read more remotes and system control reviews from Home Theater Review's staff.
• Explore AV receivers in our AV Receiver Review section.
• See related news in our Streaming, Apps, and Downloads News section.

The App
Peel is a free app designed to improve your TV channel-surfing experience. No longer must you scroll through a generic onscreen program guide or physically change channels to see what's on. Instead, you can tell the Peel app where you live and which service provider you use, and then get a much more intuitive breakdown of what's on TV. The Peel interface divides content into five categories: Top Picks, TV Shows, Movies, Sports, and Search. Within the main categories, it further divides by genre: comedy, drama, kids, type of sport, etc. You're not just looking at a bunch of text lists, either: The interface includes colorful cover art, with full plot descriptions. Via touchscreen control, it's easy to browse the different options, read about various shows, and look ahead to future time slots--all without having to interrupt what's currently playing on your TV by pulling up an onscreen program guide.

In the Top Picks category, Peel will recommend content based on the personal information you provide during setup (if desired). As with music apps like Pandora, Peel grows smarter as you give it more feedback about the types of shows you like and dislike. Click the star for shows you like or the X for shows you don't (if you have a change of heart, you can go into Settings and alter these lists). One screen is dedicated to your favorite shows, and another allows you to list favorite channels, so you can customize a mini-guide and see what's currently playing on your most-watched channels.

The Fruit
The logical evolution of that channel-surfing idea was to add the ability to control your set-top box so that you could tune to a particular program once you've found it using the app. This is where "the fruit" comes in. The Peel Fruit ($99) features two parts: a small network adapter that connects to your router and a pear-shaped (hence the name) IR blaster. It's a very easy system to set up, with clear instructions in the box: 1) Connect the network adapter box (called the Peel Cable) to your router with an Ethernet cable and plug it into a power outlet; 2) put a C battery into the wireless Peel Fruit; 3) make sure your iPhone is connected to the same network via WiFi; and 4) pair the Fruit and the iPhone using a supplied code. The Peel Cable receives commands from your iPhone and then sends those commands over the wireless ZigBee standard to the Peel Fruit, which in turn sends out IR codes to your A/V gear. Because the Peel Fruit sends out IR, it needs to have line-of-sight with your equipment; the company recommends that the Peel Fruit be no farther than 15 feet from your A/V equipment and 25 feet from the Peel Cable.

Once everything is connected, the Peel app walks you through a simple programming procedure to control the devices you use to watch TV (in my case, a DirecTV HD DVR, a Sony TV, and a Pioneer receiver). The system had no trouble find the correct codes to control my equipment. Peel also allows you to add Blu-ray players, DVD players, and streaming media players. The remote interface includes an activity bar where you can switch between activities, like TV watching or (in my case) Blu-ray playback. Press "TV," and the remote is supposed to turn on all the needed devices and switch to the correct inputs--although this function seldom worked properly with my system (it usually failed to turn on the DirecTV DVR for TV-watching and my OPPO Blu-ray player for movies). There's no corresponding "all power off" function, either. The more reliable method of powering devices is to press the Power icon, which brings up a list of all your devices and allows you to turn each one on or off as needed.

Peel's remote interface includes two basic screens, each of which sports a slider-control cross in the center with a few buttons around it that vary based on the devices you're trying to control. For my TV/DVR setup, the first screen offered slider control for volume up/down and forward/reverse, with a play/pause button in the center. Around it were buttons for jump forward, jump back, mute, record, and X (to delete a channel from your lineup). The second screen offered directional sliders with an OK button in the center, surrounded by buttons for menu, active (a DirecTV function), list, back, exit, and a color button that pulls up separate red/green/yellow/blue color buttons. That's it. There are no other controls, and the interface is not customizable by the end user. Obviously, some desirable buttons are missing, which we'll address in a moment.

It took me a while to get used to the Peel's slider controls. For instance, for volume control, you must slide the icons up or down and hold them until you reach a desired volume, as opposed to pressing a button a certain number of times. To fast-forward through a commercial on a DVR recording, you have to slide the control to the right once for slow speed, twice for the next-faster speed, etc. It's different than the button-pressing philosophy that I've always known, so my first reaction was to not like it. I got used to it over time, but I fear many of us old geezers may never truly be able to let go of the need to press buttons.

Read about the high points and low points of the Peel universal remote on Page 2.

HTR Product Rating for Peel Universal Remote Control and iPhone App

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Peel_Universal_Remote_Review.jpgHigh Points
• The Peel app provides an excellent way to browse TV content. The interface is clean, colorful, and intuitive. Plus, you can teach it your likes and dislikes to further tailor the recommendations to your tastes.
• The app allows you to browse TV content without pulling up an onscreen guide that interferes with what's currently playing.
• The remote-control system is very easy to set up and program.
• If several people in your home own an iPhone or iPod touch, they can all download the free app and control the HT equipment using the same Peel Fruit.
• An Android version is also available.

Low Points
• The Peel's remote interface is missing a lot of desirable buttons. For TV, it lacks guide, info, channel up/down, and a number pad to manually tune to a channel. I understand that Peel wants you to utilize its channel-surfing app as the primary method of navigating content, but sometimes you just want to go directly to a certain channel or jump up/down a channel...and the inability to do that with this remote is very frustrating. You essentially have to keep your set-top box remote nearby. For DVD/BD control, Peel lacks stop, setup menu, eject, and any advanced control options.
• Reliability simply isn't where it needs to be. Too many times, the system failed to properly execute a command, and I often got a "Cannot find Peel Fruit" message on my iPhone for no obvious reason.
• When browsing content that's scheduled for a later time, the Peel app lacks a "record this showing" option.
• There's currently no iPad application.

Competition and Comparison
The Peel system is the first iPhone-based universal controller we've reviewed, but you can also check out the Griffin Beacon ($69.99), the Logitech Harmony Link ($99.99), and the ThinkFlood RedEye ($199).

I really like the Peel app. It provides a much more interesting and intuitive way to browse TV content and focus in on the types of shows I actually want to watch. And hey, it's free, so why not download the app and see for yourself. As for the Peel Fruit control system, it's not quite ready for prime time, lacking the functionality, flexibility, and reliability it needs at its current price point. True, $99 isn't excessive for a universal remote; however, when you consider the fact that you can get one of Harmony's activity-based universal remotes for $70, I'd say the Peel system is priced above its abilities. Since this is a software-based app, I would hope that the company adds more options to the interface and fixes bugs with each update. But for now, I recommend that you let the Peel app help you find TV content and use another device to take you there.

Additional Resources
• Read more remotes and system control reviews from Home Theater Review's staff.
• Explore AV receivers in our AV Receiver Review section.
• See related news in our Streaming, Apps, and Downloads News section.

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