Although universal remotes are not necessarily new, latest tech trends have been turning our mobile devices into yet another tool. When you follow the logic of eliminating a pile of remotes for a single one, it makes sense to ditch that and just use a smartphone. As the internet of things continues blessing our home and entertainment devices, this kind of streamlined connectivity is likely to continue.
Blumoo is one of the latest bits of hardware to hit the market. The project originally funded on Indiegogo last year, and they also showcased at CES 2014. When I stopped by the booth to chat with the team, they filled me in with an overview. Of course, CES is too noisy and busy for a full-feature demonstration. So the good people at Blumoo did the next best thing by sending me a unit to try for myself.
In terms of looks, the Blumoo Universal Entertainment Controller is all on its own. It doesn’t really look like anything else, which is cool. The device itself is small, hand-sized, with a tail of a cable sticking out the back. Four rubber feet indicate which is the bottom end, and help a bit to keep the unit positioned in place. It can be a bit trying to keep it from tipping over, especially if the cable trails over an edge. Once it’s set, just don’t bump it.
For a device that is meant to sit amongst home theater electronics, Blumoo is constructed well, with that “look” to just blend in. The tail end has connections for the included wall adapter and audio cable. The third port in the tail is for an optional IR range extender. Blumoo runs neither on batteries nor a standard USB cable, so don’t lose the wall adapter. The audio cable plugs into whichever speaker you’d like to stream music to from your mobile device.
As an IR blaster, Blumoo is meant to be placed so it can bounce signals off walls and furniture to command your home theater. So long as the face is unobstructed, there shouldn’t be any problem for remote controlling. I haven’t had any issues as of yet. The only limiting factor is the length of the audio cable. It doesn’t let me place Blumoo on top of my TV set, out of the reach of quick little child hands. The workaround, of course, is to just get an extension or longer cable.
While powered on, an LED light on the front glows red. This same LED turns blue while actively connected to a mobile device via Bluetooth 4.0. While the Blumoo unit needs to remain in the same room as the home theater devices, you can move around with a smartphone or tablet and still control things, so long as you’re still in range of Bluetooth. The paper instructions that come with Blumoo are very minimal. There aren’t really that many instructions involved with the free app for iOS and Android either.
Before running through the app for the first time, just be sure to pair your device with Blumoo first. From then on, if Bluetooth on your mobile device hasn’t been activated when opening the Blumoo app, the app does it for you.
After downloading the Blumoo app, available for iOS and now Android, you’re likely to have an additional download or two for the program guide and/or firmware files. It’s all automatic and doesn’t take that much time; only a minute or two. I left to make a sandwich, and the downloading and updating was done before my food was.
The Blumoo app does a great job at stepping users through the setup process. The only personal information (if considered that) it asks for is your zip code and cable provider. This is so it can sync up the local cable program guide for on-app channel surfing. Aside from that, you go through prompts to add a device, which also creates a standard remote.
The home screen in the Blumoo app is easy to navigate and understand. Unlike some other apps for similar, home entertainment remote products, Blumoo doesn’t require much time for familiarization. The home screen features a single, simple drop-down menu that is quite self-explanatory. Four options: add a device, add a custom remote, remove a device, and reorder remotes.
The middle area is reserved for the collection of remote buttons. The very bottom of the app’s home page features buttons for home, guide, music (streaming), and settings. That’s it! Although it may not sound like much, it gets the job done. The only things you can tweak under settings are TV service provider and a click noise for buttons.
Adding devices takes a couple of steps, none of which involve flipping electronics around to find the exact manufacturer model number. Just choose the category (TV, cable/satellite/DVR, DVD/Blu-Ray, CD, speakers, receiver, streaming player, projector), choose the manufacturer of your device, then pick the most sensible code group from the presented list. If all goes well, the device turns on. If not, continue choosing another group until you nail it.
It’s hard to say if Blumoo actually connects everything. Popular consoles, such as the X-Box and Playstation, aren’t listed (but the company is working on adding those). For my setup, Blumoo found my old Toshiba TV, Sony home theater, and AT&T cable box. It didn’t even take five minutes to do all that, and the app works like a charm. It’s uncertain if there is a limit to the number of connected devices – there’s no mention of it. The home screen can fit 40 icons, though it may just be more room for custom or additional remotes.
Accessing remotes is as easy as pushing the button or swiping the screen from right to left. The order that the remotes are in (from left to right) is the same order you can flip through them. I like how each remote sports a standardized layout on a single screen. If I want to turn all three of my connected devices on, I just swipe through and press the same part of the screen for the power button. Easy. If you want to change things up, the top drop-down menu provides options to add, move, delete, rename, and remap buttons. You can customize to your heart’s content.
Each created button/macro is just a list of commands performed in the order you set. You can list as many as you like (that each device can do) and even set delays in between. Some systems need a bit of thinking time between each action, requiring a bit of delay. These commands can be reordered by a swipe of a finger. Again, everything is absolutely easy.
My kids watch DVD movies quite often, so I created a remote just for that. My “movies on” button turn on only the DVD player and the TV, and then switches the input to DVD. The “movies off” button I made shuts it all down, but not before reverting the input back for regular TV viewing. This way, no matter if someone is using the regular remotes or the Blumoo app, the home entertainment system is left as everyone would expect it to be. This makes streamlining a cinch.
For my TV set up, the cable remote operates channels, but the receiver remote controls the volume. Within Blumoo, I simply made a volume rocker on the AT&T cable remote, and voila. No need to swipe between two screens or hold more than one object in my hand. Again, the Blumoo app makes all of this easy to configure.
You may not always be able to do what you want. For example, the only power option Blumoo has for my cable box is “toggle.” I don’t have a separate power on and power off selection. Why? Who knows. I’m hoping it’s something that can be added by the app, as opposed to being a command limitation of the device itself. That way, I can make custom macros to shut it off when not in use, like when we’re watching a DVD movie.
Buttons can be placed practically anywhere on the remote screen, even overlapping one another. You can see what is on top and bottom, and screen presses only activate the topmost button. When adjusting button positions, a moving grid pops up to assist in precise pixel placement. The biggest difference in a user’s experience with the Blumoo app will likely be from screen size. I have a Samsung Galaxy Note 2, which has an advantage over puny-screened smartphones (that’s right, I said it), like an Apple iPhone 5.
I haven’t had either the Blumoo device or app crash on me yet (knock on wood). There hasn’t been any line of sight problems or pickiness issues with connected equipment either. My Toshiba TV, which doesn’t always accept power commands from its own remote, behaves well with Blumoo. I put it through a serious test too, comparing Toshiba remote versus Blumoo. The TV responds accurately every single time with Blumoo, which is so different than what I’ve been used to with the standard remote. Toshiba’s own remote gets ignored 15 percent of the time.
Devices respond quickly to power/activation commands, within a second from a button press with Blumoo. Adjusting volume or changing channels happens almost as quickly, too. However, there is a bit of delay when it comes to paging through channels in the full channel guide on the Blumoo app. It’s the same, full channel guide I would see on the TV screen, though scrunched down and a bit simpler. Some may criticize this, but not me. I’m too accustomed to looking at the TV while changing or surfing channels. Although the Blumoo app doesn’t provide my same “favorites” content as it does with the main channel guide, it took me all of 30 seconds to create a macro button for that.
One of Blumoo’s major features is music streaming from mobile devices to the home entertainment system. Or, at least, whatever speakers are hooked up to the Blumoo unit. You can kind of think of it like a Bluetooth audio receiver for your home system. Through the Blumoo app, I have full access to all the music sources on my smartphone: Google Play, Amazon MP3, Pandora, and SoundCloud. Any others will work as well. Although the audio is commanded by and goes through Blumoo, actual control is done through each specific app. When I’m listening to stuff on Pandora, I’m using the Pandora app and not some mediocre or shell controls.
In terms of distance, I’ve been able to walk about 40 feet and still maintain a streaming music connection. Whether it’s through a service or music off my smartphone, the connection quality remains the same It does, however, starts to get shaky beyond that 40 feet. Either way, the range is rather impressive, especially considering the size of Blumoo itself. There’s some good hardware in there.
Positioning of the Blumoo unit in and around the home theater equipment is critical. I had been experiencing frequent stutters from the music streaming playback, even while only 10 feet away. My internet connection was solid, and the laptop and tablet were streaming fine. One I moved the Blumoo device away from the AT&T cable box and Sony DVD player, the stuttering and interruptions stopped. This fixed it all big time. This also leads back to the length of the audio cable – some people might need to get a longer one.
The only kind of delays that one can expect are related to the reconnection of Bluetooth. During a period of inactivity, Blumoo will disconnect from your mobile device. Although pressing any button on a Blumoo remote sends the command, you’ll have to wait a few extra seconds for the Bluetooth connection to reestablish first. I see it as an energy-saving feature, although I can also see how it would bug some people to no end.
While Blumoo may not be the first the first universal home entertainment controller, it can teach the oldtimers a few things about the power of simplicity. Devices (mine at least) connect quickly with the least amount of effort involved. Within five minutes, you can have complete command of your entertainment system, right at the fingertips. The Blumoo app provides easy and flexible control to interact with all the home theater equipment
I like how the menu options and remotes are presented. Whether it’s the base remote or a custom, macro-filled one, access is just one button press away. There’s no need to open a drop-down menu to select the option to list individual device remotes, then click on that remote to control the device you want, and then repeat the same process all over again for the next device, like with some other manufacturers. Blumoo has everything right there on the main screen, not embedded under a wide array of menus and sub-menus.
I’d say the Blumoo app remotes are easier to navigate than the manufacturer’s stock remotes. It might just be me. But if you don’t like the layout, Blumoo lets you fully customize it how you want. That perfect remote screen can be yours, easily.
Despite how smoothly Blumoo works, it can be considered lean when it comes to robust options and details. Any required help (if necessary) is limited to the support page on the company website. I think that the app would also benefit greatly from downloadable themes or skins. It would be nice to customize the colors and shades of the remote background, button background, and button icons. This way, users can have more than a gray-on-gray look.
While Blumoo may not necessarily provide anything new or revolutionary in terms of hardware, it definitely has the chops to compete. Blumoo’s main highlights would be wireless functionality to entertainment equipment, an easy-to-use app, and music streaming to your best speaker. The music streaming, especially, is my total favorite. While some companies struggle with clunky software, I think that the Blumoo Universal Entertainment Controller has the right balance of simple accessibility and full-feature power. The price is quite competitive, too.