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Griffin Beacon Review: Make Your iPhone a Universal Remote

written by: Sandy Samra•edited by: Wendy Finn•updated: 8/6/2011
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Debuting at CES 2011, the Griffin Beacon is a wireless AV controller that connects to the iPhone via a Bluetooth IR blaster and converts it into an iPhone universal remote. And how does it work? Read on to find out.

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    Next Level: Smartphones as Universal Remotes

    Griffin, the maker of lots of great iPhone accessories, has released an intuitive yet simple universal remote for iPhone and other iDevices. It’s not the first iOS remote around, but it’s definitely the first Bluetooth based alternative that will release you from the clutches of those dongles, cables and cases. Paired with Dijit’s universal remote app, Griffin’s Beacon turns your smartphone into an omnipotent remote control. It works with cable boxes, TV, audio systems and an array of other devices.

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    Hardware

    Beacon From the hardware point of view, the Beacon unit is cleverly designed and does just about what it’s made-up to do. It’s less than four inches square in size and looks like a stone placed on a small platform. The unit is quiet, aesthetically appealing and works well with almost every décor. This stone, with the Griffin’s logo carved on the top, is actually the Infrared blaster portion of the unit. This portion is directional and therefore it needs to be correctly pointed in order to control nearby AV devices. The blaster has Infrared LEDs on the front part of the stone and a receiver on its rear, along with a small blue LED to give feedback.

    This low profile design is powered by four AA batteries instead of messy dongles and cables. You simply pop the batteries into the compartment at the bottom of the unit and press down on the stone to activate it. The small blue LED pairing light will blink as soon as the stone gets paired with your iPhone. Immediately after pairing, you’ll be prompted to download the Dijit app; a free download, from the App Store. And before running the app, make sure that the Beacon is placed so that the bottom of the Griffin logo is facing your AV system.

    Beacon cleverly controls its own power consumption by switching into a sleep mode after one hour of inactivity. You can power it up by simply pressing down on the stone. The Beacon does firmware updates via the Dijit app, which is nice -- the fact that the blaster is a fingerprint magnet is not so nice.

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    The Dijit's App

    Griffin screenshot 

    Dijit’s app is a nice looking remote app designed for iPhone and iPod touch. However it’s surprising that this app is not optimized for the iPad, given that the unit’s package has a picture of an iPad running the app. Therefore, I suggest you try it on your iDevice before buying the Griffin Beacon. The app also has tons of tiny buttons which you may dislike if you have large fingers.

    The app uses your TV provider and zip code to generate a searchable program guide, providing descriptions of the programs that have been organized by channels, dates and times. Simply click on the program that you want to watch and go directly to the channel it’s playing on. The number scrolling bar on the right hand side lets you search through the program listings within seconds. The app also allows you to save shows, and access detailed listings of the shows and movies on your Netflix Instant Queue. Dijit’s app also provides support for Roku box, though we haven’t tested it. The only limitation of the guide portion is the lack of landscape view.

    Dijit does a nice job by walking you through a series of prompts to set up your cable box, TV, and at times your receiver; however it leaves you to add additional devices such as your DVD players, Apple TVs etc., on your own. Each device can be set up either through a wizard or through a list mode. In both cases the app finds an existing, working remote solution within no time. You can also set up multiple rooms, where you can configure more Beacon units in other rooms. We only tested with one stone, so couldn’t test this feature. A clever feature, but most people won’t use it.

    Additionally, if you want to customize your iPhone universal remote to manage more than one activity, problems arise. The task of setting up custom activities for multiple devices is very confusing and at times limiting because the app keeps forgetting the buttons.

    Lastly, there are Settings, which allow you to edit your viewing activity, change gestures, volume settings, toggle sound effects and access the help button.

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    Remote In Use

    In terms of responsiveness, the Griffin Beacon does a pretty good job. Once you configure the screen, there’s almost no lag and the stone is pleasant to use. By default, the app makes noise when you tap on buttons, a few buttons are a bit tiny for large fingers and the gestures weren’t always easy to activate, but the button controls worked wonderfully.

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    Conclusion

    Looking beyond the fact that the Beacon and Dijit’s app combination isn’t perfect, the stone is a great deal with the $79.95 price tag. This well designed unit with Netflix, Roku and Xbox support is enough to gain recommendation.

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    References