Are You a Button Guy?

Apparently I am, and I wasn’t aware of that until recently. This is not about methods of closing your fly.

Up until two months ago, I was a satisfied user of a Sony RM-AV3000 remote control, which I had been using for a few years. At the time, the Sony had been a replacement for a much older model from Yamaha and it worked flawlessly for a few years. Then suddenly, it started doing funny things – the most important such thing being that the remote would go into programming mode every time I was trying to do something useful like switching on my TV amp.

So I was looking around for a better replacement. Obviously I found the Philips models, but although I’m not opposed to spending a bit more money on these things than most people I know, the price tags seemed a bit steep to me. Then I saw the Logitech Harmony 885 on some web site, and Scott had a review of it, so I got that one and thought it would be great - but not so.

I think it’s mainly a matter of personal taste (and I want to sell the thing on Ebay 😃), but there were a lot of things I personally didn’t like at all. They implemented this system that allows to program the remote via the browser – you connect to their special website, configure everything related to the remote, a special package is prepared by the server and downloaded with a special extension. This in turn runs a program on the client side (most of the client side stuff is written in Java) and programs the remote (attached to the PC with a USB cable) with the data from the server.

All very nice… but please, which advantage is that supposed to have over a “proper” client application? The disadvantages, on the other hand, seem pretty clear – it’s often slow to navigate from one page to the other, the user interface, albeit very professionally done, is just not the same thing as a Windows application, and the whole scheme just takes a lot of time to do a few roundtrips when testing specific aspects of the programming. To their credit, the technical side of things is really well implemented, and I’m sure it’s possible to get just about every remote in the world replaced with the help of the wizards on the web site.

One other thing I didn’t immediately like too much is just what Scott found so perfect – the remote works on the basis of so-called activities. If you want to watch TV, you hit a button labeled Watch TV and the remote makes sure that all your devices are in the right states to enable you to do that. The important difference to other remotes, which use macros for a similar purpose, is that the remote stores the states of the devices, so it actually knows exactly what needs to be done to reach the current goal. At least that’s the theory… I was pretty unhappy with it, somehow my mind apparently doesn’t work that way. And then there’s the wife, of course… with her own remote control, and that definitely screws up the activities system for good.

Now, the final thing I really didn’t like at all were the buttons on that thing. They are tiny, they are wobbly and they go click click when you press them. They are in all kinds of funny places, like right on the edges of the remote and I found it completely impossible to hit them without looking. Oh well.

Now, the positive thing is that this got me looking again and I found another remote I liked a lot from the description. This time it was the Universal Remote Control MX-850 - a really fantastic device. It’s also got a display, but without the fancy colours. And it’s got buttons, lots of them. Really good buttons that are fun to press, even in the dark 😃 Now I’ve had that thing for two weeks or so and it’s really great - a much better alternative to these Logitech toys, if you ask me. And now I know I’m a button guy…

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