The Sofabaton U1 Remote

Starting a new, Sofabaton remote only topic, to discuss the general use, usability, and usefulness of the Sofabaton universal remote--not only with streaming devices used with Channels clients (Apple TV, Fire TV, etc.), but for all your varied peripherals, as well.

Hints, tips, tricks, how-tos, praises, criticisms... whatever.

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My initial impressions and experiences with the Sofabaton U1 Universal Remote.

Ergonomics

The battery door is kind of strange. Do you just get your fingernails under those slots on each side and bull the thing off? Apparently so. Does seem to latch back on fairly securely, though. (I've seen worse, such as some of the Fire TV remotes, where getting the battery door off was a real challenge.)

The buttons are mostly pleasingly clicky, but I don't know what they were thinking of with that tiny little numeric keypad, with those tiny little keys, that are placed way too close together for anybody with hands larger than those of a small child.

It does sit pleasingly in the hand. It's smaller than many universal remotes, so it should suit even smaller hands.

There's a lot of shiny black plastic. I hate shiny black plastic. Over time it inevitably ends-up with millions of tiny scratches and ends up looking terrible. We shall see. (Or maybe not. See below.)

Setup and Programming

Pretty straight-forward. Really one of the better aspects of this remote. There are some things that aren't immediately clear, such as how to program punch-through buttons ("punch-through" is how you allow, for example, your receiver or TV volume and mute to be controlled while your streaming device is selected), but, once you figure that out, it works well.

Major documentation fail: When I put in our TV, a recent-model LG, it went through a "push the button and tell me if it works" method for determining which of LG's myriad of codesets worked. What they didn't say was to start with the device powered off. Thus: Yes, the first button worked. But now the TV, which had been on, was turned off, so none of the others did. I started over with the TV off and successfully added it.

Learning Mode

In my limited experience, with just one device, it does not work well. The procedure is straightforward, but, when I'd press a button on the "training" (source) IR remote it would announce it failed to learn it. Then, on the second try, without exception, it would claim success. The results were a disappointment. Operation was erratic and some buttons worked not at all. This happened with two different training remotes.

Macro Programming

TBD

(I expect this will be a fail, in our case, due to the IR emitter issue I note later on.)

Device Compatibility

It had everything in its library except our X-10 Powerhouse IR controller. We use X-10 home automation throughout the house, and extensively in the family/media room, for light control. It doesn't know that controller and learning from another IR remote was a complete fail. (Discussed above.) I haven't tried adding our archaic Denon CD player, yet.

Lest you think that X-10 controller an off-the-beaten-path device: My newer Home Theater Master MX-500, GE/Jasco, and All-In-One universal remotes all had it in their libraries. (My older MX-500 did not. I successfully trained that one from the All-In-One remote.)

Usability

There's the small numeric buttons, for starters. That part of the keypad is terrible for my large hands. (I wear an XL glove.)

There's nothing, anywhere, to tell you what button controls what. Luckily, most of my educated guesses proved right.

Our Yamaha receiver has multiple inputs (naturally), multiple effects modes (rock concert, orchestra hall, 70mm adventure film, etc.), as well as stereo, Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby Digital and THX. That looks like it's all going to have to be configured one-by-one, with a lot of guessing and experimentation.

As an X-10 Powerhouse IR controller remote, it was a complete fail.

I tested it fairly thoroughly with the Apple TV (Bluetooth) and the LG TV. The basic power, volume up/down, and mute buttons work for the Yamaha receiver. Everything works as it should with the ATV (incl. the home key--which is fully functional).

The Channel Master DVR+ was a fail. It mostly worked, but, when selecting a folder of recorded content it would skip right past the pop-up sub-menu and right into the folder contents list.

I haven't tested it with the Sony BD player beyond navigating around the menus and turning it on/off.

The IR emitter is a lightweight. Perhaps I'm spoiled by our old MX-500 remotes. All you have to do is aim them in the general direction of the wall where the HT equipment resides and they work. The Sofabaton you have to aim pretty much directly at the device you wish to control, or no go. (I suspect this is going to become a show-stopper for macro programming if I do get around to playing with it.)

There's no back-lighting on the buttons. In a dark room it would be a challenge. (Particularly that numeric keypad.)

Bottom Line

They've got a nice idea. If your needs are simple--streaming device, TV, maybe volume/mute on a receiver or a sound bar, ok. But for power-users like us I think it needs a lot more development. With its usability problems and device incompatibilities, I'm leaning toward sending it back to Amazon.

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Will give double points on the IR being weak; I could not get it to work from my regular sitting location and always had to lean in.

Also, it ate through batteries like no tomorrow. Since the screen turned on/off by the slightest jiggling, it would burn through those just because I walked withing 50 ft or a truck drove by.

Mostly, though, was that as a Bluetooth remote it would just disconnect itself if you didn't press a button every minute or so. This meant I often I had to press a button twice. It could also be really sensitive on a button press where pushing that button would sent the command twice (and this was especially annoying while trying to skip commercials or back a bit).

It was overall serviceable, but those annoyances got old fast. Once I got a Companion Remote to go along with my Harmony Hub, everything was better in every way. Even though it is discontinued and has its own annoyances, I would recommend the Harmony Hub/Companion remote any day over the Sofabaton.

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I contacted them about sending mine back, after struggling to get it to work with a couple of devices here. They refunded my money and let me keep it, asking me to watch for updates that might improve compatibility with those devices (which were on their list as being supported). At this point we've gotten used to always using two remotes again though.

I'll give them credit for this: When I first, unsuccessfully, tried to add the LG TV, and it failed, I submitted a bug report. Likewise for our X-10 IR controller. As of 03:00 this morning they'd already responded to both: Telling me to prefix the TV model number with the screen size (I'd forgotten about that) and they've already added the X-10 IR controller to their databases.

I may break it back out to test the IR controller, but I'm still probably going to send it back.

The advantage to the Sofabaton to the Harmony Hub-based remotes: proper sending of repeat/long button presses.

Because of the way that the Harmony app for configuration works, long presses are treated as a distinct button press. In Channels, this is shown in a few special ways. Firstly, long-pressing Right will change from 30 second skips to a continuous fast forward; this behavior is not possible with a Hub-based remote. Secondly, a long-press on Select will bring up the Details modal of a currently airing program in the Guide. (While this second example can be accessed by using the Menu/Info button, it does further show how some actions are not possible.)

There are other examples (such as a long-press on Home on the CCGTV to bring up the system/notification pane overlay on the right), but I think the point gets across.

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My experience with the Harmony Elite is that long presses usually work correctly if you have the same command assigned to both short-press and long-press on the remote. For example, long-press of Select in the Channels guide does bring up the info card. Long-press of left or right does go to rewind/ff mode. (But the rewind and ff accelerate WAY too fast to be useful.)

The case that has never worked for me is long-press of Select in the YouTube app on Roku. But that works just fine on the Shield.

Updates

As I noted, above: Sofabaton quickly responded to my bug reports. I figured the least I could do is give them another chance. So I pulled the U1 back out of its box, put the batteries back in, and reloaded and launched the app.

First of all: The app "remembered" my remote's serial number. Not sure if this is a good thing or bad, but it did.

First I re-programmed our LG TV in, this time prefixing the model number with the screen size. It got it right away and configured the remote. Only thing is: The U1 worked better using the guessing game method I described in my initial review. E.g.: It's supposed to have an input selector button. When I checked via Reassign Remote Key, that was indeed the key I expected it to be. But the key does nothing on the TV. And the Home key, instead of bringing up the TV's Home pop-up, brings up a channel selector.

Next I programmed-in the Powerhouse IR-543 X-10 IR remote. Using the instructions they sent me, it came right up and downloaded it into the remote. First problem: It only configured one key: The power on key. For the rest I had to go through repetitive "select key -> Reassign Remote Key -> <select the command I wanted> -> Done". Fourteen times, to get devices 1-10, device on, device off, bright, and dim keys programmed. And, after all that, the U1 worked no better than it had when I used an existing remote to train them all. (Erratic button response. A single button-press sending repeated commends.) So that's still a fail.