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Throw Out Your Remotes

Throw Out Your Remotes

How I used my BlackBerry smartphone to take control of my house

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a lot of electronic devices in my house. There’s the TV, the DVD player, the DVR, the stereo, the computer and more. With so many components in my daily tech life, I’ve always tried to simplify things as much as possible. In the past, that’s meant using a universal remote to control my home electronics, but recently I decided to see if I could go even further. I decided to conduct an experiment to find out how well I could control everything from the one device that’s always on me: my BlackBerry® smartphone.

What I found out surprised me. A bunch of companies are working on products that allow you to control everything from your TV to your computer to the lights and locks in your house with your BlackBerry smartphone. The following is an account of my experiences trying out these various products, so read on to find out how I learned to live without my remotes and took control of my electronics.

Unify4Life AV|Shadow

Unify4Life AV|Shadow

Right from the start, I knew that although I would be trying lots of remote control features for the BlackBerry smartphone, there was one thing that I had to be able to do if I was going to call this experiment a success: I had to be able to use my BlackBerry smartphone to control my TV.

Unify4Life AV|Shadow

After all, the first thing most people think of when you say “remote control” is the little gizmo they use to change channels from the couch, or the other gizmo they use to select chapters in a DVD, or the one that they use to select programs to play from the TiVo (or PVR). Thankfully, I found that not only could my BlackBerry smartphone do all of this, it could do it all with a single product.

Unify4Life AV|Shadow

AV|Shadow is a device from Unify4Life that lets you control virtually all of your AV equipment from your BlackBerry smartphone. It’s quite simple to set up—you put the small AV|Shadow box in your living room and send it commands over Bluetooth® from the special BlackBerry control app. AV|Shadow then sends those same commands out using infrared light, which is how most AV equipment receives remote control signals. Because it uses infrared light, it can even control a garage door, if you put an AV|Shadow box in your garage.

Unify4Life AV|Shadow

While testing the AV|Shadow, I found that while you don’t get quite the same ease of control that you would get from having a dedicated remote for any particular device, it’s very handy for reducing clutter on the coffee table. I no longer needed three or four remotes floating around my living room. I didn't even need one since I could use my BlackBerry smartphone, a device I have on me at all times anyway.

BlackBerry® Music Gateway

When it comes to music, I love the massive storage capabilities of dedicated MP3 players but hate having to carry an additional gadget around in my pocket. That’s why, when 16GB microSD™ cards* became affordable, I made the decision to make my BlackBerry smartphone my primary mobile music player. And while headphones are normally just fine, when I’m at home, I like to be able to play my music through my stereo, which has much better sound quality. In the past, to do this I’ve had to plug my phone directly into the stereo, leaving it sitting on the table. For someone as attached to their mobile phone as I am, having to leave it behind is a big problem!

That’s why I was psyched to test out the BlackBerry® Music Gateway, a device that lets you stream music from your BlackBerry smartphone to your home or car stereo. The files are streamed using Bluetooth, which means you don’t have to plug your phone into any sort of jack and it’ll never have to leave your pocket. The BlackBerry Music Gateway is easy to install—you just plug it into your stereo and into the wall and sync it like you would any other Bluetooth® device.

While testing it, I found its sound quality to be crystal clear, as long as I was within the same general region of the house as the BlackBerry Music Gateway. Plus, it made keeping control of the music while hosting a party a snap, letting me play DJ without even having to get up from the couch.

LogMeIn Ignition

You probably don’t think of your computer as something with a remote control. Sure, you might have a gadget to control your media player, but the vast majority of your PC’s capabilities are available only if you’re willing to spend a little face-to-face time with the machine. However, I found out that with LogMeIn Ignition that doesn’t have to be the case.

You might recognize LogMeIn as a company that produces software for remote access and networking, including the popular Hamachi client. Ignition is a new product from LogMeIn meant to provide one-click access to all your home and work computers, allowing you to access files and run programs remotely. I was able to get early access to the BlackBerry® Storm™ smartphone version of Ignition, and I was blown away by how much more flexible my computer usage became.

For instance, in just one week of using Ignition, I edited an article stored on my work computer from a Chinese restaurant, told iTunes® to download the movie Ironman from a train, and used my BlackBerry smartphone to retrieve a file I had forgotten at home. It’s amazing how you don’t realize how tethered you are to your computer until you aren’t.

LogMeIn Ignition for the BlackBerry Storm smartphone is still in testing, so you can’t get your hands on it yet, but if you sign in to the LogMeIn site, you can sign up to be notified when it’s released.

Schlage

Schlage

Finally, to really see how far I could take my remote control experiment, I installed the new Schlage LiNK system. With LiNK, you can control the locks, lights and thermostat in your house remotely from your BlackBerry smartphone. At first, I thought the prospect of setting up the LiNK system might be daunting, but I found the process to actually be fairy simple.

Here’s how LiNK works: You install Schlage LiNK hardware around your house, which wirelessly communicates with a Schlage bridge set up in your house. The bridge is a device that is hard-wired to your router and creates a wireless network with all the Schlage LiNK components in your house, allowing you to control them from your BlackBerry smartphone or a mobile computer. It has a range of about 100 feet, but that can be extended by adding additional LiNK light controllers, which act as signal relay stations.

Schlage LiNK system

The hardware’s easy to install—lights are controlled with a box that sits between the lamp and the wall outlet, similar to a “Clapper,” and installing the Schlage LiNK deadbolt is just the same as changing out a regular lock. To control your heater and AC with the Schlage LiNK system, you need to install a special Trane brand thermostat capable of communicating with the Schlage bridge.

The introductory hardware package, which includes a bridge, a deadbolt and a light module can be found online for around $300. Once you’ve installed the hardware, you just have to set up an account with Schlage (it costs $12.99 a month) and install the free LiNK app onto your BlackBerry smartphone.

This step was definitely a bit more time consuming to set up than the others, but this product also had the biggest “Wow!” factor, giving me much more control over my house than I had thought was possible with a smartphone.

Conclusion

What did I learn from my experiment? There’s a lot out there in the way of remote control applications for your BlackBerry smartphone. I wouldn’t say that you can control everything from your smartphone—yet—but you can control a lot of the stuff you use in your day-to-day life, including your TV, your DVD player, your computer and your stereo. And although it may not be practical for everyone to replace all their locks and outlets with Schlage LiNK hardware, it certainly gave me a bit of a “house of the future” thrill to be able to unlock my door and turn on my lights from anywhere, with just my smartphone.

So if you think that you could use a few less remotes in your life, check out what these BlackBerry partners have to offer. Not every product is right for every household, but I’ll bet you find a few that are perfect for yours.

John Brock

* The BlackBerry® Pearl™ Series smartphones, BlackBerry® Pearl™ Flip smartphones, BlackBerry® Curve™ Series smartphones, BlackBerry® 8800 Series smartphones, BlackBerry® Bold™ smartphone, BlackBerry® Storm™ smartphone and BlackBerry® Tour™ 9630 smartphone accept microSD cards; the amount of storage is determined by card capacity. May be sold separately.

Find out more about these great apps!

AV|Shadow lets you control almost any electronic device in your house with your BlackBerry smartphone. To learn more and see videos of the app in action,
click here ».

With BlackBerry Music Gateway, your BlackBerry smartphone is the only music player you’ll need. Learn more about how you can stream music from your BlackBerry smartphone by clicking here ».

LogMeIn Ignition

A single password gives you access to all your computers via your BlackBerry smartphone. Learn more about LogMeIn Ignition here ».

Who needs keys? With Schlage LiNK, you can unlock your front door, open your garage door—even control your lights. To find out more about Schlage LiNK,
click here ».

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