Caavo Universal Remote Review: Brilliant, But ...

The perfect universal remote is hard to find, but this one will come darn close for many of you

Caavo Control Center

Let the following statement be shared throughout the land: Caavo Control Center may well have the best setup experience of any complicated device that I've ever used. And that's no small feat given that we're talking about a universal remote system that not only brings together multiple devices — it does so with its own user interface on top of them.

At its simplest, Caavo is a universal remote. It takes your TV — and whatever else you have plugged into it, be it an Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, sound bar or whatever — and combines it all into a single, simple remote control. But it does so by plugging all of those devices (as many as four of them, anyway) into the Caavo "Control Center."

Caavo already has been heralded as one of the best (if not the best ) universal remote you can buy.

So is it? In a lot of ways, yes. In others, well. ...

The Good

  • Incredibly good setup process
  • Custom user interface is very well done
  • Remote control has some neat tricks
  • Integrated voice control

The Bad

  • No support for Dolby Vision
  • Remote control is boxy
  • Is an extra box to plug in

It's so easy ...

What's (mostly) good about Caavo Control Center

I've spent far too many hours setting up too many devices over the years. And far too many of those devices were a pain to set up, threatening to taint the rest of the user experience.

Caavo has one of the best setup experiences I've ever seen — full stop.

Caavo Control Center — a set-top box and accompanying remote control — is a rare exception to that rule. And that's actually a little surprising given what we're working with here. There are a good many things going on at once.

Consider, first, that we're not just talking about a single remote control that controls all the things. Instead, you'll take your Apple TV or Roku or Fire TV Stick 4K — whatever combination of things you have, really — and plug them into the Caavo box. Then you'll plug that into your TV.

Simple enough, but this is where things start to get ... interesting. It's recommended that you not connect Caavo via ARC, which (at least for my TV) means I won't be getting the best connection I can get? OK, then.

Moving on. Once everything's plugged in, you'll power on the box and walk through the setup process. (You'll also need the Caavo app on your phone; it's available for Android and iOS, or from Amazon Fire TV.)

Caavo switching devices

Switching devices on Caavo Control Center is simple, though it still takes a few seconds.

I really can't say enough about this setup process. It's not short — they warn you it could take 15 minutes or so, and it most certainly does, though that'll vary depending on how many other devices you're connecting. But it's also the best initial setup scheme I've seen outside of, say, a Google product. My brain is trained to expect very little from startup companies like this. But Caavo blew those low expectations out of the water.

Whatever device you're setting up is shrunk down to sort of a picture-in-picture deal, and the Caavo remote (more on it in a second) lets you do the initial controlling until everything is set up exactly how it should be. I almost don't want to say anymore in fear of spoiling the experience for you — it's that good.

Caavo doesn't care which device an app is on — it'll smartly switch to it.

Caavo doesn't care which device an app is on — it'll smartly switch to it.

Once all your devices are connected, you'll find yourself in and out of the Caavo user interface a good bit. How much depends on how often you need to switch devices, and how much you want to use Caavo's universal search instead of, say, the search function on your Roku or Apple TV. It also takes a look at all the apps you have installed across your devices and puts them in one place, smartly switching from one device to another as needed. That's great in theory — but we in an era in which pretty much every app is available on every device. Where this could save you time is if you have an edge case. But otherwise it seems overkill.

The remote control has all the buttons you need to get things done — including controlling volume. And it's got a pretty neat trick up its sleeve. Gently rest your finger on a button and that button's function will pop itself up on the screen. That's pretty handy when you're getting to know the system, and it's a really neat touch. (Though it can get a little weird once you're comfortable with things.)

All in all, controlling multiple devices via Caavo is about as seamless as you could hope for from this sort of product, which is saying something considering it's an entirely new interface on top of everything you've plugged in.

A closer look at Caavo's excellent setup process

Whatcha lose ...

What's not great about Caavo Control Center

I've got a few big complaints about Caavo Control Center, though. Here they come, in no specific order:

First, it doesn't support the Dolby Vision HDR standard. Both my TVs have Dolby Vision, as do any devices connected to them. So for me that's a deal-breaker. You don't take away one of the tentpole features of your TV unless you absolutely have to. (And, in fact, I never managed to get my Vizio TV to do anything above 1080p resolution once I had Caavo connected — and I kind of got tired of trying.)

Second is that the remote control itself is pretty uninspiring. I've spoiled myself with a Logitech Harmony Companion (opens in new tab) the past few years, and it still is the most ergonomic, nicely designed device out of all the tech in my home. It looks great. It feels great in the hand.

Caavo and Logitech Harmony Companion

Caavo's remote is plenty useful, it's just not very ergonomic. Especially next to the Logitech Harmony Companion.

The Caavo remote is pretty much the opposite. It's boxy. It doesn't feel great to hold. It doesn't inspire joy. It doesn't make me want to hold it just to savor the feel. It makes me miss my Harmony Companion.

It works great — it's just not a great remote. There's a difference.

And then there's this nagging question of why I'd want to use Caavo. Pick any of the major streaming platforms. Roku. Android TV. Apple TV. Amazon Fire TV. Chromecast. Xbox. PlayStation. First, ask yourself how many of these things you need plugged into a single TV. If you're not a gamer, then those last two products probably don't apply to you. That's the situation I'm in. And save for testing purposes, there's not all that much necessitating having an Apple TV and an Android TV plugged into the same television. Or Roku and Fire TV. Or whatever combination. Sure, you can do it. And I can think of plenty of edge cases. But for most folks? Simpler is better.

Also, if you're using an Xbox or a PlayStation, chances are you'll end up with a gaming controller in your hand at some point anyway. That renders the Caavo remote somewhat moot.

And that's where I really run up against a wall. Instead of just plugging all these things into my TV, I've had to plug them into a separate box. Then I've got to use the Caavo interface to switch between things. That's more steps. There's the matter of universal voice search, too. It's pretty great in concept, but a little laggy in execution — it just takes a few extra seconds for things to happen. (If you heavily rely on voice search, though, it could well be a selling point. On the other hand, the Roku/Apple/Android/Amazon remote control that comes with your hardware already does this, too.

And then there's the cost. Paying $59 for the hardware — a new price as of May 1 — isn't bad. But all that deeper integration with search and what not costs extra. It's $3.99 a month, or $39 a year, or $129 lifetime. So you have to add that into the equation if you really want it.

Caavo Control Center

The bottom line ...

Should you buy Caavo Control Center?

I admit, I'm a little torn here. If you're looking for one remote to rule them all, Caavo passes with flying colors. And it does so at a price that's more than fair (even with the annoying subscription) and with a setup process that's ridiculously good. And the Control Center user interface is very well done, never mind that it's essentially a first-generation product.

Caavo's usefulness may really come down to how old your TV is.

It's the necessity that bugs me. I don't need another box to plug my other boxes into. They work just fine plugged into my TV. In fact, they work better plugged directly into my TV because I don't lose resolution or Dolby Vision. And while the setup process for Caavo Control Center is among the best I've ever seen, that it in and of itself isn't a reason to jump through the extra hoops.

And the Caavo remote is more than a little disappointing. The ability to touch (not pres) a button to see what it does is pretty cool, but the remote itself isn't as good as the competition. Period.

Why buy Caavo? If you absolutely must have universal search across devices, and if you absolutely must have multi-platform voice search — something you can only really find in the much-more-expensive Logitech Harmony Express (opens in new tab)  — Caavo is an intriguing option. Ditto for if you have an older TV that's lacking the number of HDMI ports you need to connect all your things. (Fewer than four, anyway, which is what Caavo has.)

In other words, a lot of this is going to depend on your setup. It's not the perfect system for me. But it could well be for you.