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Sevenhugs Smart Remote review: A kickstarter darling makes good, for what it's worth

This is one sexy little smart remote. The remote control side of things is another story

Sevenhugs Smart Remote

A good remote is hard to find. (Look at how long it took Amazon to realize its Fire TV needed volume buttons.) And now that we have more connected stuff than ever, we need a good remote to control things.

The Sevenhugs Smart Remote has looked to be that remote since its kickstarter debut in late 2016. And it had lofty goals. It wasn't just going to be another universal remote. It was going to go one further, with the ability to seamlessly switch from device to device merely by pointing it in the right direction. And it does that, and it does that pretty well.

But that's not the full story. The question really is whether you actually need it to do that — and whether it really is a decent remote control in the first place.

The Good

  • Looks really cool
  • Pretty easy to set up
  • Controls all kinds of things

The Bad

  • Zero tactile feedback
  • Is kind of slow
  • Expensive

Sevenhugs Smart Remote

Such a sexy remote

Sevenhugs Smart Remote What I Like

There's something about being a backer of a Kickstarter project that immediately makes the product look cooler. Not that the Sevenhugs Smart Remote needed much help with that. The sex appeal was apparent when the kickstarter launched in November 2016. It reached its funding goal in just 10 minutes, with the remote available for just $150.

Two years, 6,100 backers and $1.1 million in pledges later, and production models have shipped. (And that is what I'm reviewing here.) The Sevenhugs Smart Remote now sells at retail for $299.

Here's the gist: The Sevenhugs Smart Remote works with pretty much every comms standard you need for this sort of thing — infrared, Bluetooth and Wifi. It works with all kinds of products, just as you'd expect.

Where it tries to get really cute is that all you have to do to control different products in a single room is to point at it, with the remote control talking to a series of sensors that you'll strategically place. (Or not. More on that in a second.)

The software and UI are great for a first-gen product.

From Day 1, this remote has looked gorgeous. It's a relatively small rounded rectangle, about 5 and a half inches long, and just under 2 inches wide, and is a half-inch thick. (And it reminds me of my Nest Hello doorbell, actually, but that's neither here no there.) It charges via USB-C, and you can use whatever USB-C charger you've got laying around. But most likely you'll want to use the included charging base. It unfortunately has a proprietary power supply, but it's nicely weighted and does a great job of showing off the remote while it's sitting dormant.

The Smart Remote is a nice little piece of tech. It's got a 3.4-inch LCD screen with capacitive multitouch. It's got a 700 mAh batter, which is good for a couple days' use — but really you'll want to just stick it on the charger when you're not using it. Wifi tops out at Wifi 4 (that's 802.11n) and only works on 2.4GHz networks.

Sevehugs did a great job with the packaging. It did a great job with the setup — some of which is done on the remote itself before handing things over to your phone. (Yes, either Android or iOS works just fine.) That's where you'll add all your home equipment. TVs, receivers, speakers, lights, whatever you've got.

The UI is nicely done. Switching colors on a Philips Hue light is actually fun.

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Working a little too hard

Sevenhugs Smart Remote What I don't like

The sensors are where things get interesting. You get three in the box. Pop them on the wall in a room, and the remote gets a feel for the direction it's pointing. And that theoretically lets you point to a light, then seamlessly switch over to a speaker, or the TV.

That's pretty cool. But it's very obviously going to vary depending on your setup. And that's when I realized that I simply don't care about being able to point at one device and then another without having to change the device on the remote — I've already been doing because none of my stuff cares which way the remote is pointed, and I have dedicated buttons on my remote for various kinds of devices. TV controls are separate from lights and switches. And all of my smart lights are in groups. I've never wanted to turn one off or on individually, so pointing and clicking doesn't really matter.

Just like your phone is a bad remote, so, too, is this glass slab.

In other words, that's not a reason for me to buy this remote.

I'll stipulate that the Sevenhugs Smart Remote is, in fact, Smart, and rather well done. But here's the rub: It suffers from the same malady that I'd admittedly somehow forgotten about. And that is this:

Glass slabs make for lousy remotes.

Phone manufacturers tried to make it happen, with IR emitters built in. But the simple fact is that you get zero tactile feedback with a glass-topped remote. If I have to take my eyes off the TV screen to, say, change the volume a tick or two, it's a deal-breaker. A remote control is meant to keep your focus where it's supposed to be — on the content you're watching.

That's something that all the smarts in the world can't fix, though a few basic physical buttons would.

Sevenhugs Smart Remote

Sevenhugs Smart Remote

Should you buy it? Nope

Three hundred dollars is a lot of money for a remote control, even one as cool as this. The ability to control multiple things via IR in a single room just by pointing is a neat trick.

But while the Sevenhugs Smart Remote has the smarts down pat, it seems like it forgot about the remote part of the equation. If a universal remote control is slower or requires you to take your eyes off the TV to do the most basic of functions, it's failed in its most basic requirement. Period.

Moreover is that you can get the same headaches for a lot less money. A basic Logitech Harmony Hub gets you the same IR support — plus all the Wifi controls you'll need — for just $65. Then you just use your phone — a larger glass slab — to control things.

The Sevenhugs Smart Remote is a great little product. It's very nicely built, and very nicely packaged. It just seems like it's a little myopic in its use, especially for what it costs.

It is, however, the rare Kickstarter project that delivered exactly what was promised — even if it took two years to ship and isn't something you should buy now.

$299 at Sevenhugs