Have you ever wanted to turn your iPhone into a universal remote for your audiovisual gear, in particular your TV? That’s the idea behind Pronto (US$59.99), a combination of a small Bluetooth device and an app that wants to replace all of your remote controls.
About four years ago several of us at The Unofficial Apple Weblog were given the opportunity to test a universal remote system that worked with the iPhone. Called The Peel, the device used a pear-shaped infrared blaster called The Fruit in concert with a cylindrical Wi-Fi device called The Wire and the Peel Remote app. Ultimately, I wasn’t too impressed with the device as it took up space, dropped connectivity with the iPhone, and the app didn’t have much going for it.
Fast forward to 2015, and another former universal remote wannabe — Pronto (by Philips) — and Peel have joined forces to create the new Pronto, powered by Peel’s app. Let’s look at the hardware and software.
The new Pronto is a small black tower only 3.57 inches (90.7mm) tall and 1.98 inches (50.3mm) on a side. Gone are all of the cables. The Pronto is battery-powered by four AA cells, which should last about a year. That device communicates with your iPhone via Bluetooth, then uses infrared to send commands to all of your devices.
Setup is drop-dead simple, so simple I was tempted to have one of my cats set up the Pronto. However, she doesn’t have thumbs to pick up the batteries, so I did it for her. All you need to do is twist the bottom of the Pronto a tiny amount to remove it, open a battery door, pop the four cells into their cubbies, and the close it all back up. A red LED indicates that the Pronto is in pairing mode.
You’re told to install and launch the free Peel Smart Remote & TV Guide app before turning on the hardware. Once the Pronto goes into pairing mode, the app finds it. The app is incredibly easy to set up as well, requiring you to enter your zip code, then asking what cable or satellite provider you use. Next, you’re asked the name of the manufacturer of your TV, after which the app asks you to tap a button on the iPhone screen. If the TV turns on (or off if it’s already on), you’re set to move to the next device, your cable box.
The app does a similar process of asking the name of the cable or satellite provider, then having you tap a button to see if it changes the channel. If it does, you’re ready to roll; if not, it displays another button for you to try until it finds the correct device.
It’s possible to add other devices to the Pronto’s list, but to start with I just wanted to be able to watch TV — push one button to turn on the cable box and TV, then use the app to control it all.
The app has definitely changed since the last time I used it, and for the better. On the main screen you initially see Top Picks, topped off with a list of shows “On Now”. Each of the shows is given an easy-to-tap button showing a “poster” from the show, with a green line at the bottom denoting if a show has just started or is nearing its finish. That main screen also displays “Tonight on TV”, “Not To Be Missed” and “Spring Shows”, which I’m sure will change as we get into the summer rerun season.
Along the bottom of the app display are other buttons for TV Shows, Movies, and Sports. Tap any one of those and you’re presented with a list of what’s currently showing — a picker allows you to select another time in the future. For example, selecting TV Shows and 8 PM MT, the app displays shows by genre that will be on at that time: Comedy, Drama, Kids, Action and Adventure, and so on. The app settings make it simple to delete genres as well, so kids shows and soap operas were erased with a tap.
Once a show has been selected to watch later on, a reminder can be set with a tap or you can do more, like look at a summary of the show and when the same episode of a show (or movie) will be aired again.
One thing I thought was a bit odd was that I couldn’t just tap a future show to set it up on my cable box/DVR for recording. That would really make the Pronto handy, but it may be something that the cable providers don’t allow.
There’s one more important function on just about every screen of the app — a tiny remote button that appears in the upper right corner. With a tap, a simplified remote appears with power buttons, volume +/-, channel +/-, a mute button, a fast-forward button, and a pad for navigating through your DVR’s on-screen menus.
Other features include the ability to set up favorite channels and shows; a tap on a favorite brings up a schedule of future showtimes for favorite channels. And lest you think that I'd pass on an opportunity to mention the Apple Watch, there will be a Peel Watch app...
Pronto and Peel make a perfect couple, and this is probably the best iPhone remote control combo that I’ve had the pleasure to use. With just a few tweaks to the app to make one-tap DVR’ing a possibility, Pronto would be perfect.