If the 800-pound gorilla of universal remotes is the Logitech Harmony, the Ray Super Remote is a monkey dressed in an astronaut’s suit. It looks way cooler, and seems smarter, but in a head-to-head contest the monkey gets crushed.
At $250 US, the Ray is twice the price of my favorite Harmony remote, the Home Control. The Ray’s main draw is a big touchscreen, which does provide some advantages over a button-based clicker. But the screenless Home Control’s buttons are easier to use, especially by feel, and its two-piece design — it includes a hub base station that deftly handles all of the Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and infrared (IR) control duties and translations — trounces the Ray’s traditional point-and-pray IR emitters.
And if you really want a touchscreen, you can control the Harmony using an app on your phone, shell out $300-plus for the top-end Harmony Elite, or just use your phone as a remote. The latter option may seem a-Peel-ing, especially since some Android phones can act as remotes using free apps, and iPhones can work with relatively cheap devices like $50 Pronto, but the convenience of a dedicated clicker is worth the investment in my book.
What advantages giveth the Ray, you ask? In addition to behaving like a friendlier Harmony — easing the process of turning on your devices, switching inputs, and obviating your other remote controls — it also helps you find something to watch on TV. You can browse what’s on by genre, check the Ray’s suggestions, or keyword search for shows right from the remote. Setup is also simplified, and it’s accomplished entirely on the remote’s screen. There’s no separate phone app or PC required.
Those are all good things, but still not worth the high price. Harmony’s remotes are simple enough for my four-year-old to use, they almost never fail because of the hub-based control, and the TV browsing features won’t be of much use to people satisfied with their cable service’s program guides. And I really don’t trust my munchkins not to break the heavy, chunky Ray eventually, despite it being clad front and back in Gorilla Glass (that’s your cue, OtterBox).
The Ray remote offers simplicity and smartphone-like modernity in its attempt to challenge the Harmonys, but in most important ways it’s second banana, at best.
Sleek hardware, friendly menus
There’s no escaping it: the Ray remote looks like your old phone. It’s thicker and has a smaller screen than most current phones, and it feels heavier in the hand. Compared to button-based remotes like the Harmony, however, it seems much more futuristic, mainly because of its superior screen.
High-end Harmony remotes like the aforementioned $350 Harmony Elite have screens but, let’s face it, they suck compared to the Ray. Smaller, lower resolution and saddled with chunky graphics, they seem like throwbacks to a bygone day when text had rough edges and logos all the sharpness of stuffed animals. The graphics and icons delivered on the Ray’s screen are sharp, bright and modern, worthy of any phone operating system.
The Ray’s home screen is pure simplicity: a vertical column of icons for power, DVR and other devices you want to add, sprinkled among selections for Search, Settings, Best of TV, Sports and other categories. You can power up (or down) devices right from the home screen, as well as see the time and weather.
Access to individual devices is just a tap away, most major buttons are replicated as you’d expect, and you can add custom buttons for commands that aren’t included by default. I found I had to add the all-important “skip” command from my TiVo, for example, to augment rewind and fast-forward. I do wish the thing had haptic feedback, and that it “woke up” when you picked it up (both features of the Elite), but those are quibbles.
Cradle return discipline
More than a quibble is the fact that, like any screen-based device, the Ray needs to be recharged frequently. The company recommends you park it in the included cradle when not in use. The cradle takes up more room than I’d like but looks very slick, and you’ll definitely need to learn to replace the clicker there, and train your family to do so, when it’s not in use.
If not, you could find yourself without the ability to control your stuff. In my testing, the battery lasted about three days before needing a recharge.
By comparison, the battery in the screenless Logitech Home Control remote can last more than a year (!) without needing to be replaced.
Buttons beat screens for easy control
The only physical buttons on the Ray are along the side: power (to turn on the remote itself), mute and volume. If you hold it in your right hand, they’re an easy thumb stretch away.
For every other kind of control you’ll be looking down at the remote, then back up at the TV, then down at the remote, quite a bit. Depending on how many commands you normally issue, this can be more or less tedious, but the simple fact is that with a well-designed button-centric clicker like Harmony’s, you can keep your eyes on the screen while you drive around your device’s on-screen menus mainly by feel.
Ray, to its credit, tries to replicate the by-feel process with its “Navigate” tab, which calls up a mostly blank swath of screen that you can swipe around and tap to select. Unfortunately the process isn’t nearly as responsive as using the buttons on a standard four-way keypad control; swipes take longer than clicking a button, and the screen is “stickier” than something like the wonderfully responsive touchpad on the Apple TV remote.
Even the volume buttons on the Ray weren’t as responsive as on the Harmony. In the end, using it to get to what I wanted felt a step or two slower.