Universal remotes have come a long way, and OneForAll have been there every step of the way. If you have an array of home entertainment kit, and remote controls littered all over your house, then something like the OneForAll SmartControl (URC 7960) might help you tidy your act up.
The big selling point of the SmartControl is a system called SimpleSet. We've seen various approaches to programming universal remotes in the past, from mapping every button press, to hooking the thing up to your PC. SimpleSet lets you program the remote with 3 button presses. Essentially it uses the same quick programming option that previous OneForAll remotes have used and it works across major brands.
The instructions are a little difficult to get your head round because they are in just about every language you can think of, spread across the same page of the manual. Just finding words in English was a challenge, but fear not, because programming is simple.
You press the "magic" button, then select the device from the offered TV, STB, DVD, Amp, MP3 and Game options, then press the number for the corresponding device manufacturer. The remote then cycles through the various IR command sets for that manufacturer, and when your device powers on (or off) you release your finger and that's it. You are then left to check that it will carry out the commands that you need.
We programmed a Samsung TV, Sony Blu-ray player and Xbox 360 in 2 minutes, with 9 button presses, and found we could control all of those devices reliably. It's difficult to tell how the experience will pan out for the huge variety of devices out there that it supports, but our experience was very smooth.
Important controls are represented giving you channel changing and volume controls, mute, standby and a four-way controller with ok button. You get playback controls for movie playing, and colour buttons for text navigation. Info, menu and guide buttons are all here, but some controls will differ depending on the key mapping on your device remote.
More uniquely you get controls to let you switch from analogue to digital tuner on your TV (if you have both), an aspect switcher and a source button (AV), which you'll make good use of if you have a number of connected devices. Supporting audio playback, you also get shuffle.
If SimpleSet doesn't work (it only covers major manufacturers) then there is the direct program route too where you plug in the code numbers for your manufacturer and finally the learning route where the OneForAll learns the signals from the original remote from individual button presses.
Across the top third of the SmartControl you'll find a selector to pick your target device, as well as three programmable shortcut buttons, marked by TV, Movies and Music. These can be set to control up to three devices, so you can easily control your TV, amp and Blu-ray player at the same time, i.e., change the volume on your amp, whilst the play controls your movie playback.
You can also reassign modes to control a different device, for example if you have more than one TV, you could program a spare mode to control a second TV. You can also assign macros, so you can have a one button press that performs a number of sequenced actions. The OneForAll website will give you a manual detailing access to these advanced controls not detailed in the instructions enclosed in the packaging.
The build quality of the remote is impressive, with a rubbered back making it feel secure in your sweaty hands. It is nicely sculpted too, so feels comfortable to use. A chrome coloured band runs around the edge and makes the SmartControl stand-out from the normal black bar.
The buttons are a little small, with plenty to fit on, but we found it easy enough to use. Main controls, like channel and volume up and down are large enough to hit without looking and the buttons have a nice distinct click to them. We found the SmartControl got a better response from our TV than the remote it came with, which is always welcomed.
You'll need to supply your own batteries, four AAA, which OneForAll say will last over a year.
The OneForAll covers all the bases without costing you the earth. At £24.99, it won't break the bank and we found it simple and easy to use with a good quality feel. It isn't as sophisticated as Logitech's Harmony or Philips Prestigo range, but it is cheaper too.
Overall we found the SmartControl to be simple to program and offering enough to control three devices without thinking. We especially like the fact that it would control the Xbox 360 too, which might be of interest to those who want to use it to watch movies or play music, or just browse around without firing up a controller. It's a shame you don't get PS3 control (which uses a Bluetooth remote, but it will reportedly control the PS2, which we didn't test).
If you just want to reduce the number of remotes you need on a daily basis, the SmartControl will probably cover all your needs. Those with specific advanced requirements might want to look further afield.