Over the last several years I've been dealing with various stages of disability thanks to ALS. My goal is to share solutions and review various products/tools/devices that I have found particularly helpful.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Environmental Controls, The First Attempt

As my hands lose dexterity, one of the things I've been thinking about for a long time is to have various options to control my environment.I've been looking into all sorts of remote control options but the first one I decided to try was a little bit of an impulse buy called the Beacon by Griffin technologies. It's a device that allows you to turn your iPhone (there's also an android version) or iPad into a very powerful remote control for your home entertainment.

It's an IR repeater that you controlled via Bluetooth from your iPhone or iPad. It is very easy to control and set up and have managed to get it working for my sharp TV, my PVR and my Xbox 360 with nearly no difficulties. And by signing in all of my settings are synced across my IOS devices… Which is really cool as I have an iPhone and a iPad.

As I mentioned it was a bit of an impulse buy one day wandering to the Apple Store. The also had another device that turns the iPhone into an IR controller called the VOOMOTE. This was interesting but a plugged into the bottom of the iPhone and seemed rather small and fidgety. So for this reason I opted to try the Beacon instead. I felt that I would spend too much time looking for the remote and of course with failing dexterity, trying to plug it in would no doubt frustrate me and this is exactly the problem I was trying to solve. I'm finding the regular remote control is becoming rather fidgety and difficult to hold onto and the buttons are not that easy to press most of the time. My iPhone however is still nice and easy to hold on to and is usually never too far from me. Being a touch sensitive screen requires no force to press down and even though my hands right now are starting to curl up, I could still hold a stylus.

One feature I really like about the Beacon is that once you installed the free DIJITE app which you need to operate it, you specify your television service provider and your iPhone will actually update with the TV Guide for what's on. This is a great way to browse without actually flipping the channels.

For me the biggest downside about the Beacon is the fact that is battery powered only, requiring four AA's. On the surface this is really sound like that much of the big deal until you realize that as long as your Bluetooth is on on the iPhone the Beacon will try and stay connected. It will only shut itself off after his been out of contact with your Bluetooth device for one hour. What this means is that even if you are not actively using it, there is a "keep alive" heartbeat going on between the Beacon and your iPhone gradually diminishing the battery. Not to mention if you happen to forget to shut off your Bluetooth connection after you shut off your TV, or have them for bait you go to bed.

Consequently the beacon in my experience tends to eat batteries and because of this I tend not to use it as much as I would otherwise like to. With my hands the way they are, changing batteries by myself is a pain in the butt. It's sad that this is the unfortunate reality because I really do like the device. It's very easy to set up and use and can be used across a wide variety of IR devices. the Beacon can even learn IR signals so it can operate devices that wasn't originally intended for, like your air conditioner for example.

Cost: C$70

  • relatively inexpensive way to use your smart phone or tablet to control your devices
  • very easy to set up and use
  • I love having the TV Guide on my iPhone or iPad
  • the Beacon eats batteries
Recommendation: although the Beacon works extremely well and a very much like it, however I cannot recommend it because of the ridiculous battery consumption and what I consider to be a rather large design flaw with the keep alive between the iPhone and the beacon.

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