Any avid TV or movie watcher is probably always looking for a new way to engage and interact with their digital content. Whether you are using an Android TV device, a Smart TV, cable or any other form of streaming or media consumption, one way you can engage is through the various remote control apps that are available for Android devices. In fact, this is an area which has seen quite the boom of late with many manufacturers like Xiaomi and LG looking to include their own native remote control app as pre-installed apps on their devices. However, when it comes to the likes of Samsung and HTC, they have opted to include a pre-installed version of the third-party Peel Smart Remote app. In HTC's case, they originally did make use of their own app, but in the end opted to replace it with Peel Smart Remote on their latest handset, the HTC One M9. When comparing the likes of the Xiaomi and LG in-house remote apps to the Peel Smart Remote app, it suddenly becomes easy to see why.
For those who have not used an Xiaomi or LG device, the in-house remote app on offer with Xiaomi is the 'Mi Remote', while LG offers 'QRemote' (or Quick Remote). And to be fair, in terms of setting up, neither the Xiaomi, LG or Peel Smart Remote app are too taxing and all do offer an easy route to connecting. However, part of the reason for the Xiaomi and LG easy connection is how simplified and basic their apps are. In contrast, the Peel Smart Remote app is significantly more feature-heavy and yet was just as easy to set-up.
That said, there is a difference in compatibility. Although, all three apps were able to connect to our TV easily enough, there is a vast difference in the compatibility of the Mi Remote compared to the LG and Peel options and especially for additional devices. Although, Mi Remote does list a sufficient variety of major TV manufacturers, when trying to connect to any other device, and in particular when trying to connect to a cable box, there is literally no availability for consumers outside of China with the app making a clear preference for Chinese manufacturer and cable listings.
In comparison, the LG QRemote did come with a decent-enough level of device compatibility and listed a good selection of manufactures for each option. However, this is a remote which was incapable of recognizing devices based on the service provider. So while it would connect to our AT&T box as a 'Motorola device', the functionality was extremely limited as the app is unable to understand this is an AT&T device and offering any provider-specific features.
In stark contrast, the Peel Smart Remote app had no issues in connecting to any of our devices and actually enjoyed a much more straight-forward and easy to navigate interface. Devices are not just broken down into their overall product range categories, but also into specific sub-product categories. To highlight the example, if connecting audio equipment through the Mi Remote app, only the "Amplifier" label is used as a means of basic identification, which was then followed by a long list of manufacturers that you have to endlessly scroll through and most of which were Chinese. While with QRemote, it was the same issue with just the "Audio" tag being used, followed by a long list of manufactures to scroll through. For Peel Smart Remote, Audio products were first identified by "Sound" and then could be further product-specific determined by the likes of "Sound Bar", "AV Receiver" or "Home Theater" and then only the relevant product companies would be displayed. Not only did this prove to be far quicker in finding your specific device, but offered a much more user-friendly level of setup. The general setup also includes a 'Personalize' aspect which looks to offer a more content specific level of recommending which again highlighted just how interactive this particular remote control app is.
This is literally the 'make or break' aspect of any remote control app. Anyone who uses a Fire TV or Android TV device and makes use of the standard remote control apps that are available though the Play Store, will know that while they both connect well and offer control of their relative streaming devices, they are significantly basic apps with no notably additional or unique features. In fact, with the Fire TV and Android TV apps in particular, neither of them offer a way to control even the volume, which is presumably considered to be one of the more baseline and fundamental features. Therefore, a remote control app which can offer a better degree of functionality is what will be one of the clear differentiating aspects for this type of app.
The LG option, QRemote, does not offer any form of additional features at all and just maintains a usage level similar to that of any basic remote app. So once connected, all you have are the basic volume up, down, channel up, down and power controls. When it comes to the Xiaomi's Mi Remote app, there are some additional features on offer like an EPG which can be used once you connect your cable box. However, this is again only available for Chinese consumers and as such, if you're based outside of China, then you are only looking at a standard remote control app with no notable additional features. There are no means to connect a U.S. cable box and make use of the EPG features.
In contrast, this is where the Peel app significantly overshadows the other apps. The Peel app is purpose-designed to offer users a massive degree of control over their home media network and the app does this extremely well. First up, once the app is connected to your cable provider the app contains a fully usable program guide which will show you everything that is on right now. Instead of having to channel surf through stations, you can simply swipe through the programs, find what you want to watch and hit the link and the TV will turn to the correct channel. What is more impressive though, is that you do not need to program anything in when connecting the Peel Smart Remote app to your provider. There are no codes or passwords that need to be entered as the app pulls the data from the TV listings for your specific region. A feature which unlike the Mi Remote app, is present in a significantly large number of countries with the app able to offer TV listings for 110 countries and in multiple languages. So once it understands the make, model, location and provider (all down during the initial pairing with the app), the listings are automatically generated.
Of course, this does mean that there might be some channels listed that you don't have, depending on a particular package or maybe you do not want all of your available channels listed. Either way, all the lists can be further adjusted in the settings to be more curated to your exact setup and there is also a 'favorites' feature where you can save the channels that you specifically want quick access to.
As well as what's on now, the app will also show you what is scheduled to be on throughout the rest of the day (and the week) and also offers the option to set a reminder for you to watch content you click on. Not to mention, upcoming content is also displayed in a personalize fashion with the app looking to provide you with recommendations for certain genres or video content type. So if you just want to check out the movies which will be on this week, you can.
If all that was not enough, the app also now comes with a beta streaming tab which lets you sync other streaming services you might have. These includes the like of Netflix and Hulu. If you have the app installed on your device, then the Peel Smart Remote app can engage with it. In fact, it will only show you results in your various 'now showing' feeds for apps that you have installed. So for instance, if you are only running Netflix on your phone, you won't have to worry about irrelevant Hulu information being shown in-app.
The streaming option in particular, proved to be a very effective way to watch content with the remote, as the categories were rather well-defined into the top content for each app. Not to mention, additional categories like "leaving Netflix soon" proved to be useful to ensure you don't miss any of the content you had been planning on watching, but had not got around to.
One of the additional benefits of the general Peel Smart Remote UI, is that while you are surfing through content to watch, a shortcut icon is always present in the bottom right corner of the screen for the remote control (which can be seen in all of the screenshots), so you can very easily and quickly bring back up the remote, adjust the volume, pause or so on, before returning back to looking through the guide. Likewise, if you remain in the remote mode, there is also a nicely positioned slide-out tab on the right of the remote view which offers a quick link to the schedule or the channel you are watching, as well as links to 'recently watched channels' for quick changing back again. This last point, the recently watched channels is an example of how the app is able to adapt to the individual user. This was another aspect which was noted with the general use of Peel Smart Remote, as the app is one which seems to grow in its understanding and offer a more personalized level of usage as time goes on.
In addition to the additional streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu, the streaming tab also offers links to YouTube content as well. So you can check out the latest trailers for movies that will be hitting theaters or rental soon. Again, clicking the link will simply open and play from the YouTube app.
It is also worth noting that the app comes cast-enabled and allows you to cast any of the streaming service links to any Android TV, Fire TV device, compatible streaming box or Smart TV. Clicking the cast icon opens up the usual cast screen and detailing all the connected devices. Of course, you can simply opt to continue watching the content directly on your mobile screen, without the content on your TV screen being disrupted.
Integration & Performance
While all the big bells and whistle features are great to have, when comparing the Peel app to the Mi Remote and QRemote apps, it was the little additional features which really came through and highlighted how well thought out the app actually is. For instance, volume is always an issue on these apps and while the Mi Remote and QRemote app both offered the ability to control the volume, it did so only for independent devices. So if you want to turn down the TV volume while in cable mode, you first had to select back to TV. This was not the case with the Peel Smart Remote app and whichever mode you were in, some feature like volume seemed to universally work. This was another common theme noted, with the Peel app's remote view feeling more intuitive overall and again, much more user-friendly. Although, the QRemote app is also well designed, certain elements (like how close the power buttons for cable and TV were) resulted in the QRemote app not as user-friendly as Peel's approach and less visually appealing.
Then there are the features like the short remote which can be used as a notification feature or on the smartphone's lock screen. For a lock screen remote, the level of control and functionality was surprisingly well thought through, with a much larger ability to control the TV and content without having to enter the app or even unlock the device. There is also a reminder feature built-in so you can have reminders sent to you in the form of a notification.
Last but not least there was the multi-room feature. Although again, the Mi Remote and QRemote both allow you to add additional devices/setups to be controlled, the level on offer with the Peel Smart Remote app is just so much wider. First up, when creating a setup for a different room or devices, the remote control actually adopts a different layout which is better suited to each setup. More impressively, there is a feature in the settings mode which when activated, will adjust the app to the room you are in. In this mode, the remote control is always ready and set to the correct room/device mode when you open the app. This was by far one of the real attention to detail elements that were noted.
The Peel Smart Remote app is certainly an app which is gaining in popularity. Not only has it been downloaded a seriously large number of times by the general public, but the list of compatible devices and manufacturers who are adopting the Peel app as their go-to remote control app is increasingly and it is easy to see why. There is no comparison between the Peel app and the offerings which are coming through from manufacturers like Xiaomi and LG. The OEM apps are just too basic in nature and would require far too much time and resources to be able to offer an app which is as feature-rich as Peel Smart Remote. It is not perfect though and there are elements to be improved. While you can connect to Android TV and Fire TV devices, the remote does not naturally work with those devices and therefore, can only currently interact with the apps on your smartphone. Although it can with Apple TV and Roku. But these are smaller issues when comparing the overall value and level of functionality that is on offer, as you can completely control both your live TV and streaming content all from the Peel Smart Remote app and effortlessly. Not to mention, this is an app which is compatible in a sheer number of countries. So if you are in India or China, then the Peel Smart Remote will function much like it does in the U.S. and offer the same level of EPG and functionality. Which cannot be said for the other apps. While the like of Mi Remote offers an EPG feature, it is far too country-limited.
What will be a problem for some people though is that not all phones can make use of the Peel app. It does require an IR Blaster to be built-in and this is why some manufacturers will more than likely push forward with their own options instead of adopting Peel - if they opt to build a phone which does not contain an IR Blaster. However, the issue there, is that the other manufacturer apps (like the ones we tested) do not offer as much of an all-round experience and seem to naturally compromise it certain aspects. In the case of Mi Remote it was in the country and device brand support, while in the case of QRemote, the support is there, but the features are not. If you do have a compatible device and are looking for a better way to control your media consumption, then the Peel Smart Remote is about as good as it gets.