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24 February 2021

TV remote control apps: are they worth using?

If your TV remote is hard to use or is always going missing, using a remote control app on your phone could save you a headache.
Using-phone-as-remote
Martin Pratt

Sometimes it's down the side of the sofa, sometimes it's unexpectedly in the fridge, and other times it was in your hand all along. Wherever it turns up, there's one certainty: TV remotes are always going missing.

One radical solution could be gluing it your sofa arm to make sure it stays in one place. Alternatively, you could secure another means of controlling your TV for when the inevitable happens.

iOS and Android app stores have a bevy of remote control apps to download for free. We've tried a few out to see if they are worth using.


If you've got your eye on a new TV, check our TV reviews to find out if the physical remote will make it a breeze to use – plus how good the screen and sound are.  


Official TV remote apps

LG, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony have their own official remote control apps that are free to download. Here we explain how they work, and their pros and cons.

In April 2020, we asked people around Which? to try a few scenarios with each app, including turning on the TV, changing channels, searching for content to watch and switching inputs. We also checked what permissions each app requests to download and use it. 

LG TV Plus app

Pros

  • Same features as the physical remote
  • On-screen pointer is more responsive than the one on the remote
  • Makes the most of the touchscreen by letting you type with the smartphone keyboard
  • Possible to cast streaming apps and mirror your smartphone screen onto the app.

Cons

  • Not all the voice commands work on the smartphone app
  • Not as easy to get to the TV guide.

Is it worth downloading?

LG's app is entirely free and available to download on Android and iOS smartphones.

Connecting to our TV was a doddle and the app was very responsive, with little lag between it and the TV. This could differ depending on the phone, though. 

LG Magic TV remotes have an interesting motion-controlled pointer to easily select menus and options on screen. The smartphone app replicates this; we found it to be even more precise than using the remote.

We found it easier to download TV apps – the Netflix app, for example – than we found it do to on the TV itself. This was because we were able to use the touchscreen keyboard to type the name of the app we wanted – much less clunky than the TV screen's search option. It didn't always return the results we wanted, but this is an issue with the TV itself, not just with the remote app.

Version of app tested: Tested on Android. App also available on iOS.

Permissions: Storage (photos, videos, music) location, calendar

Samsung SmartThings app

Pros

  • Quick and simple to use
  • Can do most of what a traditional remote can do
  • Easy to mirror your screen or cast content from the app
  • You can use the microphone on your phone to control the TV with your voice.

Cons

  • Doesn't make the most of the touchscreen
  • No way to type searches on the phone
  • Some buttons are hidden by default
  • Only works with Samsung TVs released in or after 2016. 

Is it worth downloading?

The Samsung SmartThings app is a great alternative to the One Remote that comes with most Samsung TVs. Several buttons are hidden by default, such as numbers and the play/pause control. This is unusual, but you can choose which buttons appear to make the remote feel more personal.

When we tested the SmartThings app we thought it was quick with very little lag between it and the TV, though your experience may depend on the phone you're using. 

It's best when used for simpler commands, such as switching channels and volume, but you can do more complex tasks too.

One scenario involved finding and downloading an app on the TV. This was possible, but we couldn't use our smartphone keyboard to search for TV apps. 

There's a dedicated button on the remote app to switch inputs (from a Sky box to a DVD player, for example), which is nice. You can also 'cast' from within the app, which allows you to display your phone screen on your TV screen.

Version of app tested: Tested on Android. App also available on iOS.

Permissions the app asks for: Location, storage, camera, contacts, microphone, telephone.

Sony Video & TV SideView remote app

Pros

  • Easy to connect to the TV
  • Good interface
  • Can do whatever the physical remote can do 
  • Easy to cast content from the phone and mirror your phone screen onto the TV screen.

Cons

  • App frequently disconnected from the TV when we tried it out
  • Doesn't make the most of the smartphone touchscreen since you can't use the phone keyboard.

The official Sony app replicates the physical remote well and we found it intuitive and simple to complete tasks such as changing channel, switching inputs and searching for apps.

Unfortunately the app frequently disconnected, which required us to restart our phone, the TV, or both to get them talking to each other again.

Casting content from your phone's screen to the TV screen is easy, and it's nice to be able to access everything that is 'castable' from the Sony remote app, whether that's other apps, photos, videos or music stored on your smartphone. 

Sadly we weren't able to use our smartphone keyboard to search for apps and content on the TV, which made finding and downloading apps a bit less streamlined. There's a separate app called Video & TV SideView Voice that adds voice control to the remote.

Version of app tested: Tested on Android. App not available on iOS.

Permissions: Location, telephone, storage

Panasonic TV Remote 3

Panasonic's app mirrors the controls on your remote while also letting you cast photos and videos saved on your phone to your TV. It also supports a huge range of Panasonic models going all the way back to 2011.

We haven't had a chance to give this a full tryout with all the scenarios, but we will update this article once we have.

Third-party TV remote apps

As well as the official TV remote apps, we tried a whole range of popular remote apps billed to work with TVs from different brands. We didn't find any of them worked well. When we could connect them, we found most to be bloated with ads, making them fiddly to use. 

If you're going to use your phone to control your TV, you're better off choosing one of the official apps.


TV too old to work with any sort of app? It could be time for an upgrade. Get a great-looking model packed with useful features with our guide to the top TVs for 2021



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