Can My Smartphone Be Used as a Universal Remote?

By: Christopher Neiger  | 

Using your phone as a universal remote is no longer a tech dream.
Newton Daly/Lifesize/Getty Images

Smartphones can do a lot of things these days. They give us turn-by-turn driving directions, show us the best places to eat nearby, check us in for a flight, and entertain us while we're waiting in line. But can we use them to turn on our TV or lower the volume on our stereo? The short answer: Yes. You'll need to download an app and purchase a few pieces of equipment, but using your phone as a universal remote is no longer a tech dream.

TVs, DVD players, cable boxes and stereos use an infrared (IR) signal to know when to do things like change the channel or play the DVD. To convert your phone into a universal remote you'll need to purchase a device called an IR blaster that takes the commands you give on your phone and converts them into infrared signals. There are different devices that can do this, from pear-shaped orbs you sit on your table to covers that fit around your phone to adaptors you attach to the front of phone. Some IR blasters attach to your Internet router and capture signals from your phone and then transmit them to your TV, stereo or DVD player. Other devices send the signal directly from the equipment attached to your phone to the device you want to control.

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There are numerous apps available for download that work with the IR blasters to control electronic devices. Some just have basic functionality while others can be programmed to turn on multiple devices with just one tap of the screen. Some apps allow you to program which room in your home you can control so you can switch back and forth easily between devices. Other apps allow you to rate TV shows you're watching and make suggestions based on the shows you like.

So download the apps, connect the blasters and change those channels like a real techie! Just keep in mind you won't be able to surf the channels when your phone conversation isn't as interesting as what's on TV.

For more information about turning your phone into a universal remote, follow the links on the next page.

Originally Published: Aug 8, 2011

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Universal Remote FAQ

How do I find the code for my universal remote?
If you have the programming manual for your remote, it will include groups of codes for various branded devices. If you don't have it, your remote control may have quick-reference instructions inside the battery compartment or on the back of the remote. If it doesn't, search online for the codes for your particular device. You're pretty much guaranteed to find them there.
Can I use my phone as a universal remote?
Many cell phones come with an embedded infrared "blaster" that uses the same technology as remotes. All you need to do is download a universal remote app and it'll work. If your phone doesn't have this "blaster", you can buy an external one for about $15.
What is the best universal remote app for a smartphone?
AnyMote and Unified Remote are two free apps for turning any Android or iOS smartphone or tablet into a universal remote. Get them both from the Google Play or Apple Store.
Can you use any universal remote on a smart TV?
Many universal remote controls work with smart TVs, but not all. If you're purchasing a remote, opt for one that claims it has smart TV capabilities — even if you don't own one — so that you're covered if you buy one down the line.
Who makes the best universal remote?
The Logitech Harmony Elite is the best universal remote. It can control up to 15 devices (including smart home devices), has a touchscreen, and integrates with Alexa and Google Assistant. Depending on where you purchase it, you'll pay around $300.

Lots More Information

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  • Hauppauge. "IR Remote Blaster Support." (Aug. 16, 2011) http://www.hauppauge.com/pages/faq/support_faq_irblaster.html
  • O'Brien, Terrence. "Voomote One Turns Your iPhone Into a Well- Organized Universal Remote." Engadget. July 25, 2011. (Aug. 16, 2011) http://www.engadget.com/2011/07/25/voomote-one-turns-your-iphone-into-a-well-organized-universal-re/
  • Patel, Nelay. "Peel Turns Your iPhone into a Universal Remote Using a Wireless External IR Blaster." Engadget. Dec. 8, 2010. (Aug. 16, 2011) http://www.engadget.com/2010/12/08/peel-turns-your-iphone-into-a-universal-remote-using-a-wirele/