Review: Satechi Bluetooth Smart Pointer for iOS, Mac OS, and Windows
One of the most useful jailbreak-only iOS features for me is the ability to use a Bluetooth mouse, and through that, use a presentation mode in Keynote (and other apps) that lets you control a slideshow presentation using the mouse buttons. A presentation remote is easy to get on other OSes, but despite focusing on education, Apple keeps screwing over educators by not allowing for such a feature in iOS, while at the same time having abandoned its own Keynote Remote app.
That’s why I jumped out of my chair and ordered one right away when I first came across the Satechi Bluetooth Smart Pointer a few weeks ago, as it actually promises to give you a presentation remote for iOS, no jailbreak required. Not only does it work, but that’s not even the tip of the iceberg for what this device can do.
What is it?
I’ll start this review off by explaining what this thing actually does, because it’s a textbook example of a multi-function device. At its core it’s a Bluetooth remote, capable of connecting over a normal Bluetooth connection to a variety of devices. Officially it supports iOS and Mac OS, though Windows worked perfectly for me too, and while it connected but didn’t do anything useful on my Galaxy S II, newer Android devices/versions might be supported (the S III is mentioned on the website).
The remote has a switch that switches it between three modes: Accessibility Mode, Multimedia Mode, and Presentation Mode. Accessibility Mode is the truly unique feature here, and is what allows it to control presentations on iOS. By enabling accessibility mode in iOS, and setting it to be toggled on and off with a triple click on the home button, you gain the ability to enter accessibility mode directly from the remote (which has a home button). When enabled, accessibility mode will make it so that any time you tap something, it will highlight that object and read aloud what it is. You also then have the ability to navigate the OS using a keyboard, which is like using the arrow keys or TAB to switch between UI elements on a computer, instead of using the mouse. All of this is part of iOS itself.
This remote emulates a keyboard in a specific way that actually allows you to control any part of the UI with the remote, as well as control a slideshow in Keynote. It has dedicated Home and Mute buttons to allow you to enable or disable accessibility mode quickly from the remote, as well as mute the voice over feature so that it doesn’t read everything aloud. It’s a brilliant way of giving you a remote for iOS, and the first device I’ve seen to give iOS a presentation remote without jailbreaking.
The other two modes are more standard, but still very useful. Multimedia Mode turns the remote into a multimedia remote, with basic play/pause/next/previous/volume buttons. This works on both computer OSes and iOS, as well as (according to the website) the Apple TV. Since this is a Bluetooth remote, it doesn’t require line of sight, which makes it a very nice media remote. On top of media functionality, you can also activate Siri by using the Home button on the remote, and use the remote as a shutter for the iOS camera by using the volume up key.
That leaves the final mode, Presentation Mode. This is what turns the remote into a presentation remote on OSes other than iOS, namely Mac OS and Windows. That way it’s not an iOS-only device, which only makes it that much more useful.
The remote is candy bar-shaped, lightweight, and has a rubberized texture that makes it very comfortable to hold. On the front surface it has a five-way media remote, which is front and center for all of the modes. These five buttons control media playback in Multimedia Mode, and your presentation/UI navigation in Accessibility and Presentation mode. Below these five buttons you have the Home button, laser pointer button, and Mute button. The laser pointer button activates the remote’s built-in laser pointer, which emits a red laser from the top of the remote. Obviously, this is a very useful feature to have on a presentation remote.
Below this main control area is a slide-down cover that hides 13 more buttons. Because this remote emulates a keyboard, it needs to be able to pair like a keyboard, which means it needs a number pad and enter key to input the code to pair. The remaining two buttons are the Bluetooth connect button, and a keyboard button. The latter is for use with iOS, since connecting anything that uses the Bluetooth keyboard protocol to iOS means iOS will hide the onscreen keyboard. Great if you’ve actually connected a keyboard, not so great when you actually connected a remote that pretends to be a keyboard. This button is therefore included to let you pull up the onscreen keyboard from the remote, even with the remote connected to the iOS device. It’s a necessary feature, but it also shows how well thought out this remote is, something further emphasized by the Home and Mute buttons.
The bottom of the remote has the miniUSB charging port, and the device comes with a miniUSB cable – the only thing included in the box with the remote (aside from the user manual). The left side houses the on/off switch, while the right side houses the mode switch. That leaves the top, which houses a status LED and the laser emitter.
The build quality of the remote seems quite good, with the possible exception of the slide-down cover for the number buttons. It doesn’t really feel flimsy per se, but it can be a bit hard to pull down sometimes, as it doesn’t slide too well on the plastic rails. However, I actually believe that’s a design choice, as it does in fact mean the cover will be much less likely to ever get to the point where it won’t stay up and locked in place. You won’t be opening this cover too often on a regular basis, so it makes a lot of sense to go for long term durability over short term ease of use. However, the keyboard button should perhaps be moved out of this drawer, as that’s the one button in there that people are likely to need for more than the initial pairing.
This remote has a ton of features, and they actually all work. The accessibility mode trick is very clever, and because the remote has the Mute and Home buttons where it does, it doesn’t actually bother me that it uses this somewhat odd method of making it work. Essentially, it means you quickly triple click the remote’s Home button when you want to enable it, and triple click it again to disable it. With the easily accessible Mute button there to silence Siri’s attempt at reading everything on the screen, it’s really not a big deal to use what’s really a very weird workaround.
As for Multimedia Mode, it doesn’t require accessibility mode to work on iOS. It “just works” out of the box, and so does the camera shutter feature, which is really just a happy coincidence brought on by the fact that iOS itself treats the volume up key as a shutter button, and that then translates through to the remote. Another neat feature is that in this mode, the laser pointer button actually turns off the screen instead of activating the laser pointer. That in itself is quite impressive, as I initially thought it was a “dumb” button that activated the pointer separately of everything else. It not being that also means the laser pointer is dependent on the state of the remote (on/off), which means no accidental battery drain in your bag.
I tried the Presentation Mode on my Windows computer with OpenOffice, and with that configuration it worked perfectly. The Mute button even worked to blank out the screen, which is a feature I’ve seen some of my lecturers use quite nicely (it’s not exclusive to this remote, obviously).
The Satechi Bluetooth Smart Pointer is frankly one of the most impressive accessories I’ve ever seen.
It’s just so rare to see something this well thought through. The most unique feature is the iOS support, and this is reflected in the inclusion of Keyboard, Home, and Mute buttons, all of which are there to make it easy to use this workaround on iOS. However, instead of making this remote a very niche product with only one real feature, Satechi included two other full modes, each of which could sell this remote in themselves. The Multimedia Mode is great for controlling your media, and having a remote that doesn’t require line of sight is great. Even the happy coincidence of this also working as a camera remote is a major bonus. Then you have the Presentation Mode, which means this is a one-stop presentation tool for your computer as well. By changing what the buttons do for each mode, the inclusion of iOS-specific buttons doesn’t even hinder it if you were to buy it just for your computer.
All in all, it’s a device that just packs a ridiculous amount of features into a single package. It could have settled for being the unique product it is – a presentation remote for iOS – but it packs so much more in there at the same time. Because of that, and how well everything works, I think both the current price of $45 and the MSRP of $60 are well worth it. This is the first time I’ve felt our review system’s five star limit isn’t sufficient, as it has so many features that I feel it deserves 10 stars.
It can be bought directly from the company’s website, and it ships worldwide. The package was even downmarked in value to $20 on the box without me asking, meaning it went through customs here in Norway without me having to pay VAT on it.