The Best Remote Control Apps for Android – December 2017
The world is more connected than ever these days, and that’s especially true when it comes to our entertainment. Between the television in your living room, the laptop in your backpack, and the phone in your pocket, there’s no shortage of ways to watch your favorite television shows on the go or around your home. But just because you can watch an epic like Dunkirk on your Pixel 2 doesn’t mean you should. Phone screens are great for consuming episodes of your favorite shows on Hulu, or watching cached movies on plane rides, but when it comes to really watching the newest blockbusters or gorgeous independent dramas, you’re going to want to watch that content on the biggest screen available. While going to your nearest cinema is preferred, plenty of our readers have upgraded their televisions. With 65″ 4K televisions readily available on the market for under $1000, and great sound systems able to be bought for a similar price, it’s no surprise that staying home and waiting for your favorite movie to be released on Blu-Ray or on demand through iTunes or Amazon.
Here’s the thing though: just because you’re using your television to watch your favorite movies and television shows doesn’t mean you can’t use your smartphone or tablet to control your entire media ecosystem. Indeed, thanks to the entire lineup of apps in the Google Play Store, there are countless ways to stream, watch, and control your entire media landscape without having to use a physical remote that limits what you can do with your television. Not every phone or tablet will be able to work with your television or streaming box, and since there are so many different varieties of streaming services on the market today, it seems obvious that you’ll have to pick and choose which apps work for you and which don’t. Still, there are some obvious winners in the race for the best remote control app on the Google Play Store, and we can’t wait for you to test them out.
So throw away your remote, forget about typing in search queries with a rubber D-pad, and grab your phone or tablet instead. It’s time to take a look at the best remote control apps on Android.
While Roku’s app for Android may not be the first thing you think of when looking for a remote control application for your phone or tablet, there’s a good reason to look at Roku’s app as a great way to control your television. While there are plenty of applications on the Play Store that properly function as universal remotes for your television, cable box, Blu-Ray player, and more, you’ll need the proper hardware to support it, and unfortunately, phones that include IR blasters are becoming less and less frequent. The last mainstream phone released in the United States with an IR blaster included in the hardware was the LG V20 at the end of 2016, and since then, Huawei and ZTE have been the only manufacturers of compatible devices. Phones like Samsung’s Galaxy S-line (after the S5 and Note 4), Google’s Pixel series, and all of Motorola’s lineup of devices won’t work with a standard IR-compatible app.
This leads us to Roku’s own application for Android. While it isn’t what some users might be looking for in a mobile-friendly remote application for your phone, it’s the most accessible, user-friendly remote app on the market today. The only requirement to use it is a Roku player, and with their cheapest device starting at only $29, it’s easy to jump into the Roku ecosystem. Once you have your Roku device programmed, you’ll likely find controlling your television with Roku’s app is nearly flawless.
Roku’s app design has improved over the last several years, even if it’s nothing to write home about. Inoffensive is a good way to describe the purple-clad software, which features the Roku branding along the top of the application. With a bottom-based navigation system containing five separate tabs, it’s fairly easy to navigate through your content, though a refreshed app design that brings it closer to something like Google’s Home application would be welcomed. The main display features a full list of your device’s installed channels, like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Video. Whatever you add to your device is what you’ll find here, and each icon acts as a quick launch for the application, immediately waking your Roku and opening the app. The icons look good, each featuring the correct icon for the corresponding app.
Strangely, you’ll find a featured application taking up a large banner on your app regardless of whether you’ve properly downloaded the app. This is similar to the Roku home screen, which shows featured content to the right of your channels list, but considering the app isn’t listed as containing ads on Google Play, it’s strange to see these pop up here. Beyond the app screen, you’ll find the tabs below corresponding with features like the remote, the photo sharing service, and more. We’ll dive into the functionality of the remote below, but on a purely design level, it’s almost a complete mirror of the basic Roku remote that ships with their devices, rearranged slightly for an easier mobile experience. On its whole, Roku’s app isn’t the most attractive service we’ve seen, but it’s also not offensive or unusable in any way.
There are a ton of other features built into Roku’s remote application, but the remote options are the most important. The remote tab is in the bottom-center of the app, and launches in a full screen mode that makes it easy to use on any size device, from the Pixel 2 to a large, 10″ tablet. The D-Pad takes up the majority of the room on your virtual remote, with a large OK button in the center of the application that makes it easy to press. If your television has HDMI-CEC support, you can use the D-Pad to wake up your television by tapping on one of the buttons and waiting for your television to respond. Most modern televisions from manufacturers like Samsung or Vizio have HDMI-CEC support, but you’ll need to check with your television manufacturer.
Once your television is active, you can use the remote to control your Roku, just as you would with the physical remote included with the device. While the more premium devices sold by Roku include remotes with features like passthrough audio and voice search, more basic devices like the Roku Streaming Stick or Roku Express are designed to be as cheap as possible, including basic remotes without advanced features in the package. Roku’s Android app allows you to bypass some of the limitations of the cheaper devices by adding both passthrough audio and voice search to any compatible Roku device, which basically means any relatively modern Roku device can be given more advanced technology without having to pay additional cash for the more-advanced remote.
The only features that is included with the premium Roku remotes but left out by the mobile app is the addition of power and volume control on the higher-end Roku devices. Newer Roku boxes like the Roku Ultra, in addition to the audio passthrough feature and the voice search function, also include a power button on the top of the remote and volume rocker on the side of the device that can be used to control your television using HDMI-CEC. This, unfortunately, isn’t replicated in the mobile app. You can, as mentioned above, turn your display on, but turning off your television or controlling the volume will still have to be done with a universal remote, or the remote control that was included with your television. Overall, however, the remote function on Roku is a promising start—we’ll discuss our thoughts on the actual experience of using the remote below.
Outside of the general remote experience, this app is loaded with features, including everything from photo streaming to the ability to shop for apps directly from your device without having to use the standard Roku user interface. To get the most out of your device, you’ll want to make sure you log in with your Roku account, as even browsing the channel store is impossible without first logging into your device. Once logged in, you’ll be able to view a full list of the channel store, similar to browsing through the “Streaming Channels” on your Roku device. Each channel shows the description, a gallery of what the app will look like on your device, and a star rating from other Roku users who have reviewed the product. Tapping on “Add Channel” will display a loading screen, and your channel will be synced to your device. Testing Filmstruck, a streaming service that contains films from sources like the Criterion Collection, it took about twelve seconds between tapping on the “Install App” button and seeing the app appear on our television.
The What’s On tab is similar to Google’s Home app, which includes a display showing brand new content that you can watch based on your suggestions and preferences. The Roku app makes it easy to watch your content through any application, and since Roku doesn’t own their own streaming app (with one notable difference), you can price compare between services. Selecting Dunkirk from the New Releases category, for example, loads a display that gives you the star rating for the movie, a quick synopsis of that the film is about, the rating, runtime, director, genre, cast list, and finally, options to view the film. Dunkirk, in this example, can be purchased through Amazon Video for $14.99, but on Vudu and FandangoNOW, the other two video carriers providing the movie through Roku, it costs users a fee of $19.99 to own. Rentals work the same as purchasing, allowing you to view every priced listing. Also included in this tab are suggested movies for the season, recommended family shows, and free movies and TV shows that can be viewed through Roku’s own channel and other services. For example, Titantic can be watched for free on the Roku Channel, but 300 (also listed as a free film) is available through Crackle.
The Photos+ tab is more of a Chromecast-style app to allow you to stream content to your Roku box through your phone’s local storage. Everything from music saved on your device to your entire collection of photos and videos can be streamed. You’ll have to give the app permission to access your device’s storage, but once it can, you’ll be all set to start streaming. Everything works out of the box here with Roku; there’s no downloads or apps to install, and the app can even grab content that’s stored in the cloud in services like Google Photos. You can swipe through your content by using the left and right buttons on the bottom of the app, and play, pause, and stop are all listed as well. It’s not the prettiest interface, especially when playing music that you might have to start and stop often, but overall, it’s a decent way to stream material to to your television or sound system from a Roku.
Roku’s application is nearly perfect at recreating exactly what you would want from their remotes, and it’s the reason that their app, despite being designed for a specific piece of hardware, is our top pick for anyone looking to control their entertainment from their television. The D-pad on the remote is large and easy to use, and each button responds immediately, feeling only a tiny bit slower than its physical remote counterpart when used side by side. The advantage of using the remote on your phone is clear, however; since you aren’t pointing your phone at your television to hit an IR receptor on the device, your Roku can be hidden behind the television, and your remote application will still work. In another room? Hit pause or rewind without having to run back in. No issues whatsoever.
Voice search works well, though not as well as you might have hoped considering how well it works on other devices like the Fire Stick from Amazon. Instead of activating the voice search feature on your television, it brings the results up on your phone. When you tap on the icon in the upper-right corner, you’ll be prompted to speak your search. Once you’ve finished requesting your show, app, movie, or anything else, you need to tap on the button to stop the device from listening. The app will then search for your content, with each title having a year and a visual icon for the type of material next to it. Searching for The Santa Clause brings up Disney’s holiday trilogy, followed by Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, Santa Clause: The Movie, The Year Without a Santa Claus, and more listings. Tapping on one of these loads back into the store interface we saw with Dunkirk above, with a full list of viewing options available.
Normally, this would be an excellent way to queue up your favorite movies to watch on the big screen, but there’s a small problem. For whatever reason, Netflix has difficult casting the content from your phone to your Roku automatically from the Roku app. Whereas searching for Brooklyn 99 on Hulu allowed us to launch the app immediately into playback, searching for The Santa Clause and selecting Netflix’s streaming option redirects you to the Netflix app, where the film begins playing on your mobile device. Since Roku supports Netflix’s DIAL standard, it’s not the biggest deal in the world, since you can tap on the cast icon and begin watching on your television while maintaining playback controls on your smartphone, but the service would be better if it launched directly into Netflix.
Audio passthrough is far more successful when it comes to comparing features. You can set your app’s settings menu to automatically switch to passthrough audio when you connect headphones to your device while the Roku app is active, and you can switch the feature on and off by command by tapping on the headphones icon on the bottom of the app. There’s no noticeable audio lag between the display and the app, and unplugging the headphones switches the audio back to the television automatically. We should also mention the keyboard entry field works well, using your phone’s default keyboard and allowing for direct input of usernames, passwords, and more without having to deal with using the D-pad on the remote. Our only complaint for Roku’s remote is simple: the remote should feature haptic feedback to make the touchscreen feel like a real remote.
Obviously, using a Roku device is not the first thing you think of when you look for a remote control application on Android. Believe us when we say, there are plenty of other IR sensor-based apps—including some on this list—that are able to be used for browsing your content, and if your phone still supports those devices, you should absolutely make the move to any of those apps. But with most major flagship devices now lacking the ability to use universal IR blasters, with LG having finally given up the ghost following 2016, it’s worth making the move to applications that use physical, web-enabled devices like the Roku to control your media landscape. Roku’s app isn’t perfect for this, considering it’s impossible to turn off your display or control the volume with your app. Still, the low cost of entry for the Roku hardware and the features presented by Roku’s remote application make it obvious: if you’ve moved to streaming your content from the web, a Roku is a must-have device for Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and so much more.
SURE Universal Remote goes a long way in trying to be a one-size-fits-all application that can be used with any and all of your devices, from your television to your set-top box. In many ways, SURE is similar to a more popular app called Peel, listed below on this list, but where Peel falls victim to too many add-ons and advertisements, SURE manages to make the entire package feel cohesive, well-designed, and smart. With options to add devices like televisions, media streamers, Chromecast streaming sticks, and even home automation, it’s no surprise that SURE Universal Remote feels like the ultimate package. If you were disappointed by the Roku Remote application being listed first for its lack of universality when it comes to controlling your entertainment and home network, you’ll be happy with what SURE offers. Let’s take a look at what makes this such a great addition to your home theater setup.
If we’re being blunt, the design and user interface for SURE leaves something to be desired. It certainly isn’t bad by any means, but it also doesn’t particularly do anything interesting, instead opting to focus on a basic but intuitive interface that’s fairly easy to find your way around. Unlike Roku’s remote, which leaves quite a bit to be desired in terms of navigating around the application as a whole, SURE keeps things pretty simple. Your main display shows the groups you’ve created for each device lineup in your home, which allows you to have a layout for your bedroom, living room, and any other rooms or commonly-visited areas you attend that will need controlling from your device.
In each group, you’ll find a drop down list of your devices that allows you to select between multiple devices at once. Want to control your Roku or Apple TV? Select it from your list of added devices. Same goes with your television, though you’ll need to check your brand to ensure you can properly control your television using the SURE application (more on that below). The interface inside each group is pretty sparse, but it’s useable. To the far left of the upper tab, you’ll find the add button that allows you to add new devices to your SURE app. To the right of that is a full list of each device you’ve added to the app, from televisions to streaming boxes and even smart home objects that can control your lights or sound systems. Selecting each one will load the remote interface in the bottom half of your display. The white and green interface looks alright, if unremarkable, and it’s easy to switch between tabs inside the remote to access other features like the included keyboard.
Inside the settings menu, you’ll find options to enable a custom panel, enable or disable the widget on your notification bar, turn on or off sound and vibration, and mute your smart TV when your phone rings automatically. They’re neat features for sure, as is the dark theme included with the app. We wouldn’t necessarily say the dark theme looks any better than the light theme, but it will help if you have a phone with an OLED display and you’re looking to save on some brightness. Just make sure to restart the application once you’ve applied the change. As one final note on the design of the app, we’d be remiss if we forgot to point out the large banner advertisement that takes up almost half of the display inside the app. The ads aren’t particularly offensive in most way—you won’t need to wait for an ad to load to pause your movie, as far as we know—but it’s still worse than simple banner ads like most other remote applications. You can purchase a premium subscription for just .99 cents per month or $4.99 per year. Decent prices in comparison to the competition, and removing the ads goes a long way in helping the general feel of the app.
Ignoring the lackluster design of the application, the remote actually works fairly well. Taking up the bottom portion of the display means that everything is kept within reach of your thumb, making it easy to tap on a command without stretching your thumb or using two hands. The remote layout doesn’t come customized out of the box for the devices you add to the app, but it does allow you to create custom panels for the app. In general, however, we found that most of the functionality could be replicated between this app and something like Roku’s own app or physical remote. Outside of the Netflix and Amazon shortcuts included on the remote, you’ll find a D-pad, a back, home, and menu button, along with basic play/pause, fast-forward, and rewind icons. And considering that entering a command was only a bit slower than the classic Roku app, you’re likely to appreciate the experience overall.
The remote has separate tabs, each of which gives you separate functionality, like opening the keyboard or your app launcher for a set-top box. It’s nice to see that, despite the lack of Roku-specific branding, SURE is able to load a list of the apps installed on your device. We were able to replicate the experience with the Fire Stick from Amazon, and would assume the Apple TV will also display your list of applications, complete with custom icons, inside the application. As was expected, launching apps from SURE works just as expected; tap on the icon you wish to launch, and it will immediately load on your television.
Outside of the standard remote function, SURE also includes a power button, which is accessible to the left of the remote, allowing you to turn on or off the device you’ve selected. This will obviously not work on devices that don’t support power options, but it’s good to see the inclusion of an option that wasn’t included in Roku’s remote. There’s also a cast option on select devices that will allow you to select files from your device’s storage, though this will only work on devices like the Roku or Chromecast that support file casting. You’ll need to check with your device to make sure that it works specifically with your television or other set-top box.
Unlike the Roku application, which included a ton of additional functionality like voice search, audio passthrough, and the What’s On tab that allowed users to view suggested movies, new releases, and other recommended content for their device, SURE focuses primarily on being a remote-first device. The big feature here outside of general remote usage is the ability to use the remote with your Internet of Things devices, like smart lights, utilities, home automation, and more. This includes devices like the Phillips HUE light system, which can work over a wireless network to communicate to your device, or WiFi-to-IR devices like the Broadlink IR control. It’s worth discussing more below, but to get the best experience out of SURE, you’ll need to pick up a IR translator application to get the best experience. If your device doesn’t have the ability to push IR signals to a receiver, you’re likely going to have issues using the app to its fullest potential.
Another interesting feature is the addition of Alexa support. Despite being listed on the Google Play Store, SURE allows you to integrate any devices you add within the remote interface with Alexa. It’s cool to see SURE make moves to add the ability to use voice commands, similar to what you can do on modern Android phones with Google Assistant, but overall, it’s a fairly lackluster feature. The visual appearance of Alexa is lacking, without the ability to tell if it picked up your command, and lacking any kind of tutorial, it’s difficult to know what Alexa can and can’t do within SURE. For example, asking to launch Netflix on your Roku device will instead gives you a response that Alexa cannot recognize that skill, before informing you to check with the Alexa app on your phone for a full list of skills. As best as we can tell, there is no full tutorial for learning how to use these devices, which means SURE’s Alexa integration is difficult to use without also keeping Alexa installed on your phone.
Overall, SURE’s general experience of using the app is pretty solid. Though we were only able to test it on two different WiFi-connected devices, both responded quickly and effortlessly, similar to using the traditional remote that had shipped with both devices. Unfortunately, Vizio televisions do not allow SURE to control its functionality over WiFi, so without an IR blaster, or a IR translator, you’ll be unable to use SURE for a good chunk of the one millions devices the company says it supports. That makes sense, however, and the app will push you in the direction of purchasing a converter from their Amazon. The Broadlink controller mentioned above sells for $20 on Amazon, a price similar to the cost of the Roku we recommended above, has decent reviews on Amazon and sells with Prime shipping. Presumably, the Broadlink controller would also help improve the Alexa integration we were unimpressed by above.
Even without the ability to use IR blasters, however, you’ll still likely find SURE to be a pretty decent remote application. Outside of the lacking design, every button works and works well on streaming platforms like Roku and Amazon’s Fire Stick, both of which were tested in this review. One of the biggest changes with SURE compared to Roku’s remote application is the addition of haptic feedback, making it easy to confirm physically that you’ve selected a button, instead of simply waiting for the action to appear on your television. You can also enable sound and other similar physical responses in the settings menu, which makes it easy to tell that you have, indeed, selected a specific setting and that it’s functioning properly.
Outside of the general remote experience, however, it’s tough to recommend SURE to anyone who is looking for a good-looking remote that is entirely free. It earns our runner-up position mostly on the strength of its utility and function, as well as it’s excellent response times even without an IR blaster built-in. It’s even better if you still have an older device that contains an IR transmitter, to allow using the application for your television, Blu-Ray player, cable box, and so much more outside of some smart TVs and set-top streaming boxes like Roku’s lineup of players or the Fire Stick from Amazon. Unfortunately, the advertisements taking up half the screen with animated, flashing graphics for things like the Minions and videos of Jennifer Garner trying to sell Capital One credit cards, it’s difficult to use this day to day without paying out for the subscription version that will allow you to continue to use the app without being forced to deal with those ads. For everything we love about this app, it really does lose a lot of its quality thanks to the major advertisements in the app in day to day use.
Complaints about the design of the app and the advertisements aside, SURE does everything a good remote app needs to do. It works with WiFi-connected devices and television, while also allowing users to control their devices using IR transmissions if the hardware supports it. SURE’s support of a WiFi-to-IR translator also allows users with more modern devices to use the app as well, controlling televisions, Blu-Ray players and more for just $20 on Amazon. The advertisements and general look and feel of the app definitely detract from its quality, no question there, but if you aren’t willing to pay to remove ads from the app, and you also have access to an IR blaster on your current device, you’ll likely find better IR-only apps out there. But when it comes to apps that combine both internet-connected and traditional IR interfaces, the choices are few and far between, and SURE Universal Remote takes the cake for the best one on the Play Store today.
Peel Smart Remote is the next-closest direct competitor to SURE Universal Remote, featuring a mix of IR blaster-connections and the ability to sync with your web-enabled devices. Like SURE, Peel focuses on making sure everything in your media library syncs to the app, including your television, Blu-Ray player, set-top boxes, and more, though Peel excels in one major area: its interface. In addition to included extras like television guides, recommended content, and the ability to set a calendar reminder for your favorite shows, Peel simply has a better interface than SURE, with a white, black, and yellow theme that looks really great on your display. The app feels smooth, and even if you don’t have an included IR blaster for your smartphone, Peel sells a translator on their website that allows you to sync your Peel application with your entire entertainment system. Unfortunately, Peel loses out to SURE on the small details: the ads are more invasive than what we’ve seen from SURE, and the lock screen replacement that’s enabled by default is shady and terrible for users. Ultimately, Peel’s app is solid, but bad business practices mean we can’t wholeheartedly recommend the app over SURE.
Just as Peel translates directly as SURE’s main competition, Amazon’s Fire TV Remote aims to do exactly the same as Roku’s own platform: take over your television for your main source of entertainment. The Fire TV Remote allows you to stop using the Fire TV remote that comes with your Fire TV 4K or Fire Stick, instead opting to control your device over your home network with just a smartphone or tablet. Unlike Roku’s app, however, this app remains deceptively simple. There’s no app launcher, store, or the ability to stream your local content over your home network. Instead, you’ll be looking at a plain interface that allows you to swipe, tap, and select menus with just a single screen. Amazon uses a touchpad area in the app instead of a virtual D-pad, and the whole app only contains a few virtual buttons to activate voice search, your keyboard, and to head back to your home screen. It’s a great replacement for Amazon’s own remote, and also allows older Fire TV owners to gain access to the same Alexa-based voice searches featured on newer devices. Overall, Amazon’s done a good job building an app replacement for their devices—just don’t expect content recommendations on the app.
There’s no shortage of Kodi fans on the web today. The open-source home-theater PC software suite is powerful, user-friendly, and allows for movies, television shows, and music to be sourced from thousands of different organizations. If you’ve built a Kodi device, either with an old smartphone, a set-top box, or using an old desktop PC, you’ll want to grab this application for an easy way to control your Kodi interface from the comfort of your couch without having to rely on a mouse and keyboard. Yatse has a great dark-material design, allowing you to automatically access your library of movies or TV shows right from the sliding menu to the left of the application, and thanks to its inclusion of Cast-style functionality, you can load your favorite content from your phone to a Roku, Chromecast, and more. Kodi has an official application on the Play Store to control their content, but with a long features list and an extremely-solid 4.7 star rating on Google Play makes it obvious: this is the Kodi remote of choice.
Do you own an LG TV released in 2014 or later? Is it running WebOS, the operating system originally purchased by HP from Palm before being retired and sold to LG? We have great news for you: LG has developed their own line of remote applications for their selection of WebOS televisions, and the app is generally pretty useful. Since the app connects to your television over Wi-Fi, you’ll need to log into both devices on the same network to control your television; the good news, of course, is that any phone, regardless of whether or not it has an IR blaster, can control LG’s televisions without limitations. You can flip between channels, control your volume, launch an app on your television, and even use the built-in touchpad interface to move the cursor around on your device to scroll and select menus. An optional notification menu allows you to quickly access the remote from any application in your device, and like Roku’s own app, you can even stream photos, music, and video directly to your device. LG also has an older application in the Play Store for its older pre-WebOS smart TVs, but you’ll need to check the model numbers of both apps to see if your television is included.
As you may gather from the rather bland name of this app, Remote Control for TV is a pretty straightforward application, entirely designed to take advantage of the IR blaster feature on smartphones without focusing on any smart features. Still, if you happen to own a supported smartphone or tablet, you’ll find Remote Control for TV is well made, offering the ability to sync with multiple devices, volume and channel controls automatically built into the app, and support for the majority of home entertainment brands on the market today, including Samsung, LG, Vizio, and more. The interface is clean, if a bit dated, and unfortunately, there are a large amount of ads in the application. It isn’t a perfect remote app by any means, but of the generic universal apps that have been uploaded to the Play Store, it still manages to make one of our top choices. As IR blasters begin to be phased out of mobile devices, you’ll likely find this app—and apps like it, including AnyMote, a solid alternative to this with the same core advertisement problems—become unusable due to their age and lack of support. Still, if you’re rocking an LG V20 or Samsung Galaxy S6, give this one a shot.