Universal Remotes: Not Remotely Possible

THE universal remote control is one of the modern world's great ideas, right up there with the automatic dishwasher, Wi-Fi and flush toilets. The theory behind this gadget is simple and sublime: In an increasingly automated and connected world, wouldn't it be wonderful if we could manage all our blinking machines from a single super controller? I wish I could tell you that there is a better way. But after testing many different universal remotes - cheap remotes, expensive remotes, smartphone remotes, and a few about which the less said, the better - I don't have much good news to report. Sure, some universal remotes are more useful than others, and one of them is almost pretty good, but in general these devices remain more appealing in theory than in practice. That's because they all suffer from an inherent, usually fatal flaw: universal remotes cannot possibly offer enough buttons to mimic all functions of all devices, so they usually have to make compromises, cutting out buttons here and there. The trouble is, some of those buttons are important.

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