Smart TVs are the new trend in the business. Every company's flagship TV can connect to the internet and run at least a few apps.
Controlling these smart TV platforms with an old-fashioned remote can be less-than-ideal though, so a few companies have developed "smart remotes" that offer new ways to interface with your television. Panasonic's and Samsung's controllers both feature a track pad, which allows users to control a cursor on the screen. The LG Magic Remote is motion-controlled, like the Nintendo Wiimote. Vizio's clicker is double-sided: one with typical remote functions, the other with a full keyboard.
LG's Magic Remote
LG's Magic remote is inspired in equal parts by Nintendo and Channing Tatum. This sleek motion-controlled gadget is actually quite intuitive. (Check out our video tour here.) Pointing it at the screen controls a cursor, which can be used to launch apps or change settings on the TV. Sometimes the cursor will get off-center and pop up at the edge of the screen, even though you're pointing at the center. This is easily fixed by shaking the remote, which will move the cursor back to the center position.
Using the Magic Remote is enjoyable, but sometimes it's a little much. Pointing the remote at the screen and making your arm move is work and there are times where we just want to be lazy. Luckily, LG did have the foresight to include some buttons on the remote to change the volume and channels, as well as a directional pad to manually adjust settings. The buttons feel a little cheap, but we definitely appreciate having them.
Panasonic's Viera Touch Pad Controller
Panasonic is so done with remotes—it's all about controllers these days. The Viera Touch Pad Controller (henceforth known as the VTPC) is an oval-shaped gadget with a circular touch pad taking up about half of the surface.
This touch pad lets you control a cursor on the screen, much like using a laptop's touch pad. Pressing the pad works like a mouse click. Getting a touch pad to work accurately will make or break a device like this, and we are happy to report that Panasonic did a great job. The only big problem is entering text, since you need to move from letter to letter with the touch pad, rather than arrows (or even a keyboard).
In addition to the touch-friendly interface, the VTPC features buttons for power, volume control, channel control, a back button, and an exit button. There is an interesting button between volume and channel that will give you a preview of what is playing on TV while you are using the Viera Connect interface.
Samsung's Smart Touch Remote
Samsung's Smart Touch Remote has a slick touch pad for the top-half of its body, and a brushed-metal finish for its other half; it's like the Minotaur of remotes.
The touch pad works well...sometimes. Sliding your thumb over the touch pad is either very accurate or totally unresponsive. The Smart Touch Remote also suffers from the same fate as Panasonic's controller when it comes to entering text–it doesn't take any less time to select each letter with this remote than it does with an old-school remote. Samsung has the additional feature of a built-in microphone for text-to-speech functionality and it's surprisingly accurate.
Vizio's Keyboard Remote
Vizio has confidence in their all-in-one smart remote. While LG, Panasonic, and Samsung all offer a regular remote in addition to their smart remote, Vizio wraps it all into a neat, two-sided package. The top side of the remote has all of your standard remote features, plus dedicated buttons for Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, and Vudu. The bottom side features a full QWERTY keyboard as well as directional arrows and buttons for gaming.
The remote looks great and the layout is excellent, but its usefulness is questionable. A QWERTY keyboard would be great for internet browsing, but Vizio does not offer a browser on their smart TV platform. Entering text with the remote should be the easy part, but it's sluggish and unresponsive—the TV cannot keep up with fast text input and as a result, some letters do not register, and words get misspelled.
Since we have four smart remotes, a final four bracket seemed like the most logical way to determine which remote is the smartest. The rules are simple enough: there are two conferences, and the winner of each will meet in an unforgettable showdown for the ages. The last remote standing will be crowned the Best Smart Remote of 2012.
Let the games begin!
The Korean Conference
LG and Samsung are two South Korean titans of electronics, known for innovation and high-quality products. Both of these remotes live up to those standards, but only one can move on to the finals.
LG's Magic Remote is the only smart remote to offer motion control, and it uses this feature very well. Pointing at the screen was accurate and didn't take too much effort. The added buttons for traditional control make this remote useful when you don't feel like using motion controls.
Samsung's Smart Touch Remote went with touch and voice controls and the results are good, but not great. The touch pad on this remote was not consistent – sometimes it was accurate and other times it behaved sluggishly. The speech-to-text functionality worked pretty well, although it was not 100 percent accurate.
Winner: LG's Magic Remote
The Japan-America Conference
This matchup finds the old guard facing the new kid on the block. Panasonic has been selling TVs since the 1960s, while Vizio was founded from scratch in 2002, and quickly grew to become one of the most popular TV brands in North America.
Panasonic's Viera Touch Pad Controller does its main function very well, which is controlling a cursor on the screen with the incredibly accurate touch pad. Navigating Panasonic's smart TV platform is easy and intuitive using this remote, although text input is still not fun.
Speaking of text input, Vizio designed its keyboard remote specifically for this function. We feel more remotes should have QWERTY keyboards—it's so much easier to find your favorite Drake songs on YouTube. Unfortunately, Vizio's smart TVs cannot keep up with even moderately fast typing, which leads to some frustrating moments when letters you typed are omitted.
Winner: Panasonic's Viera Touch Pad Controller
In this battle of motion versus touch, the deciding factor was whether the remote made the smart TV experience easier or if it was just a gimmick.
With LG's Magic Remote, the company clearly built its entire smart TV platform with the motion-controlled remote in mind. For better or worse, you cannot use LG's smart TV interface without the Magic Remote. The good news here is that both the interface and the remote work together to create a unique and even fun experience. Sure, it borrows the control scheme from an old video game console. But on this platform, it feels like a next-generation feature.
Panasonic's VTPC is very accurate, but it is no easier than using a normal remote for navigating Panasonic's smart TV interface or inputting text. Its real benefit is when you are browsing the internet and want to click on a link – something LG's Magic Remote also does very well.
Both of these products deserve credit for delivering alternative ways to interface with your TV, but the edge goes to LG's Magic Remote because of its excellent integration with its smart TV platform. We have a winner!