/ Technology

My tireless quest for the best remote control

A TV remote control

On a visit to our TV test lab, I spotted a dreadful remote control. The uninspiring plastic baton came with buttons labelled in writing so tiny, it looked like the fine print on some never-ending contract.

We’ve started testing the 2013 range of TVs, and I can’t wait to bring you the results. But while TV designs generally improve every year, one thing remains a sad constant; terribly designed remote controls.

There are lots of TV remote controls that are easy to use, well designed and – dare I say – easy on the eye.

But equally, there are many others that appear to have been designed in the dark.

The more buttons, the better?

Conventional thinking with TV remote design seems to be – the more buttons, the better. You get the feeling that companies would rather provide a giant stick, lined with every button a person could ever need. Personally, I’d find such a device more useful for manually jabbing the channel-change buttons on the TV itself, which kind of defeats the point.

I bet if you thought about it, there are buttons on your TV remote that you’ve never used and have no idea what they do. Come to think of it, I bet there are buttons on some remotes that no one has ever used, apart from the engineers.

Things get even more complicated with Smart TV remotes, where you’re introducing trackpads, keyboards, triggers and goodness knows what else to the mix. This can lead to contraptions so complicated that even Mr. Spock would struggle.

Time to be bold

Manufacturers may be worried about dropping a button off their TV remotes that customers love and regularly use. From many years of experience reviewing TVs, I can certainly understand and sympathise with that. Then, of course, there’s the danger of limiting ease-of-use; something we’d never encourage.

But maybe it’s time to be bold. Google has, in part, stayed on top of the search engine game for more than a decade by hiding complexity behind simple design. So rather than dazzling us with buttons and features, why can’t TV manufacturers spend more time refining and simplifying the remote control?

I don’t see why we can’t have sparser, better designed remotes backed up by more useful on-screen user interfaces. And would it hurt for them to look good in the process? Or am I asking too much?


Thanks for raising this concern, Andrew. Poorly designed remote controls have been annoying me for years, and some large TV manufacturers should be very ashamed of themselves.

I always recommend that friends look at and try remote controls before buying TVs etc.

Dreadfully designed remote controls are one of my greatest annoyances. Each new model from the same manufacturer seems to have to have a differently laid-out remote contol so you end up changing the channel when you want to raise the volume. We have two Samsung TV’s of very similar date but the remote controls have virtually no common features. The Humax PVR has an even more complicated remote control with minute buttons [and black on a black background] for frequently-used functions and lettering so tiny that finding one of the less frequented controls almost requires a magnifying glass. Not quite in the spirit of living-room television, I feel – most people probably watch in reduced lighting levels.

I certainly support the suggestion to have more on-screen user interfaces; I have been wondering for years why this was not done. But they would have to be a lot more accessible and logical, intuitive even, than the current types for the technical menus. Last week I had to retune the Freeview channels on both TV’s and the PVR; finding the right pathway through the maze of functions for an essential activity [about 2-3 times a year it seems] was unnecessarily complicated, partly so because of the different descriptions used by manufacturers for the same basic function.

The remote control is not just a throw-away accessory. Being able to select channels and change the volume conveniently – and immediately – is an essential part of the enjoyment of watching TV, and the manufacturers should start to look outside the box and think about what we have in our hands.

I have a Samsung and an LG television.
The remote control for the Samsung is very easy to hold and the layout of the buttons is good but some of the buttons are very small and I often press an adjacent button as well as the one I wish to press. Now what really annoys me about my Samsung TV is the convoluted way you have to do things and the number of different buttons for adjusting sound, picture etc, Each time I wish to set up a timer so the TV switches on or off at a particular time. I have to have several stabs at it.

Now the LG control is not as slim as the Samsung but it is much easier to use and something like setting up a timer to switch on or off is very simple. I also set up Favourite groups of channels very easily on my LG set but doing the same on the Samsung is complicated, at least until you have done so several times.

I would like to see the buttons I use all the time given prominence on the control and one menu button leading to on screen menus for all picture adjustments, channel management etc. The LG control is pretty much there.

This is an issue pretty close to my heart as my partner’s just set up a new TV along with an amp, a computer hook-up and an Apple TV. The sheer number of buttons is exhausting. I’ve just about worked out how to change the TV input, but when it comes to doing things like looking at current programme listings I’m pretty stumped. I think Figgerty’s idea is a good one – make the common buttons much bigger and easier to find!

I end up watching most things via Netflix on an Apple TV. Although I’m not a particular fan of Apple products, at least their remote is incredibly simple to use with the screen interface.

Paul says:
11 May 2013

I would very strongly recommend a Logitech Harmony Remote Control for this sort of set up. It works a treat for me – controlling everything from one remote. My wife has no trouble with it at all – and if any device gets “out of sync” the help button sorts it easily

I like controlling my devices via software, either via a smartphone or tablet app, or dedicated software on a laptop. Not only does it cut down on clutter of numerous controllers kicking about, but there is no more searching for that elusive controller that can never be found. I always have my phone on me, and it’s incredibly simple to make changes or selections on the fly.

Furthermore, software can be easily updated or revamped when new services or features become available, refreshing the experience. I don’t think many TV manufacturers would be willing to provide a new remote to every owner if there was a slight update to the functionality of the TV.

Perhaps we should get rid of remote controls to give us all a bit more exercise. 🙂

Ah, but Wavechange, with fancy new gadgets like Apple TVs, you can’t do anything without a remote control, because it’s just a tiny box with no buttons. You can control via an iPad, but can’t do anything on the box itself.

That’s my excuse, anyway =)

Of course, Nikki. Just me being provocative.

Wavechange – More exercise??? I think that’s the daftest idea ever 🙂

i was in a local curry,s store and was given a demonstration of a new smart tv remote. all done on screen through what looked like an easy to use remote. i must say i was quite impressed with its capabilities. the telly was good too.

When I ended up with remotes for TV, Sky, hifi amp, CD, DVD, projector and video switch, I took the plunge and got a universal remote programmed for all of them.

The best one I’ve had so far is the Logitech Harmony One. The nice thing about this kind of remote is that (as well as the facility to control individual devices) they’re organised by activity (watch TV, play a DVD, listen to radio, etc.) which co-ordinate several devices automatically. This is something individual device remotes are never likely to do.

In my experience, remotes will control other equipment from the same manufacturer, although not the full range of functions.

But I too have bought a Logitech Harmony One. I too like that it will issue series of commands – e.g. a single key press will turn on the DVD player, turn on the TV, turn the TV to the right input source, turn on the surround sound box, etc.

I like that I only have one remote to deal with.

All the buttons are clear (shaking the remote illuminates them), as is the colour screen. No weak battery problems – it sits on a charger cradle overnight. With patience it can be set up to replicate pretty much every function on the original remote.

However (i) – I’m not fully convinced it was worth the eye-watering price.

However (ii) – it failed after about a year and was replaced by the shop where I bought it.

However (iii) – I’ve spent many, many hours on my laptop setting it up to my liking. Yet it still isn’t quite right.

A universal remote is a lifesaver in my household. We’ve got the most complicated TV setup known to humankind (several games consoles, Sky, DVD/blu-ray player, plus various other gadgets), but with the universal remote I just click on the relevant pic on the touchscreen and the relevant black boxes switch themselves on to the correct settings.

Remote controls that you get with a tv seem to have a much shorter life than the tv.

So we have a universal one to do the frequent operations like volume and channel changing and the original is still going strong. It does mean yet another remote control though.

Buying a replacement control for a TV can be difficult and expensive, or may not be possible. I have not seen a universal control that reproduces all the functions of the original. I recommend that the original is put away safely and a universal control used most of the time, particularly if children are around.

It’s not so much remote design that bothers me; afterall I usually learn where even the obscurest functions are in time, it’s poor responsiveness that mars my televisual experience! I have a Samsung LCD 40″ from 3 or 4 years back and it has this annoying delay in responding to button pushes, so you loose track of where you are when scrolling down through the input sources and can never change chanels very quickly. I have an HD digibox (very cheap) which is even worse. I estimate button push to action of at least 2 seconds for some functions (but not all, so presumably a weedy processor is the issue here). We’ve had the technology for instantanious remote response for decades, so why this is still an issue on some equipment is beyond me.

I also have a Samsung TV as my second TV and that too is slow in responding to remote control commands I thought it was because it was quite cheap but it may just be a Samsung problem. My LG set responds instantly and is a joy to watch. The next time I buy a TV I’m going to pay more attention to features other than picture and sound.


This link is for a gynormous button Tevion remote control I saw this afternoon in Aldi, for only £9.99. I started laughing when I saw it as it was not the stylish remote control many would buy. I suppose it would suit older people with poor eyesight but it has to be programmed and many of us older folk are not keen on doing this.

Another design fault is when the labelling is printed on the buttons themselves and wears off after a couple of years. Controlling the TV or DVD then becomes very experimental.

Tony Powell says:
10 November 2016

A light coloured body for the Humax Freesat controller would go a long way to enable my partially sighted wife to pick out the black buttons. A larger body would also help in addition. A 10 or even 20% premium price would be acceptable

I have a friend who is partially sighted and he or his wife has put brightly coloured labels on buttons to show their location and function. Apparently this is a great help. It’s worth keeping in touch with the charities that support the partially sighted so that companies can be made aware of how they can help. Many have benefitted from phones with large buttons and simple mobiles.