Verizon’s Mobile Remote Puts Your Phone in Control

I like my Verizon (s VZ) FiOS TV service. What I don’t like is the company’s remote control; it just never seems to work the way I want it to. Sometimes, the remote will let me change the volume on my TV, but sometimes it won’t. Sometimes, I hit “enter” to change the channel, but a menu appears instead. Sometimes, I just give up and walk across the room to deal with it.

That’s why I thought I would love the Verizon FiOS Mobile Remote. It’s an app that turns your smartphone (currently only two phones, the excellent Motorola (s MOT) Droid and the so-so HTC Imagio, are supported) into a remote control for your FiOS set-top box. As it turns out, though, setting up the app was much more difficult than it should have been — thanks to some weird settings on the HTC Imagio review unit I used for testing — and the app itself left me wanting a bit more.

To use Mobile Remote, you need to install the app on your Droid or Imagio smartphone. Droid users will find the app in the Android (s GOOG) Marketplace, while users of the Windows (s MSFT) Mobile-based Imagio can download it via their mobile browser. (Note that your phone must be connected to a Verizon FiOS Wi-Fi network in order for the Mobile Remote app to work. ) You then need to enable the Mobile Remote widget on your FiOS set-top box. You register your phone by entering your mobile number on the TV. Once the setup is complete, you just launch the app on your phone and it will automatically connect to your TV; a small icon will appear, briefly, in the corner of your TV to tell you that the connection has gone through.

Getting to this point, though, was difficult for me. I followed the setup instructions to the letter, only to find out that my phone wouldn’t connect to my TV. I uninstalled and reinstalled the app on my phone and tried again. Still no luck. I then exchanged several e-mails with Verizon’s tech support, and talked to them on the phone several times. They checked all of the settings on my set-top box, and said they could find no discernable problems.

I was ready to throw in the towel when the FiOS folks offered to send help directly to my house. Two reps walked in, one of whom already had the app installed on his Motorola Droid. He took a look at my TV, and within minutes had his phone connected to my TV. The problem was, we had discovered, with my HTC Imagio. He fiddled with the wireless settings and was able to get the Imagio connected to my TV, too. Finally. (As a side note, the Imagio review unit that I have for testing has had repeated problems establishing and maintaining a Wi-Fi connection.)

After all that work to get it up and running, the Mobile Remote app had a lot to live up to. And it did deliver, to a certain extent. I was able to instantaneously adjust the volume and channels using the up and down arrows on my phone’s screen; the TV reacted to the phone just as quickly as it did to my actual remote.

The biggest drawback of the Mobile Remote app is that it does not display a numeric keypad on the screen; it shows only arrows or DVR controls. And you’ll need numbers, especially if you’re hoping to switch from channel 103 to 665 in time to catch your favorite show. To access numbers, you hit the “keypad” icon on the bottom of the screen, which brings up an on-screen QWERTY keyboard — letters, not numbers. You then hit the numbers icon to find the numbers themselves, which are laid out in a straight line as if you were accessing them on a keyboard. I’d much rather see the Mobile Remote app display an on-screen replica of the number buttons as laid out on your actual remote. Verizon says this is something that could be added to a future release.

The app does have some nice touches though. For one, it automatically mutes the TV when a call comes into your phone. It also lets you display photos from your phone on your TV, and lets you import your favorite channels from the TV to the phone to make switching to those channels easier.

Mobile Remote is not quite the improvement over my actual FiOS remote that I was hoping for. If Verizon adds a numeric keypad, though, and makes it available on more phones, Mobile Remote could be the answer to my remote control woes. It’s just not there yet.

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