The Griffin Beacon ($79) is a small device that, paired with a free app, turns an iOS device into a universal remote, and lets you browse your TV listings on your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. So should it replace the collection of remote controls cluttering your coffee table?
The Griffin Beacon has about the same footprint as a coaster. The bottom half is square with rounded corners, and the top, which is a roughly triangular in shape, houses the infrared receiver. Oddly, the pointy end of the triangle is not aimed at your TV, which seems a little counterintuitive.
The design isn't as whimsical as the Peel's pear-shaped device, but it's not without a little individuality. We also liked that we didn't have to plug another piece into our router, as with the Peel.
The base takes four AA batteries, which are included. Griffin says they should last for about 8 weeks under heavy use. Conveniently, the Digit app displays the battery level.
The Beacon can be paired with an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad via Bluetooth; in order to activate the Beacon, you need to press down on the top part--it felt a little like we were playing Family Feud. As soon as it's connected, a notification appears on your iOS device prompting you to download the free Dijit app from the store. We wish there was a native iPad app, but then again, the Peel doesn't have one, either.
Upon launching the Dijit app, the setup process asked for our location, cable provider, and also walked us through using the Beacon as a universal remote for our TV. While it was very easy to set up both our Samsung HDTV and cable box, when we first tested the Dijit app, it didn't have any Panasonic receivers listed, so we couldn't fully control our entertainment system. This has since been resolved, and the app can "learn" different remotes, too.
Unlike the Peel, which learns the type of shows you like to watch, then displays only those that meet the criteria, the Dijit app presents channel listings as you would normally see them when using your cable box. Fortunately, you can filter the listings to show, for example, only HD channels, and can block individual channels. If you link Dijit to your Facebook account, it will also display shows your friends have liked.
Dijit adds another level of customization, too. If you favorite certain shows, they show up in a separate tab called My Shows, which eliminates some scrolling. In order to use this feature, you have to sign up for a free Dijit account.
While it was fairly easy to navigate, Dijit's app seems a bit less refined than Peel's. For example, icons for a lot of particular programs, such as movies, aren't movie posters, but generic icons. (the company says that it is working to add icons). You can't favorite movies or teams, so you can't have all upcoming Yankees games appear in My Shows.
We did like the fact that you can also browse your Netflix queue and search for new movies.
While the $79 Griffin Beacon is $20 less expensive than the Peel, we prefer the latter because it improves upon the channel-surfing experience, instead of merely replicating what you can already get through your cable box. Also, the Dijit app has a few quirks that need ironing out. But the Beacon's unobtrusive design and ease of setup make it worth considering if you want to ditch all your remotes.