In Microsoft's perfect world, the Xbox One Media Remote wouldn't exist. Everyone would be happy controlling the Xbox One using their voice or gestures, and remotes would be a relic of our TV-watching past.
In reality, the Xbox One experience -- outside of the gaming realm -- can sometimes be a frustrating one. You have to give credit to Microsoft for recognizing that with the release of the Xbox One Media Remote (US$25/£20/AU$30). In reviewing the Xbox One's living room capabilities shortly after its launch, I wrote that it "cries out for a dedicated remote", and that's exactly what the Media Remote delivers, letting you do simple tasks like adjust the volume without using your voice or breaking out the controller.
The small clicker is well-designed, with nice touches like a velvety texture and backlighting that turns on as soon as you pick it up. It can't completely fix all the Xbox One's living room shortcomings -- DVR control is still an issue -- but it makes it a much more tolerable conduit for your cable box.
The Xbox One Media Remote may not be the remoteless future Microsoft envisioned, but it makes using the Xbox One fit into your living room a whole lot easier -- and that's well worth your $25.
$25 may seem like a lot for an add-on remote, but the Media Remote feels particularly well-made. It had enough weight to feel substantial, without being heavy, and it's covered in a soft, textured finish that's pleasant to hold. Pick up the remote and its backlighting immediately kicks in, making it easy to see its buttons even when your living room is dim.
The buttons on the Media Remote are unusually flat, raised ever-so-slightly above the front of the remote. Even the directional pad is just slightly recessed, except for the button in the center. Typically, remotes with such a relatively even surface is a bad sign, but there are enough subtle tactile cues that it's actually pretty easy to navigate without looking. The button rockers for volume and channel changing are large and centrally located and even the completely flush mute button in the center has a texture that lets you know it's there.
While the remote's layout makes it easy to find buttons, knowing what the buttons actually do isn't always clear. Of the four buttons surrounding the directional pad, the back button is straightforward, but the other three aren't immediately obvious. Clockwise from the upper left, they're for "view," "menu," and "OneGuide," which is hard to tell from the abstract icons. Xbox gamers might have their functions memorized, but nongaming members of the household would have been better served by using the actual words.