Peel Universal Controller review:

Peel Universal Controller

To get an idea what all this is about, you can take a trial run with the free app without having to buy the "pear." You just have to change channels manually with your existing remote instead of being able to click on the recommended program, movie, or sporting event on your iPhone and have your TV automatically change to the channel you selected.

Peel makes programming recommendations based on current and upcoming shows.

We generally appreciated the picks the app made and they're supposed to get more refined as the app learns your tastes in Tivo-like fashion. While there's some value in being able to fire up the Peel remote/app and get filtered suggestion for what's on TV now--or a few hours into the future--the one big missing feature is the ability to record future shows with a touch of a button. In other words, when you're poking around for upcoming movies to watch, when you find one, say, two days into the future, you can't just click a button to automatically have your DVR record that movie.

We understand the challenges to pulling that off, but ultimately that's the elusive killer feature that would make Peel a lot more compelling.

The folks who created the Peel were looking at a very alluring concept. Take your iPhone or iPod Touch and turn it into a smart remote for your TV and/or home theater system. To a degree, the Peel accomplishes this, but the problem is that in its current state it just feels limited. It can also feel slow at times, as it can take several seconds for it to load program recommendations.

The lack of customization means you're out of luck if a critical button isn't displayed.

The app takes your existing remote and simplifies it for the iPhone's small screen, which has both its pluses and its minuses, the biggest of which is you may find some key buttons missing. For instance, the remote we ended up with for our FiOS DVR didn't have a "guide" button that would take us to the program guide on the TV. That's a rather crucial omission.

We're not going to go into great detail on the potential drawbacks of using your iPhone or iPod Touch as a dedicated remote, but we assume you're either living alone (and can walk into your apartment or house and simply use your iPhone as a remote) or you've taken an old iPod Touch or iPhone and converted into a remote that all the members of your household can use.

While an iPad works while running the iPhone app, there's no native iPad app yet available; that's a shame, because the extra screen real estate could be put to great use. The rumor is that an iPad deck is on deck (along with an Android app), but neither are available at the time of this writing.

At the end of the day, we'd be more willing to overlook these shortcomings if we got better DVR functionality integrated into the app instead of social networking features that bring little to the table. Making program recommendations is nice, but it doesn't help you save time if you have to then go into the program guide, find the program manually and hit the record button so you can watch it later.

On the other hand, if you're just a watch-it-now kind of person, you can choose to ignore some of these criticisms and concentrate on the Peel's positive aspects. Whatever you decide, we just suggest you sample the free app before tasting the fruit.

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