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Meet Savant Remote, a really smart universal remote that Steve Jobs might approve of

Savant Systems, a luxury home automation company, has announced a new line of more modestly priced smart home products, including a touchscreen universal remote that features voice control.

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David Carnoy
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David Carnoy

Executive Editor / Reviews

Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.

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If you've never heard of Savant Systems it's probably because you aren't rich enough.

Among the luxury projects it's had a hand in is Steve Jobs' super yacht, the Venus, completed after his death in 2011. In fact, when Savant submitted a patent application for remotely controlling a marine vessel with a mobile device in 2013, the Apple co-founder was listed as the primary inventor in what may end up being his last patent filing.

But that was then. This is now. Backed by a $90 million investment from Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) the new Savant is making an aggressive play into the consumer market with a new $500 touch-screen universal remote designed by the same company -- Ammunition -- that designed Beats' headphones and Bluetooth speakers (Ammunition's founder Robert Brenner is a former Director of Industrial Design for Apple).

Savant Remote (pictures)

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Due to hit stores in December, Savant Remote is part of Savant's new family of wireless devices, which also includes the Savant Host, Blaster, and Lamp Controller, and use the same technology found in Savant's Pro line of "luxury" products, according to the company.

Last year, William Lynch, the former CEO of Barnes & Noble, was appointed chief executive of Savant Systems, and he and Ammunition's Brenner were in New York recently to preview the new products for the media. They previously worked together on Nook tablets and e-readers.

While the Savant Remote is more expensive than the new Harmony Elite , it has a swankier design and a sharper, higher resolution screen. Weighing 4.4 ounces or 125 grams, it has a sleek, minimalist look and feels good in hand.

It's designed to do the same thing that the Harmony already does well -- namely be easily programmable and control your home-theater components and offer some additional home-automation control.

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You can create scenes and press a single button to automate TV, lighting, and shades. David Carnoy/CNET

Savant Remote mixes a combination of Bluetooth, WiFi, and IR (infrared) wireless technologies and the Savant Remote "starter" pack includes the remote, Savant Host, and Blaster (it's a power IR blaster that you set in the middle of your room).

The Lamp Controller will be sold separately for $99. You simply plug it into the wall, plug a light into it, and it becomes a smart light that you can dim or turn on and off from the remote. It's more expensive than some WiFi "smart" lighting solutions out there such as Belkin's WeMo products , but it does feel sturdy in hand and has a little heft to it (in other words, it doesn't feel cheap).

You also be able to buy additional Blasters to place in areas where you may have hidden products you may want to control (say, in a closet).

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The remote in hand. Savant

As part of the demo, the remote was shown interacting with an Xbox One, which uses IR, but Savant reps said that the remote had no trouble controlling the PS4 via Bluetooth and could even turn it on and off (the Harmony can control the PS4 but can't turn it on or off -- you need to use the PS4 controller to do that).

Another key feature that Savant is touting is the software -- both on the remote and in the Savant app, which will be available for iOS and Android. Like Harmony remotes, so long as you have the main "hub" unit (Savant Host), you can use the app and turn your smartphone into a remote.

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The Lamp Control is sold separately for $99 (packaging isn't final). David Carnoy/CNET

A feature called "Scenes" allows you to set up a series of automations with a single button push. For instance, in the morning you could have the shades come up, your TV turn on and tune to your favorite channel or have your Sonos play a certain playlist by pressing the "Morning" scene.

Harmony also has a similar feature but Savant reps talked about how easy it is to set Scenes up. They also talked about the remote's other competitive advantage: voice control.

You can say "HBO" to watch HBO or "Roku" or "Apple TV" to launch those devices. You can also activate scenes, like "Relax," which could cue up your favorite Barry Manilow Sonos playlist and dim the lights. And "Goodnight" turns everything off.

I didn't get a chance to try all the remote's features, but we should get a review unit in early December will post a full review then.

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