Voice control is cool, but the future of toggling complex systems of devices -- like your home theater or smart home setup -- is with gestures. At least, that's what the developers behind the $150 Singlecue would have you believe. If this device sounds familiar, it's because we looked at it a few years back -- but this is generation two, with a greater focus on overall smart home control.
It turns out, controlling your TV, streaming device, and smart home gadgets with gestures actually feels pretty cool (even if you look ridiculous to everyone else). Singlecue tracks your movements well, but its clunky menu system and lack of customizability seriously hurt its appeal. For now, you'll want to wait till generation three or four to invest in the Singlecue.
Here's how the Singlecue works: you set it up by your TV, then using the app, integrate it with devices around your house. I set it up with Alexa, a Vizio TV, an Apple TV streaming device and Philips Hue lights. It also works with a slew of other devices, including Roku, Bose, and Nest devices (you can check out the full list here). After the setup, it tracks your gestures with a camera, and lets you navigate the menus displayed on its screen (which is about 1.5 inches by 2.5 inches).
I was skeptical of the gesture control at first, but it works relatively well, causing only occasional moments of frustration. And when it works -- which is the vast majority of the time -- controlling your lights and TV with gestures actually feels pretty damn cool.
The other big addition the Gen 2 Singlecue introduces is Alexa integration. That means people can turn on their TVs with voice commands to their Echo device like, "Alexa, tell Singlecue to turn on the TV."
The problem is, other gadgets like Logitech's $99 Harmony Hub, already allow this kind of control. Plus, with those devices, you can set up particular command chains, so when you say, "Alexa, turn on Netflix," it will power up your TV, Apple TV and sound bar -- and it will start the Netflix app.
Until Singlecue adds more customizable commands, with gestures and voice control, it won't be quite as easy to use as other gadgets.
Disappointingly, even when your TV is already on, and you're sitting in front of it, the Singlecue isn't the most practical remote.
The first problem is, while the Singlecue does have a couple direct-control motions like putting your finger over your lips to mute the TV, or holding up your hand to pause it, mostly you use gestures to navigate its menu -- which is displayed on the small screen on the device. If you want to turn off your lights, for example, instead of mapping a particular motion to that command, you have to use the preset gestures to cycle through the menus to reach your light, then to select its "off" function. After a while, the gestures that are supposed to feel natural begin to feel instead like an extra barrier to controlling your devices efficiently.
Secondly, you have to be seated in the same spot every time you use Singlecue. That means you don't have the same control if you're on the side of the couch, or just lounging. While most people do have a particular spot they sit on the couch, this is a major impediment to casual use of the Singlecue.
Finally, the Singlecue's screen is relatively small -- so people with any visual impairments could have serious problems using it -- and it requires your attention as much as the TV you're often trying to control. Singlecue doesn't need to superimpose some graphic on the TV screen itself to solve this problem. It just needs to make the gestures intuitive enough that users don't need to constantly look at the tiny screen.
I was surprised that the biggest problem with Singlecue wasn't its innovative gesture tracking, but rather a convoluted menu system and lack of customizable commands. In other words, the device nails the tough part, and totally whiffs the easier part. Developers behind the device say more customization is on the way, but for now, you have to work with the present menus and gestures.
If you want a solid universal remote, the second gen Singlecue won't be your best bet. But maybe by generation three or four, it will be.