Review: Satechi Bluetooth Smart Pointer Mobile Presenter

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Keynote for iOS has come a long way if you compare it with the very first version that came out with the original iPad back in 2010. Probably the most important feature that Apple added later was supporting a remote control.

However, this feature only works with the Keynote Remote app running on another iOS device. You can not use a regular remote control with iOS devices. That is, you could not do that until now. Enter the Satechi Bluetooth Smart Pointer.

Please note: This remote does not work with Keynote 2.0.x for iOS. The good news is that it seems to be working fine again with more recent versions (2.5 and up).

The Satechi Bluetooth Smart Pointer

At first glance, the Smart Pointer looks like any other remote that you may have seen: It has arrow buttons (four, actually, since it can also be used as a media remote), a play/stop button, a laser pointer and a few more buttons which I will discuss below. It also has, under a cover, a small set of numeric keys that are needed to enter the 4-digit code for the Bluetooth pairing.

Note: The Smart Pointer has three modes. In the context of this article, I'm only interested in its ability to remote-control Keynote on an iOS device and will therefore ignore the other two modes.

Pairing - First Problems

When I received the Smart Pointer, I tried to pair it with my iPad right away. The instructions are straightforward and unsurprising, if you've ever paired a Bluetooth device before: Enable Bluetooth on iOS and switch on the remote. Below the numeric keys on the remote, there's a small button with a Bluetooth logo. Press it and it's supposed to start the pairing process, during which it should show up in the list of nearby Bluetooth devices on the iPad.

Only for me, it didn't. I figured it could be due to the remote not being fully charged, so I went ahead and charged it (more on charging below). When I came back a few hours later and tried again, however, it still wouldn't work. I tried the same with my iMac and even an iPod touch to no avail. Pressing the Bluetooth button made the remote blink its LED but it didn't show up in the list of available Bluetooth devices.

So I contacted Satechi support. Within an hour (kudos for the great response time), I received an answer with two important pieces of information:

  • try pressing and holding down the Bluetooth button for 5 seconds
  • iOS only supports one paired keyboard at a time

Even though that second statement doesn't seem to be correct, it was the combination of these two that solved the problem for me. I had to unpair the external keyboard that was already paired with my iPad and I had to press and hold down the Bluetooth key for 5 seconds. Then it worked.

I then went back an re-paired my external keyboard and both the remote and the keyboard are still recognised by the iPad and working. So iOS seems to be perfectly capable of supporting more than one keyboard at a time, but if you're having trouble connecting the remote, unpairing a keyboard could be a workaround to get it up and running.

Enabling VoiceOver

Since, as explained elsewhere, Apple is using a proprietary protocol to control Keynote for iOS, Satechi had to get creative to make the Smart Pointer work. Their solution relies on the iPad's accessibility features. First of all, you have to switch the remote into Accessibility Mode via the small slider on the side of the device (the top of the 3 positions). Then, on the iPad, you have to enable VoiceOver control.

At this point, your iPad will start talking to you, describing what's on the screen and what you tapped on. So you probably want to turn off the sound. You can also use the Mute button on the Smart Pointer, but that only disables the voice output - your iPad will still omit the occasional sound.

VoiceOver, in case you're not aware, is Apple's technology to allow people with visual disabilities to use iOS devices. If you've never used it before, I recommend taking a few minutes to familiarise yourself with it. It's mostly intuitive and easy to learn. Also, you now know how people can use iOS devices even if they can't actually see what's on the screen.

Since you've now enabled VoiceOver, your iPad will behave differently than before (which is why I recommended familiarising yourself with VoiceOver usage). Also, it seems that Keynote, ironically, is not fully supporting VoiceOver yet, which can make using it rather awkward as long as VoiceOver is enabled.

So it's probably best not to enable VoiceOver right away. Instead, in the iOS Settings app, configure a triple-click on the Home button to enable VoiceOver (the triple click is disabled by default). Then, switch into Keynote, start your presentation and use a triple click on the Home button to enable VoiceOver.

The Buttons

You can now use the Smart Pointer to control your slides. Here's what the buttons on the remote actually do in this mode:

  • The Mute button triggers voice output on or off.
  • The left and right arrow buttons let you move to the previous and next slides.
  • The play/pause key also advances your slides. It does, however, produce a "click" sound (the right arrow button does not do that) while doing this. More importantly, though, if you have a link on your slide, this button will simulate a click on that link, which will then open in Safari!
  • The remote's Home button works like the Home button on your iOS device. So if you accidentally press it during your presentation, it will quit Keynote!
  • The button for the laser pointer works as expected.
  • The up/down buttons don't do anything.

As an aside, the remote doesn't have a button to blank the screen simply because Keynote on iOS (unlike its big brother on the Mac) doesn't have that functionality.

It would be nice if the buttons, especially left/right, would stand out a bit more so that you can easily advance your slides without having to look at your remote. I found that the play/pause button is easier to find without looking (it's indented slightly). You can either use it to advance slides (unless you have links on them, see above) or you can at least use it as an orientation as to where the forward and backward arrow keys are located.

Having said that, I found that I could reliably use the remote (i.e. press the correct buttons) after just a little exercise.

According to the manual, the remote works within a range of 10 meters (30 feet), which should be more than enough on your average stage.

Sound

You will probably want to mute the voice output in any case, either via the Mute button on the remote or by turning the iOS device's volume down. The latter is obviously not an option if you need sound in your presentation, e.g. for a video. In that case, you should avoid using the play/pause since, as mentioned above, it will make a sound when pressed.

Size

The biggest advantage of the Satechi Bluetooth Smart Pointer over using an iOS device is its size. The manual doesn't list the dimensions of the device. By my somewhat inaccurate measurement, it's 11 cm long, 4 cm wide and about 1 cm thick. So it's roughly two thirds the width (and size) of an older iPod touch or iPhone 3/4 but much lighter (45 g).

Charging

The Satechi remote has a rechargeable battery built in. The device is sealed and can not be opened. It comes with a USB cable for charging, that you can plug into your computer or the external power supply of your iOS device.

The remote's LED lights up during charging and switches off once it is charged. There does appear to be no way to check an existing charge, so you better make sure to charge it before your next presentation.

The manual states a charging time of 2 hours, after which it should be good for 33 hours of remote control use, 1000 hours on standby, or 15 hours use of the laser pointer.

What's Good

If you've ever used an iPhone or iPod touch to control a presentation, you'll appreciate the small size of the Smart Pointer. It's so much nicer to hold.

What's Not So Good

Most of the downsides come from the fact that Satechi had to get creative to work around Apple's restrictions.

Enabling VoiceOver every time you want to use the remote is a minor hassle. It's bearable when doing it via the triple click on the Home button (after which you still have to mute the voice output).

The use of VoiceOver also gets in the way of using sound in your presentations. Once the voice output has been muted, you can use sound but you'll have to stay away from the play/pause button which does make a sound when pressed.

What I would like to see changed on the remote itself is the button layout. Specifically, the left/right arrow buttons should be more easily "feelable" so that you don't have to look at the remote to find them. The Home button, which will throw you out of Keynote and back to the iOS home screen, seems like an accident waiting to happen.

Instead of a remote control that packs 3 functions into one device, maybe Satechi should simply design a remote that's purely meant to remote control Keynote on iOS devices. It could lose the up/down and play/pause buttons, which would make room for more usable forward/backward buttons. I'd also move the Home button under the slide cover.

So, should you buy one?

As usual, things come down to personal preference. If you don't mind the extra size of an iPhone or iPod touch, need to see your slides, or don't want to carry yet another device around - then, I guess, you should stay with the Keynote Remote app.

If, like me, you'd happily give up the slide preview for a smaller and lighter remote, then the Satechi Bluetooth Smart Pointer is your only (to my knowledge) available option.

I bought the Satechi Bluetooth Smart Pointer directly from their homepage, but it's also available via amazon.com (US only, it seems). I paid $45 plus shipping. It's available in black and in silver.

I'm going to use the Satechi Bluetooth Smart Pointer for my presentations from now on (and will update this review, should anything interesting come up). Also, it looks like I now owe someone from the Netherlands a beer :)

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Creative Commons Licence "Review: Satechi Bluetooth Smart Pointer Mobile Presenter" by Dirk Haun is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.