Controls all the important HTPC functions; easy to use one-handed (right or left); simple.
No on screen keyboard will ever be great; software is still in beta; pricey.
We hereby crown the new king of home-theater-PC remote controls. There have been many pretenders to the throne, including sticks and donuts (Gyration’s over-complicated Media Center Remote and Hillcrest Lab’s over-simplified Loop Pointer, respectively), miniature keyboards (Logitech’s stylish but imperfect diNovo Mini), and full-size keyboards and mice (Microsoft’s clumsy Wireless Entertainment Desktop), but from this day forward, GlideTV’s Navigator will hold court in our media room.
The Navigator is an odd-looking device, but the genius in its design becomes apparent the moment you pick it up. The bowl-shaped bottom fits perfectly in your cupped hand, and your thumb naturally curves over the top, putting it in the ideal position to stroke the trackpad or press any of the backlit buttons. You can use both hands if you prefer, and an ambidextrous design makes it suitable for both right- and left-handed people.
The Navigator avoids the mistake of trying to handle a PC’s every function in hardware, providing instead an easy means of accomplishing only the most common functions. You’ll find dedicated buttons for managing Windows Media Center (volume, channel up/down, live TV, recorded TV, and electronic program guide), and for controlling media-player software (play/pause, fast-forward/rewind, skip-forward, and skip-back), of course. But the designers also provided equivalents for the right mouse button and the Enter, Escape, Back, and arrow keys that are too-often forgotten with other devices. There’s also a search button and a button that calls up the GlideTV application itself (more on this later).
There are a limited number of button combinations available, too. Pressing the Function and logo buttons simultaneously, for instance, switches between the top-level applications running on your computer. Instead of cramming a too-small-to-be-useful keyboard into the remote, the Navigator relies on an onscreen keyboard for the few times you need to produce alpha-numeric inputs (for account logins or searches, for instance). Having said that, you’ll still want to stash a cheap wireless keyboard nearby (under the couch, maybe?) for those time times you need to type more than just a few characters.
The Navigator’s designers were smart not to force the device to handle every PC application, but they were equally wise not to rely on Windows or even Windows Media Center to deliver the best 10-foot user interface for every home-theater application. In fact, you can use the Navigator to control Boxee, the Hulu desktop, the SageTV set-top box, or even a Mac or PS3 (if you’re using that gaming console as a Blu-ray disc player). For the record, we evaluated the device only on the PC.
Moving back to the PC, the GlideTV application provides one-click access to a variety of applications and websites in a series of customizable 4x4 matrices (you can choose which apps and sites appear here and in which order). You can also search the entire Internet using your search engine of choice, or you can limit searches to a particular site (if you want to find a specific TV episode on Hulu, for instance).
Going back to our experience with other HTPC controllers, only Logitech’s diNovo Mini comes close to beating the Navigator—and that’s only because of its keyboard. GlideTV’s onscreen keyboard is about as good as that kind of software gets, but there’s no way to get around the pain of drag-and-peck typing. In terms of web navigation and media-player transport control, the Navigator beats anything else we’ve tried. So, why are we withholding a Kick Ass award? GlideTV is selling the device with beta software. While the company deserves kudos for being up front about this, we don’t think even early adopters should pay to be beta testers.