The Neeo remote control and home-automation hub, a marvel of industrial design, has been the darling of so many home-technology tradeshows and smart-home aficionados for at least three years. Once you hold the sleek, heavy wand, and fall under the spell of the tradeshow demos, you fall in love.
Launching on Kickstarter in January 2015, the product reached its $50,000 funding goal in less than three hours, which was “amazing” to founders Raphael Oberholzer and Oliver Studer, “but at that point we still would not have dreamed of the fact that we will [sic] become the most funded smart home project in kickstarter history in the following 30 days,” the duo explains on the “About Us” page of its website.
The project would go on to generate $1,558,280 in pledges from nearly 6,100 backers.
The earliest $199-level supporters were to receive their Neeo “Brain” and remote in March of 2015, while the rest of the backers would receive their kit in May of 2015.
Neeo finally began to ship product to those backers in November 2017. These things happen. Manufacturing newbies always underestimate how hard hardware is.
Beyond Neeo’s gorgeous remote, early backers have a lot of unpleasant things to say about the user experience. They expected better after waiting for 2.5 years.
Generally, I have little sympathy for early backers who invest in a start-up that may or may not even ship product. At least Neeo is real and the hardware is superb. The software can always improve over time if the company has the financial and technical wherewithal to pull it off.
Early users seem hopeful.
The problem with shipping a largely un-ready product, however, is that the disappointment could silence (at best) all those brand champions and market-makers that might otherwise zealously promote your brand. It could also discourage would-be partners from developing around your technology.
Neeo doesn't suggest that its products are fully baked yet. In fact, the company still is offering them only as “preorders.” The Neeo Combo (remote + Brain) can be preordered for $369, a single Brain for $199, and a remote for $229.
When you enjoy preorder pricing, you should not expect to receive a well-oiled machine — a machine that can be fixed, yes, but not one that's ready for retail shelves. Neeo certainly seems to be fixing at a frenzied pace.
IR Control & 'Stupid' Devices
Neeo categorizes IR devices as smart or “stupid.” Stupid devices don’t have discrete IR codes, or at least Neeo doesn’t have those codes in its library, even though the company claims to have “more discrete codes than any others.”
Neeo boasts it was able to “gather and reverse-engineer tons of infrared codes since day one of NEEO. There is no good database out there.”
Neeo doesn’t perform tricks to monitor the status of stupid devices – tricks like tracking power state or monitoring the video sync – in order to incorporate these products into home-automation scenes.
“I hate unreliable automation,” says Neeo co-founder Oberholzer, who was a home-technology integrator for more than 10 years.
As he did as an integrator, Oberholzer designed Neeo to offer the same mechanisms as the manufacturer’s remote for for their own stupid device.
“If there is only an ‘input toggle’ available for stupid infrared controlled TVs,” he writes, “the ‘input toggle’ is exactly the button we provide. This allows the user to get to the desired result anytime, independent from the unknown status which the device is in when starting it.”
So if you want to use a dumb TV in a macro, the Neeo remote will present the user with relevant buttons on the remote-control screen to toggle through inputs, power states or other non-discrete commands to arrive at the correct state for the macro. And then it will implement the macro.
Seems like a useful dumb-device workaround, but Neeo seems to get it wrong a lot, thinking smart devices are stupid and leaving no option for the user to correct the error. This post represents the issues many users are having.
About the Neeo System
The remote control is thin and pretty and feels meaty. Virtually all reviewers agree on that. It has a 3-inch LED display with 291 pixels per inch – “more than Apple’s iPad Retina standard.”
There are a handful of hard-buttons for mute, power, volume and channel, plus back, menu and home buttons. The buttons are not backlit, according to Neeo, because “We believe if you have to look down to your buttons while operating the device something with the design would be wrong anyways.”
The unit boasts a patent-pending palm sensor that recognizes the user and facilitates parental controls.
Inside, there’s Wi-Fi and an 802.15.4 radio for 6LoWPAN (IPv6). Neither radio currently does anything except communicate with the Neeo hub, which is required. The company does say the 802.15.4 radio is “ready for Thread and ZigBee,” so it’s possible the unit will be able to stand alone in the future.
Neeo comes with a charger, and the company claims the remote “goes months without having to be recharged.”
The remote has no onboard IR transmitter. In fact, it can’t do anything at this time without “The Brain.” The Brain, however, doesn’t require a remote. You can use the Neeo app instead.
The hub is where the magic happen, spitting out commands and housing automation scenes, or “recipes.” Some of the recipes are built by Neeo on the fly, and others are configured by the user.
The puck features Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 (BLE) and Z-Wave, and includes a 360-degree IR blaster, with an output for an IR extender (included). Neeo’s extender broadcasts in 360 degrees, so you can have two locations to blast IR signals – perhaps one on a shelf by the television and one inside a cabinet for A/V gear. There’s an IR receiver as well for learning in codes (in the future).
The remote communicates to the Brain via the proprietary, energy-efficient Neeo Link protocol operating over 6LoWPAN (that 802.15.4 radio). If the remote is out of range of the Brain, then communications is over Wi-Fi, which consumes more power.
Also on the Brain is an HDMI port for CEC control, mostly “for future use” but Neeo has begun implementing the protocol for some devices.
Neeo says the system supports over 60,000 devices “out of the box.” Currently, however, the company doesn’t actually list any of the devices it’s compatible with.
One might think the website’s “Works with Neeo” tab would reveal a list of the most popular supported devices, including ones it deems smart or stupid (see sidebar, right).
Alas, one would be wrong. Instead, you have to enter your device into the “Does NEEO work with my device?” box to find the answer. Even then, you won’t learn exactly how the device communicates with Neeo — IR, Wi-Fi, BLE, Z-Wave, CEC? — and if it’s considered smart or stupid.
One poor guy is looking to add smart bulbs to his system, but there's no place to find which bulbs work well, somewhat, or not at all with Neeo: “The Works-with-Neeo section only helps if I allready know what device I own.”
Neeo does name a handful of popular brands like Sonos, Nest, Roku, Apple TV and Philips Hue, but many commenters speak unfavorably of the integrations.
“Philips Hue control is horrible,” a user reports, echoing the sentiment of many others. “I'm apparently only able to turn my lights on and off, or dim them.”
Neeo suggests voting for better Hue support, such as scene control and color selection.
Sonos integration is “useless,” writes another user, who proves it with a video of his ordeal. Elsewhere, a user shows another video of shoddy Sonos integration, and names six major bugs — a list supplemented by other users.
Native IP control is mostly non-existent, but you can vote for the feature here. It’s unclear which products work with Neeo via IP beyond Sonos, Philips Hue and Nest. A list would be nice.
The company does offer an SDK for IP integration, listing a few user-generated drivers for products such as Lutron Caseta, Lifx smart bulbs, Onkyo AVRs, Sony Bravia TVs and Belkin WeMo switches and Kodi.
Little seems to be written about Z-Wave integration, and which products and categories are supported. You can’t find any info on the Neeo website. Nothing comes up when you search for popular Z-Wave products in the “Works with Neeo” finder.
“It seems like the only way to know is by searching [via the Neeo app] when you go to add a device,” a user writes. “Annnnnd the Neeo app is useless unless you are on your home network.”
One user asks, “Is it really the goal that the configuration is done effectively by means of manual parameter ID Number of bytes and values? No GUI? No parameter, description and possible values in database/config?”
To which Neeo responds, “We would very much like to build up such a database. You are right, in the current early stage we have not yet built up this collection of data. This is nowhere available as far as I know, so we have to start building that up. This will take time though.”
Early Backers Review Neeo
By all accounts from backers and early reviewers, the Neeo hardware and packaging create an amazing first impression (comments edited for typos):
“Man do I love the presentation!” one backer wrote. “Beautiful box. The feeling of that paper/material is just slick.”
“The build quality is seriously astonishing,” another commented. “It’s so beautiful it might be worth it even if it didn’t do anything!”
Unfortunately, the software does not yet match the magnificence of the wrapper.
“First feeling: very good,” writes another Kickstarter backer. “Hardware: super nice. Software: some major features still are missing ….”
And from another: “As others have said, initial hardware impressions are very good, initial software impressions … a work in progress.”
For basic control, users seem to be pretty content. The same backer who loved the “beautiful box” writes, “Haven’t had time to test it fully, but within a few minutes I had my TV, Apple TV, receiver and Hue lights in one controller. Finally I could close the cabinet door and control everything with just one handheld device.”
For anything beyond the basics, though, the software still has a way to go, according to many users — especially power users — commenting both on Kickstarter and Neeo’s own forum Planet Neeo.
One of them posted, “I was so excited to finally unwrap my Neeo and packaging and hardware quality is amazing and better than I expected. After spending the weekend with it, I unfortunately have to conclude that there are too many things not working for me right now to really use Neeo.”
He goes on to express a litany of flaws, the least of which is scene control for Philips Hue. He complains about the lack of an IR transmitter on the remote, inability to troubleshoot device states if a macro goes awry (a la Harmony remote), poor UI that has soft buttons so close together it’s easy to hit the wrong one, inability to turn off the bright LED on the Brain if you want the room completely dark, inability to copy recipes, and several others.
He adds, “Especially advertised features like Hue and Sonos integration with such a bad current execution is a joke for me at this point.”
But he notes one glimmer of hope: “For now the only thing that really worked was the new implemented PS4 CEC control so it shows that there is potential.”
Similary, a user named Marshall lists a bunch of gripes (“ideas”), but does note, “The last firmware update really fixed the responsiveness of the IR commands, especially with multiple button presses,” suggesting Neeo is busily addressing user “ideas.”
Other users aren't as patient as Marshall and the others. An experienced integrator who backed the product on Kickstarter tells me, “I did the unboxing and set-up of the Neeo today. I’m ready to send it back to them I am so frustrated.”
When I asked if the product was “too buggy to ship,” he responded: “It’s not buggy, it is just not well thought out. I can’t see an average user setting it up, and the UX is not as good as the others on the market.”
He added, “Harmony has nothing to worry about with these guys.”
Another experienced integrator, Kris Hogg, had more positive things to say about the system – as long as you understand it is designed for everyday users, with uncomplicated systems, and common demands.
“It's clear Neeo has been designed for a home user to get the maximum amount of functionality with the minimum of fuss, while configuring it themselves,” he says.
CE Pro will publish his review on Monday.