Updated

Caavo Control Center (May '19 update) review: The universal remote innovator stuffs its system with new features

Caavo has also chopped the price of its hardware, but increased the cost of its subscription—and the whole package still needs polish.

caavo universal remote control
Caavo
At a Glance

Less than a year after its initial—and highly successful—release, Caavo is updating its unique Control Center universal remote system with a bevy of new features, including its first mobile app. The Caavo hardware isn’t changing, and users of existing Caavo gear will be able to access all these new features via an over-the-air firmware download that should be drop today, May 1.

The changes are numerous and substantial enough that we’ve decided to publish our opinion of the revised product as a separate review. This will enable us to cover all the changes, as opposed to replacing our original review, which you’ll find here. It’s worth noting that the bottom-line score has not changed.

Here’s an in-depth look at what Caavo is rolling out, and how well these features work based on spending several days with the new Control Center firmware and the mobile app (which was in beta).

First, let’s look at the app. You’ll immediately notice that you can now use your phone as a universal remote for any Caavo device you’re logged into. The mobile app remote has roughly the same layout as Caavo’s physical remote, but it takes some getting used to and isn’t quite as intuitive. That said, for users who really want to minimize, who need “control the TV from anywhere” features, or who just want to have a second remote control, it’s a nice addition, especially at no extra cost.

cavvo app 1 Christopher Null / IDG

An integrated TV guide suggests a Yaphet Kotto marathon. Fun!

Family control features have been added to Caavo, and these are also accessible through the updated app. Here you can monitor a Caavo-connected television remotely, set permissions on what can be watched based on its rating, and even send a message that pops up on the remote TV.

In the beta version of the app, I found much of this to be hit and miss. The remote monitoring feature doesn’t exactly let you watch TV via your phone; it really amounts to getting a single still frame from the monitored TV on demand—and only one frame every 15 seconds or so. This only worked with streaming video in my testing; it didn’t work at all with a live cable TV feed.

A feature that lets you choose a movie on your phone and tell it to play on a Caavo-connected TV didn’t work, either—it just launched my Apple TV home screen rather than drilling down into the correct app and starting the show. And some of the more parental-oriented features didn’t work completely, either: A ratings filter only works with streaming content, not live programming delivered over cable TV.

I also found that when using the app, immaturity issues and other bugs often just got in the way of getting things done. Caavo’s universal search works great when interacting through the remote, but for some reason the app’s search system is half-baked. For example, searching for “party” didn’t find the film The Party, and searching for “fyre” didn’t find Netflix’s Fyre festival documentary—which is called Fyre.

Caavo full-screen user interface Caavo

Displaying a message that blocks your kids from seeing anything else on the screen will likely have more of an impact than yelling down the hall.

Voice search is built into the app, but it isn’t functional (at all) at present. The app also has a function that lets you create a universal viewing list of streaming titles, but you can’t import your existing watch lists from streaming services, which makes this a tedious process. I’m not interested in manually adding dozens of entries from my Netflix and Prime viewing lists just so I can have them both on one screen.

Caavo settings Christopher Null / IDG

A “Wellness Care” setting can alert you when an elderly person doesn’t turn on their TV, a break in routine that you might want to investigate.

Finally, the app is also extremely slow at times, regularly plaguing the user with its version of the hourglass “please wait” pop-up. Ultimately, I stopped using the app altogether and just relied on the standby remote and TV interface to get things done.

Unfortunately, in addition to all of that, I had some trouble throughout my testing with the new firmware running on the Caavo. The biggest problem I encountered was that, with the new firmware loaded, audio would stop playing altogether on my TV while watching streaming content. Invariably I would have to reboot the Caavo Control Center to get audio functioning again, typically once each day.

Caavo’s regular firmware updates over the last six months have gone a long way toward addressing nearly all the problems I mentioned in my original review, but this new update unfortunately erases much of that by introducing new hiccups into the system. Nonetheless, I’m hopeful that much of this will be resolved the same way that those earlier problems were fixed with over-the-air patches, but of course there’s no way to be sure.

Finally, perhaps the biggest change Caavo is making is to pricing. At launch, Caavo cost $99.95 for the box and $19.99 per year for a service plan. The new pricing is $59.95 up front for the hardware, plus $39.99 per year for service. (Optionally you can pay $3.99 by the month or $129.99 for a lifetime plan.)

caavo 3 Christopher Null / IDG

Pop-up notices like this one persisted until a restart.

It’s hard to say whether the new pricing model is an improvement, though my own preference is generally to avoid perpetual subscription plans. With that in mind, I will say that if Caavo wants anyone to pay double for its enhanced service offerings, it first better make sure they work perfectly.

At a Glance
  • The Caavo Control Center gets a lower price tag and a higher subscription fee, plus a whole lot of compelling new features, but only a few worked properly when this review was wrapped.

    Pros

    • Bugs aside, Caavo’s system is still incredibly intuitive and easy to learn
    • Ability to use mobile phone as a remote is a nice addition for some users
    • Some amazing setup tricks get some devices up and running in seconds
    • New features add Sonos control and TiVo integration

    Cons

    • New mobile app is positively crawling with bugs
    • New lower hardware price tag is more than offset by the higher subscription cost
    • Only four HDMI inputs, so it can't support very complex home entertainment systems
    • You'll need a separate subscription for each Caavo unit you deploy
  
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