Hands on: Philips uWand review

24th Sep 2009 | 12:00

Hands on: Philips uWand review

Remote gives you Windows 7 touch gestures from across the room

The uWand gesture remote control

The more features set-top boxes and entertainment systems get, the more buttons you need on your remote control.

Touch gestures are much more intuitive than remotes crammed with functions and buttons, but you don't want to sit that close to your TV - and you don't want greasy fingers all over the screen.

Previous attempts to add gestures to remote controls, like the Logitech Air mouse and Linksys's abortive 'ring' controller used accelerometers that proved expensive or unreliable.

The uWand prototype that Philips has developed is much simpler; it's the size of a normal remote control but has only three buttons; OK, Back and Home (leaving plenty of room for the embedded infrared camera and RF transmitter, plus two AA batteries that will drive the uWand for a promised six months).

Philips uwand

WAND: The prototype uWand remote control from Philips; final devices may not look the same

Philips uwand

MINIMALIST:The three buttons are enough to control most interfaces

It only needs three buttons because you use it to drive an on-screen cursor, as you would with a mouse. Unlike a mouse, though, the cursor goes where you're pointing.

You don't have to find the cursor and work out how to drag it around - you just point the uWand at what you want to select on screen and the cursor appears there. That also means the cursor doesn't jump around when you put the remote down.

Philips uwand

SIDE ON:The prototype is the size of a standard remote control and has three AA batteries; shipping devices will only need two

Using the uWand gesture remote control

In use, we found the positioning was accurate and easy to do and selecting and dragging with the OK button are both completely intuitive too, but the gestures make it more powerful.

Use a uWand with Windows 7 and you'll get the two key touch gestures – rotate and zoom. Rotate is easy; you point at a picture (we tried this out with Cyberlink'sPowerCinema 7 software, which is optimised to work with the uWand) and the cursor changes when you're over it. Hold down the home button and twist the uWand and the picture rotates to match.

Philips uwand

POINT TO START: Point at an image in PowerCinema and the cursor changes, showing that you can drag or start a gesture

To zoom in, you hold down the home button and pull the uWand towards you. This takes a little more getting used to and the temptation is to hold the remote out and make exaggerated movements but it works much better if you sit down, lean back and hold it like a normal remote control.

Philips uwand

QUICK MOVE:We've just dragged an image down to make it part of a slideshow; try doing that with a traditional remote control

The Windows 7 interface – especially the Media Center interface – is easier to use with touch gestures than previous versions of Windows.

You'll be able to play the Windows 7 Touch Pack games with a uWand, which will be fun on a large-screen TV. But once you start using applications, many controls and buttons are too small to use comfortably with a finger or the uWand.

More touch-aware software will come out when Windows 7 arrives; Corel's recent Digital Studio 2010 software has large buttons designed to be used with touch that would work well with the uWand.

Cyberlink will be bringing out a new version of PowerCinema later this year or early in 2010 with larger controls designed for touch, bundled with a uWand and optimised for the expected 'nettop' PCs designed to plug into TVs.

Buying a uWand

Philips isn't suggesting how much uWand devices might cost because it won't be selling the uWand itself; it's licencing the software to OEMs, including one partner who is making a Media Center remote control – complete with the all-important green button.

That device will probably come with new PCs, but another partner plans to offer a uWand control you can use with any PC by plugging in a small receiver.

Intel is another partner; uWand will work with the Widget Channel that Intel and Yahoo are putting onto TVs, DVD players and set-top boxes to offer internet widgets like Flickr photos and weather updates – assuming the hardware manufacturer builds in the receiver.

How popular the uWand proves to be will definitely depend on the price, as well as how much software gets an interface that works for touch. But it's far less fiddly than most mouse replacements aimed at the big-screen, ten-foot experience and we'd be delighted to see it bundled with an entertainment PC.

Philips uwand

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