After the remote control was invented, everything started to come with one and we suddenly have a pile of controls, and the one that goes missing is always the one we need. Universal remotes are helpful but huge and sometimes confusing. Guess what? There's an app for that! If you have an Android phone, with the help of an app, you may be able to use your Android phone to control not only your TV, but also your cable box and other stereo equipment. However, the extent to which you can use your phone this way depends somewhat on the built-in capabilities of both your phone and your television.
How it Works
In 2013, Samsung, HTC, LG and Sony added an IR blaster to certain smartphone models, to send an infrared signal, the language of remote controls. You may not be able to see it. Some phones have the blaster hidden under the power button. With the right app, phones with IR blasters can be programmed to control the TV and other audiovisual equipment.8
Even earlier than 2013, Samsung, LG and others started selling smart TVs -- TVs with Wi-Fi capabilities. Again, with the right app, your phones and a smart TV can communicate either directly or through your Wi-Fi network.
Whatever the mechanism, finding an app that communicates with your TV and your satellite box can be tricky. Hundreds of TV remote apps exist now and finding the right one for your television and your cable or satellite box can be tricky. Before going cross-eyed sorting through them:
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If you have an IR Blaster on your phone, there will be a built-in remote control app, which are often quite good. You may not need to search further.
For WiFi control, go to your TV manufacturer's website to find apps made for your TV. Then, find the app recommended in the Play store.
Most apps walk you through the process of adding a device; quality apps are not difficult to set up for use.
Apps for Smart TVs
Smart TVs are easy to spot. When you buy them, the box is covered with information about how you can connect to YouTube and Netflix and other streaming services with just your TV. Smart TVs also have a main menu screen that reminds you more of your phone or tablet than any TV you've owned.
Smart TV apps are a little harder to spot in the Play Store. Go to your TV manufacturer's website first for mobile app recommendations. If the manufacturer's app doesn't control your cable or satellite box -- though most do have options for the major cable and satellite carriers -- then check your carrier's website for their app. Here are a few apps that use Wi-Fi. For additional apps, search the Play store with "Remote Control Wi-Fi":
Direct-TV's Remote Control app controls your DirecTV receiver, but not your TV.
Quick Remote TV Sideview by Sony has a handy program guide and also gives program suggestions based on your viewing habits, and it recently added support for LG televisions.
LG TV Remote is an impressive app. You can control multiple TVs, access apps, cast live TV to your phone screen, snap a picture from what you are watching. It even has a touchpad to control the pointer on the TV.
Apps for Phones with an Blasters
Peel's Smart Remote comes pre-installed on the Galaxy S5 but can be downloaded for any Android device. It's feature-packed, but the "coolest" feature is certainly the support for controlling your air conditioner.
Smart IR Remote - AnyMote, at time of publication, supports 800,000 devices; your TV is probably one of them. It's highly rated and if your device's remote isn't in the database, you can record buttons to create your own remote.
MyURemote is very costly but also very powerful. It uses IR commands and also commands over IP or RS232. This is the ultimate app to control both entertainment and home automation.
Other Tools to Control Your TV
If you do not yet have an Android Phone with IR capabilities and you prefer your TVs on the dumb side, there are still a few options:
Logitech's Harmony Smart Hub translates the signal from your device to one your TV and other devices understand, using both IR for your TV and cable-satellite box and Bluetooth signals to control your game console.
Blumoo does the same thing as the Harmony Smart Hub, except only sends out IR signals, no bluetooth. But it's also a little bit less expensive than the Harmony.
Chromecast and Roku can both plug right into a USB port on your Smart TV and is controlled by your phone through your Wi-Fi Network. This is not to control your TV for programming you already have, but allows you to stream Internet content through your TV, which you can control with an app on your Android phone. Roku combines the ability to stream content directly from the Internet with content that comes through your phone or tablet. Chromecast is simply "casting" what you watch on your phone or tablet to the television.