Turn Dumb Remote-Controlled Devices into Smart Voice Controlled Ones, with Bond
A smart device with so much potential to unify traditional remote-controlled devices, but seriously let down arbitrary limitations and poor software.
Your house is probably full of remote controls for all manner of random electrical goods. Ceiling fans, blinds, those cheap plug sockets you bought in Walmart. What if I told you there was a way to upgrade your regular remote-controlled devices, into smart ones. It’s called the Bond, from Olibra. Is it worth the $99 asking price? Let’s find out I take a closer a look at programming and using the Bond; and at the end of this review, we’ve got one to giveaway to one lucky reader.
So What Does It Do?
The Bond is like a universal remote control, which then adds smart home capabilities on top. You can learn both infra-red and radio frequency (315 or 433Mhz) remotes, then control those via Google Home, Alexa, or IFTTT. Just look at this kid, he’s clearly blown away by these features:
Unfortunately, despite the promotional video promise of being able to control anything, the developers have currently limited it to ceiling fans and fireplaces, for seemingly arbitrary reasons. The hardware is capable of much more, as my testing showed.
Since I own neither a ceiling fan nor a remote-controlled fireplace, I tested the Bond with some lights, a cinema screen, some remote sockets, and had success with nearly all of them. The Bond learned the remote codes for on and off, and I was able to control them using the app, or with my voice through Google Home (albeit with all the devices being seen as fans, not switches).
Using the Bond
The box contents are sparse, consisting of the Bond, a micro-USB cable, and a power adaptor. Initial setup requires you to connect to the ad-hoc network broadcast by the Bond, then enter your own Wi-Fi details. The inclusion of Bluetooth would have made this process simpler, but I had no issues connecting to my dual-band Wi-Fi.
You add multiple Bonds to your account, with each Bond currently limited to a maximum of six devices. This also seems like an arbitrary limit; even the most basic of microcontrollers should be able to store far more devices than this in memory.
Adding a new device is simple, click the + button, then choose between Ceiling Fan, or Fireplace. I’m not sure why anyone would want to automate or remotely set fire to something in their home, but perhaps that’s my quaint British values. I’ve been raised to think you should be in the same room as a fire you intended to start.
You’re shown a screen of possible remote buttons–choose one. Then you enter learning mode. Just hit start on the app, then press the button on your remote corresponding to the button you selected in the app. With any luck, the Bond will flash green, and you’ve successfully learned that code. If you have issues, go back and enter the settings for the device, where you can manually select whether it should be looking for infra-red, or RF.
If the button was successfully detected, you’ll enter the testing state to see if it works. Then you can continue. The Bond app will now go off and consult its library of existing remotes to try and match yours. If it does find a match, then great, you don’t need to program any further buttons, just accept the match. In my case, it matched to a known device, but was obviously incorrect since I wasn’t actually controlling a fireplace. You don’t need to manually program all the offered buttons, just the one your device has. In fact, I only used the on/off switch of the fireplace device type.
The process is much easier than it sounds, and I had no issues detecting RF or infra-red buttons during testing. The hardware seems quite reliable.
So Why Just Fireplaces and Ceiling Fans?
In theory, anything based on Radio Frequency or Infra-Red remotes should be supported, though the Bond app currently only allows for ceiling fans and fireplaces. Other products are promised in a future update, but if you all you want to do is turn something on and off again, you can fake it. Which is what I did since I don’t own either a ceiling fan or fireplace.
I tested the Bond with four different remote-controllers, and three of them worked fine :
- 433Mhz RF plug sockets. These are some simple remote-controlled power sockets that come in a pack of three or four for around $20. Dials on the back of the plug and sockets allow you to have four channels on four frequencies, though a single channel can be paired with multiple sockets at once. Each channel has a separate button for on and off, and the Bond had no issue learning the code.
- 433Mhz RF cinema screen. A basic remote with up, down, and stop buttons. The stop button isn’t actually needed though–pressing either of the other two buttons while it’s moving will have the same effect. Using on for down and off for up, I could control the screen movement from the Bond.
- Infra-red remote for LED Striplights. This was one of the common small remotes you get with any LED lights from China. Of course, I was limited to the on and off functions only, given the lack of lighting device type in the Bond software, but that worked as expected. The only hiccup I had was having to open advanced settings to tell it to look for infra-red rather than autodetect the remote type.
- 2.4Ghz RF ceiling light. This was an obscure remote that I wasn’t expecting to work, and sure enough, it didn’t. Decoding this protocol requires more complex hardware.
So as you can see, it definitely works with far more than just ceiling fans and fireplaces. But the software is arbitrarily limited to offering only those types. At the bare minimum, I’d expect a basic switch device, with on and off buttons. Everything else builds upon that: dimmers add percentages or brightnesses. Fans are just dimmers. Ceiling fans might have an additional switch for the lighting. It’s just bewildering why they’ve limited the choice, so I can only assume it’s intentional in order to keep their options open for future product releases or to avoid competing with similar products.
I was worried that the RF transmitters inside the Bond might be underpowered compared to the original remotes, designed perhaps to work in a single room only. My fears were entirely unfounded though. The signal permeates all over my house, enabling smart control of cheap RF plug sockets from a single Bond device.
This is actually better than Wi-Fi for me. If you’re a regular reader of mine, you’ll know I live in an old house with very thick stone walls that block Wi-Fi, and mean I need mesh repeaters for Z-Wave and Zigbee. But the lower frequencies of RF remotes aren’t affected. This makes the Bond not only more cost-effective than individual Wi-Fi smart plug sockets, but actually better.
Infra-red is more limited, but this is an issue of physics rather than the Bond. The device itself contains enough powerful IR emitters that placement won’t matter within the same room; it blasts out in every direction.
Should You Buy a Bond Smart Wi-Fi Ceiling Fan Remote Hub?
The lack of support for other devices is bewildering considering that the hardware is clearly capable of supporting generic functions of any remote. It’s a user interface issue rather than hardware limitation, as you can hack in support for simple devices like RF electrical sockets and other IR remotes just by pretending they’re a fireplace or fan. Hopefully, a future software update will increase the six device limit and add at least a basic switch type, at which point the Bond will be a fantastic value upgrade to make your dumb home devices into smart voice-controlled ones.
As long as you don’t mind Google or Alexa thinking all your remote-controlled devices are fans, you can absolutely make the Bond work for you. It’s a great value device that’s oozing potential, but just seems neglected by the creators.