“For Savant smart home control, there is no better remote.”
- Beautiful aluminum design
- Large touchscreen
- Solid buttons with satisfying click/feel
- Faster response time
- Two programmable buttons
- Requires frequent recharging
- No DVR button
Smart home tech is everywhere. Once an emerging tech sector, there are now more brands, ecosystems. and A.I. integrations than you can shake a stick at. This is great news for DIYers, but bad news for big smart home integrators who must now move quickly to make sure their systems are compatible with all these new brands and devices, all while staying relevant to consumers.
If you have decided to make the jump to a professional, integrated smart home system, I have found that there are really only three major brands to consider: Control4, which has the most third-party partners in the space; Crestron, the old favorite of installers, which has proven to be very reliable, but has fewer cutting-edge third-party partners; and the new favorite, Savant, which is rapidly gaining popularity among installers thanks to an emphasis on having a beautiful interface and hardware design, along with a growing list of third-party partners in the space.
A couple of years ago, we decided to test two of these systems in a couple of Digital Trends “test homes,” which included my own personal home (how convenient, I know). I chose to go with Savant for my home because I was naturally drawn to the beauty and simplicity of its user interface, and I love the elegant design of the hardware. With Savant, you have the option to use your own tablet or phone to operate Savant software, or one of several Savant devices like the Savant Touch, wall keypads, or remote controls — you can even use Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa for controlling basic scenes.
Of all those options, I personally prefer using a remote control to access the system. Unlike my phone, remotes provide dedicated buttons and greater ease of use.
When compared to the larger remote controls from Control4 or Crestron, it was clear I would be forgoing interface functionality for a more minimalistic hardware design; I would have to use my tablet or phone to access more in-depth settings and features of the system. This is something you must think about when you decide to opt for Savant. The system is simple to use, but if you want custom, detailed settings and access, it might not be for you.
For me to be able to use the Savant Pro Remote X2, I had to upgrade my host software to Savant 9.3.2. If you have an older Savant OS, be ready to spend even more money to upgrade your system so you can use the latest hardware and software functionality.
Here’s a list of the equipment associated with this setup:
- TiVo Bolt DVR with Comcast Cable card access (I would not recommend a TiVo setup, as I have not been happy with it)
- Two TiVo Mini’s connected to the primary bolt
- Apple TV
- Roku TV
- Sony PlayStation 4
- Microsoft Xbox One X
- Two Sony Blu-ray players
- Three Savant music servers
- Two Savant door stations
- Amazon Alexa Dots/Echo
- Luma camera system with SNAP NVR servers
Savant has opted to simplify its system interface as much as possible – that is its value proposition and why you might choose it over its competitors. Controlling the whole system is its beautiful hardware, with the Savant Pro Remote X2 being its flagship interface. From a design perspective, I think both the older and new remotes are equally attractive to look at — they both have large, beautiful color displays, and I like how they stand up in their “cradle” docking stations. I do not think that one design is particularly more attractive than the other, but they are significantly different.
What I like about the older, first-generation remote control is its matte black rubber finish and its unconventional design — it’s wide at the base and narrower up top – which lends more of an artistic feel to it that separates it from any other remote control on the market. I also enjoy its large display size and that it operates like a TV remote control first and a smart home remote second.
Unfortunately, there’s a laundry list of things that I do not care for with the old remote control. Its mushy buttons do not have a tactile click to them, and force you to sometimes push the buttons multiple times before the system registers the action. The rubber cover on the remote started to peel off twice, forcing me to leverage the warranty twice to get them replaced. The old flagship remote also felt very slow, often showing a delay with the devices you wanted to control (my understanding is that the base of the old remote is what is connected to the system, and the remote control had to communicate with the base, which then communicated with the host — not efficient at all). The remote’s battery life was poor as well. I found that I was lucky to eke out two days of use before having to put it back in its charging cradle. Finally, the remote would on occasion lose its connection to the host, forcing a long wait as it attempted to reconnect.
The new remote control feels slightly heavier due to its aluminum housing, and that’s a good thing. You can also get the new remote in three different colors so it can match your home décor: Rose Gold ($1,200, Jet Black ($1,200), or Space Gray ($850). The X2 base station is very heavy and solid, and it uses a magnetic docking bay to hold the remote in tightly while it is standing. This gives the remote and the dock a very commanding presence, with a beautiful design that is shouting to be seen.
Savant set out to fix the issues from the previous remote with its new Savant Pro Remote X2, and from what I can tell, it has accomplished that mission. The X2 is longer and sleeker, with an all-aluminum design, while still maintaining the same large display. The buttons now have a solid click/feel and the button layout now includes new PG+ and PG- buttons for your device guides. There are also two buttons that can be custom programmed, or you can use one of the buttons to quickly activate a scene that you have already set up. What is missing, though, is the DVR button, which I used a lot on the old remote control. You will need to program one of the unnamed buttons to give you direct access to your DVR guide if that is as important to you as it is to me.
Keeping up with other remote controls in the market, the X2 has Siri Voice Control with Apple TV built in. It works if you know how to use Siri, but it is a pain in the butt if you do not take the time to learn Siri. Ditto that for Alexa or any other A.I.-controlled hardware or software. Do yourself a favor and take the time to learn how to use this feature.
In my tests, I found that the new Savant Pro Remote X2 is considerably faster at accessing my TV and other devices; the lag I used to experience seems to be gone altogether. I did notice that when I was setting up the new remote and introducing it to the system, I didn’t need to connect the charging station to the system but, rather, the remote control connects to the system directly using Wi-Fi, making setup that much simpler – this probably also explains the lack of delay. The Savant REM-1000 (BLE) remote, which came bundled with my host, for example, must still connect through the docking station and is noticeably slower.
Switching between different features like controlling a camera system and accessing a music server is intuitive — I only found myself getting lost on occasion, usually when I was bouncing between too many screens. Where I found the remote really excelled over the previous remote is with controlling equipment using an IR repeater. With the previous-generation remote, the lag here was unbearable to me. Controlling my Apple TV or Roku TV is now very easy and intuitive with buttons like “Menu,” “Info,” and “Guide” mapping over perfectly.
Not all is perfect with the Savant X2 remote. I am using a TiVo DVR setup for my home, and I wish that I had either stuck with Comcast or explored other options. Sometimes my TiVo equipment takes a while to come out of sleep mode, which causes my Savant system to timeout and the TV to go blank, for example. The workaround is to restart the scene activation. The good news is that this only appears to happen when I have not been using TiVo for a while. Is it the remote’s fault? Or the Savant system? Or TiVo? Not sure, and every technician I ask answers that question differently. Update 12/30/2020: Savant’s rep said that I should be able to go into the Tivo settings and adjust the sleep timing so that this does not happen. You can also have your integrator set a custom “trigger” that fires a couple menu commands to wake up the unit. Problem solved.
Battery life is still not fantastic. I would say you are lucky to get 2.5 days of use tops before you must dock the remote for a recharge. If you are like me and you migrated from a regular consumer system with two AA batteries that lasted six months to a fancy remote like this with a color display, you should set your expectations accordingly. This remote is basically a small PC with a display on it, and that takes up battery juice. Couple that with a battery icon that is not on the main display, but rather in a subscreen, and you quickly forget to check your battery life on the X2, so have your phone handy as a backup control unit. One of the things you can do is adjust the “wake” sensitivity settings and the time it will turn off the display. Both of these settings should be able to help you save on battery life, although I still found the X2 too sensitive on the lowest setting; if the remote is sitting on a sofa cushion and a dog jumps up on the sofa, the screen comes back to life!
I am a big car fan, and one of the things I’ve always found funny is how some people complain about a luxury car not having saved memory presets for the passenger seats — yet even when they are there saved, hardly anyone uses them. The same can be true for remotes like the Savant Pro Remote X2. It supports multiple user profiles where you can save your channels and favorite scenes and you can control multiple rooms with it. I spent a lot of time setting up profiles, scenes, etc., for the family, but in truth, they hardly remember to change profiles. And unless you have a family of engineers that can appreciate these added features, my recommendation is to make the primary profile (yours?) as compatible as possible with everyone else in your family. Add your partner’s and children’s favorite channels to the remote, for example, and you’ll probably be good to go.
While controlling multiple rooms with a single remote is a cool idea in concept, I would recommend either getting custom scene light switches from Lutron installed, or using a tablet or your phone for rooms that are not getting a lot of use. Otherwise, you are going to be walking around with a remote control in your pocket, and that is going to frustrate the other users in your household. Savant has recently come out with their own custom lighting solution to compete with Lutron, and which comes with a number of cool options like WRGB full color, tunable LED and even a special Daylight Mode which syncs with your circadian rhythm. I’d recommend considering the Savant lighting product this when planning your smart home design, so you can compare them with others in the market.
If you are purchasing a new Savant System for your home and contemplating on whether to add the Pro Remote X2 or whether you want to use your phone/tablet for the controls, do yourself a favor and buy the remote. It is not cheap, but it’s dead simple to use and looks gorgeous.
If, on the other hand, you have a previous-generation Savant remote control, you probably do not need to upgrade unless you have money to burn and are tired of the slow lag — something I can’t stand. Keep in mind that you’ll need to upgrade your host software to make the X2 work, and that adds to the cost even more.
Is there a better alternative?
For a Savant system, outside of your own phone and other Savant remote controls, there really is not another option out there.
How long will it last?
Based on a couple of months’ use, I would say that the aluminum design is sturdy enough to last. The buttons on the X2 remote are generic enough that they should be universal for any new equipment you add to the system. At the same time, the remote does not have any super-specific buttons dedicated to Savant OS 9 — meaning the designers intended this remote to be used for a long time. Savant gives the Pro Remote X2 a two-year warranty, which is better than the industry average for a product of this type.
Should you buy it?
You have already spent a lot of money on a Savant system, so go for it. Not doing so is like buying a Porsche without a proper steering wheel — you need it to get peak performance.
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