My Neeo is a major disappointment due to fundamental software Problems

Over the last decade I tested a dozen different universal remotes and all of them failed to provide a simple and “wife friendly” user experience. (Pick it up and use without any explanation.)  Then came the Neeo Kickstarter Project with a bold claim: to end all the hassle and to provide an easy to use remote for all equipment in the house.

Two years later it finally arrived in a stylish package. The hardware did not disappoint (except for the unlit buttons) but the software is (in my opinion) a major fail.

Abstract layers (recipes, rooms, explicit device screens) between the user and the hardware makes an intuitive usage impossible. It forces the user in to the logic of the developer instead of letting the user to decide what she/he wants to do with the hardware.

Let me explain what I mean using my self made remote which I created to bridge the long waiting time for my Neeo. (I included some images of the interface of my main remote and one picture of a small Nextion touchscreen display I use for certain interaction with my home server.) It’s not about the style or the look of the icons, it’s about the possibilities how to customize the user experience.

My smart home runs on FHEM which is a free smart-home control server application running on inexpensive hardware (RasberryPi for Example).

It can control nearly every device which you can think of in a smart home context, among them of course all the equipment around my TV.

Some of my multimedia equipment is network enabled and FHEM controls them directly without IR. The others are controlled through a Harmony Hub.

Harmony is like Neeo. It forces me to do things their (Logitech) way.

Fortunately I only have to define the equipment in the Harmony app, but nothing else. FHEM is then aware of the devices and I can get all available commands via the FHEM interface.

Here lies one major advantage over Neeo. Neeo’s database is incomplete regarding the functions of a device. For example it only provides the input names of my Samsung TV by number (Input1, Input2...Input15). The Harmony Hub supplies the real names (Input HDMI1, Input Component 1, etc).

As FHEM is server based, it can be used from everywhere, even from outside of the house regardless whether I’m in reach of my WLAN or not.

This might be considered uninteresting for a remote but we are no longer in the 1980s where a remote only had to control a TV and a VHS. Today's smart homes are far more complex and there is simply no room left for expensiv remote only gadgets. (Which the Neeo unfortunately currently is.) Therefor the Neeo’s brain should be able to become a control center for a smart home bridging all the different devices. 

Two important features of FHEM are dummy devices and Notifications. A Dummy can be a simple switch or it can have more complex readings. A Notify observes a device (or a dummy) and if there is a change in the device it executes user defined commands.

This way a “Recipe” can be easily created as a list of device commands (set TV ON; set SAT ON; set AMP ON etc.) started by a notify. Conditional statements and timing commands are also available and this way complex control tasks can be easily created as well.

One of the Extension to FHEM is the Tablet UI. It's a tile based interface for switches, sliders, images, charts, knobs and all sort of other interface entities.

The display of a user interface unit can be built up out of individual pages and each page is  divided in tiles. Just like Neeo with its rooms or device pages and the buttons on them.

The major difference is that one has the complete control over the content and the look of the pages.

Each individual page is a simple HTML file and the tiles within are simple CSS blocks describing the look and function of the widgets. Icons are vector based but images can also be used on certain types of widgets as button faces.

Everything is nicely documented with tons of examples. This way even inexperienced users can quickly create (or rather cut & paste) an interface without the need of any SDK or complex programming. To cater for the vast variety of smart home devices there are a lot of widget types to choose from. Buttons, rotary buttons, sliders, color wheels, input fields/lists and many more.

A TabletUI Wysiwyg editor for those who don't want to "write" HTML code is also available. (Something like this should be available for Neeo!)

Every device which can display a HTML page and accepts touch input can be used as an input device. In combination of a kiosk style browser and an orientation sensor aware tool (like Tasker on Android) a cheap tablet can become a proper remote control with "screen off" timer and “pick it up -> turn on screen” function. (Like Neeo.)

The user has direct access to the display and knobs (if the displaying unit has any hardware buttons) and can define them the way she/he wants.

There are no limitations to mix functions from different devices for the hardware buttons and no Starting Recipe Circles to masquerade lags.

I let my wife test my remote setup and then I refine it until she has no complains and can use it intuitively. She rejected to use the Neeo because of its unfriendly and complicated usage logic.

I’m sorry to say but Neeo has not fulfilled any of the “easy to use” and “simple to set up” claims which were made during the kickstarter promotion. The hardware is capable of a lot more but not with the current software. A cheap, used tablet and Harmony Hub with a free software running on a 30 Euro Raspberry Pi delivers a much more sophisticated user experience as the very expensive Neeo!
Of course on a 7” tablet I can display more content than on the small display of the Neeo but exactly that is the reason why the Neeo should provide me all customization options, so I can get the most out of the small display size and this without lags.

My Nextion Display (driven by a WeMos D1 Mini, connected through WiFi to FHEM) has a similar display size and it provides full customization and most of all instant execution of the user input without “Starting Recipes Circles” and waiting times.

Our Neeo is currently a 400 Euro paperweight. I still hope that one day it will become just as versatile and powerful as my home made remote. I'm afraid though that this will never happen with the current user interface philosophy. You can keep on tweaking it for years but this won't fix the fundamental design flaw. I have it for over a year now and altough I keep installing the new firmwares on it, I don't see any significant improvement. This is very sad as the project started out as a game changer and the hardware has much more potential in it.

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  • Patrick Jeff Raphael How many posts like this will be necessary for you to decide to communicate on the roadmap of software development?

    Our disappointment is due to delays in dev but also to the lack of visibility on what is or is not being implemented. You are doing a huge work on integration of protocols and devices but the UI remains terribly poor and misses customization.

    Until you release more drivers, packages and "intelligence" for the Neeo device, you must let the users customize the UI to build something usable. Current framework is really restrictive: some people prefer grouping by device or activity rather than per room, pages layout should be adjustable (why so small buttons or click zones on pages?), hard buttons should be assigned to functions, icons and buttons should be editable from a library.

    I hope this is taken into account in near upcoming updates.

    Reply Like 9
  • As I wrote in my first post, I'm not satisfied with my Neeo because the limitations imposed by the current software leave the power of the remote unused.
    Although the display is small, it would be still possible to control much more functions efficiently if the user interface would provide the necessary solutions.
    I'm not a UI designer but based on my experience with my self made remote, I have ideas how I would like to use my Neeo. It's my personal view and certainly not for everyone's taste but maybe it gives some input to the developers.

    I created a short video to show a UI concept which I have in mind for my Neeo.
    In my opinion the hardware is more than capable to drive such an interface.
    I would really like to see some significant development in this area...
    Please excuse the unprofessional presentation and the bad quality UI Images. Currently I simply don't have the time to do it properly.

    Reply Like 3
      • Geoff T
      • Geoff_T
      • yesterday
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      Steve Kozma That is superb. Something along those lines was what I was hoping for when I got my Neeo. The current reality is such a waste of the hardware. All remote manufacturers seem to suffer with the same sort of "you will organise things our way" mentality. I now have a Logitech Elite, and while I've managed to get it pretty usable now, you still need to find ways to work around their restrictive way of organising things. 

      Reply Like 1
    • Geoff T Thanks Geoff.🙂
      The whole situation around Neeo is sooo frustrating. Not just that they are so slow with the development but they just don't get it, that their system will be obsolete very soon.
      - Infrared control is on the way out. Half of my multimedia equipment is already network ready and the control over Wifi, Bluetooth or wired network is much faster than IR. I only buy new gear if I can control it via network. So the IR function of the Brain is no longer important (for me at least) and can be actually much better done by the Harmony Hub. (Faster and more reliable as the Brain).
      - Smart home control is getting more and more complex as there are so many standards and so many companies. Most people don't care that many of the new smart home equipment is tied to some cloud in the internet. This will be more and more of a concern in the future because of data leaks and the concern of loosing control of very personal data. (Cameras in TVs, MICs in "Assistants", etc.)
      I personally keep everything inside my LAN so I need a smart home server (in my case FHEM) which is capable of keeping all the gear connected and powerful enough to run a database for logging and plotting values and so on. The Brain will never be able to support all the hardware variations (the development team is too small for that), it is not powerful enough and it is actually an unnecessary duplicate of a server (with all the hassle of setting up the devices).  
      In the future many people will use some sort of a home server (be it local running on a router or cloud based like Alexa, Google Home, etc.) so there is no need for another one (the Brain).

      To use the Neeo Remote the way I envisioned it in my video would only require a simple firmware for the Neeo Remote with a handful of functions:

      - Wifi Connection management (an ESP8266 board does that with ease for 3 $!)
      - Battery loading and maintenance 
      - Driver for the touch screen
      - Driver for the buttons 
      - A small web browser capable of displaying simple HTML pages with swipe support.

      Everything else (delivering the pages to the display and processing the input) could be done by the smart home server. A good developer writes such a firmware in a weekend.


      I can't even imagine how Neeo wants to deal with the PRO users... Those installation professionals have much more complex requirements as we have and they have far less time to wait for a solution. The development team was not even able to provide an out of the box, seamless, basic functionality in 3 years so how they want to provide fast solutions for PROs?
      I don't want to see Neeo fail and disappear but in my opinion they are not very well set up for the future. 

      Reply Like
    • Steve Kozma Awesome concept!

      Reply Like 1
      • Fonzo
      • Fonzo
      • yesterday
      • 2
      • Reported - view

      Steve Kozma 

      To use the Neeo Remote the way I envisioned it in my video would only require a simple firmware for the Neeo Remote with a handful of functions:

      - Wifi Connection management (an ESP8266 board does that with ease for 3 $!)
      - Battery loading and maintenance
      - Driver for the touch screen
      - Driver for the buttons
      - A small web browser capable of displaying simple HTML pages with swipe support.

      Theoretically, NEEO could control much more of the hardware like Zigbee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth. Important would be that things like Bluetooth or Zigbee are useable at all. You do not need drivers for the touch screen or for the hardware buttons. You can react in an external home automation system to any key that is pressed on the NEEO.

      The only thing that would be missing to implement the things that you would like to do would be the option to call an HTML page on the touch screen as the start page of the NEEO remote. Then every integrator or user could build his surface completely arbitrarily and thus control what he wants. Also, the cumbersome writing of drivers would be eliminated because other systems have long been able to control all devices over the network, the only thing missing would be an HTML surface as you built yourself, which the NEEO Remote can display on the remote display.

      Then the eternal waiting for NEEO would come to an end and one could design freely or use a color picker and is not limited to the limited design possibilities of the SDK.

      Reply Like 2
    • Fonzo Yes, a couple of small changes to the Brain would allow that (although with an unnecessary overhead caused by the Brain).
      Unfortunately, what I see is that Neeo is so much focused on the Brain and trying to implement server side things (things that other server solutions already implemented much better) that they don't have the time to take care of the interface. Currently the interface is on a dead end track (for me). There is so much "hard coded" usage method in it, that it's not possible to tweak it any other way. Hard coded hardware buttons are the prime example here.
      I also don't like the idea that the Remote is completely dependent on the Brain. (Needs to be on the same Wlan etc.).
      Being able to use only the remote (with a 3rd party server) and optionally use the Brain as a "semi dumb" IR device would be a much faster user experience. Both in terms of setup and daily usage. (There is a video on Youtube where the scrolling speed of the Neeo is compared to a bluetooth remote. Going trough the Brain and IR insted of the direct route is so much slower.)
      In my opinion, programming such a "semi PRO" firmware would be a relatively simple task and could be done quickly but it would make a lot of people very happy.
      The normal user could still use the official firmware to use the Neeo as originally intended and the real PRO could offload some tasks to Brain if it's needed. 

      Reply Like 1
    • Steve Kozma have a look at openHAB. The NEEO integration let you do most things you want. Custom put together your own “devices”, advanced logic etc. The Homey intergration I’ve built does almost the same but OpenHab is free and homey is a commercial product. (My App is free as in beer)

      I’m controlling every device in our home that has an API or working with zwave, zigbee, ir, 433mhz, 868mhz. All possible because of my homey integration and the same goes for the OpenHab integration. Both intergrations use the NEEO SDK API’s. This way a user can build a SDK driver with just a few clicks in a GUI and without the need for advanced technical skills.

      maybe OpenHab is what you’re looking for. Might be worth to try.

      Reply Like
      • Fonzo
      • Fonzo
      • 8 hrs ago
      • 1
      • Reported - view

      Niels de Klerk  I do not believe that openHAB here is a solution as FHEM is older than openHAB and can control as many devices. The problem is rather the user interface from the SDK and the possibilities of the SDK and there it makes no difference if this is now FHEM or openHAB or any other system, the possibilities are limited by NEEO and not by the external systems. As long as I can not use HTML pages this makes no difference. And even a color picker cannot be used, that is not dependent on the target system but of what is possible at the moment to display on the NEEO screen. Even font size and appearance cannot be adjusted or change icons to individual icons. All of this is completely independent of the external system, but ultimately can only be improved by NEEO or possibilities are created that can also be used by external systems to create appealing user interfaces.

      Reply Like 1
    • Fonzo I think you don’t fully understood what I meant. OpenHab has a full NEEO integration. This opens up a lot of missing features and allows customization. Changing what a hard button does or what soft buttons are exposed etc etc.

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      • Fonzo
      • Fonzo
      • 7 hrs ago
      • 1
      • Reported - view

      Niels de Klerk Yes you can write your own driver, certainly many developers would start if only the possibilities were not so limited. FHEM were also the first to integrate a Harmony properly. So if the need is there, the FHEM users would certainly do that for the NEEO as well. The problem that one has is the design possibilities for a useful user interface that just meets the demands of the customer and not the way of thinking about how NEEO imagines a user interface. For example, lamps can not put on the home screen and you can only use lamps in recipes and thus each time this circle is displayed or you can not just place a slider somehow, which makes it at the moment quite unattractive to invest time in development from external systems. If the external system has a better user interface and the only difference are the hardware buttons of the NEEO remote, it is also little incentive to even connect NEEO to external systems. But if the NEEO Pro should not become a storekeeper, each integrator will insist that there are more customization options, because that's exactly what a customer demands from an integrator.

      The most important, above all, would be that NEEO ever even builds the things for which the device has been designed and advertised, namely the control of modern AV devices, for the control of these devices support of Bluetooth is essential.

      Reply Like 1
      • Fonzo
      • Fonzo
      • 1 hr ago
      • Reported - view

      Niels de Klerk It is more about building a nice uI for the neeo display for example

      https://www.designyourway.net/blog/inspiration/media-players-in-mobile-user-interfaces-37-examples/

      https://www.pinterest.de/pin/328199891579485908/

      http://www.designtory.net/free-psd/free-musicapp-ui-kit/

      https://psdfreebies.com/psd/music-media-player-app-interface-free-psd/

      if more possibilities are given to be able to display a corresponding ui on the NEEO display for a developer or integrator, then one or the other professional system would also be connected to neeo

      Reply Like
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