Sofabaton X1 Review – One Month Update
Update: I originally published my review of the Sofabaton X1 on April 12, 2022. I have returned, one month later, to give some updates and give my impressions after using it exclusively for a solid month. Scroll to the bottom for my one-month update.
So I am not going to lie; I was very disappointed when Logitech finally announced it was killing the Harmony line of remotes and hubs. Although they had teased killing it for years prior, we Audio Enthusiasts never thought this day would happen. Anywho, so here we are, and Harmony is no more. Enter the Sofabaton X1, the only hub-based remote on the market that anyone is talking about.
Like me, you probably started to search for used Harmony remotes to stockpile but quickly found that prices skyrocketed. I refuse to feed scalpers anything, so I decided to start searching for a new solution just in case my beloved Harmony chose to kick the bucket or Harmony (doubtful) suddenly cut support for the database.
Luckily Rob H from the AV Rant Podcast and I were chatting on Twitter, and we had both heard about Sofabaton dropping a Kickstarter to fund a new hub-based remote. The Sofabaon X1 promised a hub-based remote that supported IR, wi-fi, and Bluetooth, all a must in today’s home theater. It also had a handheld remote with an OLED screen, backlight, and an iOS and Android app. So, a couple of clicks later, we both backed it and eagerly awaited delivery.
After what seemed like an eternity, I finally was able to get my hands on my new Sofabaton X1, set it up and give it a real test to see how it fared against my beloved Harmony Ultimate. Will it be the new “must-have” remote? Let’s discuss!
What’s In The Box?
So I will be honest, I was not expecting a lot from a Kickstarter, but I was pretty impressed with the exterior and interior packaging. In the box were a well-packaged remote, the hub, a couple of IR blasters, two USB cables (one for charging the remote and one for the hub), a power brick, and instructions.
The instructions are the weakest piece here, and I am being generous. The instructions focus heavily on pairing the hub/remote and setting up the devices and activities. However, the instructions do not speak to the proper placement of the hub for correct use or how to connect and place IR blasters.
I find this troublesome because it assumes that everyone will intuitively know where to put the hub to reach your IR devices or where to place blasters. The FAQs do touch briefly on the use of the IR blasters, but I find it inadequate. Without belaboring the point, you are on your own if you need help with anything aside from programming the hub. Non-tech people who have no experience with hub-based remotes will struggle. If you are one of those people, be prepared to do a lot of Internet searches for guides and walk-throughs.
Sofabaton X1 Build Quality
The build quality of the Sofabaton X1 and hub is excellent. The remote feels solidly made, and the fit and finish are superb. I expected more gaps or imperfections in the finish for a first-gen remote. Honestly, the remote is as professional as any I’ve owned. Sofabaton covered the remote in a black matte finish that resisted marring and fingerprints.
The hub has a solid feel and build quality as well. It has a small indicator LED on the front. The back has power/IR blaster inputs and a push-button to initiate the pairing of the remote. I appreciate the simplicity of the design.
Sofabaton X1 Hub
The hub is the heart of the Sofabaton X1. The hub handles all the IR, wi-fi, and Bluetooth commands for your entire system. You heard me right; the remote is nothing but a wireless connection to your hub that gives you tactile buttons for essential functions and allows you to map your frequently used commands to a specific key.
I placed my hub on top of my AV rack in front of my Xbox Series X. I had no issues with it controlling any of my devices, so I didn’t have to connect the IR blasters. Had the blasters been necessary, it would have just been a matter of affixing them by the IR sensor of the device I needed to reach and then plugging it into the back of the hub. So I was pretty impressed with the Sofabaton X1 because my Harmony hub needed two blasters to control devices, not the Sofabaton!
The hub is also where you can teach the system to learn commands for devices not currently in the database. For example, when you need to “learn” a command, the Sofabaton will direct you to point the IR sensor of your device’s remote at the circular icon on the top of the hub and press the button for 3-5 seconds. I will be honest and say that I could not get this to work for me. I tried it with my LG B9 and my Pioneer Elite CD player and could not get either to register a command with the Sofabaton.
Editor’s Note: If you own a Harmony and have IR blasters on hand, they work with the Sofabaton X1. Just plug them into the back of the hub as you would on your Harmony.
The design of the Sofabaton X1 remote is relatively simple. On top of the remote is an off and return button. The return button allows you to toggle between Activities, Devices, and Set (should be Setup). Many people have complained that the Return button is too high, and you need to shift your grip to access it. I don’t mind it because I rarely need to access my devices, so I like not being able to press it accidentally.
The screen is a non-touch, 2″ color OLED. What does this mean for you? A clear and bright screen that won’t consume a ton of battery power, so you should be able to go a long time between charges. There are no options for brightness (yet), so it’s a one-size-fits-all solution. I do hope that Sofabaton will eventually give us options for this so we can dial it into our preference.
Just under the screen are a scroll wheel and D-Pad/select button. The scroll wheel has two functions. First, it navigates the on-screen menus and allows you to select by pressing on the wheel. Secondly (according to the manual), it will wake the remote and activate the backlight. The pronounced scroll wheel is easy to find, so the lack of an accelerometer to activate the backlight is not a deal-breaker. Any button press will wake the remote as well.
Under the scroll wheel are standard buttons for back, home, menu, volume, channel up/down, mute, and basic transport buttons. It’s rounded out by four programmable hotkeys that map to your chosen functions.
Absent is a numeric pad to allow you to input channels or other functions that may need numbers. I have been a cord-cutter for at least four years now, so this doesn’t bother me. But, I could see this being a deal-breaker for someone who uses the number pad for TV channel input vs. the on-screen menus.
Editor’s Note: One common complaint that didn’t really bother Andrew is that you have to wake up the remote with a button push. You can use the scroll wheel or any other button to wake it up. But it does mean that your first button press, no matter what it is, only wakes up the remote. If you are trying to turn the volume up or down or quickly pause a scene, you’ll have to press the button once to wake up the remote and a second time for the command. We hope that future firmware updates will allow the wake up button press and command to happen at the same time.
So the setup of the actual hub is a breeze. Download the app, place the hub, power it up, and follow the on-screen instructions. The Sofabaton X1 relies on WiFi and the app for setup and function. You have no option to hardwire the remote via USB and program it with your computer. You must use your phone and the app. After you enter your WiFi password and then pair your remote, you can begin to program devices.
So here is the biggest complaint I have with the Sofabaton X1. Configuration of devices is pure frustration! Like the Harmony, you enter your brand and model number. But, unlike the Harmony, the Sofabaton X1 does not offer suggestions if the model number is not correct. For example, I chose LG and then B9. Nothing, no hints. I had to enter the exact model number off of Amazon (OLED65B9PUA) before it would add it. And as I said above, learning functions is nigh impossible. Sofabaton has promised a firmware update to fix that.
Setting up Activities is also frustrating. The steps are straightforward. Select the devices, assign functions like what device controls volume, etc., and choose sources. Except, it didn’t work like that. I tried fixing the Activities, but nothing seemed to work. After deleting all my devices and activities and then redoing them, they seem to work. Eventually, I figured out the quirks with my settings, but I would assume that the novice would get frustrated quickly and give up.
I will say that setting your WiFi and Bluetooth devices with the Sofabaton X1 is the simplest I have encountered to date. It took me three tries and some Google-Fu to get my Nvidia Shield paired with my Harmony. With the X1 app, I selected the Nvidia Shield and then found the Sofabaton under the pairing menu on the Shield. Perfect the first time. Same with my Philips Hue. It found my Hub and connected it in 30 seconds. Unfortunately, it didn’t see all my lights. More on that later.
The app is both simple and frustrating at the same time. Once set up, it’s simple to use the app instead of the remote. The frustration lies with the setup process. But, I am confident that future updates will fix some of these bugs. To date, there have already been three firmware updates. I expect many more.
I have vowed to use only the Sofabaton X1 for the next month so that I can give it a test. So far, I like it. Once I had the Activities set up correctly, no issues arose. Devices started, and inputs switched correctly. I know that some people hate the fact that you have to wake the remote with a button press, but for me, I find that scrolling the wheel is an intuitive motion, so it’s a non-starter for me.
I didn’t have any issues with commands not being transmitted, and I haven’t noticed any significant lag from button press to device action. And early indications tell me I will probably get well over a month on a single charge with my use.
I do love that there is a “find my remote” function. Either use the app to ping your remote, or a single click of the pair button will activate the ping mode. Super useful!
It’s easy to jump on a company and slam it when you have a competent competitor already in the market space. But let’s not mince words here. Harmony was not perfect when they started. It took years of work and refinement to get the product they had.
I expect Sofabaton will follow the same trajectory. Right now, there is a lot broken. The promised Google Home, and Philips Hue integration is either non-existent (Google) or very raw (Hue). Users have reported lots of issues with Roku and other streaming boxes.
But I already see fixes rolling out.
The King is Dead! Long Live The…Prince? The Sofabaton X1 is NOT the heir apparent to the Harmony throne. It looks great, and the hardware is solid, but it lacks the pedigree of the Harmony.
All that said, I think that the Sofabaton X1 will get there. Enough was going right that I will keep it, and I will probably use it as my daily driver. While it lacks the ease of configuration of the Harmony, the bones are good.
But do I recommend it right now? That’s a tough one. If Sofabaton continues to refine its app and programming. If they listen to users and make changes based on our feedback…then yes, I think it will be a great remote.
But, I think that if you aren’t ready for that, you should wait and let us nerds work with Sofabaton and fix all the bugs. I am confident that Sofabaton sees the potential of this remote and will eventually solve the problems. Until then, maybe find a used Harmony and wait for Version 2.0!
One Month Later
So it’s been a whole month since I posted my review, and I have been using the Sofabaton X1 exclusively as my daily remote. So while I still don’t feel as if I am an expert with the remote, I can give you all a good sense of if it’s worth your cash. And if you don’t want to read the rest of the update, I will give you the skinny. I think Sofabaton will make this a great remote, and I recommend that you get one if you are willing to work with the shortcomings now for a great remote later. OK? Let’s discuss.
Sofabaton has kept its word and is working with users to fix issues as discovered. For example, I saw firmware and app updates last month, and they added settings on the remote, like a timer for the sleep and backlight modes, to change how long it remains lit before dimming. And that pesky bug where you had to press a button to wake the remote and a second time for the command? They fixed that!
I haven’t been very active on the Sofabaton forum, but I do check in from time to time, and I see lots of requests from users for additions to the database and responseS from Sofabaton saying they added the code. It seems that Sofabaton is committed to adding features and codes as requested.
They also have improved the IR remote learning function. I have not had any issues finding a code for my devices, but I tried to teach the Sofabaton X1 commands, which worked for me this time. However, learning commands is still not perfect, and it requires you to play with the remote positioning. But the Sofabaton X1 was able to learn them successfully.
Still Not Working
Ok, so the remote is still not perfect. I still don’t have any support for Google Home, and Philips Hue support is still nada. But, Sofabaton has explained that they are actively working on the solution, and they hope to have a fix in the coming months. So if Sofabaton can get Google Home integration working, I would be willing to unplug my Harmony Hub and move to the Sofabaton X1 full time! You heard me right. The Google Home integration is the last hurdle (for me) that Sofabaton needs to meet for me to be content with the remote as a whole.
I reported that my Sofabaton X1 could reach all of my devices without the IR blasters, which is mostly the case. However, if I open my curtains while cleaning and try to turn on my LG B9 with the hub, it struggles to turn it on. I am assuming it is something to do with the glare from the sun on my glossy speakers and TV. So this tells me that if you have the Sofabaton in a bright room, you might have the same issues. This could be true of other remotes as well. I didn’t notice it with my Harmony however.
Battery life is good, and I charged it once when I got it six weeks ago. But, as my editor pointed out, this is normal for new devices. However, I am still on one battery bar after six weeks. So even if I have to charge once per month, that’s pretty impressive.
Lastly, the remote is tough. I recently got a new puppy, and he has had my Sofabaton X1 in his mouth several times with nary a scratch. So I can confirm that the finish on the remote is tough as nails.
Our Take: Part Two
As I said earlier, Sofabaton seems committed to working the bugs out of this remote. It may take them a bit to get there, but I am confident they will get there. I used an early Harmony remote, and it was not good. It took Logitech years to get them to the polished form we all remember. If we (as users) hadn’t worked with Harmony and stuck with them, they would have folded a long time ago.
So if you need something more than the Sofabaton U1, but don’t want something as expensive as Control4, then the Sofabaton X1 is the best choice. So I think it’s 90% to where it needs to be. That may not be good enough for those looking for a plug-and-play solution…yet. For those enthusiasts that are willing to put in the time, this is about the only universal remote option left. And 90% is way better than 0%.