I am still amazed every time I see a speaker, who obviously delivers presentations on a regular basis, standing up without a remote in their hand. I’ve written about this before I’ll do a post shortly on the reasons why you MUST HAVE one of these little gizmos; but for now let’s look at the models that are out there and assess their overall value.
The two major players in this space are Kensington and Logitech and all of their remotes work with both Windows and Macs, without the need for any drivers or patches, and all of them operate fine with both PowerPoint (03, 07 and 10) and Keynote 09. I noticed that a couple of them didn’t give the ‘black screen’ option under Keynote, but I’ll address that in the individual items.
Let me preface my reviews by saying a few things:
  1. The ‘feel’ of a remote in your hand is a very personal thing. Some people like something big and chunky to grip firmly as they speak; others prefer something very light and slim to do the job. Likewise buttons – some people prefer a solid button with a strong ‘click’ feedback when you press it, others prefer a silent, subtle feel to their buttons. I’m going to express my thoughts on the basis of client feedback and personal preferences.
  2. Laser pointers are built in to the majority of these remotes. That is not necessarily a good thing. The vast majority of presenters who rely on a laser do so with an unbraced hand and the resultant dot on the screen is a wavy, jerky nuisance to the audience. At Fortify, we teach our clients to anticipate where you might want to point out something and then build a ‘callout’ into the presentation. Our recommendation is that if you must use the laser, use it sparingly (no more than 2-3 times in a 30 minute talk) and learn to brace your elbow against your ribs and hold your breath as you hit the magic button.
  3. The forward button on all the remotes I’ve tested is the equivalent of hitting ‘Page Down’ on your keyboard – which means that none of them will start an element (e.g. a video) on your slide that requires a ‘click’ to start. You will have to go back to the keyboard for that moment.
  4. I have not reviewed mouse-remote combo products – just remotes. If you are an academic or a creative who requires annotation on the move while you present, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
  5. I’m making the assumption that if you read a blog like this one you are (a) really interested in presenting well and (b) probably present fairly often. You may already own a presenter remote, or have just stepped up to the level where such an item has become a real necessity. Here’s what’s on offer at the time of writing:
Logitech R-R0001 (list price varies, mine cost €90.00)
Get one while you still can – this is the best remote out there by a long mile. Lovely feel in the hand, intelligent button placement, great features.
  • Buttons/Features: Forward, Back, Blank Screen, F5 to start your preso (doesn’t work on all computers or software versions). Power switch. Timer with LCD screen. Vibrating feedback on timer. Volume control.
  • Pros: Nice feel and comfort for long use in either hands. Small enough that it doesn’t interfere with gesturing or get noticed by audiences as you talk. The tapered shape feels a little odd at first, but again allows for variation in grip – I switch from gripping with my ring and pinkie to gripping with my thumb and forefinger as I fiddle and fidget quite a bit with my hands when I present. The addition of the timer was a very clever move by Logitech; you can set it to your presentation duration in 5-minute increments and it gives you visual and vibrating feedback of the time remaining. The volume control is simply the icing on the cake for this remote.
  • Cons: Not available from Logitech any more – try Amazon.com and Ebay. Other than that, none really. At a stretch, the forward-and-back rocker switch may have too ‘clicky’ an action for those who like their buttons subtle and silent.
Kensington Wireless Presenter (list price €39.99)
This is a small, but solid remote, with a nice soft action to the buttons. This version doesn’t come with a built-in laser pointer. Kensington sell the same physical model with a laser and 1GB of memory built into the receiver for €70.
  • Buttons/Features: Forward, Back, Blank Screen, F5 (same caveat as above). No power switch, but the USB receiver seems to shut off the remote when it is in place, so it may provide that function.
  • Pros: Light but a nice solid feel. Comfortable in both hands – as with any remote, you need to find your ‘home’ position for your hand so your thumb can rest comfortably on the advance button. Its shape means you can also choose to grip around the bulbous end or the skinnier ‘waist’ of the remote.
  • Cons: Short on features (see above), but a good workhorse remote for the money.
Logitech R400 (list price €39.99)
Longer and slimmer than the equivalent-priced Kensington, with a very different feel in the hand. I found that I could operate this remote most comfortably using my left hand, which I didn’t like.
  • Buttons/Features: Forward, Back, Blank Screen (jumps your preso out of screenshow in Keynote – but you can fix this with a little fiddling in System Preferences), F5 (same problem in Keynote). Separate power switch. Battery level indicator.
  • Pros: A nice feel in the hand – good heft and solidity. Very nice button feel.
  • Cons: I didn’t like the feeling in its ‘home’ position in my right hand with extended use. I had to twist it, so it didn’t really feel bedded-down in my hand. Also, a nit-pick – it’s too long. Too much of the remote protruded from my hand during use. The ‘screen’ doesn’t tell you anything beyond battery life, so there’s no reason or need for this.
Kensington Presenter Pro (list price €69.99)
Big but light, with widely-spaced buttons. I have to say I do not like this remote – not on first sight and very much not after usage. It’s not light, it’s flimsy. The USB receiver feels like it’s made of eggshells; the battery cover keeps popping open in my hand because it’s so bendy and the catch is not strong enough, plus the buttons have a cheap-and-nasty feel to them too.
  • Buttons/Features: Forward, Back, Blank Screen, Power switch.
  • Pros: It does what it says on the tin – it works. Redeeming features are that the range of the device is very impressive – handy if you habitually present in large arenas. Also the built-in laser is green. Facetiously, that makes you feel like Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi. Practically, the green is lovely to look at and really, really hi-viz.
  • Cons: Too big for my liking. Crappy feel from crappy components and it’s light on features for the money. Premium price for a cheap-and-nasty product – categorically not worth your time or money. Oh! And did I forget to mention that you can upgrade it with 2GB of Micro-SD memory for just another €30? What a bargain! [To be fair, the €30 gets you an SD reader in the USB receiver and it comes with a 2GB chip, upgradeable to 32GB] 
Logitech R800 (list price €79.99)
Similar in shape to the R400, with added features, but also with the same problem in my hand – I felt more comfortable using it left-handed.
  • Buttons/Features: Forward, Back, Blank Screen (problems with Keynote, fixable with System Preferences), F5 (same Keynote problem), Power switch. The 800 also has an LCD screen with battery life, signal strength and timer.
  • Pros: Very nicely made, with nice button feel. The timer operates in increments of 1 minute, rather than 5, so it’s even more useful. It has the same vibrate alert as you come close to your end-time too. It also has a whiny-guy-from-Star-Wars-green laser which, kidding aside, is truly bright. [I actually got an “ooh!” from an audience of techies when I lit it up] Not an important feature for me, as I’ve said, but if you’re going to have a steenking laser, it might as well be a pretty one.
  • Cons: Again, too physically long for my liking – there must be 2cm of remote sticking out of my hand. And again, the ‘home’ position doesn’t feel quite right (more noticeable after long use) – it’s not as bad as the 400, as you can slide your index finger further up it to support, but it wouldn’t be my remote of choice. Also, Logitech dropped the volume control from this, their premium product, which is a real loss for me.
For those die-hards who are interested, Mr Steven Jobs used to use the PerfectCue Mini – a steal at $630.00. I’ve experimented with various phones as remotes or back-ups over the years, including the iPhone, as I present nearly all the time using Keynote on a Mac; but I just find phones too big and restrictive. They capture your hand(s) and you find yourself looking down at them all the time. The iPad doesn’t allow for very expressive presenting either, plus the output res is still too low to be of use outside of a small meeting room or classroom environment. [This may well be fixed with the release of the iPad 3 in the Spring]. 
Bottom line – 90% of what you want your remote to do is to simply advance your slides. Find the one that does that comfortably, consistently and within your price bracket. If you get more adventurous with your presentations as time goes on, you will inevitably find yourself shopping around for more features in your remote. Be clear about what you need and shop with that in mind. Personally, I can’t wait for a purple laser pointer like Samuel L Jackson’s lightsabre in Attack of the Clones