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Android phones now have built-in TV remotes – but should you use them?

Android TV remote gif
(Image credit: Google)

Google has announced new TV remote software for its Android phone OS, with its fleet of Android mobile devices now coming with built-in TV control capability.

Android phones sporting Android 11 or above – say, the new Android 12 OS – will come with native TV controls that won't require users to download separate apps from the Google Play Store, and may make using a phone as a TV remote feel that little bit more accessible.

"Whether it’s under the couch cushions, behind your nightstand or in your refrigerator, TV remotes are often mysteriously lost," Google tells us. "And even when you finally find it, typing a password with a remote control can be a frustrating and time-consuming process.

"We’re making it easier to navigate your TV by building remote-control features directly into your Android phone, so you can watch your favorite show even if your actual remote is missing. And when you need to type a complex movie title or password, you can save time and use your phone's keyboard to enter the text."

From the brief promo video above, you can see the software in action, utilising a Google phone's touchscreen as a navigational trackpad for the television, and using the phone's keyboard to type in emails and passwords for streaming service logins.

This latter point is especially useful, as anyone who's tried pointing and clicking their way across a TV's QWERTY layout can attest. Having the option to take out your phone when you can't find (or reach) the remote is certainly a boon, and we can't see a downside to the inclusion – depending on how much space it takes up on the phone.

Google says the functionality will be rolling out "later this year" to phones running Android 11 and above.

Smartphone synergy

Google is clearly paying attention to its Android TV install base, which we're told has now hit "80 million active Android TV OS devices". The smart platform has gone from strength to strength in recent years, shaking off its somewhat buggy reputation and even morphing into a new Google TV platform on select devices (like the new Chromecast with Google TV).

The arrival of TV remote controls isn't a seismic development by any means, especially seeing as similar functionality was available for download via an app for those keen to use it. But it does speak to the continued (shudder) synergy between smartphones and the best TVs, and it's likely the devices are only going to be become better friends in the future.

That isn't to say that manufacturers always get the relationship right, though. Samsung made a pitch for a smartphone-shaped television called the Samsung Sero, which was able to rotate from a horizontal into a vertical position to better showcase social media feeds – but which still required you to scroll on your smartphone to use it, somewhat limiting its convenience.

Samsung has somewhat course-corrected, pushing for social media software like the new TikTok smart TV app – also now on Android TVs – rather than try and push niche hardware products into people's homes.

Henry St Leger

As Home Cinema Editor, Henry lives and breathes televisions, which is bad for the lungs but great for his content addiction. He also reports on VR, video games, smart speakers, and home entertainment.