HTPC Remotes: Nyxboard vs Riimote

Many moons ago, when my wife and I decided to cut the cable and rely on streaming and downloads for our televised entertainment, one of the first things I realized was that our remote + mouse + keyboard balancing act wasn’t going to work out for long. Too often I had to hunt for batteries to replace the quickly depleted ones in the bluetooth keyboard and mouse, or hunt for the keyboard itself as it had fallen behind the couch again.

Add to that the fact that my trusty Sony “commander” remote was too large and cumbersome for my wife’s smaller hands. So she had her own universal remote, with a different set of functions to mine. This was okay when all we had to switch between was the DVR and DVD player. She had the “ladies'” remote, and I used the “gentleman’s”.

Then I ditched the DVR for a Mac Mini running Boxee, which required a keyboard. The Apple remote, while sufficient, was slow to use for searching and had to be pointed directly at the mini to work. There were also times when we needed to use the web to stream a video instead of Boxee, which added a mouse to the mix.

What we had:

  • two “universal” remotes, to control the TV and amp
  • Apple wireless keyboard and mouse, to control the Mac Mini running Boxee (later Plex)
  • a rotating stock of AA and AAA rechargeable batteries
  • a two year old son who liked to play with anything with buttons

What we decided we needed:

  • one remote with a keyboard and trackpad for Boxee, plus IR functions to handle the TV and amp

I found lots of HTPC keyboard/trackpad combinations, both full-sized and miniature. And there are more universal learning remotes in the market than I care to mention. I looked all over for one device that would combine the two. How hard could it be, right?

Note: I did consider the very nice-looking Boxee Remote, but it has no mouse. With content providers occasionally blocking Boxee and other HTPCs, the only way to access some video sources is through a web browser, plus we look things up on IMDB and Wikipedia. I decided a mouse was a necessity.

Finally, I saw the announcement from Pulse-Eight – a spinoff from the XBMC community – of the impending release of the Motorola Nyxboard hybrid remote. Keyboard and trackpad on one side, learning universal IR remote on the other. Perfect! I pre-ordered one as soon as I could, in April of this year.

Then, I waited.

And waited.

Along with hundreds of other people who had ordered the remote, I followed the progress online while Pulse-Eight had problems with their suppliers, with Motorola, with shippers. I felt bad for the guys, catching hate mail for being behind on their promised ship dates, and watching them go whooshing past because someone upstream dropped the ball. I was patient. In the end, I decided, I would get my One Perfect Remote and be happy; it would be worth the wait.

Now I’ve had the chance to use the Nyxboard for a couple of months. (Mine was one of the first shipped, but for some reason got stuck in customs or shipped to the wrong continent. I’m not sure.) It wasn’t worth the wait.

Sure, it does what it’s supposed to do – keyboard for HTPC, programmable IR remote for the rest, all in one compact candybar package. But the final product suffers from three fatal flaws:

  • build quality
  • the weird tilt sensor
  • useless “mouse”

First up, the build quality. In general, the remote is nice looking, and feels good in the hand. The plastic body flexes a bit at the seams, and there’s some gaps where parts meet, but it’s otherwise solid. However, when I first tried to use it, I was stumped for a while, and thought I had a DOA unit. Pressing buttons would only occasionally light up the indicator LED, and it seemed unable to learn any of my old remote’s functions.

It turns out that the connections in the battery compartment weren’t lining up with the AAA batteries, so it was only intermittently getting power. I took to it with a pair of needle-nosed pliers and corrected the issue. It’s not a big deal to me, but I know that most people aren’t going to fiddle with a metal spring that’s hanging off an exposed chunk of PCB to get their new $65 remote working on day one. And of those that need to, I imagine many will end up breaking the spring, rendering their remote useless.

Second, and this would go under “build quality” if it weren’t addressed by Pulse-Eight and deemed “normal” on their website, there’s this weird clicking noise whenever you turn over the remote. Inside, acting as a tilt switch, is some contraption that involves a ball bearing, or at least that’s how it sounds to me. It must make different contacts depending on how it’s oriented.

In any case, it’s pretty worthless. I haven’t determined what the tilt sensor changes as it’s reoriented, since you still have to switch modes between IR and RF with a button on the IR side of the remote. I can hold it in pretty much any orientation and all the buttons will work.

Worse still, if I tilt or bump the remote enough while it’s in keyboard/RF mode, it sends some keystroke to the computer (I think it’s the ESC key) that stops playback in Boxee and Plex. I thought I was hitting a key by accident for a while, when playback would suddenly stop when turning the remote over to adjust volume, but there’s no ESC key on the keyboard, and the STOP button on the remote side doesn’t do anything that I’ve discovered yet.

On the topic of the keyboard itself, there are a few choices the designers made that I really like, and a few head scratchers. The layout of the arrow keys, in a round D-pad cluster on the right side, right next to the oversized ENTER key makes for speedy navigation through HTPC menus. As do dedicated OK and BACK (another ENTER key and BACKSPACE).

But there’s no key mapped to ESC. Nor are there any meta-keys – no ALT or CTL – so the keyboard is limited in usefulness outside an XBMC or similar interface.

Which leads me to the “mouse”. By holding the FN key and pressing on the D-pad, you can move the cursor on the screen. Slowly. Painfully slowly. I adjusted the tracking speed in my system preferences all the way up, and it made no difference.

Reading the description online, I was given the impression that the mouse would work like the little nubbin pointers on IBM laptops. Not my favorite input device, but usable. Instead, I got something that is almost, but not quite, completely useless as a mouse.

So, final verdict: the Pulse-Eight Nyxboard – not worth the wait, and not worth the $65. At least not for me and how I planned to use it.

I consider these all to be fixable problems, which I hope Pulse-Eight will work out in an upcoming version 2 of the Nyxboard. The product I ordered, I knew full well to be a 1.0 product, so I knew there would be some kinks to work out. And to reiterate, I don’t blame them for the delays in delivery. Their communications in the early stages could have been more helpful, but as the situation progressed, they updated their site with news pretty regularly.

Disappointed, I dug online for another remote that I had seen mention of online while the Nyxboard wandered in the desert of supplier woe. From a totally random and unknown (to me, anyway) Chinese company came the RT-MWK06[Wireless 2.4Ghz]. Catchy name, right?

Shenzen Riitek describes themselves on their website thus:

Market-oriented, technology-driven,and people foremost are faiths of the company. We put Innovation, circumspection, devotion on the developping of new product. By right of the development capability,advanced manufacturing technology, first-class product quality, we are selected as a technology solution providers, and ODM / OEM partners by some famous companys. (sic)

So, you’re an OEM Chinese manufacturer of small wireless keyboards whose poorly translated website is mostly under construction. Here, take my money!

Sketchy origins aside, the remote is available on Amazon (from a couple of different vendors) which means, hopefully, that my credit card and shipping information doesn’t have to get sent over the Great Firewall. Plus, it shipped in two days, thanks to Prime. Not that I’m bitter.

The Riitek remote arrived today, and I already like it better than the Nyxboard I’ve had a chance to get used to.

As with the Nyxboard, one side is a keyboard and trackpad, the other an IR learning remote. While the keyboard has more features – including ESC, CTL and ALT keys (and 8 F-Keys) – the IR remote side is minimal.

There’s a power button, D-pad with a center button, and two rocker buttons, “Menu & AV/TV” and “Set1 & Set2”. The Set switch toggles between two sets of functions for the remaining buttons. So, for instance, I have one set control my TV menus (up, down, L, R and enter) and input control. The other set controls the amp. The set toggle even effects the power button. While it’s not as elegant as setting up macro buttons on a more full-featured universal remote, I can use it to power on both TV and amp – a capability the Nyxboard lacks. I had to configure one of the other unmapped buttons to turn on the amp.

With the Nyxboard, when switched into RF mode, some of the keys on the remote side worked to control the computer, while others were only active in IR mode. The Riitek is modeless – the keys on the IR side only work for IR, the keyboard side keys only work in RF. This is one drawback I can see so far in the Riitek – I would have liked to be able to use the sparse IR side’s D-pad and enter button to do most of the navigation in Boxee/Plex.

Another small advantage the Nyxboard has over the Riitek is the keyboard layout. With the trackpad dominating the right side of the remote, the D-pad is awkwardly settled between the mouse buttons, and is not quite uncomfortably small. The enter key is hard to find by feel, but ESC and Backspace are handily tucked into the corners.

Then there’s the trackpad. Praise be, a functional pointing device! With, get this, left and right mouse buttons and tap to click.

Other advantages of the Riitek:

  • indicator lights for RF sync with the included USB dongle, low battery etc
  • backlit keys
  • built-in rechargeable battery (it charges with an included mini-USB cable, and can be used while charging)
  • stiff and solid build
  • an actual ON/OFF switch, to save the battery (it also goes into low-power “standby” after a set timeout)
  • cheaper by about $20
  • two-day free shipping with Amazon Prime

I’ve literally only had the Riitek for a few hours now, and I would already recommend it to my cord-cutting, HTPC using friends.

Of course, it could explode in my face in a few days, spewing toxic fumes and lead paint all over my living room. If it does, look for a followup here.


  1. I’ve been using the same riitek keyboard for about 9 months. There are 3 problems I have with it.

    1) There is no ALT key. The key labelled Alt is actually Alt_R but I just remap it to Alt_L

    xmodmap -e “clear mod5”
    xmodmap -e “keycode 108 = Alt_L”

    2) Range isn’t great past 4-6′ often get missed key presses

    3) Power switch is just pressed on and tends to fall off