Set-top boxes are great for streaming all kinds of new video from the Internet onto your TV screen, but have you ever noticed what a pain it is to enter network passwords or YouTube search terms by tapping around with the remote control? It’s like trying to type one letter at a time with a chopstick clenched between your teeth.
Most people are running the handy Google Chromecast stick from their phone or computer already, but what about those bigger boxes — the Roku, the Amazon Fire TV and the Apple TV? Thankfully, there are apps with virtual keyboards, like the Roku Mobile app for Android, iOS and Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone (shown below):
For those with an Apple TV parked on the entertainment center, Apple’s own Remote app (shown below) gives you much more control over the little black box than the thin silver stick that ships with it. Once you load up the Remote app on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, you can control your Apple TV and iTunes library — and even type in search terms with the virtual keyboard.
The Amazon Fire TV has a remote with voice search for stuff Amazon sells. But if nothing but a real keyboard with clicky little keys works for you, you have other options. Logitech’s $150 Harmony Smart Keyboard Remote (shown below) works with the Roku box, the Apple TV and even the Fire TV now for good old-fashioned text entry; the keyboard also works with a lot of other stuff on your home-entertainment system. Apple TV owners can also pair up their Apple Bluetooth keyboards (or other Bluetooth keyboard models) to the set-top box and type away, perhaps without having to go buy additional hardware.
In addition to easier typing and navigation, using a remote app or keyboard offers another usability bonus: There’s less of a chance you’ll lose your mobile device or keyboard in the couch cushions.