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How to use your smartphone as a remote and control your TV

Lisa Iscrupe

Dec 17, 2019 — 4 min read

Need a quick fix for a lost or broken TV remote? Your cellphone is the key to never again be frustrated by a missing remote control.

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Lost the darn remote again? Here’s how to use your phone as a TV remote and control all your TV and streaming devices.

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Remote control life hack

Who doesn’t love a good life hack? There can be several reasons you may find yourself needing a backup remote: the regular TV one broke; it needs new batteries (and you don’t have any spares on hand); or the kids lost it (again). With the size of remotes getting smaller and smaller (we’re looking at you, Apple TV remote), losing it in the couch cushions can become a daily struggle. 

Quick set up

The great news is you can set up your smartphone in just minutes to use as an extra remote control. So next time you want to watch Disney+, but can’t find the clicker, don’t go on an epic quest, just grab your phone. We’ll walk you through the complete process below. 

What devices to use

You can use almost any smartphone, no matter whether it is Android or an iPhone. You can even use a tablet or an iPod touch. If you have an older phone lying around you no longer use, substitute it as a backup remote.  

Get the apps

You will need a few apps to get the ball rolling. There are three different types of apps to download, and they are all free. You can get a basic TV remote app, apps for your streaming device (such as Roku or Chromecast) and general streaming service apps (such as those for Netflix or Hulu). The app(s) that are most useful for you will depend on if you mainly use your smart TV or a streaming device. 

TV remote apps

There are lots of TV remote apps on the App Store or Google Play for Android phones. Some highly-rated apps for iPhone or iPads are Universal Remote TV Smart. This app works over Wi-Fi, is compatible with most major TV manufacturers (such as Samsung, LG and Sony, to name a few) and detects your TV automatically, making setup time basically nil. 

Though only compatible with Samsung TVs, myTifi is another well-designed TV remote app. It allows you to control multiple TVs in your household through simple labels (such as living room TV or bedroom TV), and you can switch channels by clicking on the logos. It also includes simple instructions in the app, so you’re never far from help.

Streaming device apps

Download streaming device apps to make browsing and navigating a lot easier with the devices you already own. Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV Stick and Apple TV all have compatible apps, as well as third-party apps that interact with these systems. 

Roku’s app has a built-in remote control that connects to your Roku device via Wi-Fi and lets you search with your voice or your cellphone keyboard. The Amazon Fire TV app, available for Android or iOS, has a similar design to the Roku app where you can access a remote directly from the app. 

The Google Home app works on all things Chromecast, plus it can control Google Nest (Google’s family of smart, Wi-Fi home devices), so basically you can use this as an all-inclusive hub to manage your lights, security cameras, thermostat and more.

If you have an Apple TV, you likely also have an iPhone, which conveniently has their Remote app built right into your smartphone. Plus, this app, along with the Chromecast and Roku apps, lets you mirror, or project, your phone screen onto your TV — great for sharing vacation photos with the family or playing Spotify over your TV speakers. The Amazon Fire TV app doesn’t currently have this function, but you can use third-party apps to get this feature. 

Streaming services apps

You can also get the apps for just the subscription services you use. If you use the native apps (i.e. built-in) in your smart TV, this could be a good option. For example, say you only watch Netflix. You can download that single app (which saves memory on your cellphone too) and sync it with your TV to browse and manage your shows with your Android or iPhone.  

One last thing to protect your remote

One final piece of advice: if you are forever losing the remote, get Tile. These handy little stickers are the size of a bottlecap and can be stuck on remote controls, or just about anything else too. If you misplace the item, use the free Tile app on your smartphone to make the tile ring. 

Want to go beyond using your phone as a TV remote? Check out our Resource Center to find out what other cool things you can do with the internet and a smart TV.