Review: Pointer Remote for iPhone

Rob Griffiths
18 May, 2009
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App Guide

The App Store now features a number of different apps you can install to control your Keynote or PowerPoint presentations. I have already reviewed Keynote Remote, Stage Hand, and TapNext Lite; this time, I’m taking a look at Pointer Remote for PowerPoint and Keynote.

This $2.49 application from Zentropy Software has a simple-looking interface, but contains most of the features any presenter will need, including one that mimics a laser pointer by using the movement of your iPhone to control the onscreen pointer. Pointer Remote works with both PowerPoint (2004 and 2008) and Keynote. While the program only explicitly states that it works with Keynote from iWork ’06 or iWork ’08, I had no problems using it with Keynote in iWork ’09.

As with the other presentation controller programs, Pointer Remote requires a free companion program (PointerServer) that runs on your Mac. This program runs only on OS X 10.5, so you won’t be able to use Pointer Remote if you’re still running OS X 10.4. PointerServer contains a limited preferences panel that lets you specify which icon to use for your laser pointer—you can even drag in a custom icon file, if you wish. You also use this panel to specify which screen (if you’re presenting using your laptop’s screen and the projector screen as separate displays) will show the pointer, and whether or not to show presentation notes and slide images on the iPhone. Finally, you can set the colours for the on-screen box and oval highlighting tools (more about those in a bit).

imageOnce PointerServer is running on your Mac, you launch your presentation software and open your presentation. On the iPhone, open Pointer Remote, and you should see your Mac listed on the first screen; tap it to connect your iPhone to your Mac. Once connected, you see Pointer Remote’s simple interface. The screen is dominated by two large Previous and Next buttons at the bottom of the screen, with two smaller Pointer/Cursor and Box/Oval buttons between them. At the top of the screen is a More button, and a Dashboard-like circled-I button for setting additional preferences.

You need to tap the circled-I button to tell Pointer Remote whether it’s controlling PowerPoint or Keynote, and you can also set the main navigation and pointer/cursor buttons to appear at the top of the screen, if you wish. There are also settings here for the pointer, including how it’s controlled (by dragging or by iPhone motion), its sensitivity, and which icon to use (you can tell Pointer Remote to use a custom icon, but it must first be defined in PointerServer). Finally, you can enable the scrolling of presenter notes, set the notes’ font size, and add a click sound for taps if you wish.

Once you have all your preferences set, tap the More button to bring up a small panel that’s used to start and stop the presentation on the Mac, display a blank screen, or jump directly to a slide within the presentation. When using Keynote, all of these features worked as described. In PowerPoint 2008, however, the button to jump directly to a given slide didn’t work correctly. While it was easy enough to select a given slide from the scrolling list, PowerPoint wouldn’t then jump directly to that slide. Instead, it would build each and every item on every slide between the current and target slides. As a result, the jump feature wasn’t usable in PowerPoint 2008.

While controlling the presentation, an onscreen timer appears; it only counts up, not down, but it at least gives you a sense of how much time you’re taking. Any show notes appear superimposed over the slide image, and can be scrolled by dragging on the right 1/4 of the iPhone’s screen; you need to enable this feature in Pointer Remote’s preferences, and I recommend you do so if you use notes extensively.

One unique thing about Pointer Remote is its laser pointer mode. At any time while controlling a presentation, touching the iPhone’s screen will display the onscreen highlighter. In its default mode, you control the highlighter using your iPhone’s accelerometers—tilt the phone up/down and left/right to move the pointer around the screen. Although it took a bit of practice, the motion is surprisingly natural. However, you don’t get very precise control using this method, and I found I preferred controlling the highlighter via finger dragging; this mode is set in the program’s preferences.

In addition to a simple highlighter icon, you can also draw box and circle overlays (a button toggles between the two types of overlay) on your presentation by using two-finger pinch-and-drag gestures. You can size the objects as you wish, and easily drag them about, though I found it much easier to position the objects when using the highlighter’s finger drag setting. As an example of how this works, I made a brief movie showing it in action; click the image above to watch it (30 seconds, 736KB).

One feature that makes the highlighter even more useful is that it works outside of Keynote, too—so if you give a lot of interactive presentations, you can use it to highlight objects in Safari, Mail, or whatever other program you happen to be using. There’s also a cursor mode with a Click button, so you can move the mouse cursor around and select objects. There’s no keyboard, drag, or other such GUI support, though, so this isn’t a fully-functional remote control mode.

I have few complaints about Pointer Remote, especially given its reasonable $2.49 price point. Once when returning to my Keynote slides from the Finder, the slides started advancing without provocation; a quick tap on the Previous button solved that problem. The image preview for Keynote slides is quite small; the PowerPoint versions were larger. There’s no landscape mode, and you can’t see Keynote’s Presenter Remote display. But these are relatively minor quibbles; the program generally ran very nicely, and the onscreen highlighter and callout boxes and circles are intuitive and useful. Pointer Remote’s interface may not win any design awards, but it functions well and gets the job done.

Pointer Remote for PowerPoint and Keynote is compatible with any iPhone or iPod touch running the iPhone 2.x software update.

[Senior editor Rob Griffiths runs]

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