It has been years since my last presentation remote review, so it's a good time for an update.
A good remote is a valuable tool for anyone giving a presentation. Even though it feels safer to present from behind a podium with your computer, don’t do it. It is much harder to connect with your audience from back there.
So if you are out on stage moving around, you need a good remote to control your slides. But which ones are any good?
Recap: What to look for in a presentation remote.
A good presentation remote should be three things: reliable, simple, and small. Your technology is the last thing you want to worry about as you tell your story. It needs to just work.
The only controls you need during your talk are Forward/Back and Black Screen. Any extra buttons, controls, or mini-joysticks are just accidental-presses waiting to happen. Simpler remotes are better.
Additionally, you should be able to gesture naturally during your talk. If it looks like you're holding a magic wand with LEDs on it, your audience might pay more attention to it than you. Smaller remotes are more ergonomic and less distracting. And a presentation remote should never have LEDs. Ever.
The best presentation remote is not...
Unfortunately most of the presentation remotes available today are not very good. It seems manufacturers have added more buttons and features to compete with one another, but those features don't make the remotes any better at their job.
The top remotes sold on Amazon right now are the Logitech R400 and Logitech R800 — but, despite their high rating on Amazon, I do not recommend either of these. They both look good, are well made, and feel nice to hold, but they have terrible button placement and compatibility problems with Apple's Keynote software.
All of the buttons on the R400 and R800 are arranged where your thumb naturally rests as you hold the remote. It is easy to feel the difference between the large Forward/Back buttons without looking, but it is not as easy to feel the smaller buttons that are directly below.
One of those lower buttons (the one of the left) is the "End Slideshow" control that immediately kicks you out of your presentation. That is not a button you ever want to accidentally press during your story, but its placement makes it almost inevitable that you will. Do a quick search of the Amazon reviews for the word "accident" and you can read the stories.
Additionally, the "Black Screen" and "End Slideshow" buttons both don't work properly with Keynote on a Mac. Yes, there are ways to make it work by modifying your Mac's keyboard inputs with special software — but who wants to do that? And what do you do if you are ever presenting from a computer that is not your own?
The Logitech R800 has two additional features over the R400, a countdown timer and green laser pointer. A countdown timer on a remote is a good idea in theory, but I put it in the category of extra technology to worry about during your presentation. If the timer is set incorrectly, or if you accidentally press the timer buttons while you are presenting, it just creates problems. Timers are great to have, but they don't need to be built into your remote. And a green laser pointer, while cool and different, is not dramatically better than a red laser pointer in practice.
My favorite remote is...
So after using several of the best sellers on Amazon, I still recommend the same remote I did years ago — the simple Kensington Wireless Presenter. It's small, reliable, and extremely easy to use without looking. It also works properly with both Keynote and PowerPoint (both Mac and Windows) without needing special setup.
I have presented with one of these remotes for almost a decade and have never had a problem with accidental button presses. In fact, it has never done anything unexpected. It just works.
The newest models are better than ever because they are made from a material that feels nicer to hold and they now take AAA batteries instead of a watch battery. There are two versions available, one with a red laser pointer and one without. I recommend the one with the laser, but either will do the job.
The Kensington Wireless Presenter is neither the most feature-rich remote, nor the most expensive. But from my experience, that is what makes it (still) the best presentation remote you can buy.