While my personal preference would have been for those secondary color labels, Sony has actually eliminated every instance of alternate button labels on the RM-VL610. This certainly keeps things straightforward for inexperienced users, as there will never be a question of which label is appropriate for what device. Even the numeric keypad, which until now has had been printed with alternate A/V receiver input names, now lacks those secondary labels (although those keys do still have those functions).
...but done the right way?
From an ergonomic standpoint the RM-VL610 has improved in some areas, but regressed in others. In order to pack 63 buttons into nearly the same space as their last remote with 52, Sony has abandoned the large, round and friendly key shapes found on the RM-VL600 and (especially) the RM-VL710, and shifted to thin, wide, rectangular buttons placed much more compactly. A total of 7 rows are 4 buttons wide. Despite the crowding I didn’t find that pressing the wrong key accidentally was an issue: generally the available real estate has been divided up as logically and as generously as the necessary number of buttons required.
The main issue I see with the design is that so many of the buttons are exactly or nearly the same shape – they all feel the same. With few tactile guides to go by (small bumps can be found on only the , [Channel Up] and [Play] keys) and without any sort of built-in backlight (something that Sony has not yet deemed cost effective at this price point), the RM-VL610 is simply unsuitable for use in the dark or by feel alone. Future remotes would benefit from more varied button shapes and textures, even though that may result in a slightly larger remote.
One area where the RM-VL610 has definitely improved over the RM-VL600 is in button tactile performance. There’s more key travel than prior models, and the overall response of the rubber membrane is firmer with a soft “click” sensation that’s more consistent over the entire keypad. Some of the thinnest keys did have a tendency to feel like they were bending forward or back rather than going down, but this didn’t impact reliability.
Pick your favorite color!
What’s most unusual about the RM-VL610’s design is that the back of the remote is smoothly domed over its entire length, with no ridges, battery compartment latches, feet, or even visible screw holes. Instead it’s made up of a single piece of brightly colored plastic, emblazoned with the Sony logo, which can be pushed upwards and detached completely to reveal space for two AA batteries (not included).
There are several upsides to this unusual design. First, the back of the remote is completely smooth with no bumps or texture, giving the remote a rather special feel. Second, since the back panel is separate from the actual remote, Sony has bundled a total of three panels in different colors with each remote, allowing the user to pick their favorite. The RM-VL610 can even be bought in two different color combinations. The RM-VL610/TC (AKA RM-VL610N) known as the “neutral” pack comes with glossy white, glossy chocolate brown and matte bronze, and the RM-VL610/PC (AKA RM-VL610B) known as the “bright” pack comes with glossy red, matte blue and matte pink variations. All colors are finished in sparkly metallic paint that gives the remote a more upscale appearance. However you’ll want to pay close attention as to which version you’ll get when purchasing, since the model number that both color packs commonly go by is the same.