- Editor's Rating
- As simple as a universal remote can be
- Wi-Fi enabled
- Intuitive touchscreen control
- Battery not user accessible
- D-pad in awkward location
Quick TakeThe Logitech Harmony Ultimate universal remote is expensive for good reasion. It's simply the best.
For many, the home theater remote is an afterthought. It’s a utilitarian and necessary accessory bundled with devices that couch potatoes only think about when they can’t find it. Most probably rely on more than one, given the number of set-top boxes available, and regardless of complexity, are content to juggle the remotes as needed.
But for some, the remote is an integral part of the home theater experience. It’s the controller, and every bit as important as the picture and sound. For these aficionados, a slapped together plastic slab powered by AAs is not worthy of a five-figure setup. And that’s the market for the Logitech Harmony Ultimate universal remote.
The Logitech Harmony Ultimate is no joke; in fact, it’s the Cadillac of universal remotes. It’s well constructed and, considering the complexity of most home theaters these days, thought-out nicely. As well it should it be, too; it costs $350 at the time of this review.
Build and Design
The Logitech Harmony Ultimate looks like, well, a remote. It’s oblong, with rounded edges, and a handful of notable design tweaks. The most salient are the 2.4-inch LCD touchscreen with home and favorites soft keys (a house and star, respectively), which provides an Android smartphone aesthetic, and the twenty or so large backlit buttons (no physical number pad, however). The bottom sports a textured grip with trigger rest and two contacts on the bottom edge for charging.
TG loves the idea of the internal rechargeable battery, but it should be user serviceable. We’ve gone through too many AAs with remotes, and it’s a real joy just plopping the remote into the charging stand occasionally… at least until it can no longer hold a charge.
The remote is surprisingly light, especially for those used to aforementioned donkey remotes, but very well built and, and most importantly, balanced when held in a variety of manners. It seems tough enough to withstand the rigors of day to day use, though TechnologyGuide did not stress test it thoroughly for fear of breaking a $350 gadget. However, Logitech reps did confirm that the company does test constitution against the occasional drop and other living room hazards. Still, its high price, touchscreen, and all-plastic build, made TG want to handle with care, and that includes not operating the remote with greasy, potato-chip fingers.
The buttons are all very large and solid, and offer a satisfyingly crisp click when pressed, their placement might take a bit of getting used to, as the touchscreen dominates the central position that typically houses the direction pad and “ok” button. In fact, it’s kind of awkward and unnatural, operating the d-pad with a just a thumb because of its placement.
The Logitech Harmony Ultimate can control up to 15 devices. So how is that possible with only 20 or so buttons? One word: Activities.
Users program the Harmony Ultimate to perform multiple tasks at a time as a single Activity. For example, the “Watch TV” Activity may turn on the cable box and HDTV, and then set the remote to control the cable box for changing channels and adjusting volume. The “Watch Blu-ray” Activity will switch HDTV input, power up the Blu-ray player, and open the disc tray.
The Activities are represented by icons on the touchscreen, and users can program enough to cover just about any common home theater scenarios, including “Watch Netflix.” Activity control can get pretty granular as well, to cover for more complicated setups, like those involving an audio receiver, or an always-on cable box. This does require an extra bit of programming, and Logitech has a good selection of articles and FAQs on its site to guide users.
Universal remote setup can be dreadful, but Logitech does a good job of taking most of the pain out of it. The Harmony Ultimate does not require users to punch in number codes, but rather to simply input home theater device model numbers into the Harmony web portal (MyHarmony.com) while the Harmony Ultimate is connected. This means it requires the remote, and an internet-enabled PC or Mac.
TG found the web portal to be rather forgiving, helpfully suggesting the proper device model when we messed up the number, or lazily skipped a space or dash. The portal also helps users set a few dozen favorite channels for the touchscreen, too.
The Harmony Ultimate ships with the Harmony Hub, which brings RF and Wi-Fi support. Practically speaking, it means the Harmony Ultimate universal remote can better control closed cabinet systems, Bluetooth-based game consoles, and users can update the controls and Activities over Wi-Fi.
Unconnected universal remotes typically require a USB connection and a PC to update, but users can simply make changes to Activities via the MyHarmony.com portal, and then sync the remote separately (favorite channels and simply be adjusted on the remote itself). Firmware updates still require a wired USB connection, and the wireless support really only eliminates the minor hassle of programming the remote by plugging in a USB cord to a PC. But TG still digs it because it suggests a future where universal remotes control more than just the TV is nearing. In fact, the Harmony Ultimate can already control some lights, which we’ll touch on in a bit.
In addition to the universal remote, the Logitech Harmony Ultimate ships with the Harmony Hub, two IR mini flashers, and a charging station. All are sleek, black, minimal, and hide nicely into any home theater. Though, the setup does require two additional outlets, and the Hub lacks any extra inputs for additional IR flashers. That could place limits with larger home theater setups.
Page 2 of this review covers the Logitech Harmony touchscreen and additional features.