If you're hastily upgrading your home theater setup in preparation for the Super Bowl, or just looking for a key addition to tie your myriad A/V devices together, then it might be time to consider Logitech's Harmony Elite universal remote.
Logitech's high-end offering has been on the market for some time, although it remains a valuable option due to its wide compatibility and versatile, recipe-like custom activities. And it works with more than televisions, speaker systems, and game consoles: the Harmony Elite can also control many smart home devices, with dedicated buttons onboard for speedy commands.
At $250 (£99, AU$449), it's obviously no small investment – and if you're not absolutely serious about the form and function of your home entertainment setup, then you needn't bother. But for anyone who wants one remote to control just about everything, you'd be hard-pressed to find anything that is both this functional and relatively easy to use out of the box.
Design and set-up
If you're shelling out a couple hundred bucks for a TV remote, then it had better be one seriously refined, comfortable-feeling device. Thankfully, the Harmony Elite doesn't disappoint in this regard. It's a sleek, weighty remote with glossy black plastic on the front and a lightly rugged rubberized backing, with ergonomic contours that make it fit pretty nicely in the hand.
The Harmony Elite has a built-in rechargeable battery (which you can swap if needed), and comes with a charging dock that you can drop the whole remote into. In my testing, the remote could go a few days between top-ups, although heavier users might need more frequent charging sessions.
And it has a touchscreen on the front, of course. That's the key thing that sets the Harmony Elite apart from your average TV remote: it has an array of buttons, but instead of a physical number pad, it puts a small color display on top. This screen provides easy access to your list of devices and concocted activities, letting you easily swap between them and access device-specific commands. You'll also find a phone-like number array on there, too.
Among the physical buttons are customizable ones for smart home devices, which look like light bulbs and power outlets and come with an up/down rocker for tweaks. For example, you can flip on your Philips Hue lights with a button and then gradually adjust the brightness.
Given its myriad abilities, the Harmony Elite might seem like a lot to take in, and may seem destined to overwhelm. Thankfully, that's not the case during setup, as Logitech has made a powerful device seem largely approachable.
Everything is done via your iPhone or Android smartphone, as the app serves as your home for setting up and easily customizing the Harmony Elite. And when you save changes, they're quickly synced over to the remote via the hub device that you'll place near your TV and connect to Wi-Fi – really the brains of the operation. Best of all, the hub doesn't have to be within line of sight, so you can tuck it into an entertainment center and forget about it.
Logitech also has PC and Mac apps available if you'd rather have a mouse and a larger screen to create activities, but the mobile app is the most convenient way to dig in and experiment. It's not the most attractive app around, but it'll do the trick.
Loading up your devices onto the Harmony Elite is a very straightforward process: you'll search for it on the app, the app will connect to the device and add it, and then you're good to go. This is true with everything from TVs to smart lights, cable boxes, and speakers, and while some devices may require placing an included IR blaster in front of them, it all felt like less hassle than we were expecting going into setup.
Going from using a couple of different remotes to just one has brought an expected learning curve, but overall, it hasn't been difficult to get comfortable with the Harmony Elite. And what really impresses is not just the ability to control multiple devices, but to really connect them by creating activities.
For example, when we want to watch Netflix, we can just tap one button on the touchscreen. With that, our Android TV-powered Sony 4K TV fires up, the Vizio sound bar beneath it does just the same, and then the Netflix app loads on the TV once the network connection is established. It's seamless, and it saves me a couple of button presses and remote swaps in the process.
And that's one of the more straightforward setups you'll find. If you really want to get creative, you can design activities that blend in connected home devices, as well. Want to have your Philips Hue smart lights dim when it's movie time? You can add those into an activity, too. Or you could create a nighttime activity that shuts off your lights and locks your doors once you're ready to move from the couch to your bed.
If you have a cable or satellite box, you can also program shortcuts for your favorite channels for the screen, and bring those up with a tap. Unfortunately, that feature doesn't also work with streaming TV services for the cord-cutters out there.
After ditching cable TV last year, we've been using Sling TV for our occasional live television needs, and although there's a native Android TV app like Netflix, we can't launch into it from an activity. All we'd like to do is tap an activity to have our TV power on and jump right into the Sling TV app without further navigation, but Logitech says it's not possible. True, Netflix is a much more popular app, but it's strange that similar functionality isn't possible with other video apps.
Every once in a while, we'll run into a situation in which my TV or sound bar didn't start up when tapping an activity, which is annoying – you expect something like this to just work, all the time. But at least Logitech built in a "Fix" function that can easily help you sort out activity issues.
Honestly, you'll probably have more trouble finding devices that don't work with the Harmony Elite rather than ones that do.
Logitech claims that some 270,000 devices can be controlled by it, and that's a wide range of tech including televisions, consoles, locks, speaker systems, smart lights, streaming boxes, and plenty more. It's just as comfortable with your Xbox One as it is with your Nest Thermostat, and it supports up to 15 active devices at one time.
Our own home entertainment system isn't terribly complex or robust, but we have a TV, a sound bar, all the current consoles, and a few connected home devices (lights, lock, and thermostat). Of those, the only device that lacked any compatibility was the Nintendo Switch, which feels like a very Nintendo-like thing. And really, there's no great need for it.
One annoyance came with the PlayStation 4, however, as the Harmony Elite is unable to power on the system. That's apparently a Sony issue, as they only want the official PS4 remote to handle that task, but it does keep the Harmony Elite from feeling all-powerful if you play a lot of games on the system.
Also, the remote is compatible with both the Amazon Echo and Google Home, thus enabling voice commands to turn on your TV and other devices, flip on particular channels, and trigger smart home activities. That's a rather handy upgrade if you have a smart speaker around.
Furthermore, you can link in IFTTT ("if this, then that") automated applets to trigger even more events, like starting Harmony activities via a calendar event, or ensuring activities end when you leave your home. That's where the remote's real power comes in: the flexibility and extensibility of its approach.
If you're thinking that a $250 (£99, AU$449) TV remote seems like overkill, or an unnecessary luxury… well, you're absolutely right. Even if you have a number of home entertainment and smart devices around, you probably also are pretty adept at grabbing the correct remote or firing up the right smartphone app to complete your task.
But if your setup is complex, you're seeking some automation in your routine, or you just can't stand the sight of a handful of differently-shaped remotes laying on your couch, then the Logitech Harmony Elite might be a luxury worth splashing out for. Despite the occasional hitch, it's a powerful remote that can wrangle your audio/visual madness, plus it looks and feels pretty good doing so.
It's more remote than we'd personally ever need, and that's probably true of most people who will read this review. Still, it's hard not to be impressed by just how versatile and useful the Harmony Elite can be, and it may seem downright dreamy for those with high-end home entertainment setups.