-Hide your gear (aka kid friendly)
-High quality, ergonomic remote
-Easy setup and customization
-Control IR & Bluetooth devices
-Easy to tap the wrong part of remote's touchscreen
-Wish the app could be customized more
-Remote Battery Level not always accurate
-Couldn't figure out RF control
-Help button hidden
There comes a day in every home cinema enthusiast's life where too many remotes overwhelms functionality. Maybe you've got friends or family over and you have to repeatedly explain how to watch a movie. Maybe your wife refuses to watch TV in the living room. Or maybe all your remotes look the same in the dark and you always snag the wrong one.
Enter the universal remote. A programmable device that allows a full 7.2.4 Dolby Atmos and 4K Ultra HD home cinema to operate as simply as your Grandma's 1994 Zenith CRT. Or at least that's the goal.
There are many universal remote options, but my go-to brand for the last several years has been Logitech. While the company is known for a multitude of electronic products, their Harmony remotes are a godsend for gear heads. A step up from conventional universal remotes, they offer app-based customization and one-button start-up convenience.
The Harmony series, in that sense, is less concerned with what gear you have and more focused on what you want to experience.
Logitech has six current generation Harmony models (others are available from previous years). The $49.99 Harmony 350 Control can run up to 8 devices at once, as can the $79.99 Harmony 650 Remote, which adds a small color LCD screen. The $99.99 Harmony Hub doesn't actually include a remote at all, instead relying on the free Harmony app to interface with a small Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-enabled central hub that controls your gear. The $149.99 Harmony Companion includes everything from the Harmony hub plus a simple companion remote. The $249.99 Harmony 950 drops the Harmony Hub in favor of an advanced, programmable IR remote with its own touchscreen LCD display and handy backlighting; it can control up to 15 devices. But there's one Harmony remote to rule them all and in the darkness bind them...
The $349.99 (MSRP) Harmony Elite combines one Harmony Hub, an extra IR mini-blaster, and the titular Harmony Elite remote control. This remote looks a lot like the 950, but the Elite doesn't have its own IR transmitter. Instead, it uses Wi-Fi to communicate with the Hub, which translates your commands into IR signals.
With its Wi-Fi hub, IR blaster, fancy remote, and the ability to make any smartphone in your house an identical remote control, the Harmony Elite feels less like a remote than it does a whole-home control SYSTEM.
It's built on the same foundation of every other Harmony remote -- enter DEVICES by brand and model number, then create ACTIVITIES using said devices. They can be as simple as Watch A Movie or Watch TV, or customized to your liking. The Elite and other Hub-based Harmony remotes improve the brand's functionality by allowing users to customizes their setups on the PC or Mac MyHarmony app, or directly on the Elite remote or your smartphone / tablet. Previous iterations were limited to the MyHarmony app and required plugging in your remote directly. Now it's all wireless.
Included with every Harmony Elite, you recieve:
1 Harmony Elite remote (with rechargeable battery)
1 Harmony Hub
2 IR mini-blasters
1 Charging station
1 USB cable
2 AC adapters
Getting started with the Harmony Elite remote has never been easier.
First: place your Harmony Hub and two IR blasters as needed. With an open (glass) cabinet, you might only need the hub. For closed cabinets with different levels of shelving, it helps to have the hub and each IR blaster on a separate shelf.
Next, once you've downloaded the free Harmony app onto your Android or iOS device, and signed up for an account, plug the Hub into a power source and follow the app's prompts for pairing your phone with the Hub. This allows you to name your Hub and connect it to your Wi-Fi network. (I named mine Beat Laboratory, a reference to 'Step Brothers'.)
At the same time, make sure to find a place for the Elite Remote's charging station. Plug that in and set the Elite Remote into the cradle during setup. It will guide you paring the Elite Remote to your hub.
Lastly, for repeat customers, you can transfer your older Harmony remote settings onto the Elite, or start from scratch adding devices and activities.
A few notes worth consideration: if your smartphone or tablet is too old, you'll have to use the MyHarmony app for PC or Mac computers, and plug the Harmony Hub directly into it. The Hub can also send Bluetooth signals for running devices like the PlayStation 3. Logitech lists the Elite as RF capable (DirecTV DVRs and Bose systems, for example, can use RF) but I couldn't find a set this up in any of the apps, or any mention of it in the only support documents.
Overall, the Harmony Elite installs intuitively; I only had to adjust the placement of my devices to allow for IR beam clearance.
Outside a second mini-IR blaster, the main reason anyone would opt for this universal remote system is the Elite Remote itself. Light in the hand and comfortably ergonomic, I'm a big fan of this remote. While smartphones and tablets are taking over, nothing beats the feel of physical buttons; it's easier to operate by touch and without looking down from your content. If you can operate a cable or satellite remote, you'll be right at home with the Elite's layout. And, after years of design and evolution, they've included helpful buttons like DVR and red, green, yellow, and blue buttons like those found on cable boxes and Blu-ray players. And back-lighting makes nighttime operation a breeze.
The top half of the Elite Remote is a 2.4" touchscreen. When the remote is charging or laying in wait, this screen hosts your lists of Activities. Once an Activity is selected, it then lists other button command options over several pages that you swipe left and right to access. For example, if you set up a TV source, the Elite allows you to select 50 favorite channels complete with channel logos. Other functions like, surround mode or aspect ratio, are also available.
A touchscreen approach is helpful, but does come with a few drawbacks. I found its sensitivity less accurate than I would have wished, and sometimes there are so many button pages that it takes too long to access. When watching TV, for example, the numerical keypad is buried on the last page, and when you do find it, it's all too easy to mistype a number without physical buttons (especially for those with unsure hands). Further, when reaching for the remote, or setting it down, bumping the touchscreen results in another activity starting or some other inconvenience.
Another problem I had was with the Elite Remote's battery level indicator. While battery life remains excellent after several months of heavy use -- I charge mine every two to four days -- the battery level icon is sometimes inaccurate. Luckily, it was far more likely to indicate little-to-no charge when the battery was actually full (this bug was experienced after several overnight recharges).
My only other nitpick comes in the way the Elite Remote handles Harmony's HELP button. Help is a longstanding series feature where the remote helps troubleshoot your settings. With an IR-based universal remote, it's surprisingly easy to miss one code that leaves a piece of gear OFF or the wrong HDMI input selected. The Elite is far less likely to encounter user error, but when you do have problems, the Help button is now buried in the Settings menu (tap the widget) and I found this iteration wasn't as helpful, nor as quick to guess the problem, as past remotes. Most of my issues, however, were related to specific gear (and their firmware problems), which I was able to overcome by adding custom commands to my Activities.
At the end of the day, the Harmony Elite Remote is a ergonomic and rugged remote that's easy to customize and use every day. It's easily the best Harmony remote (and full system) I've ever owned.
Oh, one last note worth mentioning (not a complaint): it took several weeks to get used to the notion that you don't have to aim the Elite at your gear! With non-Hub Harmony systems, you get into the habit of holding the remote steady for several seconds. With Harmony Elite, you don't even have to be in the same room as your gear to use this remote. A simple evolution, but liberating all the same.
While the main selling point in the Harmony Elite system is the Elite Remote, the Harmony Hub infrastructure means you don't ever have to use the remote if you don't want to (though in that case, I would recommend buying a standalone Harmony Hub).
The Harmony app turns any iOS or Android device into a remote. At the beginning of my review period, I focused mainly on the physical Elite remote because my first app impressions weren't that great.
However, after a few months with the VIZIO SmartCast P-Series Ultra HD Home Theater Display, I gave it another try and came away much more impressed. It helps if you organize your smartphone to unlock quickly and give you ready-access to your Harmony app, and it has a slightly different layout than the Elite's touchscreen, so there's a dual learning curve to using both, but it's quite functional and perfect for times when you forget to charge the remote.
Features like Favorite Channels, and buttons for Menu and Guide and Record are readily available in my DirecTV activity, plus the app added Gesture control to the package. Gestures work like surfing the web on any smartphone; you tap with one or two figures to control volume levels, play and pause, or navigate menus. It's a little odd at first, but quite helpful. It's available on the Elite remote too on Watch a Movie activities, but oddly, doesn't pop up with my DirecTV activity (I suspect the favorite channels screen takes its place). And with the larger screen of my iPhone 6S Plus, the app feels downright luxurious compared to the 2.4" touchscreen on the Elite remote. Lastly, while I wasn't a fan of the Help feature on the Elite Remote itself, Help is much more streamlined here in the app.
I did have one odd problem where the Harmony app refused to take my MyHarmony login password, so I couldn't adjust activities on my iPhone, but I solved that by using my Google login (Facebook is also accepted). Now I see little need to return to the older, computer-based MyHarmony app. There were also a few missing commands that needed to be added, and I wish the app could be customized a little more.
Either way, after exploring the physical remote as well as the app, they work really well together, giving you flexibility of having as many remotes as you have devices.
The one part I didn't get to test during my review period was the Harmony Elite's ability to smart home devices like Nest and Honeywell Wi-Fi Thermostats, Philips hue and Lutron Caseta Wireless and Lifx lighting, Lutron Serena Window Shades and a few other things (full list HERE).
There are four buttons dedicated to these functions on the Elite Remote, and I would imagine you could program certain lighting and temperature controls right into specific activities like watching a Blu-ray. While I can't say how well this does or doesn't work -- I own a Nest thermostat and it's a fun, but buggy experience -- I love the notion that Logitech is staying competitive with high-end services like the Crestrons of the world. Anyway, if you own any of these products, the Harmony Elite offers another way to control them.
The Logitech Harmony Elite is the best universal remote I've ever owned. A little expensive, and there are a few bugs, but you're not simply buying a universal remote -- it's an entire SYSTEM.
The Harmony Elite is perfect for anyone who loves the reliability of holding a solid, tactile remote in hand, but needs that remote to talk to 21st century gear. As an added bonus, you can now put all your gear in a cabinet and forget it's there (perfect for parents with curious children). Highly Recommended.
If $349.99 is over budget and you still want a physical remote, or if you don't need a touchscreen, consider the $149.99 Harmony Companion. You lose one IR blaster and there's no touchscreen on the remote itself, but you do get numerical buttons for punching in channel numbers (and can use the app for touchscreen needs like Gesture controls).
And, if you're ready to kiss remotes goodbye, or maybe have an older iPhone or tablet lying around for anyone to use, check out the $99.99 Harmony Hub.