Perhaps I’m dating myself, but the television in my house when I was young required the viewer to get up and change channels manually. Although it wasn’t very convenient, there were only two channels, and the satisfying ker-chunk of the switch almost made it worth it. We’ve come a long way since then, and now the ubiquitous remote control seems like it’s just part of normal life. But just because something has become normal, doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.

Harmony remotes have been improving on the standard universal remote control for over a decade, and Logitech purchased the founding company back in 2004. There have been quite a few iterations on the Harmony remote, and the Logitech Harmony Elite is the current top of the line model from Logitech, incorporating the Elite remote, the Harmony Hub, and the Harmony app, into one complete solution for not only remote control, but also home automation.

My previous remote - the Logitech Harmony One

I’ve been a Harmony user for over ten years now, starting with a Harmony 880, then the Harmony One, and now the Harmony Elite. The latest model improves on its predecessors in several ways, but keeps the original brilliance of the Harmony series with a single, easy to set up, and powerful solution to replace the myriad of remotes for all of the devices in your home.

Logitech Harmony Products
Product Harmony 350 Harmony 650 Harmony 950 Harmony Companion Harmony Elite
Maxium Devices 8 8 15 8 15
Display None Color Color Touch None Color Multi-Touch
Control Type IR IR IR IR/RF/Bluetooth/IP IR/RF/Bluetooth/IP
Batteries 2 AA 2 AA Rechargable CR2302 Rechargable
Comes with Hub No No No Yes Yes
Channel Favorites 5 23 50 50 50
Price $35 $50 $200 $150 $300

Logitech created the Harmony Hub a few years back, and was their first play into the game of home automation. The Harmony Hub is the key to the Harmony Elite’s ease of use, and powerful integration with the home. Whereas the remote allows control over IR only, the Hub gets connected to the home network, allowing it to control devices through IP, and it also supports Bluetooth control. This widely expands to capabilities of the remote, from just controlling A/V equipment, to now allowing control of smart home devices like the Nest thermostat, Phillips Hue, Lutron lighting, Sonos, and more. Adding the capabilities of IP control also make the experience no longer require line of sight, and the control is more reliable than IR alone.

But the key to the overall ease of use with Harmony continues to be its unique activity-based control. For those that haven’t used it, I’ll give a quick overview of the concept.

Activities

The original genius with Harmony, especially compared to other Universal remote controls, was that Harmony groups devices into activities. The typical setup would be one remote per device, so if you want to watch a movie, you may need a remote to power on the television and choose the correct input, a remote for the A/V Receiver to select the input and control the audio, and a third remote for the disc player. Then, if you wanted to watch television, you’d turn off the disc player, switch the inputs on the TV and Receiver, and then pick up the cable box remote to change channels. This is somewhat of a worst-case scenario of course. Perhaps the television remote will also control the DVD player or cable box in some manner, but regardless this is how most people operate an entertainment setup. Even the best universal remote control is always some sort of compromise, since inevitably there will be some function you need to perform on a device that will require you to dig out the remote for it.

Harmony dispenses with this silliness. By grouping devices into activities, the remote will perform every function required automatically, and it will then control the correct devices for that activity. For instance, when you decide you want to watch a movie, you can select the activity titled “Watch a Movie” on the remote. It will then power on the correct equipment, select the correct inputs, and automatically switch the remote functions to support the activity. Play/Pause and the like will be mapped to the disc player, and volume control will be for the A/V Receiver. You can customize each activity to suit your individual tastes, and every single button can be mapped to other functions if you need to change any of the functions. Then, when you want to watch television instead, pressing “Watch TV” will power off the disc player, power on the cable box, select the correct inputs, and remap the remote buttons as required.

For any of those rare times where you need to control some obscure feature of your equipment, Harmony also has a Devices mode, where you can pick a single device and get full control of it and all of its features.

The combination of activities and devices make the cumbersome process of controlling several devices into a simple, seamless task. The Harmony Elite builds on this already powerful control that Harmony has always had, but the underlying philosophies are the same.

The Logitech Harmony Elite Remote
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  • weevilone - Wednesday, February 15, 2017 - link

    I missed the part about whether I found it friendly. I do find it friendly. My family does not, as they can't seem to remember what button press does what so they randomly push stuff and get it confused. I have written a cheat sheet for them and they've now lost that twice. Reply
  • phoenix_rizzen - Wednesday, February 15, 2017 - link

    Tape the cheat sheet to the back of the remote. :) Reply
  • batteries4ever - Wednesday, February 15, 2017 - link

    Exactly... get the Harmony Companion losses the touch screen, but comes at about half the price and with a year or so battery life... easy choice for me.
    Coming from my Harmony One like the Author, I find I don't really miss the touchscreen much.
    Even other people who DO miss it, you might use your phone or iPad app instead, and have more control of the media centre on top of that, or stream Spotify etc... on a really big/sharp/colorful/whatever screen.
    Reply
  • RBFL - Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - link

    You're forgetting the saving in divorce costs when you unveil your tech masterpiece to your wife and the 10 remotes that go along with it.

    We have a Logitech 650 which works really well, does just what you want it to and is pretty much seamless after a 10-20 minute setup.

    Perhaps I am getting old but I am not sure I want everything automated. As the person who has to fix stuff that breaks and doesn't function I don't want to be a house sysadmin. "Dad, my light won't dim, Dad, the temperature's wrong,...

    On the issue of IOT I am waiting for the first YouTube video of someone attacking their fridge with a shotgun when it refuses to give them a beer prior to updating its firmware.
    Reply
  • batteries4ever - Wednesday, February 15, 2017 - link

    What!!! You don't want to spend weeks setting the thingy up "just so" and debugging and updating the software. Come on.... it could easily save you two or even three seconds or so each time you use it. Please do the math - the time to set it up will easily pay for itself in 150 years or so!
    OK I actually have something like that myself and it is a bit better than the Harmony One (no need to point the remote, battery life), but i totally get you... i am getting old too!
    Reply
  • Beaver M. - Sunday, February 19, 2017 - link

    I have a 300 for $30, and its more than enough. Never understood how you need anything bigger or with more features. This one does everything you need. Reply
  • Beaver M. - Sunday, February 19, 2017 - link

    I guess some people use one remote for everything in their home, which I find rather stupid. My devices are far away from each other, so I rather have one remote for each room where such devices are, than forgetting to take my one remote with me everywhere and having to look for it in the whole house if I forget where I left it.
    Also touch screens are the most inefficient control you can have on a remote. Had one of them before, which was the cause I bought my 300.
    Reply
  • Dribble - Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - link

    Just buy a second hand Harmony one for a fraction of the price. Reply
  • weevilone - Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - link

    Harmony One has really started to show its age, especially from a software perspective. It's mostly due to neglect, but it's now lacking in terms of programing capability. Reply
  • Azethoth - Wednesday, February 15, 2017 - link

    Mmmm no. The new app based setup is a pure joy compared to the old trip to the computer room and constant flaky syncing crap. Reply

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