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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  • gilmoreisu - Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - link

    Good review, agree with what you have her. I'd definitely recommend, but understand it is pricey. Overall it is a great remote. I had the 880 for years and really loved most of it.

    Pros: Too many to list, but here are a few
    - Once setup, even my wife and kids can use it
    - The help button auto-fixes most issues, teach it to the kids and wife
    - Ergonomics are great, probably the best I've used
    - It controls anything with Bluetooth, AndroidTV, PS3/4, Nintendo Wii/U (cons are sometimes it doesn't connect)

    Cons:
    - Price, you should never pay more than $250, sometimes Best Buy runs a trade in deal and you can find for $200
    - As stated, battery, it stinks, and if you have kids that never put it on the cradle, good luck
    - Activities and Devices button should have been physical, just no reason for capacitive
    - The touchscreen causes too many mishaps, if you pick up the remote wrong, you may accidentally open another action, kids especially (happens 1 to 2 times per week)
    - No number buttons - but you get used to it
    - Harmony Software not as intuitive as I'd like (how do I reorder the activities screen? How do I add buttons on the touch screen?)
    Reply
  • Azethoth - Wednesday, February 15, 2017 - link

    For my money Activities and Devices should be ABOVE the touch screen. The goddamn touch screen should need a click on them to activate. The rate of bad accidental clicks on it is insane.

    I reprogrammed the red circle and white square buttons to be skip back and skip ahead. These require single press or auto repeat. The default programming for them is useless. Long press for record.

    The button layout is awful. Exit Menu DVR Guide Info need to be together. They are spread out and not possible to use by touch alone. There needs to be big gaps between various blocks of buttons like the color ones and especially the most frequently used navigation ones.

    Buttons you will constantly click by accident:
    Anything on the fucking touch screen.
    The satan damned Activities and Devices buttons.
    Exit and Menu
    Mute / DVR / Red
    Swap / Info

    The touch screen error rate is so bad i made the remote wake up on press only. This means backlight is not on when raising it which sucks donkey balls but compared to the fucking touch screen bullshit is acceptable.

    There is so much good with the hub (I never get activity errors anymore), and the iPad and iPhone app is a joy to work with. Its sad that they fucked up the button layout so badly.

    A simple tap and hold mode for the touch screen would be a giant improvement. No response ever to a single click.
    Reply
  • smartthanyou - Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - link

    No number keys makes this garbage, pure and simple. Reply
  • weevilone - Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - link

    I haven't really needed them. Anytime there's a source that I might want to change channels, the favorites list is on the LCD so I can just click a channel I like. If I'd like to select a different channel directly, I swipe the favorites off the screen and that's replaced by a numeric keypad on the LCD. It's not tactile, but I probably use it twice a year. Reply
  • weevilone - Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - link

    It would suck if you had to constantly enter a passcode for parental control, or something like that. Reply
  • Fallen Kell - Wednesday, February 15, 2017 - link

    Exactly. This has been my issue with all touch sensitive LCD screen remotes since they first came out. Too many of these remotes are putting everything on the LCD when in fact hard buttons are still an absolute necessity. The point of a remote is to control items quickly and easily. You should not be forced to need to look at the remote in order to operate it for standard functions (i.e. number pad for changing channels, volume up/down, channel up/down, last/return, menu, info, exit, and a 4 way direction pad+select/ok button, fast forward/rewind/stop/play/pause/record/next chapter/previous chapter at a minimum, additional important buttons like power off and mute, and a scroll up/down). Without those buttons, you need to look at the remote for controlling most items, but with them, you can happily control almost all standard features of TV/entertainment systems while never missing the action. Reply
  • Azethoth - Wednesday, February 15, 2017 - link

    maybe your usage pattern is different. I have everything i watch recorded and i never watch live. I can then always skip ads. Favorite buttons navigate faster than messing with the number buttons.

    I have never used the numpad on this remote. it would actually be nice if i can disable it completely.
    Reply
  • Azethoth - Wednesday, February 15, 2017 - link

    I programmed the favorite buttons to replace the number buttons. for me that means a few of the single and double digit channels, syfy amc bbc etc. and one each for the beginning of HBO, Showtime, Stars, Cinemax. Now you can pop up the guide and instantly go to any of these and scroll to adjacent channels. Works better than the number thing for me on DirecTV. Reply
  • Edgeman - Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - link

    I had one and sent it back. It is good for relatively simple systems and ordinary equipment but for a whole house system with matrix switches and multiple audio and video sources and displays, it is just not even close to up to the task, it is way too dumbed down to get it to work with everything, much less good macros. Instead, I bought four Phillips Prontos (sadly no longer made) on eBay. They are infinitely programmable via the PC software. Reply
  • andychow - Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - link

    You could just buy a cellphone that includes a IR blaster. Reply

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