Logitech Harmony Smart Control is a Home Run

We’ve had our Logitech Harmony Smart Control hub and remote for a long time, long enough that it isn’t even for sale anymore in the configuration we have. The remote is so old the printing is wearing off the remote.

What We Needed and Wanted

Our requirements for a “universal remote” are:

  • It has to control a Dish receiver, a PlayStation, a television, an A/V receiver, and a Roku.
  • It had to be capable of working without a direct line of sight since some components aren’t be visible to a typical infrared remote.
  • A bonus would be if we could control the entertainment system from our smartphones.
  • The remote itself has to be bombproof and svelte, gigantic remotes need not apply.
Harmony remote

My Harmony has some miles on it

Having tried a few universal remotes over the years, we knew oversized remotes are a pain and touchscreens require one to LOOK at the remote to accomplish a task and they suck battery juice like drunkards.

Professional level channel surfers like myself do NOT want to or need to look at their remotes! That’s for n00bs.

The Logitech Harmony Smart Control Hub fit the bill and has worked seamlessly for years. Read the original review on CNET, it’s what sold us on the product.

With the hub having an RF versus an IR interface means the remote can be pointed anywhere and still function perfectly. The Bluetooth connection available in the hub is another bonus, as is Wi-Fi.

It’s a solid piece of hardware.

The nearest product to the hub and remote we have is the Logitech Harmony Companion with a suggested retail price of $149.99 for the remote and the hub which is now better suited to home automation as well as one touch entertainment remote control.

Setup

Unlike other companies, Logitech provides a desktop application that can be used to setup the hub. If you prefer, there are iOS and Android apps to do the same thing. We recommend doing the initial setup with the app installed on your phone since you’re more apt to enjoy the portability of being able to move around near your home entertainment system.

Setup takes some patience. We aren’t sure how it could be made more intuitive, given the complexity of marrying components from many different manufacturers into a “unit” and ensuring the controls make sense.

Add Devices

Make sure you know the model numbers of your components so you can select correctly in the Logitech setup menus. It’s a good idea to have the remotes for each component available at the same time.

Harmony remote devices screen

Add all your devices, it’s not hard

Logitech walks you through the device selection process, and you’ll be asked to turn your devices on and off a few times to ensure the correct settings are being programmed into the remote. Be prepared to start over with some devices, leave time for frustration breaks.

Add Activities

Once you’ve added your components, you will add those components into “activities”.

Harmony remote activities screen

Build your activities for the things you do often

You can see we have different activities, you will have similar activities. For example, “Watch Satellite” incorporates the television, the Dish receiver, and the A/V receiver. Each one must be powered on individually, although advances in HDMI technology have made this less of a tedious chore as “auto on” becomes more prevalent when HDMI components are selected.

In some cases, the order of powering up components matters. Again, leave some frustration time available to do the initial setup. It’s worth getting it right, because once you have everything set correctly, there’s little reason to change anything again.

We have a “Watch TV” activity set up on our unit, with the television being the only device selected. This is strictly a power saving move. We have the TV set up to come on at 7am as an alarm, and we often set a timer before we go to sleep. There’s little sense running the amplifier and subwoofer and satellite receiver in these instances when the speakers built into the TV will do the trick.

If you have a PS4, you will be disappointed you can’t power on your PlayStation with the Harmony because Sony doesn’t allow access to it’s “power on” function to outside vendors. The PS3 used to work just fine.

Pros

The remote is simple and, without a touch screen, is easy to use in the dark once you learn the buttons. It fits the hand nicely, has a decent feeling non-skid back and just enough heft to feel like a quality piece of equipment.

Four years of use and abuse haven’t extracted much of a toll on it. The batteries were replaced once, and it’s been dropped and sat on and even jumped on by eighty pound dogs without even breathing hard.

The hub lives in a cabinet and does the jobs assigned to it without complaint. It may require a reboot once a year, MAYBE. The hub integrates with “Alexa”, so we can control some of our entertainment unit functions with our Echo Dot. We don’t use it much, usually just “Alexa, turn Dish off” or something. It does work.

Cons

PS4 control? Sort of,

As stated above, it’s annoying the remote won’t control the PlayStation 4 completely. Once the PS4 is “on”, some of the functions on the remote work decently well for watching video content, but the other options for doing the same thing work better. Again, this isn’t “on” Logitech, it’s Sony being contentious.

We have an available accessory IR “blaster” plugged in to the hub and placed on the TV stand. This really helps the infrared signal come alive outside the A/V cabinet so it can hit the infrared port on the television. It worked without the extender, but we had to place the hub perilously close to the glass front of the A/V cabinet and even then it would fail to activate the TV once in awhile.

Verdict

This remote and hub combination is a big win. Assuming the hardware ever wears out, we’d replace it with whatever is the closest thing to it from Logitech. Currently, their Harmony Companion fits the bill nicely.

The hub is nice, other people are getting into the connectivity business and making strides. It’s nice to be able to control everything with our phones, but other people are also doing that.

To us, the “killer app” is the remote itself. It’s not as simple as the VERY simple Roku remote, but it shouldn’t be. It has JUST enough functions built in and programmable buttons for the few things they missed. It’s not for “beginners”, you’d need to be a bit of a “tinkerer” (but not a “full geek/nerd”) to get the most out of the remote. With a little effort, though, it’s nearly perfect.

Accessibility Factor

People with mobility challenges might REALLY appreciate the size and weight and design of the small Harmony remote. I know I do.

Having multiple remotes is common now that we all have so many devices to control at once. Many “standard” remote controls have some universality built into them. For example, your cable provider will hand you a remote that’s capable of turning on your TV and perhaps your surround sound system IF you know how to program it.

This Harmony setup is WAY better than those.

If you need some help setting it up, and maybe even a little “cheat sheet” to help you remember what buttons do what, it’s worth the effort asking for some help from a geek in your life.

Comments

  1. Rhys F Halloran says:

    I have the LogiTech Harmony Companion and we love it. I have it to connected to my Cox box, samsung TV, and blu ray player. I can fire them all up by voice with Alexa.