- Works with tons of other connected devices
- Activity-based setup offers lots of customizability
- Physical buttons for most actions, plus a customizable touchscreen interface
- Setup can still be time-consuming, and desktop app is unintuitive
- Doesn’t work with all the devices it claims to (yet)
Logitech tried to streamline the setup with a new smartphone app, although it’s still a challenge. But once everything’s working, Harmony Ultimate Home lives up to its name.
I’m not sure why coffee tables are called coffee tables. The one in my living room spends more time buried under a pile of remote controls than it does holding up cups of coffee. Of course, the holy grail for anyone with even the most modest media setup is a universal remote that “just works,” to steal a phrase from Apple. Logitech’s Harmony Ultimate Home is the latest in a progression of remote controls that attempts—and mostly succeeds—in simplifying not only your entertainment center, but your lights, door locks, thermostats, and other smart devices.
The Harmony Ultimate Home bundle includes the namesake remote, the Home Hub, a pair of IR blasters (for use with gear tucked behind doors), a charging cradle for the remote, and all the required cables. The remote itself is thoughtfully designed, prominently featuring a bright 2.4-inch touchscreen. The physical buttons are laid out well, offering immediate access to most of the functions you need.
Logitech has gotten rid of the tethered setup in favor of app-based setup from an iOS (or Android) app. So yeah, in addition to your $350 remote, you’ll also need an iPhone. Still, there are some advantages. For one, your Harmony app-equipped phone can double as a second remote, which is perfect for those moments when your actual remote goes missing. The banner feature here is integration with a wide variety of other devices from companies like Nest, Peq, Lutron, SmartThings, and more.
Once everything’s programmed correctly, you’ll mostly use the touchscreen to swap Activities, but depending on the devices you use, there are several unused buttons that could also be mapped to specific functions or sets of commands. The touchscreen can also be used with gestures, to do things like play/pause and adjust volume. You can also create your own gestures, but the button layout on the remote is pretty complete, making custom gestures seem more like a flashy demo feature than a necessity. If you need it, the capability is there, however.
The Harmony remote communicates with all your devices via the Wi-Fi-connected Harmony Home Hub (say that three times fast). The hub receives commands from your remote and relays them to your various devices. It works with both IR and Bluetooth devices, such as game consoles. Connect the hub to AC power, place it in your entertainment center, and put it on your Wi-Fi nework and you’re ready to go.
Setting up your various devices to work with the remote is also simple. The app first scans your Wi-Fi network for compatible devices, and then you enter the makes and models of other equipment that you own, so that the Harmony can program the appropriate commands. Things only get difficult when you start creating Activities, which are groups of commands sent to particular devices.
You better work
My normal media setup is pretty simple, involving just a Sharp TV, Yamaha receiver, Apple TV, PlayStation 3, and a turntable from Pro-Ject. So for a task like “Watch Apple TV,” all I really need to do is turn the TV on, turn Apple TV on, turn the receiver on, and set the correct inputs. It’s not a terribly complicated sequence, and obviously a very common setup. The iOS app walked me through programming the Activity, and when it came time to test it—no dice. The receiver turned off, Apple TV turned on, and the television stubbornly decided to switch to an unused HDMI input.
An hour and a half and much button mashing later, I got the kinks worked out. If something doesn’t work right, the app guides you through a series of Yes/No questions to try and suss out the problem, but it doesn’t go deep enough. It covers turning things on or off, and setting inputs, but to solve my problem, I had to download a MyHarmony application to my Mac, and tweak a few command sequences by hand, and then sync the changes to my Hub. So much for the convenience of an iOS-based setup.
I also set up separate activities for playing DVDs, streaming music via AirPlay, and listening to records. That last one requires manual input, for obvious reasons, and I had to dive into the desktop application once again to add things like changing my receiver’s audio processing.
Of course, universal remotes are complicated beasts, and the fact that this one can also control things like Hue light bulbs, Nest thermostats, Sonos music systems, and any of 225,000 other devices is pretty compelling. I wanted to use it with an August Smart Lock, which is prominently featured on Logitech’s website, but was informed that unfortunately they haven’t quite worked out compatibility yet. Your best bet is to check Logitech’s extensive list online, and verify that Harmony Ultimate Home works with your specific setup before plunking down $350.
Harmony’s biggest flaw continues to be the setup process. Logitech attempts to simplify it with an iOS app, but the setup options are too limited to allow you to make all the tweaks necessary to perfect all of your activities. For that, you’ll still need to dip into the clunky desktop application. When you get all your devices working together, the Harmony lives up to its name. Unfortunately, as in most things, achieving that kind of bliss still requires plenty of work on the front end.