It isn’t every day that we get to review things at Ausdroid that are so completely compatible with our lives that we simply must have them at all costs. We review quite a many Android devices that are fantastic, but we give them back at the end of the review and move on with our tech lives.
The Logitech Harmony Smart Remote is not one of those devices.
It will take something in the order of dynamite and a trained negotiator to get me to give this gadget up, and even then, it might involve prying it from my cold dead hands. Before we explain just how things got so dire, let me tell you about more about what this little piece of magic is, what it does, and why it’s so great.
What’s a Logitech Harmony Smart Remote.. besides a long name?
I don’t know about your circumstances, but when I look around my lounge room, I see quite a number of devices that like to be fed infra-red commands. Like insatiable beasts, the television, Blu-ray player, Foxtel IQ2 and network media player demand your commands delivered via the invisible light spectrum, and even the air conditioner up on the wall responds to (in)visible stimulation as well.
As you might imagine, this means that we’re trying to find a place to put no less than five remote controls, and some of these are ridiculously large. To give you an idea of this menace, I’ve captured these devices in the wild:
With this plethora of remotes, we can do things that should be quick unobtrusive tasks like turn on the TV and watch the football, cool ourselves down, and set the IQ to record the next episode of the Walking Dead. Yes, this can be accomplished by wielding various combinations of remotes, but this really isn’t a very efficient game. If I want to sit down at night and watch the football over summer with a beer, I need no less than three remotes (and probably a bottle opener), and once I’ve had a few, remembering which buttons to use to change the air-conditioning can be a little challenging.
This, in addition to the much-loved pasttime of remote controls, which is finding hiding places around your lounge so you can’t operate your TV or DVD player when you want to.
It was a problem I had consigned myself to dealing with, until Logitech wrote to Ausdroid and asked if we’d like to review a Harmony Smart Remote. Not having done my homework, I blindly accepted the offer, and a day or two later, I had a rather imposing black box in my possession, containing the prized smart remote.
So, what’s in the box?
As you can see in the photo above, the key elements are three: a traditional-looking remote control, a small, square hub type device which is perhaps a little larger than your palm and about as thick, and a little IR transmitter on the end of a cable of reasonable length. Not pictured, there’s also a micro USB cable for powering the hub device, and an AC adapter in case you don’t have some other USB power source nearby. Fortunately for me, the hub sits just on top of our ADSL wireless router, and so powers itself off a convenient USB port.
Yeah, so what does it do exactly?
Setting it up is fairly simple. There’s the physical aspect, which involves placing the Harmony Hub somewhere in the vicinity of your devices (in my case, it sits on a shelf off to the side and slightly in front of the IQ box, where it can also see (through the glass shelf above it) the Blu-ray player. To control the TV (which is outside the cabinet and separated by a thick wooden shelf), the IR transmitter on the reasonably sized cable is connected to the Harmony Hub and the cable run to place the transmitter just in front of the TV remote sensor. From here, we found out, it can also easily control the air conditioner.
Once the physical setup is done, using ones Android or iOS device, a fairly smooth soft-setup is then performed. This involves pairing the Harmony Hub with your smart device over Bluetooth, connecting the Harmony Hub to your WiFi network (so it can download remote definitions and the like from Logitech, and also so it can communicate with your smart devices in remote control mode), and telling it how to talk to your various devices.
Firstly, it asks for the make and model of your TV. In my case, it’s a Sony 40″ something-or-other, and the Harmony app asked me to type in the model number which was printed on the side of the TV. Upon entering this, the Harmony Hub turned on my TV and asked me if it worked. It then turned it back off, and asked what other devices I wanted to add. Through a very similar (and equally quick) process, I added our Foxtel box and Blu-ray player. While I had the option to add the air conditioner, I didn’t, because I was in too much of a hurry to play.
Once set up, you’ve got a couple of choices for controlling it. Of course, you can use the little Logitech hand-held remote, which controls the Harmony Hub via RF (radio frequency) rather than infra-red, meaning you don’t need to be all that careful about pointing it in the right direction.
There are three ‘activity’ buttons across the top, which you can assign to whatever you like. By default, they’ll tell your equipment to play music, TV and movies respectively (depending on what equipment you set up on the device, of course). In our case, we didn’t use the sound one (as our music needs are covered by mobile phones these days.. sad I know), but the TV activity automatically turns on the TV, changes to the appropriate input, and turns on the Foxtel box to Fox8 so we can watch cartoons. The movie activity turns the TV on, changes to the Blu-ray input, and turns the Blu-ray on.
All this was set up automatically by the Harmony app and required next to no configuration from us. Some of the Foxtel buttons (in particular the coloured buttons) didn’t map 100% correctly, but again, using the app and following the prompts to change the button mapping was a piece of cake, and it was fixed in a couple of minutes without having to resort to any instruction manuals.
This setup — using the physical Harmony remote — is mirrored in the app, allowing you to control whatever you want, in whatever order you want, as you see fit. You can set single buttons to perform a list of activities (think like a macro): for example, turning on the TV, turning on the Blu-ray, changing the input on the TV to said Blu-ray, and opening the disc drawer ready for you to insert a movie, or check what’s in before playing.
While we think it works best with Android (*cough*bias*cough*) the reality is it works equally well on iOS, and it’s as happy on a phone as a tablet. Whatever you’ve got will probably work quite well with the Harmony Smart Remote.
In short, with one remote, you can control the whole show, and it’s so easy even your grandma could set it up with her glasses off, or your parents could buy one and figure it out without having to call the family tech support go-to-guy (i.e. you).
Is it really that good?
In a nutshell, yes.
The physical remote is great, but when it goes hiding (as it does sometimes, it’s kind of small) all we need do is grab a nearby iOS or Android device (and there’s plenty of these in this house), fire up the Harmony app, and off we go. Are you the type that wants to wake up in bed, fire up the TV onto the Simpsons and have it ready and waiting for you by the time you stumble downstairs? Well if you are, this is the device for you.
For everyone else though, this is probably the simplest smart remote I’ve ever seen, and has allowed us to chuck four remotes in the drawers of our entertainment unit, quite possibly never to be seen again.
The Logitech Harmony Smart Remote retails for $169.95, and to be frank, it’s not exactly cheap — sure, you can just use the remotes you’ve been given with your devices, and not pay a cent more. However, for the convenience of only having one remote you can lose instead of four of them, and for the ease of use that it brings… I’m finding myself thinking more and more that there’s some value for money here.
The other night, we had a sitter come and mind the young one while we were out for the evening. Instead of telling her how to juggle three remotes just to get the TV going, it was a case of “here’s the remote, if you want to watch Foxtel, press the TV button, there’s volume, there’s the channels, off you go” and that’s the end of the story. There’s nothing worse than trying to figure out how someone else’s TV/DVD/STB/HTPC setup works.. and only having to figure out a few buttons on a smart remote and leaving the heavy lifting to a smart piece of hardware is quite amazing, and it’s something you have to see and experience to really appreciate.
If you shop around a bit, you can save up to $40 on the RRP, and at the $125 mark, if you’ve got a few entertainment devices and a few dollars spare, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Logitech Harmony Smart Remote as your next investment. Having read this review, if you want more product information, check out Logitech’s Harmony Smart Remote Control page.
Acknowledgement: Logitech provided a Harmony Smart Remote to Ausdroid for the purposes of this review, and once published, we’ll be in touch with Logitech to return it, much as we don’t really want to. That said, I’ll be buying one of these quick smart.