I’m going to start out with full disclosure. I have been using Harmony Remotes for over then years. My first Harmony remote the SST-768 came from Mississauga, ON based Intrigue Technologies. Logitech acquired the firm in May of 2004. So you might say I have a built in bias for Harmony Remotes.
Now Logitech has indicated it wants to sell its Harmony division so the Logitech Harmony Ultimate may well be the last device sold under the Logitech banner. Nothing like going out on top because the Ultimate is a humdinger of a universal remote.
Logitech has taken last year’s impressive Harmony Touch, tweaked it a bit and made some ergonomic changes and added the Logitech Hub to come up with a system that will control just about any home entertainment device even it it is hidden away in a cabinet.
The Harmony Ultimate is a conventionally shaped remote control centered around a large 2.4-inch touch screen flanked by large, simple buttons for playback, navigation, and volume/channel control. Some find the placement of the playback controls above the touch screen awkward, I did at first but quickly got over it. The underside has a textured finish that feels both sturdy and secure in the hand. If that were all there is to it you would be justified in asking what the fuss is all about.
The remote is only part of the system. It comes with the Logitech Harmony Hub, a separate box that communicates with the remote via RF to handle infrared repeating and Bluetooth. The infrared repeating is a handy feature that lets you control your devices even in a cabinet or from another room. Place the hub near your home theater components and run the two included infrared blasters to other components nearby, and the remote can trigger the hub to fire out commands to all devices. The hub also adds Bluetooth functionality to communicate with your Sony Playstation or Nintendo Wii. It is also a WiFi hub so you can control your devices with a iPhone or Android app. More on those later.
Programming the remote uses a new Logitech web app that to me looks a bit cleaner and easier to navigate than the old app. You program activities by indicating what devices are activated to watch TV for example. Harmony remotes are Compatible with over 225,000 home entertainment devices, including TVs, Blu-ray players, amplifiers, Microsoft’s Xbox 360, the Sony PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii U, any Harmony remote should work flawlessly with any equipment you have in your home. If you have equipment that isn’t already part of Logitech’s database, you can teach the remote any command using its “learn” function. The Ultimate will control up to fifteen individual devices so should be able to handle even the most complicates home entertainment setup. For good measure the Ultimate can also control Philips Hue Lights.
Another cool feature: For watching television, you can also enter your zip code or postal code and cable or satellite provider to automatically fill up the touchscreen with the correct channel numbers and the channels’ logos. You can also access a number pad as well as commands for the devices currently being controlled. I really liked the swipe up and down for volume and swipe right and left to skip 30 seconds.
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Logitech is making a big deal of the smartphone apps that give you all the functions of the remote on your iPhone or Android smartphone. Tablet apps are coming soon. Great I suppose if you keep your phone with you while you are watching TV.Several updates down the road the apps now feel much more polished and work reliably. No problems connecting and staying connected to the hub and none of the delays I saw on the earlier software versions. I can see a big future for this feature if a tablet version combined with a program guide is in the cards…I hope so because I do keep my iPad mini beside me when I watch TV.
As I said at the beginning, this is a humdinger of a universal remote. In my opinion the Logitech Harmony Ultimate is the best of the bunch that will handle even the most complicated home entertainment systems. But, it is expensive! At $350 most people will think twice…heck you can find a pretty good TV on sale for that price. But if you want the best then this is it.
If the Ultimate is too rich for your blood you might think about the Logitech Harmony Smart Control for $130. It is essentially a hub capable of controlling 8 devices and for all the features you will have to use the iPhone or Android app as your remote. In case the phone is unavailable the Smart Control also comes with a very basic remote.