Review: Logitech Harmony Touch Universal Remote Control
Good news: Logitech has released its best Harmony remote control yet, and it's called Harmony Touch ($250) -- a sleek black and gray enclosure with a 2.4-inch touchscreen. Bad news: despite all of its positives, Harmony Touch drains its built-in rechargeable battery every one or two days, so you'll need to keep it very close to its included charging cradle at all times. If that sounds viable as a solution for your home entertainment system needs, read on.
Apple TV users know well that any iOS device can serve as a Wi-Fi remote control thanks to Apple’s free app Remote, but if you want to control the television, A/V receiver, and/or speakers connected to the Apple TV, an accessory of some sort will be necessary. This reality has led to a large collection of iOS Infrared remote control dongles and standalone solutions, all requiring you to have your iOS device nearby, and many requiring a Dock Connector-based Infrared blaster to be plugged into your device as necessary. Since that’s inconvenient, standalone universal remote controls have continued to be popular solutions, and there’s no doubt that Logitech’s Harmony series remains the king of the hill. They’re easy to set up, nicely designed, and practical.
Harmony Touch isn’t the most sophisticated remote Logitech offers—there are larger, mini tablet-shaped versions in the 1000/1100 series at higher prices—but it’s the fanciest candybar-style remote the company has yet released. The remote looks like it could be a futuristic, button-laden home telephone, and ships with a telephone-style battery recharging base, wall adapter, and USB cable. You effectively get the best features of the blockier 1000 remotes in a more comfortable package. However, one notable omission is support for RF remote controls; Harmony Touch is solely an Infrared remote controller, which means that it works to manage most but not all consumer electronics you might have in your home entertainment system.
Although Harmony Touch is packed with the expected array of physical buttons—including play/pause/forward/reverse/stop/record controls, menu and navigation buttons, power, volume and channel toggles—the star of the design is the aforementioned color touchscreen. While it’s smaller than the screen of any iPhone or iPod touch, it’s very capable by candybar-style remote control standards, and alternates between displaying text- or icon-based custom buttons as appropriate. From a UI standpoint, Logitech has done a pretty good job with this screen, using modern and readable text at a respectable resolution, plus buttons that are always large enough to be accessed with your fingertips. If something goes wrong, a clearly marked ? button is there to help, and you can always press a persistent Home button above the screen to get back to the main menu. Moreover, the company has built the back of Harmony Touch to make finger access to the screen comfortable, with ergonomic bulges that feel quite nice when gripped.
You customize the remote and the screen during a setup process that’s generally even simpler than with earlier Harmony remotes, despite the more powerful hardware inside Harmony Touch. Just plug an included USB cable into your computer, visit Myharmony.com, and use a web-based installer to get the remote up and running—easy as can be, especially if you’ve already installed Microsoft’s Silverlight, which is required for the process. The installer has you identify the devices you want to control, automatically setting up virtually everything using little more than the brand and model number of each device, and then lets you create combined activities for multiple devices.
Assuming that you’re going to use Harmony Touch with your TV, dedicated channel buttons can be added for your favorite networks and cable stations; Apple TV users will find options to use physical buttons, touchscreen buttons, and even apparently gesture controls as an option on the screen. Going back to the Home screen, you’ll find each device or activity listed in large, easily tappable text on a scrolling menu; once you select a device or activity, the buttons you want to see generally appear as pill-shaped options, scrollable with simple up and down swipes.
Despite the otherwise positive and streamlined setup process, there are some noteworthy hiccups Apple TV users will experience. If you’ve previously purchased a Harmony remote control, you’ll likely find that there’s no straightforward way to migrate your existing programming and settings from the old remote to Harmony Touch; the web-based setup utility works only with newer Harmony remotes, and Harmony Touch won’t be recognized by the latest version of the older Harmony setup application we tested. Additionally, the remote’s optional gesture controls didn’t work right away with the Apple TV, and the remote’s physical volume controls for the TV didn’t work as expected, either. The remote does include some virtual button addition and deletion features, so you needn’t go back to a computer to fix every issue you experience, but more sophisticated button and activity re-mapping still requires computer and installer use.
Our biggest issues with Harmony Touch were in the battery and accidental screen activation departments. The screen automatically turns on and off as it’s touched—a power-saving and convenience feature—but it can be accidentally activated by bedsheets and pillowcases, so if you’re using it in bed, you may find that the battery’s dead once per day. We found that to be the only deal-killing issue with Harmony Touch; needing to place it back in its included cradle all the time is a real hassle, and something that isn’t required with non-touchscreen Harmony remotes. Less serious of a problem is the screen’s tendency to accidentally activate when your finger sweeps over it on the way to a physical button; you may inadvertently hit the ? button, triggering Harmony Touch’s automatic “try and fix it” remote commands and “Did that help?” screen text. These are mere annoyances by comparison with the battery drain issue, and could likely be fixed with a firmware update to the remote.
Overall, Harmony Touch is a very good remote control with a fatal flaw: weak battery life that undermines what’s otherwise a very thoughtfully designed universal remote solution. Most users will find that the novelty and utility of the touchscreen aren’t so spectacular that they’re worth the frequent recharging hassles, making Logitech’s earlier, lower-tech remotes better alternatives; for this reason, it’s worthy of only a limited recommendation. However, if you’re willing to put up with the need for frequent charging, consider Harmony Touch worth checking out. We’ll be keeping our fingers crossed for a more power-efficient sequel, or a software update to improve its longevity.