You’ve worked hard to build your home entertainment system, and you’re proud of it. But if it takes you more than 10 minutes to watch a DVD because you’re fiddling with various remote controls, there’s one more piece of equipment you should get: A universal remote.
A universal remote saves times and eliminates clutter by allowing you to control your home theater equipment — TV, cable box, audio, gaming console — from a single source. There are numerous models out there, but the Logitech Harmony Touch stands out with its built-in touchscreen. (Philips also offers one with a touchscreen, called the Prestigo SRT8215, for $130.)
I’ve been using the Harmony Touch for the past week, and there’s a lot to like about the remote. Setup is easy. The touchscreen provides one-touch access to 50 of your favorite channels, and you can use gestures to perform various tasks. That said, it also poses some problems.
Due to the location of the remote’s 2.4-inch display, some key buttons are placed out of easy reach. Those who like physical buttons might also take issue with the remote’s reliance on the touchscreen for things like entering channel numbers.
But the biggest hurdle may be its expensive $250 price tag. At this point, the touchscreen is a nice-to-have feature, not a must-have, so it’s not worth the extra cost. Logitech’s non-touch universal remotes, such as the Harmony 650 and Harmony 900, can do many of the same things for at least $100 less.
Still, the Harmony Touch is a nice-looking remote. In addition to the touchscreen, it offers 27 physical buttons. All the keys are backlit, and the display is clear and easy to read. It comes to life as soon as you touch it.
The Harmony Touch can connect with up to 15 devices, and Logitech says it supports more than 225,000 products from 5,000 different companies. I set up the remote to work with my Samsung TV, Motorola cable box/DVR, Roku XD and Panasonic DVD player. The entire process was a breeze.
Initial setup requires that you connect the remote to a computer with the included USB cable, and create an account (or sign into an existing one) on the MyHarmony website. (One thing to note for Mac users is that the website only works on the Firefox or Safari browser, and not Chrome. Windows owners can use Chrome, Firefox or Internet Explorer.)
The online guide then walks you through the steps of adding your devices, and assigning them to various activities, such as “Watch TV” or “Watch Movie.” You can also choose your favorite channels during this time, but I encountered a hiccup during this process.
After entering my ZIP code and cable provider, the software provided a list of all my channels, or so I thought. As I started selecting my favorites, I noticed that the NBC HD channel was missing. Entering the number manually didn’t surface it either, and it was only after I tabbed over to the Most Popular Channels section that I found it. I didn’t have any other problems, though.
Once you’ve finished setting everything up, all of your data syncs with the remote so you can unplug and begin using it.
Since the Harmony Touch is built around using the touchscreen, everything begins there. Swiping left to right allows you to view your various options, and tapping on the screen selects an activity.
I set up three different activities for the remote: Watch TV, Watch Movies (for access to Netflix and Amazon via Roku) and Watch DVDs (for my DVD player). The Harmony Touch turned on the appropriate equipment for each task I selected, and also displayed a second menu of options that allowed me to control the devices.
For example, after tapping Watch TV, it turned on my TV and cable box, and then presented me with one-touch buttons for my DVR recordings, and a 123 key that brings up a numerical keypad for manually entering channel numbers.
There isn’t a physical number pad on the Harmony Touch, which might bother some. But its omission is made a little better by the Favorites function. Though not immediately apparent, touching the star icon just above the display brings up your favorite channels, presented in a neat grid view. I really liked this feature, and you can edit your list right on the display itself.
Another way to maneuver through channels is with touch gestures. Selecting the Gestures option from the menu allows you to use a series of swipes and taps to control your TV. For example, swiping right or left lets you channel up or down, and tapping the screen pauses a program.
Gesture support is available for all activities, and though it worked fine in my testing, I still preferred using the physical buttons. It’s quicker and easier, while you have to go through a couple of steps to activate gestures. This is true of the touchscreen functions in general.
With the touchscreen placed in the middle of the remote, the video controls (play/pause, forward, back, record) are relegated to the top, where they’re hard to reach with one hand. I use these buttons a lot when watching my DVR recordings, especially to fast-forward through commercials, so it was frustrating to have to constantly move my hand. (I know: First-world problems.)
The Harmony Touch remote operates on a rechargeable battery, and comes with a charging cradle. Logitech estimates battery life at a couple of days when watching TV for a few hours a day. I averaged around four to five hours of TV watching a day, and the remote lasted three days before I needed to recharge.
The Logitech Harmony Touch performs its main duties well, and the addition of a touchscreen is a welcome idea. But its lacking design and ergonomics make this remote’s high price hard to justify.