I've always been a fan of Harmony's universal remotes, mostly because I've appreciated the simplicity of the company's Web-based setup wizard that intuitively walks you through the process of adding devices and programming activities like Watch TV, Watch a Movie, etc. About a year ago, Logitech introduced the $100 Ultimate Hub, which allows you to use your smartphone or tablet as the universal remote, in conjunction with a small box that converts WiFi signals from your phone/tablet into IR and Bluetooth signals to control your AV gear. This approach of using an existing touchscreen device as a remote control is not new. Most major manufacturers of smart AV gear offer a free remote app to control their devices, and recent research by The Diffusion Group Says that 16 percent of adult broadband subscribers use a tablet or smartphone as a TV remote control. In the arena of universal remote apps that control multiple devices, Logitech originally offered the Harmony Link (now replaced by the Hub), and we've also reviewed similar products like the Griffin Beacon and Peel remote.
Now, Logitech has gone one step further by combining the Ultimate Hub with a full-sized Bluetooth keyboard that can also serve as your universal remote. The $149.99 Smart Keyboard system allows for control of up to eight devices, via compatible smartphone/tablets and the keyboard itself, which comes with its own set of Activity buttons and is labeled with many commonly used remote functions like DVR, Guide, Menu, Volume, Channel, Page, etc.
Why would anyone want to use a bulky keyboard as a universal remote control? A lot of networkable HT devices support the addition of a Bluetooth keyboard to speed up text entry and Web browsing, and some people find using a keyboard with dedicated hard buttons to be more intuitive than a traditional remote or control app for these tasks. If you own an Apple TV, a Roku, an Xbox, or a PlayStation and want a faster way to search for content within Netflix, Hulu Plus, iTunes, etc., then a keyboard might be the way to go. Likewise for smart TV owners who also browse the Web via their TV. Anyone who wants to integrate their computer as a source and control it remotely through a keyboard might want to look at the Harmony Smart Keyboard. With this device, you don't have to set the keyboard aside and grab the HT controller to perform other AV-related tasks; you can do most everything via one product.
The $150 package includes the Ultimate Hub, the Smart Keyboard, two USB receivers that let you integrate certain (but not all) non-Bluetooth devices, and an IR blaster if you need more IR coverage than the Hub provides on its own. The free Harmony Remote app is available for both iOS (6.0 or later) and Android (4.0 or later), and the setup process begins by downloading that app and plugging in the Hub near your AV system.
For the Ultimate Hub and Smart Keyboard products, Logitech has moved the setup wizard from your computer directly to the iOS/Android app, so you don't need a computer at all to configure your system - unless, like me, you own an older iPhone that does not support Bluetooth LE to initially communicate with the Hub. To set up the system via my iPhone 4, I would've needed to first go to my computer and download the newer version of the MyHarmony software to add the Hub to my wireless network. Then I could go back to my iPhone to set up the rest of the system. Luckily, I also own a Samsung Galaxy tablet that was able to communicate directly with the Hub over compatible Bluetooth, so I performed initial setup through the tablet instead.
I first set up the Harmony to control my living room system, which consists of a non-networkable Samsung TV, a Dish Network Joey, an Oppo BDP-93, and an Apple TV. Later, I set up the system to control my more complicated home theater ensemble, which is normally controlled by a Control4 system: a smart Panasonic TV, Harman/Kardon AVR 3700 receiver, Dish Network Hopper, Oppo BDP-103, and Autonomic MMS-5A music server. The iOS/Android setup wizard follows the same basic philosophy as the Web-based computer platform: add your devices and then create activities by answering questions about how those devices are connected to each other. All of my devices were in the Harmony code database except the Autonomic server, so I had to teach the system the device codes using the Autonomic remote.
Click over to page two to learn about the setup, high and low points, comparison and competition and the conclusion . . .