Harmony Elite Universal Remote, Hub and App Reviewed

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Harmony Elite Universal Remote, Hub and App Reviewed

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Over the past few years, I've installed and programmed virtually very DIY remote control solution for my dad and a few entry-level custom solutions to boot, all in a quest to find a simply solution that worked for him, without fail, day-in and day-out. I set him up with a PRO Control solution. I installed the Ray Super Remote. We've been through offerings from URC and PUCK and even an old Harmony 880 that I still had kicking around the house. Most of them have worked well enough at first, but eventually failed in the long run, either because he found them too confusing to operate (I'm looking at you, PRO Control) or they just became too glitchy and unreliable after a few months (you're on notice, Ray). Or just plain old (RIP, 880; you served me well back in the day). And the less said about PUCK the better.

Honestly, for all the money we spent on universal control solutions, Pop could have just bought a starter Control4 system through our local dealer and let me do the programming. Before we went that route, though, and knowing that Control4 would be overkill for my dad's modest media room system, I dropped $60 on the Harmony Smart Control system for him last Christmas and programmed it while he was washing the breakfast dishes. A year later, he still raves about the thing on a regular basis. Its simple operation and reliability are exactly what he needed. I haven't had the tweak the programming, and not once has he called to ask me what to do if he wants to watch the apps built into his smart TV. And on the rare occasion that he messes something up, the Harmony is there to help him get it straight.

harmony-elite-remote-hub-and-app.jpgHe loves the thing so much that when Logitech pitched me on reviewing its flagship DIY offering, the Harmony Elite Universal Remote, Hub and App, I thought Pop would leap at the opportunity to be my guinea pig for a few weeks and give me thoughts on what he liked about one solution over the other. He demurred. Hard. "It just took us so long to find something that works," he said, "I don't want to risk it by installing something else. Plus, this one does everything I need it to."

If that's not a ringing endorsement for Logitech's now-discontinued Smart Control (similar in most respects to the Harmony Companion, save a few buttons), I don't know what is. But it left me setting up and configuring the Harmony Elite in my own home, alongside my Control4 system. A fair comparison? Perhaps not. But it gave me the rare opportunity to truly compare the two platforms with the same equipment in the same environment.

The Hookup
The Harmony Elite is, as with Logitech's other Hub-based control solutions, programmed via the Harmony mobile app. There's also a desktop application, but given that most people will opt for the mobile app for setup, that's what I relied on to configure and tweak my system.

When you first fire up the Harmony app, it leads you through the process of setting up an account if you don't already have one. Once that's done, it holds your hand through the process of adding the Hub to your home network via WiFi, then scans for any other network connected devices in your home that are compatible with Harmony. This doesn't include Amazon Echo devices, mind you. That setup is done through the Alexa app.

In the case of my system, the Harmony app recognized and integrated my Lutron RA2 Select lighting control hub instantly, despite the fact that the Harmony website specifically says that only Cas�ta Wireless hubs are supported. This isn't terribly surprising given that Cas�ta and RA2 Select rely on the same mobile control app, but it was a pleasant surprise nonetheless.

On the other hand, despite finding my Dish Network Joey DVR via the network, the system wouldn't send a confirmation code to my screen so I could pair them. Getting around this was as simple as pressing the skip button, in which case Harmony was basically like, "Okay, then, IR it is." No backing up. No re-doing the configuration. No question or confusion as to what was going on. It just defaulted to another solution that would work.

Once you're done accepting any found IP devices, you add your other devices one at a time, up to a limit of 15--seven more than other Harmony Hub-based solutions--entering the brand name and model number. I did run into an issue where the driver it loaded for my older Samsung plasma in the bedroom wouldn't work at first, but the wizard corrected the problem quickly. That's heartening, because I generally find that control products this easy to configure can be a bit of a bear to troubleshoot when something goes wrong, but Logitech seems to have streamlined the process to the point of idiocy proofing.

harmony-mobile-app.jpgOne thing I also dig about the setup process is that once your devices are set up and it's time to cook up some Activities like "Watch TV," "Watch Roku," etc., the system allows you to select inputs for each device and each Activity separately. So, for example, if you route most of your devices through your AVR and run them into HDMI 1 on your display, but you have to run dual HDMI outputs from your UHD Blu-ray player, one to the receiver for audio and the other to, say, HDMI 2 on your TV, configuring those kinds of dual bindings is easy, and when it comes time to fire up your activity of choice, such behind-the-scenes input switching is invisible and seamless.

It's also easy to bind lighting scenes to different AV activities, so if you want your overhead lights to dim when you watch a movie but not when you surf TV, setting that up is a snap. The Harmony Elite also has two lighting hard buttons and two smart plug hard buttons at the bottom of the remote, which you can assign different loads to permanently. If you tend to need to operate the same loads when you're entertaining yourself, that could be super handy.

The Harmony also makes it easy to configure your favorite TV channels. In my case, I told it I was on Dish network and had local Montgomery, AL channels, and the app automatically preconfigured a bunch of stations it thought I would like. Un-starring the ones I have no interest in and adding my own more obscure favorites took only seconds. Once all of that is done, you simply upload the results to the remote itself, run through a test to make sure everything is working correctly, and you're done.

The remote itself is an interesting one. As I said above, the presence of dedicated lighting control and smart plug hot buttons does set it apart from the rest of the Harmony pack. In terms of its overall shape and layout, though, it's not all that dissimilar to the discontinued Harmony Ultimate Home, though its buttons are much more logically laid out, much like the IR-only Harmony 950.

harmony-elite-remote-and-charging-cradle.jpgThe Elite has a nice hand-feel, not only in terms of its rounded shape, but also its soft-touch coating. The rounded back does mean that it wobbles a little when you set it on flat surfaces, but in my time with the remote I quickly got into the habit of placing it in its charging cradle anyway when I wasn't actively using it, if only so I wouldn't forget to charge it. This is critical, because the remote doesn't rely on standard batteries. It uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that generally lasted me between three and five days depending on how much I interacted with the remote. Thankfully, the battery is use-replaceable, though not without a bit of work and a tiny little screwdriver (add reading glasses to the list of required tools if you're over 45).

Overall, I do wish the Elite felt a little more solidly built, especially for the price. It's not as if it's fragile or anything; you just don't get that rock-solid fit-and-finish, rigidity, and heft that you expect at this price point.

On the software side, though, if my experience with the Harmony Elite is any reliable indication, Logitech updates the platform quite regularly. The nice thing about this is that it's done silently, in the background, while the remote is in its charging cradle. That level of hands-off updating combined with the regularity of updates is seriously heartening.

Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...

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Available at Amazon

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