It’s been awhile since Logitech added a new universal remote to its Harmony lineup. Last year, the company introduced the Harmony Link module that allows you to control your A/V gear via your smartphone, but the last time we saw a new dedicated controller was back in 2008, with the Harmony One. With that in mind, you’d think there would’ve been more fanfare over the release of the Harmony Touch, but this new $250 model quietly appeared in stores last summer. The Harmony Touch is essentially a replacement for the Harmony One; it falls in the middle of the Harmony line, price-wise – above the $80 Harmony 650 but below the $350 Harmony 900 and Harmony 1100. (Models like the Harmony 300 and Harmony 700 are no longer listed on the company’s product page, although you can still find them for sale online.)
The Harmony Touch has a traditional handheld design that combines hard buttons with a 2.4-inch color touchscreen. The front face is a brushed black (not as glossy as the Harmony One), while the backside is textured charcoal with a rubbery feel. The remote can control up to 15 devices and includes Harmony’s activity-based controls, such as Watch TV and Watch a Movie. Compared with its predecessor, the Touch is smaller, measuring about 7.5 inches long by 2.25 wide. To reduce the Touch’s size, Logitech has reduced the number of hard buttons, moving things like the number pad, help button, and page-up/-down controls to the touchscreen. They’ve also moved the touchscreen closer to the middle of the remote to make it easier to reach when you’re holding the remote near the bottom – which, because of the remote’s ergonomic design, you pretty much have to do. Simply put, this baby’s got back. View the remote from the side, and you’ll see a pronounced bump at the bottom end, which is designed to allow the remote to sit more comfortably in your hand (more on this in a moment).
Logitech has added a few new features to the Harmony Touch, including a larger Favorites page on the touchscreen where you can store up to 50 channels and display them via colorful channel logos. The remote also has a Gestures touchpad, through which you can control playback and navigate menus by swiping the screen.
Programming the Harmony Touch is accomplished via the acclaimed MyHarmony Web interface, which is compatible with both PCs and Macs. If you’ve never used a Harmony remote before, you simply go to MyHarmony.com and create an account. Connect the remote to your computer via the supplied USB cable, and the program will automatically detect which remote you have. From there, you add devices, create activities by answering a few questions about how those devices are connected, and choose channel favorites. Then you sync the remote and try it out with your gear. I noticed a few minor differences during this programming session, compared with ones I’ve done in the past. For one, I no longer had to choose a device type before entering the manufacturer and model name. This time, I simply input the name of the gear, and Harmony determined the product type for me. After I finished inputting all my devices (a Panasonic TV, DirecTV HD DVR, OPPO Blu-ray player, and Onkyo receiver), the setup wizard immediately took me to the Watch TV activity setup. Once that was complete, I added a couple other activities: Watch a Movie through my OPPO player and Listen to Music through my Onkyo receiver’s Net streaming service. The Web interface provides a bit more summary information during the setup process than it used to, which newbies will likely find helpful.
Since the Harmony Touch can control up to 15 devices, you can easily program it to control multiple systems around the house. The setup menu includes activities called Watch TV 2 and Watch a Movie 2 (you can rename them), as well as the ability to create custom activities. I also programmed the remote to control my living room setup, which includes a DVR, Blu-ray player, and AppleTV.
All in all, the Harmony setup wizard is still second to none in terms of its speedy results and user-friendliness. All of my devices were in the code database and, within just a few minutes, the remote was properly set up and ready to go. The macro sequences all worked correctly, and the major buttons did what I expected them to do. The Harmony Smart State Technology properly detects the state of devices to make sure that the on/off sequence doesn’t get mixed up when executing a macro. As with other Harmony remotes, if a macro is not properly executed for whatever reason, you can press the Help button, and the remote will walk you through the necessary steps to find and correct the problem.
If you do find that the remote isn’t controlling your devices exactly the way you want or you don’t like the options offered on the touchscreen within each activity, you can go back into the MyHarmony program and do some tweaking. You can reassign buttons and learn commands from your gear’s remotes. The touchscreen has some, albeit limited, customization. You can add, delete, rename, and change the order of buttons, but you can’t change the button size/shape or the general layout of each screen.
Another new feature I like is that you can do some reprogramming and repositioning directly via the remote itself, without having to go back to the computer. Via the Settings menu on the touchscreen, you can (among other things) change the inputs that you designated for each device, should you make any physical changes to your A/V setup. You can change/reset delays during the macro sequences. You can move buttons and add/delete channels from your Favorites. This addition makes it even easier to tweak the little things without having to go through the Web interface and re-sync the remote. The next time you connect the remote to your computer, it will upload these changes and save them to the remote’s profile.
There were other small touches that I appreciated. For instance, when I switched from the Watch TV activity page directly to the Panasonic TV device page, the remote automatically switched the volume buttons from my receiver to the TV, without me having to manually reprogram it. This is helpful if you’re still using your TV speakers for Web services, like DLNA sources, Netflix, or Amazon.
I found the Harmony Touch’s response time to be good; it executed IR commands quickly and reliably. This model is not compatible with the Harmony RF extender; for that, you have to move up to the Harmony 900 or 1100. I found the touchscreen to be responsive and reliable, although the number-pad buttons are pretty small. So are my
fingers, so it wasn’t a concern for me; however, I could see the smaller buttons being a source of frustration for those who have larger hands.
For me, the biggest ergonomic concern was the physical shape of the Harmony Touch. Its rotund bottom end did indeed allow the remote to sit comfortably in my palm, while my thumb easily navigated the buttons that are positioned near the bottom of the remote, including volume, channel, exit, menu, DVR (list), guide, info, OK, navigation, and color buttons. I could also easily navigate the touchscreen using my thumb. However, I could not reach the buttons that were located at the top of the remote (the transport controls and Off button) without shifting the remote down in my hand. At that point, its bottom-heavy design made it awkward to hold and use. I had to either use my other hand to press those buttons or hold the remote from the top and use my index finger. I found this to be somewhat frustrating … that is, until I discovered that the Gestures control allows you to perform tasks like fast-forward, reverse, play, pause, and page-up/down by swiping/tapping the touchscreen. The ergonomic design then became less of a concern, because I didn’t need to access those top buttons as often. The Gestures options vary per activity and can be customized.
Read more about the high points and low points of the Harmony Touch on Page 2.
The Harmony setup wizard is still the easiest and most intuitive out there, and it’s compatible with both the Mac and PC.
The Harmony Touch combines the most commonly used buttons with a fairly large, colorful, customizable touchscreen. The touchscreen includes a slider/gesture control and a colorful Favorites page.
The remote offers the popular Harmony activity macros like Watch TV and Watch a Movie, and you can set it up to control multiple systems. It accurately detects a device’s on/off state to make sure that macro sequences do not get messed up.
Performance was reliable, and the remote executed commands quickly.
The Harmony Touch comes with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and a charging/base station.
The remote is fully backlit, and it can control up to 15 devices (just as many as the more expensive Harmony 900 and 1100 models).
Unlike previous Harmony remotes, this one allows you to make quick programming/layout adjustments via the remote itself, without having to sign in to the Web interface.
The curvaceous but bottom-heavy design of the remote is awkward, especially if you have smaller hands.
The touchscreen only offers limited customization. You can add/delete/rename buttons, but you can’t change the button shape or basic screen layout.
The remote is not compatible with the Harmony RF extender.
The remote does not automatically wake up the touchscreen or engage backlighting when you pick it up.
Even though Logitech has technically replaced the Harmony One with the new Harmony Touch, you can still find both models for sale on sites like Amazon.com. As I write this, the older Harmony One is about $50 cheaper. So which one is the better choice? It primarily comes down to ergonomic preference. Do you prefer a larger, longer remote with more physical buttons or a smaller remote with more touchscreen options? I generally prefer physical buttons to touchscreens, but I felt that the Harmony Touch struck a great balance between the two. I liked both the layout and performance of the touchscreen, and all of the physical buttons I desired were available. I didn’t mind having the number pad and page-up/down buttons reside on the touchscreen, but some users don’t seem to appreciate this change. The two remotes are quite similar in functionality, but I did appreciate the new perks that the Touch brings to the table, like the Gestures operation, the Favorites page, and the ability to make programming/layout changes via the remote itself. For me, the only real concern with the Harmony Touch is its physical shape, but that’s a minor quibble with an otherwise great controller.
All that said, if you’re shopping for a universal remote that’s only going to control a few devices in a single home entertainment system, the Harmony Touch might be overkill. The lower-priced Harmony 650 can control up to five products, has the Harmony activities-based control and setup wizard, and currently costs about $60. What you don’t get are the customizable touchscreen, the complete Favorites menu, and the rechargeable battery and base station.