The Logitech Harmony Elite remote control's $300 price tag reflects its serious smarts.
Logitech Harmony Elite Review: One remote to rule them all
With support for most smart home platforms and the ability to control up to 15 devices, the Harmony Elite gives you dominion over both your home entertainment system and your smart home gadgets.
Setting up a Logitech Harmony remote previously required plugging it into your computer, running the company's MyHarmony desktop app, manually adding the individual devices you wanted to control within the app, and then syncing those devices back to the remote. Frankly, it was a pain. Even making a small change to the controls could be time-consuming. While you can still opt for this setup method with the Elite (it has a micro-USB port like previous Harmony remotes), Logitech has significantly streamlined the process by letting you do everything on your phone.
After plugging the included Hub into an outlet and installing the Harmony app on your Android device or iPhone, you're first asked to set up an account. The Hub serves as a kind of relay center for the remote, transferring your commands (via IR, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi) to your smart home gadgets and other devices that make up your entertainment system. The app helps you connect the Hub to your Wi-Fi network, after which you can start adding all the gadgets you want to control. You can either choose to have the app scan your network for connected devices or select between entertainment, home control, or computer categories to manually add them one by one.
There's some requisite authorization and signing in required when you connect smart home devices like an August smart lock or a Nest thermostat, but overall the process is incredibly easy and a lot faster than doing it on your laptop or desktop.
The Elite recognizes a ridiculous 270,000 devices, and with support for smart home brands like Hunter Douglas, SmartThings, Lutron, Rheem, EcoBee, Insteon, LIFX, Hue, Nest, and many others, we didn't run into any compatibility issues. After adding individual devices, the next step is to set up activities that coordinate the activation of those devices—stuff like "Watch Netflix," "Watch DirecTV," or "Listen to Living Room Sonos." Those can be combined with other smart home commands. For instance, in addition to turning on our Sony TV and Blu-ray player, our "Watch a Movie" activity also dims our living room Hue lights.
Another perk? Because the Hub includes two separate wired IR blasters that you can position in front of your TV or anywhere else around your home entertainment system, you're free to tuck the actual Hub away anywhere you want. You won't need direct line of sight with the remote for it to work.
Logitech has dominated the universal remote market for years now, offering an evolving lineup of remotes for every price point and need. So if you're wondering who might have to have the company's latest flagship Elite model, the simple answer is: not very many people.
To get the most out of the Elite, you really should have (or plan on having) a thriving entertainment system—we're talking at least six or more devices—and some complementary smart home gadgets to boot, something like a Hue or LIFX lighting system, an Echo or Google Home speaker, and maybe a Wi-Fi thermostat. Will the remote work great for people without these things? Absolutely. But there are cheaper options if all you want to do is control your TV, Blu-ray player, and a cable box with one remote.
Like some of Logitech's other Hub-based Harmony remotes, the Elite offers broad compatibility with a number of smart home products. (The massive list can be found here.)
One of our favorite smart pairings was with the Amazon Echo. After adding the Harmony skill in the Alexa app, we were able to use voice commands to execute most of the activities we had already set up on the remote. These included things like turning the TV on and off, changing to a specific channel, or watching a Netflix show on our Roku.
For those without a smart assistant, no need to worry, the remote's physical design is close to perfect. Unlike the Harmony Ultimate, which we've been using for the past year or so, the Elite has a far more thoughtful button layout. Important buttons, like record and fast forward, are all actually within thumb's reach now, which is nice. Ergonomically speaking, the remote is better, too. It has a satisfying 6-ounce heft and a more traditional rectangular shape.
While we understand the need for them, we've never really loved touch screens on universal remotes. They're often unresponsive (or too responsive), they inevitably get coated in gunk and require frequent cleaning, and navigating on them is often frustrating and unintuitive. While the Elite's touchscreen still gets grimy, we never ran into any sensitivity or navigation issues. The screen layout is intuitive and easy to understand as well.
There are some aspects of the remote that can be improved, however. For one thing, the Elite's battery life is pretty underwhelming. On average, it lasted a little under two days without a charge. If you're diligent about returning the remote to its charging cradle, that's not a problem. But who's ever diligent about that? It's not a huge deal as a full recharge only takes around an hour, but still.
Another nit-picky thing we noticed was that while spacing between the listed devices was fine on the touchscreen, for some reason the Activities list is more cramped. This causes some occasional slip-ups when launching an activity, and seems like it would be an easy thing to fix (or at least give owners the option to adjust). Finally, wow, the price. You can currently pick up the Elite on Amazon for around $300—a major investment.
The Harmony Elite is without a doubt overkill for most people, but that doesn't change the fact that the flagship remote is one of the best universal remotes we've ever used. It's feature-rich, easy-to-setup, thoughtfully designed, and can adapt to an evolving smart home setup. If you're looking for a simple, unified way to control both a large entertainment system and the rest of your smart home gear, the Elite should be at the top of your list.
Dimensions: 7.6 in x 2 in x 1 in
Weight: 5.8 oz
Mobile setup and control: iOS or Android
Overall Grade: 4/5