Logitech’s Harmony line has been the best for nearly a decade because of how easy they are to program. Instead of making you looking up codes for each device you want it to control, Harmony remotes get programmed all at once through your computer and a USB cable. Tell the software what home theater gear you have and it looks up their control schemes online, sending them to the remote. And Logitech’s online database of software for 200,000 models likely has your equipment’s codes in it. (Ryan from GDGT says the software is kind of bad, but it’s ok because you only have to use it once. And it still beats programming a remote with weird codes and button combinations without a PC.)
Most remotes under the $100 usually only handle four devices. The 700 can handle up to six, which, for most people, will mean no device gets left out. The 700’s color LCD panel makes it easy to program soft buttons without going back to the computer. When setting up shortcuts to favorite channels, it’s easy to navigate since each channel’s icon shows up. The display also tells you what gadget the remote is currently operating. The battery is rechargeable, which is a nice feature on a gadget with a power-sucking LCD screen and backlit buttons. After a full charge, the remote should work for about a week. The 700 is the cheapest Harmony model with these essential features, and none of the nice, but pricey additions, like the One and 900’s charging cradle and generally unnecessary RF radio transmitter for controlling gadgets behind cabinet doors.
Reviewers love this model. CNet Executive Editor John Falcone included the Harmony 700 in his list of “The Best Universal Remotes,” saying, “In the final analysis, the Logitech Harmony is a superb universal remote that’s being sold at a very competitive sub-$150 price. If you need to control only six devices or fewer, and you don’t need RF compatibility, it’s an easy recommendation.” PJ Jacobowitz of PC Magazine named it an Editor’s Choice for universal remotes, and praises Logitech’s intuitive setup software: “In the world of cheap Radio Shack universal remote controls, the Logitech Harmony 700’s price tag is substantial, especially since it lacks RF functionality. But none of those $50 remotes offer the intuitive PC-based software that makes setting up Harmony remotes a snap, and very few work as seamlessly.” He was even able to get the 700 to operate his air conditioner. Pocket-Lint’s Stuart Miles set hi 700 up in 33 minutes, a fast time for syncing. He also liked the design: “It’s comfortable to hold with a good weight distribution so it’s evenly balanced. This is quality stuff and at this price you’d expect it to be.” He also liked how customizable the buttons are: “The buttons themselves, like the chassis, are well made, have great resistance and again are responsive to your push. If you find they aren’t, nay bother, you can manually change their responsiveness in the set-up software.”
Most reviewers dismiss remotes outside of the Harmony line, but here are a few exceptions. And why I don’t like them.
URC’s R50 sells for about $70, and is also included in CNet’s best remote lineup, but the programming functions “could be more straightforward,” and it only takes AAA batteries. If you really want to avoid having to use a computer to set up your devices, the R50 syncs by navigating its 2.2-inch LCD screen. If you want to stay outside of Logitech’s line (for example, if you don’t like their button layout), the R50 is a solid alternative.
Wired magazine liked that the Philips Prestigo SRT8215 had a familiar button layout, but changing even minor settings like button functions requires a trip back to your computer. The touchscreen was unresponsive, too. At $130, the drawbacks are too severe to warrant recommendation over the unanimously adored Harmony.
TiVO has its own line of remotes, one of which features a slide-out QWERTY keyboard for easy text searches. The Slide model has backlit buttons, too, and Bluetooth connectivity, which means that transmissions don’t require line-of-sight to work. Unfortuantely, that only works for the TiVO, not other devices. CNet’s John Falcone says that you’ll probably need another remote on-hand. As AllThingsD noticed, there’s no option to use the keyboard for shortcuts, either.
Companies like Griffin and Peel have produced appendages and apps that turn your smartphone into a remote. It sounds cooler than it is. Besides having to leave your iPhone on the coffee table in case anyone else wants to flip on the tube, software only buttons are a lot harder to use than physical buttons that can be used without glancing down. Opt for a dedicated device.
Harmony has a number of remotes below and above it, but I like the 700 best. The next model up (the Harmony One) has a touchscreen and can handle up to 15 devices, but costs 60% more. Not worth it. The 900 (like the One) has a charging cradle, also controls up to 15 gadgets, and has RF (radio frequency) capability to control gear hidden in a closet, or behind an AV cabinet’s doors. It costs about $250, so you’re better off avoiding this remote unless you really need those features.
Last Year’s Model:
There are a few in-between models in the Harmony line that are out of production and can be had on the cheap. The Harmony 650 can handle up to five devices, and runs on the same Logitech software setup. For about $40 less than the Harmony 700, you lose the rechargeable battery and space for a sixth device. If you can live without those features, try to find one in matte black — it’ll hide fingerprints better than the 700’s shiny casing. To me, having a rechargeable battery, especially on a device with a color LCD and backlit buttons, is essential. But if you can live with keeping a supply of AAs, save the cash and get the 650.
Logitech won’t likely introduce anything new or very different to their universal remote line. The current line-up has been around for years, and no other brand has been able to challenge it. Look for deals or refurbished models, but even at full retail price, the Harmony 700 packs incredible features for $100.