Just because a device performs to or even beyond its specifications and expectations does not mean it ought to be recommended.
Take, for example, the new Logitech Harmony Touch replacement universal remote control. By all objective standards, I have found after several weeks of working it into my gadget-controlling life that it performs – with some minor hiccups – admirably. Of all the programmable universal remotes I've used, the Harmony Touch is among if not the easiest to program. Ergonomically it's easy to hold and handle. It provides plenty of system on/off shortcuts.
And yet – although it pains me to say so considering the Touch's obvious quality, craft and clever customizable-ness – I cannot recommend it. At least not to those of us with "normal" or slightly advanced AV set-ups, i.e., an HDTV, a cable or satellite box, an AV receiver, a Blu-ray player, maybe a media streamer such as an Apple TV or a Roku.
The Harmony Touch costs $250 and needs to be constantly recharged. The remote you likely already use for the majority of your TV viewing, the one you got from your cable or satellite provider, can perform most basic multi-device control functions – but can run for months on AA batteries and is free. And if it breaks, it can be replaced for free.
As you can see in the photo, the Logitech Harmony Touch is a compact handheld device, far smaller than the free remote I got from Time Warner Cable. A 2.4-inch touchscreen replaces the rows and rows of physical buttons on standard remotes that often daunt users.
What you can't see underneath in the photo of the Touch is its bulbous battery-pack back that you cup like a ball in the palm of your hand, and that tapers flat towards the top.
Combined with the rear cloth-like surface, the Harmony is well-balanced, comfortable and easy to grip for long-periods without your palm getting sweaty, unless you hold it more towards the tip to thumb-tap the DVR/disc/tape transport (play/pause/stop/fast forward/rewind) controls.
Aside from the physical keys you get a couple of touch control buttons – a star (behind which you can store up to 50 favorite channels) and Home controls. There are also gesture controls if you're gimmickly so inclined (I wasn't).
Like all high-end remotes, Touch's device programming is centered around activities – watching TV, watching movies (i.e. Blu-ray or DVD), listening to music, etc.
This is where the Harmony excels. You jack the remote via the included USB cable to your computer and navigate to the MyHarmony Web page. You are then stepped through simple-to-understand screens to identify your activity, which devices will be used in that activity, identify (make/model) those devices, and who your cable/satellite provider is.
Programming a Watching TV activity takes all of 10-15 minutes. Literally just point-and-click.
On the remote, just tap the Watch TV touchscreen – you can swipe across screens to access other programmed activities – point the Harmony at your stack, and all the required devices power on to the necessary settings and inputs.
The Harmony also knows what devices are already on or off if you decide to switch activities. If you switch from Watch TV to, say, Watch a Movie, the Harmony turns on your Blu-ray or DVD player and switches the input on your TV or AV receiver, but leaves your TV on.
If you like, you can get really involved in re-programming and moving around individual touchscreen control buttons for each device. This process isn't nearly as transparent as the activity-based programming and requires some trial-and-error experimentation. But Touch is completely malleable to your device control needs and desires.
Once programmed, the Touch easily controlled all aspects of all my devices, including my Apple TV and Roku media streamers.
- the Touch obeys only its own internal logic
- the touchscreen isn't an optimal control solution
- battery life
For some reason, my Touch often failed to adjust my AV receiver's volume control in the Watching TV activity.
More importantly, the Touch can control only what it initially turned on or off. If you used another remote to turn a device on or off, or if you pushed a physical on/off button, the Touch won't know it and won't control that device. You must remember to turn everything on with the Touch and turn everything off with Touch to maintain full control with the Touch.
But my biggest problem with the Touch is, well, the touchscreen.
A touchscreen is great for streamlining a remote, for getting rid of buttons. But a touchscreen on a remote is bad because it gets rid of buttons.
If you're anything like me (and God help you if you are), you don't look at your remote when manipulating it. You watch TV and manipulate the remote by feel. You know where the Channel Up/Down buttons are and what they feel like, you know where the DVR Pause and Play buttons are what they feel like, you know the numeric keypad is laid out in a three-by-three grid with a little nub on the 5 so you can feel around to punch in a different channel number without having to look at it.
You can control-by-touch somewhat on the Touch. But the Touch's physical keys aren't differentiated enough to make me feel confident to operate it on feel alone. And there's no numerical keypad. To navigate to a specific channel, I have to stop and look at the screen.
Plus, the touchscreen separates the banks of physical controls on the Touch. My thumb often wandered over the touchscreen while searching for the physical keys, accidentally activating some unwanted function.
Finally, the Touch is a power hog. After a few days, it needs to be recharged. If you don't anal-retentively remember to drop it in the recharging dock every night, you may find yourself with a dead remote in the middle of prime time.
I admit these may be minor quibbles. But these quibbles come with a price.
How to buy a universal remote
Not every cable company distributes as complete a set of controls as on the Time Warner remote in the photo, but I'll bet yours is pretty close.
Is your cable or satellite TV remote as easy to program as the Touch?
Not by a long-shot. Admittedly, it requires a great deal of diligence and patience to program your cable/satellite remote to control multiple individual devices and perform unified multi-device activities.
Is the Touch easier to use than a programmed cable/satellite remote?
Except for the lack of a numerical keypad and a physical Page Up/Down controls (which makes channel surfing and moving through recorded DVR lists easier), yup.
Is the Touch more convenient than hunting around for individual device controls in case you don't program your cable/satellite remote?
But the Logitech Harmony Touch is $250. Your cable/satellite remote is free, easily replaced if you break it, and it runs for months and months without having to worry about batteries.
As I said, the Harmony Touch is arguably the best universal remote control out there. The question is, is it worth it?