Teleautomaton 2017 Edition — Harmony Elite Universal Remote Control Review

Written by Paul Moons on . Posted in Miscellaneous

Logitech Harmony EliteWhen Nikola Tesla unveiled his Teleautmaton in 1898, he couldn’t have known how ubiquitous remote controls would become. We now have a remote control for almost everything.

And Logitech wants to replace them.

All of them.

 

 

To add some more recent history, back in 2004 Logitech bought Intrigue Technologies and took over the Harmony Remote Control business they were famous for. In 2017, the Harmony Elite is the latest Logitech branded Harmony Remote control and also the current flagship model.

UNBOXING

Logitech Harmony EliteBeyond the remote itself, the Harmony Elite package contains a Harmony Hub, a charging station, two IR mini blasters, a short length of USB cable and two power adapters. Beyond this, a short Warranty/Battery replacement slip and a Setup Guide is also included.

The Harmony Elite remote itself is tapered to the front with a maximum thickness of 29mm towards the back third and only around 10mm at the pointy end. Overall, the remote is about 190mm long and 55mm wide. The remote feels good in the hand with a slightly rubbery texture on its bottom adding a grippy feel. A perfectly placed groove on this surface gives your index finger a home adding to its comfortable feel.

Surrounding the semi gloss buttons of the front face is a high gloss black which looks looks as slick as it feels. This glossy texture continues seamlessly over the full colour LCD screen and is a nice contrast for the grippy bottom.

Logitech Harmony EliteThese two opposing textures are not only functionally great but aesthetically, they give the remote an elegant two tone look. On the very back of the Elite are two brass coloured charging connectors and also a dust protected USB micro port for connecting the remote to your PC.

A bright 37 x 50mm LCD dominates the Elite’s front face, beneath which are two touch sensitive shortcut buttons to the “activities” and “devices” menus. Under these are a set of traditional remote control buttons featuring all the media functions you would expect, such as play pause buttons, volume, mute, etc. At the very bottom of the remote control are four dedicated (but configurable) home automation buttons along with a +/- rocker. Atop the remote is a universal “off button“ which turns off all the devices that have been turned on by your current activity.

Unlike standard remotes, The IR port window is located on the bottom of the remote, cleverly allowing the LCD to be directly visible while the IR window is facing devices. While this is a nice touch, it should be, err.. pointed out.. that in many use cases, the Elite’s RF system relegates the IR functionality to the “just in case it’s needed” column.

Logitech Harmony EliteThe IR redundancy is due mainly due to Harmony Hub. The Harmony Hub is a standalone pebble shaped device with a 105 x 130mm footprint and a maximum height of just over 25mm. This device has a neat Logitech logo on top and is finished in the same high gloss black as the top of the remote. Interestingly, when viewed in certain light, the hub has a distinct red IR tinge to it which gives away its purpose. The finish looks great, although being high gloss, it somehow manages to garner fingerprints just by having your hand in the same area code.

The rear of the Hub has three ports, two for (additional) external IR mini blasters and a micro USB for power. To the left of these is a pair/reset button. A small LED on the front bottom lights up RED when disconnected (flashing during setup/pairing/syncing changes) and solid green when functioning nominally or flashing while sending/receiving communication from the Elite.

Logitech Harmony EliteThe Elite’s charging station is neat and perfectly matches the remote using both of its top and bottom textures. The rounded sides of the charging station are high gloss black while the inside top is the slightly rubbery material mentioned earlier. Other than the large slot for the remote control, the rear of the charging station has a USB micro B port to connect to the mains power.

The two IR mini blasters are relatively small at 35 x 25 x 12mm and match the high gloss black throughout the package. Each IR mini blaster has a generous 2.5m cable attached and a thin rubber foot almost the size of the base to keep it in place.

SETUP AND USAGE

Following the setup guide’s instructions we headed over to setup.myharmony.com on our MacBook’s browser which after selecting the Elite remote, prompted us to download the MacOS software - as well as linking us to the iTunes App Store to download the free Harmony Control iOS app.

While Logitech also provides an Android app, we did not have any Android devices on hand to test this port of the control software but presume its functionality to be similar to the iOS version.

Logitech Harmony Elite MyHarmony SoftwareThe MacOS MyHarmony software is, in a word, awful. In two words, properly awful. Utilising Microsoft Silverlight, the setup software runs full screen in a blurry 4:3 box. While the setup procedure was relatively easy, the MacOS port of the setup software was slow to respond and just clunky to use. Why Logitech continues to pair such polished hardware with this software is mind boggling.

Despite this, we persisted and managed to setup the Elite with a variety of devices. Setting up the Elite took some time. And not just because of the clunky software. When we setup a device (for testing or otherwise), we like to set it up properly in the hope that once it is setup, it never needs re-setting up again. Consequently, this meant that setting up the Harmony remote (and the accompanying iOS app) took quite a while. It wasn’t arduous (although the mac software was trying) but it did take us a number of hours in all.

Now its worth noting that we probably could’ve got the remote working with our equipment within minutes of unboxing - Selecting a device to add was as easy as typing in its brand and model number, but the problem (if it can be called that) is that everything the Elite does is configurable: every screen and every button. To this end, setting up the Harmony Elite properly is a long and drawn out labour of love.

And this isn’t just about mapping buttons to buttons. Where the Harmony Elite excels is that you can create macros (which Harmony calls “Activities” to control a number of devices with a single tap. For example, we setup up a "DUNE" activity that:

  • Turned on our Pioneer TV
    • Set its input to Input 5
  • Turned on our Pioneer Receiver
    • Set its input to HDMI 2
    • Set its sound mode to "Auto Surround"
  • Turned on the Dune DUO 4K

Logitech Harmony EliteIf we wanted to, we could have had it also set our Dyson Fan to heat mildly (or if we had them) control Philips Hue lights to adjust their brightness and colour too! The configurability and sheer breadth of control is quite astounding, really.

Setting up the Harmony Hub was achieved via bluetooth on our iOS device and was no more difficult than tapping “Set Up New Hub” and following the prompts to enter wifi credentials. The only gotcha throughout the process was that Logitech insists you have an account to set things up. We understand that this is done to allow for instant syncing and the automagical transfer of settings but it still left us wishing there was a better way.

Throughout the process, the only device we couldn’t add natively was the very new and still under review Dune Duo 4K. Being resourceful, we entered in the already available Solo 4K details and found those worked perfectly.

Once setup, we spent some time testing to make sure everything was right - our ageing Kuro TV needed some delay settings adjusted - but all in all things went relatively smoothly. Also, after our initial setup we had to adjust the placement of the sensors slightly to improve coverage, although we were surprised by just how much range these had no matter where we put them!

Logitech Harmony EliteWe were also pleasantly surprised that our remote control configuration settings were automagically sent through to the iOS app. The app was very nicely laid out and easy to use although we were a little disappointed that it was far less customisable than the physical Elite remote. For example, when selecting the Dyson Fan as the device, it brought up a directional pad which had no bearing on its operation and needed to be swiped away as the second page contained the actual commands the fan needed to operate.

This was echoed with our other devices which brought up number pads as the default button screen. We hope Logitech allows device control pages to be reordered or customised in a future update to the iOS Harmony app.

After the initial setup and placement of hubs and IR blasters we set about using the Harmony Elite day to day. Interestingly, our equipment setup (and many others would be the same) meant that the IR on the Elite itself was redundant. In simplest terms, the Elite remote actually used the non-line of sight RF communication system to send messages to the hub which along with its external IR blasters would send IR to our equipment. This meant that we no longer had to point a remote towards any piece of equipment and didn’t have to worry about solid objects being in the way.

Logitech Harmony EliteAlso worth noting is that you can optionally setup the Elite to use its built in IR device to learn codes it doesn’t have in its database and also to control any devices that aren’t in line of sight of the hub or external IR blasters. This allows maximum flexibility although our setup consisting of our Pioneer TV, Dune Solo 4K media player, XBOX ONE (and a Dyson AM05 fan) had no problems working from the hub and external IR blasters alone.

After almost two months of daily use, we discovered a problem. A big problem: Having one remote to control everything means going back to fumbling with multiple remotes is never ever going to happen. When we first started using the Harmony Elite we thought it was a nice bit of kit which would be handy at best but once we were used to its simplicity, it became pretty much indispensable.

The best way to describe it is to talk about automatic headlights and rain sensing wipers. At face value these appear to be fancy creature comforts but after you have lived with them in your daily drive, you simply can’t go back to physically adjusting the wiper speed or actually turning the headlights on and off. Oh, the humanity!

In all seriousness the Harmony Elite did exactly what it said on the tin. It replaced four+ remote controls and positively adjusted the way we interact with our every day entertainment devices. There were a few odd occasions where a message was lost - for example our DUNE activity might start but somehow forget to turn on the TV. On the odd occasion this happened, we simply browsed through the LCD menu on the Elite remote and tapped the TV power command to get back on track.

logitech harmony elite 08These misfires only occurred a handful of times in the nearly two months of testing and weren’t a huge concern or overly detrimental to our experience.

The black-lit buttons all worked consistently and the LCD screen (while not “retina” quality), was bright and easily readable. The brightness of both the LCD and back-lit keys was adjustable and with both settings on relatively low settings we found the battery to last an ample amount of time. Cleverly, the Elite LCD and backlighting only turns on when the Elite has been picked up and turns itself off when not in use. We found that charging the remote control every few days worked best and even if we forgot to put it in its cradle a few nights, we didn’t have to go back to the multiple remote dark ages.

SELECTED SPECIFICATIONS

Remote: 19.2 cm x 5.4 cm x 2.9 cm; Weight: 163.8g
Hub: 10.48 cm x 12.8cm x 2.54cm; Weight: 110.56g

Wi-Fi: Supports 802.11g/n, WPA Personal, WPA2-AES and 64/128-bit WEP encryption

PC Setup: Windows 7+; OS X/MacOS 10.7+
Mobile Setup and Control: iOS 8+; Android 4.2

Warranty: 1-Year Limited Hardware Warranty

CONCLUSION

Logitech Harmony EliteOverall, the Harmony Elite remote is a godsend. Once you get used to the idea of having one remote to teleautomate everything, you simply can’t go back.

Even with the awful MacOS setup software, we really like the Harmony Elite. And when we discovered that you can avoid this Silverlight abomination completely by using the iOS app for setup, this could be love.

The only real problem is the price. At over $500AUD, the Harmony Elite’s convenience doesn’t come cheap. If you can afford it, the Harmony Elite is a no brainer and we highly recommend it. If you can’t afford it, don’t ever use one because you will want one.

The Harmony Elite remote can be purchased from local electronic retailers and also directly from Logitech online store for $549.95AUD. For more information about the Harmony Elite remote control, please visit Logitech’s product page.

 

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