Harmony Smart Keyboard
Reviewed by Ronald Epstein
Those of you who have been following my reviews over the years already know that I am a huge fan of Logitech Harmony remotes. I have reviewed several of their flagship products over the past decade and find myself continually impressed with their simplified programming concept and ability to effectively control every component within my home theater system. Over recent years I have watched Logitech evolve with the times and migrate their functionality from hand-held remotes to phones and tablets.
I give credit for Logitech in keeping up with advancements in home theater technology. These days, televisions and game boxes are smarter than ever as they connect the viewer to the Internet and a wide assortment of applications that allow them to stream content, browse their favorite websites or even check email. In essence, televisions have become Internet gateways, accessing content in the same way your home computer does. And when you think about it, the most important method of accessing Internet content on the computer is through its keyboard.
I think you already know where I am going with this....
Logitech now makes it possible to make viewers as smart as the devices they access with the introduction of the Harmony Smart Keyboard which not only acts as a universal remote for all your home theater components, but allows you to quickly enter text on Internet connected devices. These devices include Tivo, Roku, Apple TV, Xbox and PS3. It will also allow navigation for PCs and Macs connected directly to your display. Please check Logitech's website for more information on compatibility as not all displays and devices are supported.
Inside the box you get a full-sized, amazingly lightweight QWERTY keyboard that features a rubberized outer texture that feels good in the hands while providing assurance that it won't easily slip away from you. I love the fact that the keyboard is fingerprint resistant. You'll notice from the keys that there's Windows 8 functionality already built-in.
The keyboard operates on 2 AA batteries (included)
Provided accessories include the Harmony Hub, 2 USB receivers, a USB extender, USB cord, Power Adapter and IR blaster.
The hub is very similar, though slightly more streamlined than than the one we have seen included with the Logitech Harmony link. However, the concept still remains the same: commands sent from the keyboard or mobile device are intercepted by the hub which then pass that information on to specified components within your system -- even if they are not directly located within sight.
In other words, with the inclusion of the Harmony Hub, not only does your keyboard act as a system remote, but your mobile device as well. This means you can use most any iOS or Android phone or tablet as a means of controlling your home theater system.
The syncing of the keyboard and mobile device is done through your home WiFi network. A WiFi network is essential to being able to use this product.
Speaking of mobile devices, they have now become the mainframe to setting up and configuring your Logitech Harmony Keyboard. Simply download the free Harmony App on your iOS or Android device to begin. The setup process includes pairing your mobile bluetooth device with the hub, entering the model brands and numbers of all your components and then selecting up to 6 activities you would like your keyboard and mobile device to accomplish (such as Watch TV, Watch Blu-ray/DVD, Watch Roku, Play Xbox, etc.).
The good news is that if you previously purchased any of Logitech's smart hub remotes, you can quickly import those settings over when you log into your Logitech account. Fortunately, this was the case for me since I own the Harmony Link. For those that are purchasing their first Logitech smart hub device, the setup process seems pretty painless. I have always been amazed at how simple Logitech has made it for newbies to simply enter the model numbers of their devices and then set up activities around those entries.
Before I get to the keyboard, allow me to continue spending some time with mobile execution....
Obviously these are screenshots from my iPad. I feel any tablet is the most optimal method of controlling your home theater with a mobile device. It seems that controlling your equipment using your iPhone would be more difficult because of decreased screen space.
The mobile navigation layout and controls seem basic enough. They cannot be customized. The screenshots above represent the activity WATCH TV. My television viewing is controlled through my Tivo Roamio. Finding the necessary buttons to control all my Tivo functions wasn't too difficult to find. Anything that is not available on the main navigation plate can be found by digging further into the menu system through a specific device screen.
In all, mobile access is pretty basic. The screens are not particularly pretty. You can't customize the menus. It does what it's supposed to do with little fanfare. The only customization I found is access to your favorite broadcast channels which you can create/delete favorites for. The Harmony app automatically ports over all broadcast channels based on your choice of local cable/satellite operator during setup.
What is sorely missing from the new Harmony mobile application is the illustrated programming guide that is inherent to the older Harmony Link app (which cannot be accessed with this newer hub device). It's my guess that it was costing too much money for Logitech to maintain their own programming guide, and decided not to include it here. That being said, there is a dedicated button to bring up your device's own internal programming guide.
What I found to be a very nice feature are the swipe commands built into the mobile application. An information button (which you can see in the screenshots above) gives you access to a variety of swipe commands. For instance, swipe up and down to raise or lower your volume. Tap the screen to pause.
Let's move on to the keyboard itself, since that is the main purpose of your purchasing decision....
At the same time you you are setting up devices and activities for your mobile device, you are also doing the same for the keyboard.
Those of you who already own a Harmony remote with touchscreen are aware of how simple it is to set up your devices and activities, sync your remote, and then have it work perfectly without any additional adjustments.
Unfortunately, unlike other Harmony remotes you may have owned, the initial execution of keyboard commands may not be as simplified. I'll explain in just a moment...
Let's start with selecting individual activities themselves. The Logitech Smart Keyboard can be programmed for 6 specific activities. These are controlled by 3 keys across the top of the keyboard. So, the question is, how do 3 keys control 6 separate activities? That's the initial problem I had. Turns out, each key represents two possible activities that can be selected by a long or short press. Unfortunately, without any kind of visual cue, these buttons become a memory game of sorts. If you go beyond three activities, you have to remember which key and duration of its press properly executes the function you want.
In fact, there were quite a few growing pains in moving from a Logitech handheld remote to the keyboard. This is not necessarily a "set it and forget it" remote. On some devices, there will be quite a bit of additional key mapping that will need to be accomplished. Additionally, with the total absence of any kind of visual touchscreen or "cues," there seems to be quite a bit of initial confusion as to what keys control what.
Take for instance the activity of Watching TV. I will again mention that it is controlled through my Tivo Roamio. However, looking at the keys, I couldn't figure out what to press to bring up my Tivo menu. Even when I was finally able to bring it up, I found out that the arrow keys to move around within that menu were not working. Turns out, there's more work to be done under the hood here....
Hidden deep within the settings of your mobile app is an area that allows you customize and map individual keys. The above screenshot shows the available keys that can be customized for my activity, WATCH TV. I simply select a key on the mobile chart and a dropdown box contains every command available on my Tivo device. I can then pair those commands with the desired key(s).
I had much better luck with my Watch Blu-ray and Watch Roku activities. It seemed that all the keys were properly paired for what one would expect. Pressing MENU on the top row of the keyboard brought up my Oppo Blu-ray menu. The keys labeled forPause, Search, Fast-Forward and Stop all worked perfectly. I had the same good fortune with my Roku. My Apple TV had initial pairing problems because I ported over previous settings from another remote. After removing and re-adding that device, I was able to successfully pair the keyboard with Apple TV.
For the most part, activity commands were executed properly. There were a few instances where not all the devices went on as they should. There was no familiar "help" button (a feature found in Harmony touchscreen remotes) to try and correct the misfired component. Instead, I found by simply repressing the activity button again, the misfired component finally turned on.
Now we get to the real benefit of this keyboard remote...
The days of using arrow and ENTER keys to type in a title of a movie search, or to navigate through a web URL is now a thing of the past. You can simply type wherever text is needed.
After pairing my keyboard with my Samsung F8500 via bluetooth, I was delighted to find that I was able to surf the Internet in the same manner I would on my computer. I simply type in a web address, then use the included trackpad to navigate and click within the page. Want to check and reply to emails on your display? It's now entirely possible thanks to the Logitech Smart Keyboard.
Currently, the Logitech Harmony app does not support the voice-to-text search functionality for the Amazon Fire TV. I have been informed, as of the date of this review, that the Harmony team is working on this addition. That said, navigation and text entry is indeed possible with the Harmony Smart Keyboard or Harmony app.
I have always found that the biggest benefit in owning a Logitech Remote lies in its simplicity. Logitech makes remotes that most people with basic web/mobile app skills can program themselves. Once programmed, the remotes usually work as they should.
The Logitech Harmony Smart Keyboard is not for the average "Joe." This is not the kind of remote that basic channel surfers are going to purchase. You are not going to buy this remote for your parents. Those interested in this keyboard are more prone to being media orientated -- wanting to search and stream content on gaming and entertainment devices. For those individuals, there will probably be needed keyboard "mapping" done beyond the initial setup. It requires more work and patience, but I think the payoff is there. I'll explain why in a moment.
There are a few key things missing here that I think Logitech purposely excluded to keep costs down. First, the lack of backlit keys. Most of us use these remotes in a darkened room lit only by the light of our display. Second, the fact that this keyboard isn't rechargeable. Given how much people use their remote on a daily basis, it would have been nice for Logitech to create a docking cradle to sit the keyboard into, keeping it charged when not in use. Something tells me that Logitech is eventually going to release keyboards that have these functions.
At this point, I own several Logitech Harmony touchscreen remotes. My favorite has always been the Harmony One, despite the fact it is now several years old. I still feel it's the flagship of their remote lineup, and it works exactly as it should.
So, would I drop that Harmony One for a keyboard that has no touchscreen or visual cues? I believe I would -- as long as my memory remains sharp enough that I can remember what keys (and length of press) I need to launch individual activities and menus.
I do enjoy the fact that I can pick up this lightweight keyboard, place it on my lap, and use it as I would on a PC to navigate through Internet connected applications on my display or external streaming devices.
Best of all, I don't even have to use the keyboard if I don't wish to. I could simply walk into my home theater, pull my phone out of my pocket, and be watching whatever I please within minutes.
* Easy setup through mobile app.
* Hub allows controlling your entire home theater via keyboard or mobile phone/tablet.
* Keyboard is full-sized, yet lightweight and fingerprint resistant.
* Not a simple "set it and forget it" device. In many cases, additional key-mapping will be required. Techies may enjoy the challenge.
* Without enough visual cues, many key functions will need to be memorized.
* No backlit keys to operate in dark environment
* Keyboard is not rechargeable
Post Review Tip: While owners of Logitech Hub devices may find it easy to simply port over their settings to this new keyboard remote, I recommend starting out fresh. I found numerous keyboard pairing issues that would have not occurred had I initially set everything up as a new keyboard.