[font="verdana, geneva, sans-serif;"]Logitech Harmony Ultimate Remote with Nest Integration[/font]
[color=rgb(165,42,42);]Review by Ronald Epstein[/color]
As I sit here about to write this review, it feels like I am continually revisiting an old friend. I have been a huge fan of Logitech and their remote controls. I bought my first Logitech Universal Remote before their brand was even popular. Either through personal purchase or Logitech sending sample product, I now own about 5 different remote control devices. Logitech is certainly keeping up with the times in developing new remotes that integrate with new technology. One of the latest products I had the pleasure of reviewing was the Logitech Harmony Smart Keyboard which has now become my favorite remote. Sitting on my lap, the keyboard not only controls my entire home theater, but allows me to type input on many of my devices that include a Samsung smart display, Apple TV and Roku box.
With so many remotes scattered across my household, the last thing I needed was an additional controller. However, the folks from Logitech were eager for me to try the Harmony Ultimate for its integration with the Nest thermostat. It certainly seemed very compelling that I could use a remote to control the heating and temperature in my home.
After spending a week with the new Harmony Ultimate, I am walking away with mixed feelings. While I understand and appreciate all the latest innovations that have been put into this new product, Logitech has also removed or revamped some of the better features of prior products. I'll go into more depth about that as I move through this review.
Unboxing and Setup
The biggest advancement that Logitech has made to their remotes over recent years is the addition of the Harmony Ultimate Hub. You can purchase it as a single device that integrates with your smartphone or tablet. It also comes packaged with the Harmony Smart Keyboard, Harmony Smart Control and Harmony Ultimate.
This included hub is really a wondrous thing that has redefined and advanced the Logitech brand. Gone are the days where one needs to constantly rely on a PC to program and update their remote. With the Harmony Ultimate Hub, those tasks can now be done wirelessly using any smartphone or tablet. In fact, with a free app that you can download, those portable devices now become remote controls themselves. Another big advantage of the hub is its ability to allow you to control any device that is not in line of sight, such as those located in cabinets or behind a wall. Logitech provides two IR blasters that plug into the back of the hub. The hub also uses Bluetooth for controlling gaming devices.
Of course, Logitech's claim to fame has always been the ease of programming their remotes. To this day, I continue to be amazed at how simply and quickly I can go from box to actual use.
For those still not familiar with the ease of setup, all you need to do is to navigate to the My Harmony website and create an account. You will then download an app to your PC or Mac. Connect your remote to your computer's USB hub (with cable that is included), open the app and begin the setup process.
The Logitech Harmony Ultimate remote has the ability to control up to 15 devices. With its massive database of AV equipment, Logitech has made programming effortless. All one needs to do is type in the manufacturer and model of every component in their system. It's also important to know which HDMI inputs each device is connected to on the display. As you enter each individual component, you will be given a series of questions such as which device you use to control volume or change channels. If you already own one of the newer Logitech remotes, you can log into your existing Logitech account and port over your current setup. It appears there is the ability to upload your own custom activity icons, though I did not spend time testing that feature.
Logitech has recently updated their MyHarmony App, and for this particular remote, allows you to choose your favorite television channels specific to your local provider. I found this new feature to be invaluable as I remember having to spend quite a bit of time manually adding channels and icons to my older Harmony One and Harmony 1100 remotes. Now, all you have to do is scroll through your entire list of channels and checkmark off your favorites. I am a bit uncertain exactly how many favorites you can store, but I believe it's somewhere around 40. In any case, it's a considerable amount that you simply scroll through its icons press to select via the remote's touch screen.
Here's the coolest thing that I discovered about this remote...
Need to add a device or activity anytime after initial setup? No need to reconnect your remote. Simply make the changes on your PC then touch the SYNC button in the settings area of your remote control. Your remote will wirelessly connect with the hub and update itself with the changes. This was particularly useful when I forgot to initially add my Apple TV. I was able to simply log into the app, add the device and activity, and then sync the remote without any wired connection.
Using The Remote
Basically, it seems that the new $300 Harmony Ultimate (left) is an elaborate touch-screen version of the $130 Harmony Smart Control (right). The better value may lie in the $130 remote which controls up to 8 devices and is completely push-button orientated. As noted previously, the Harmony Ultimate adds the ability to control up to 15 devices, adds a swipe and tap color screen, backlit keys, RF/Bluetooth support, and has rechargeable batteries and stand. Of course, if you want the Nest integrated support you will have to opt for the more expensive Ultimate remote.
Not surprising that Logitech has created yet another remote that is light and fits comfortably in the hand thanks to its ergonomic curved hump backside design.
The 2.5-inch color touchscreen is adequate, though less striking than what the resolution of most smartphones will provide. Still, it's perfect for its task, and as you can see here, we have a list of all activities that can be executed with the press of a button. When pressing the touch screen button, there is haptic feedback that provides a slight buzzing sensation to confirm the intended action. Most all the activities that were initially set up on the PC were perfectly executed. In one instance where a device did not turn on properly, a help screen allowed several more tests to be accomplished on the remote until it finally executed perfectly.
It's nice that you need not point the remote at a specific device for it to turn on. Even if you move the remote during its intended chain of commands, they still work in perfect succession.
The biggest flaw I found with this remote is within its design. Coming off of the Harmony One remote (which no longer seems to be available), I found this layout to be quite cumbersome.
Instead of putting the touchscreen directly at the top of the remote and all the hard keys on the bottom, Logitech divided up these functions. Fast Forward/Skip, Fast Rewind/Skip, Stop, Play and Pause keys are located at the top. Navigation, volume, channel up/dwn, recall, exit and menu and info keys are located on the bottom. Three individually colored keys are provided for controlling additional devices.
Why is this cumbersome? It's much easier for your thumb to control every hard key on the remote, if all the keys are located across the bottom. Having them divided only makes one fumble across the entire device.
Also sorely missing are hard number keys. These have been delegated to and hidden within the touch screen.
New to this high-end Logitech remote is touch screen gestures. Using your finger and swiping or tapping across the screen results in various commands being executed. For instance, double tap to pause and then tap once again to play. Swipe up or down to control volume. There are eleven supported gestures in all.
Whether these gestures actually worked or not was sort of a mixed bag. On our older Panasonic BD-50 Blu-ray player, none of the gestures worked in controlling basic play/pause/forward/reverse commands.
On our Tivo Premier unit, the gestures mostly worked, though with some stuttering along the way. Using fast forward only advanced the Tivo one speed up. Further attempts to advance forward didn't work at all. While the gestures are a compelling way to control your equipment, I still prefer the hard keys. Obviously, I ended up having to resort to them in some cases where the gestures did not work.
Want to adjust the brightness or get rid of the haptic feedback response? There is a myriad of options available in the remote settings screen.
When you buy the latest Logitech Harmony Remotes bundled with the Ultimate Hub, you also gain the ability to control your home theater using your Apple/Android/Windows smartphone or tablet. In fact, there's no setup involved other than downloading theHarmony app to your device, logging into your account, and selecting the remote(s) you wish to control. Have more than one remote in your home? The app will identify every remote that is registered to your home network.
So, controlling your home theater is as easy as pulling your phone out of your pocket.
Nest Thermostat Integration
[color=rgb(178,34,34);]Please note above images taken at different time intervals so indoor temperature indications are different.[/color]
Imagine controlling your thermostat with the same remote that controls your home theater. For those who long for the "wireless home," the Ultimate Harmony Remote brings you several steps closer to it.
If you own a Nest thermostat, you can easily add it to your remote during setup. It appears as a device on your touchscreen list. Selecting it brings up a screen that indicates the temperature your Nest is currently set at as well as that of the area the thermostat is situated in. Want to raise or lower the temperature from your chair? Simply make those adjustments using the touch screen control. So, say you find it's getting rather warm in the room -- you can simply lower the temperature or change from heat to cool without getting up from your seat.
Something really cool about the integration is the remote's ability to communicate to the Nest's auto-away function. If you come home from work and immediately reach for your remote, it communicates with the Nest to tell it that you are in the house, turning off it's auto-away feature. Fall asleep in your chair with the remote in hand? Wake up, pick up the remote, and the Nest automatically adjusts to your preferred settings.
I must say, I find this integration to be the most compelling reason to buy this remote. I love the fact that I don't have to grab a blanket if the room gets to cold. I simply pick up the remote, raise the temperature, and continue my home theater viewing uninterrupted.
While I am on the subject of integration, I should also take this opportunity to mention that the Ultimate Harmony also has the ability to control Philips Hue Smart Wi-Fi light bulbs and Sonos wireless speakers. As you add these devices to your Harmony Ultimate Remote you will discover that you can set up specific activities around them. For instance, when selecting activityWatch Blu-ray, you can program the Philips light bulbs to dim, the Sonos speakers to raise or lower, and even adjust the Nest temperature for that particular event. It's particularly cool that at any time, you can control your lighting or move through the playlists of your Sonos system from the comfort of your own chair. When you think about it, the remote really gives you the ability to set the environment for particular tasks and provide the ultimate home entertainment experience.
Once again, Logitech makes another positive leap forward with a remote that embraces the changes in technology. This is yet another handsome, high-quality remote that almost justifies its hefty $350 price tag. The fact that it has the ability to integrate with the Nest, Philips Hue Smart Wi-Fi light bulbs and Sonos wireless speakers is a huge plus for anyone seeking complete control of their home environment.
With all the advantages the Ultimate Harmony offers, I can't help but point out flaws in its design that make it a difficult move from other remotes like the Harmony One. The ill-placement of hard buttons eliminates ease of one finger control. However, to be fair to Logitech, I understand their reasoning of designing so many features of the Harmony One (plus lots more) into a smaller remote. The gestures don't always work well, pending on the equipment you are using it with. It's impossible for me to say how well or not gestures will work with your devices -- just don't make it the primary reason for purchasing this remote.
In all, it may not be the perfect remote, but it's probably the best remote I could recommend for anyone looking for something on the high-end side that has both touch screen and hard button functionality, as well as the ability to integrate with the products I listed above. Something tells me that there could be additional integrations announced in the future with new home automation partners, which sort of future-proofs the purchase of this remote.