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Logitech Harmony One Advanced Universal Remote

Date: February 12, 2008
Author(s): Matt Serrano

Logitech’s Harmony division have put a lot of of effort into the One, so we put it to the test to see if it all paid off. In addition to the comfortable design and individually contoured buttons, the One features a large LCD screen, support for over 5,000 brands, a stylish charger and a respectable price tag.



Introduction


Harmony remotes have had a place in the market for some time now. The idea of a universal remote has always been promising on paper. You can (as long as the stars happen to align) control all of your devices instead of using four or five remotes for separate tasks.

The promise fades once you come to the realization that the most these remotes are able to do is send signals to your devices. The work of turning devices on or off and changing inputs is still there, and everything must be completed manually. We’ve simply traded getting up with shuffling remotes around.

One of the features that made the Harmony series popular (yet not necessarily unique, considering how much competing products have matured) is the activities-based interface. Now, not only does it promise to control all of the products in your home theater setup, but it also tries to do what you want to accomplish with the least amount of button presses as possible.

While writing this review, I had a hard time trying to come up with a summary of the product without sounding like an ad or a copy of a press release. I felt like I wanted to get my feelings across, but not give the product more merit than it deserved. That grew increasingly difficult to do once I used the product. So, I find myself asking the question – where do I start?

Back at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show, Logitech announced the newest addition to their Harmony line-up, the appropriately named “Harmony One”. This new remote seemed to have remedied the quirky design issues of the Harmony 880 while borrowing (a miniature version of the) the touch-screen feature of the Harmony 1000.

At the height of the One’s design, the touch screen offers “one touch” navigation, allowing whoever uses the remote to do activities with one action, like watching a DVD or listening to music (with many more, along with the ability to create custom actions). The remote will do all of the rest, simplifying the interaction to terms anyone can understand. The rest of the remote has buttons that control functions you might expect: simple navigation, channel input, volume switches, and more.

Everything Under Control

I’ll say right off the bat, there’s a lot to like in terms of the hardware itself. The remote has a nice, even grip and is almost a pleasure to hold (and you’ll know just how much soon enough – it attracts a lot of fingerprints). There have been a lot of improvements with the Harmony line along the years (with the Harmony 1000 being my personal exception), and I would go as far to say that the One may be one of the most usable remotes Logitech has released yet.

The One uses a charger that plugs into an AC adaptor rather than double-A or triple-A batteries. It’s unfortunate that you can’t have the remote lie just anywhere if you want the battery to last, but on the bright side, sticking it in one place will always let you know where it is.

My one issue is the length. In a sense, it’s a necessary evil when you consider there’s only so much one can do to save space while keeping as many functions as possible. On the other hand, it’s undeniable that its length will be a turn off for some people used to their old remotes. Most people should find themselves getting use to it fairly quickly, but above all I would recommend trying to see it in person before making a purchase.

I should note that during our chat with Logitech at CES, it was mentioned that a lot of R&D went into this remote, with hundreds of “beta testers”. The final result is one that is believed to suit most people perfectly.

That said, on the next page we will continue with our look around the One.



Closer Look

One of the unfortunate effects that has been remedied, but not solved, is the difference between interfaces when switching remotes and products. Generally speaking, remotes tend to have different designs that complement the products they control, so combining them will defeat any sense of coordination.

For instance, a TiVo remote has a traditional dog-bone shape to it and buttons (the TiVo Central button comes to mind) that can’t be replicated with other remotes. Using that product with a “regular” remote would result in a awkward and arguably impaired experience.

The Harmony remote tries to take care that problem by making further use of the touch screen. Physical buttons that aren’t present will show up on the touch screen, so they can still be used. The only problem remaining is habit. It may sound silly to say, but relocating a button to the touch screen makes things feel a bit odd, and take some adjusting to ignore.

I’m happy to say the physical buttons have not been looked over either. Every single one feels solid and easy to press. Continuing our chats at CES, Logitech noted that every-single button included here was carefully thought out, and actually came to be from all of the beta testers. Each tester was asked to lay out buttons on a mock remote, and Logitech worked with the results to finalize which buttons would be included here.

On top of that, each one is molded a specific way so that people can “learn” the remote, and Logitech promises that after a few minutes, users will quickly be able to remember were “key” keys are located without looking down. On top of it all, another benefit is that the keys are also backlit, so every feature can be used in the dark.

No Compiler Needed

Part of the Harmony “experience” that I haven’t mentioned yet is in programming the remote. Every Harmony remote works with software that lives on your computer instead of punching in codes from different manufacturers, and the One is no exception. To start, you install it and plug the remote in using a hidden USB port on the front.

I initially started the installation and configuration on a MacBook, running OS X 10.4 (Tiger), but had trouble completing the configuration. For some reason, the software prompted me to connect a Harmony 1000 remote, and wouldn’t continue from that step. I was forced to install and complete the configuration on a machine running XP and I have heard that the software will not function on Leopard, which may or may not be the case with retail remotes. This leads me to believe the software isn’t ready on the Mac side regardless.

The installation was easy and straight forward. I was prompted to make an account with Logitech/Harmony and put in my devices. The setup I used had a mixture of old and new hardware, ranging from a 480p/1080i EDTV, receiver and DVD/VCR player that have definitely seen better days, a TiVo HD set-top box and Apple TV.

The process works like this: you catalog every device you want to control with the remote on paper, select the device type, make and model in the software, and Harmony should be able to take care of the rest.

If for some reason Harmony has trouble with a certain device, it will ask you to program it manually and learn the commands, which was the case with some of the buttons on the TiVo remote. The IR sensor in the rear of the remote will pick up these signals, effectively allowing it to teach itself how to control any device.

Unfortunately, the remote failed to update properly, and I was left with a paperweight. The remote would turn on, but it would prompt me to visit the Harmony website. Trying to update the remote with the included software only resulted in error messages and instructions to call customer support if the problem persisted.

After a Google search, I discovered Harmony had a web-based version of their software online. I logged into my account, downloaded the appropriate software to allow it to run in my web browser and waited. A few minutes later, my remote came back to life, programmed and ready to be used.



Living In Harmony, Final Thoughts

All of the devices I had were properly recognized and functioned correctly, with the exception of the Apple TV. There happened to be an Apple Hi-Fi near the Apple TV, so the One would confuse the two devices since all Apple products use the same signals.

After the Hi-Fi was removed, however, the Apple TV still refused to accept signals, even when it wasn’t paired with another remote. I scratched my head for a while and decided to solve the problem later. One day, it magically started working. I doubt this was an issue with the remote, but it’s still mysterious nonetheless.

When the programming was completed, I was able to do exactly what one might expect. For instance, to watch TV, all that had to be done was tap the “Watch TV” button in the activities menu and point the remote toward your components for a few seconds, and the remote would turn devices on if it needed to, switch video and audio inputs on the television and receiver, and put the TiVo in Live TV mode. If I wanted to watch a DVD or listen to music, the same procedure could be done.

One of the nicer features is the ability to create custom activities, using whatever devices you may have. This must be done if the software fails to recognize how a certain device is used, or if you want to make shortcuts for frequently used tasks.

Even so, things certainly weren’t perfect, or even satisfactory in some cases. The remote can take a long time to setup if things don’t work properly. Every time a change is made, the One needs to be plugged in and updated, which takes a while. So, mundane tasks like Changing the icon or text on a button or adjusting the response time of a certain equipment can begin to add up.

The remote, like all Harmony remotes, occasionally had a problem staying in sync, and when an activity was selected, a component would fail to turn on or adjust properly. This was fixed by using the help button, which initiates a simple to use troubleshooting feature, but people buying the product wouldn’t want to deal with that on a weekly basis, if not more frequently.

I do take issue with the touch screen because of two major flaws I felt were overlooked by Logitech. The first one is the amount of pages certain devices can take up. The receiver, for example, has 17 pages of commands when it is selected in the device menu. Having to wade through over a dozen pages to find a certain feature is annoying, and the ability to get up and do it on the device is taken away, because the remote is more than likely to become out of sync. But, to combat this, these features can be re-arranged to an order you prefer, via the software.

The next one is a simple, annoying, and somewhat obvious issue: cleaning the touch screen. There is no way to turn the device off without having to take the battery, and no visible way to lock the touch screen. The One comes with its own cleaning cloth to wipe away fingerprints with, but having to turn it away every time and hope a signal isn’t sent to one of my devices is a little more on the annoying side than I would like to deal with.

Final Thoughts

The hardware itself is solid, except for some minor rattling, which I would rather not want to deal with for a product with this high a price tag. There were no issues with the buttons or design that I could mention, and the touch screen was sensitive enough to pick up presses the first time around.

The layout is something I prefer, but there will always be a degree of preference. Most of the buttons were easy to get to, but the odd shuffling between physical and touch sensitive buttons provided an awkward transition period. In the scheme of things, it won’t have much impact though, so in my view it’s excusable.

Even with the One’s faults, I would still recommend it. The odd problems I experienced during the setup stage was quickly subdued by the overall experience: the easy of use, convenience and simplicity. It helps to remember that even if you have a problem with programming, you’re only going to go through the ordeal once. Frequent trips will be made to Logitech’s software if you make any additions to your home theater setup or want to tweak a particular setting, but nothing too daunting should ever take place more than once, if at all.

The One would have received a perfect score if it wasn’t for it’s lengthy and downright erroneous setup process. This was most likely an isolated issue, but it’s something to keep in mind when you consider the fact that the problem wouldn’t exist if you were using another universal remote. The chance of error is still there, and it’s something to be aware of when purchasing the product. In the future, I would also like to see better Mac support, which is obviously alienating a segment of the market Logitech claims to support.

If you’re left wondering if the $250 price tag is worth the convenience, it would have to depend on your setup. If you’re only using a handful of products or an outdated setup, the money would probably be better off going somewhere else. But if you’ve already sunk thousands of dollars into a system that you want to make the most of, the cost is nothing worth complaining over for the perks allowed. The best part is that when compared to competitors models (and even Logitech’s own), the One proves to be a solid value.

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