Scott Hanselman

Logitech Harmony One Remote Control Review

August 2, '08 Comments [26] Posted in Reviews
Sponsored By

lmn A little over three years ago I finally solved my Universal Remote control problems with a Logitech Harmony 880. To this day, I still recommend it all the time. It's a great balance of functionality and a good price (as low as US$129).

"Why is the TV full? WHO is watching America's Next Top Model?"

However, the one Achille's Heel of the 880 was it's battery life (it gets weird memory) and the battery contacts. Sometimes it just doesn't touch the contacts in its cradle right, and I'll wake up the next day with a dead battery and a confused wife.

"So, the TV goes on Input 3 but the Receiver is on Input 7? But what controls the volume? Why is the TV muted?"

Universal Remotes are all about the WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) or SAF (Spouse Acceptance Factor). Whatever hell you've got yourself into in the setting up of your TV and "Media Area," you need to dig yourself out with a decent remote.

"How do I turn this thing on? YOU set it up! It says 'PC Load Letter'?"

HarmonyOneMy 880 solved these problems and was the only remote The Wife didn't despise. She was starting to get a little torqued with the battery life, so (gadget-using adsense-spender that I am) I've just replaced it this evening with the Logitech Harmony One.

"Screw this, I'm using the TV in the spare room!"

I love the 880. It had a few problems, that I detailed in my review, but for the most part it was bangin'.  The software then was 4.3 and now it's on 7.4.3 and it runs in Vista x64, so you gotta give Logitech credit for not shutting me out based on my OS of choice.

"Where is the remote?"

My first concern was "How am I going to move my settings over?" I had this thing TRICKED out. It works. You configure the Logitech Remotes using a Wizard over USB. The remote shows up as a "Human Interface Device" to Vista, and I didn't have to install drivers for the new one.  It just used a generic driver, which was comforting. Works on Win2k, XP, Vista, and OS X.

"Seriously, did you open the remote with a screwdriver?"

As soon as I logged into the software with my original remote's online login I noticed a button that said "Upgrade Remote." Sweet. It gave me the choice to keep this login and move my old settings to the new remote, minus some custom buttons I had done, OR start from scratch with a new login. I upgraded and the remote just worked. Everything as I had it, with brighter screen and upgraded graphics.

"I just want to watch TV. Come on!"

The software that you use to configure the device from your desktop is Activity-based, which makes non-technical spouses happy. You click "Watch TV" and "Play Xbox" and the remote figures it out. Here's the most important thing to grok about this remote. It does NOT use macros or record series of button presses. It's a smart state machine and knows what state each device is in and what codes to change states. This basic fact makes this remote SO much easier than the dance of IR codes I've programmed in the past.

"Where is the 'Denzel' button?"

You should be sure to use the "discrete" commands, meaning a separate IR code for ON and OFF rather than a Toggle, when possible. That way there's less state that can get out of whack. I was not able to do that complete because the Sharp Aquos doesn't have Discreet IR codes for the Input Menu, but if you get out of sync (perhaps someone walks in front of the remote while it's working) you just click HELP and it walks you through a wizard to get its state back. "Is the TV on? Is the Xbox on? etc..."

image

There's a great site for Harmony Icons at http://www.iconharmony.com/. It includes hundreds of networks and channels, including many, many international channels so you're not left out if you're not in the US. I setup all the favorites on 4 pages:

image

Harmony Remotes ComparedIt's really incredibly simple to get the remote setup the way you want it. It'll handle 15 devices (I have 4) although your activities my not be device related. They might be "Listen to Radio" or "Watch CD." They can be configurable to you can create your own "Listen to XM Radio" or "Launch Media Center" if you like.

"How much did that thing cost? Don't even tell me."

Why did I upgrade? There's a number of new features in this remote, other than the fact that it's been completely redesigned.

  • Way better battery contacts. It's tight and unambiguous when it's on the charger.
  • Completely new ergonomics. It feels a lot better.
  • New button lay out. Buttons make more sense, they are organized in zones. Just look at the side-by-side. The 880 LOOKED cool but FELT weird. Can you find the volume controls on the remote on the right?
  • Touch screen. Everyone tried to press the pictures on the 880, but it's not a touch screen! Instead, you press the tiny side buttons next to the picture. Meh. The Harmony One is touch screen for the big stuff.

I'm thrilled with the new remote.

"What have you done?! Where did this remote come from. Where's the other one? You keep changing stuff!"

The wife is happy too. I can tell.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

facebook twitter subscribe
About   Newsletter
Sponsored By
Hosting By
Dedicated Windows Server Hosting by ORCS Web
Saturday, August 02, 2008 5:53:39 AM UTC
TV watching is serious business at the Hanselman household, either that or Scott just needs excuses to buy fancy gadgets. I'm betting on the later ;)
Saturday, August 02, 2008 6:46:10 AM UTC
I too was a long-time user of the 880, and while I loved the way it finally gave me just one remote in my living room, it had tons of shortcomings (you pretty much hit them all). It was still worth it, but these were significant annoyances.

So when they announced the One, I jumped on it immediately, and I've been ultra-happy ever since. No more failed charges, no more spontaneous reboots, no more horrible ergonomics, plus a much brighter and cleared screen with a remote shape that better fits my hand. <3
Saturday, August 02, 2008 6:57:42 AM UTC
I have had Hamonies ever since the very first version came out (grey, ugly, just six buttons and some side controls for scrolling). There is an "outside US locked out" problem with the current ones though: if your cableprovider is not know (or something), you simply don't get channel lists in TV watching activities any more (let alone custom images for channels if you a color display on yours). So I just have number and channel up/down now, like on a regular "old fashioned" remote. Still have about 13 activities and I get to control the IR living room fan too! Harmony rulez!
Saturday, August 02, 2008 7:07:22 AM UTC
Jarno - Actually there is an EU version of this remote I believe. The remote doesn't know about your channel list. You can manually enter the numbers (I did) and the channel graphics in the One.
Saturday, August 02, 2008 7:34:07 AM UTC
I love mine and the battery life is pretty good. Any and every geek should get this. I love the way the screen turns on when you... uhm... shake it.Allthough I think the numberpad should have been above the play/pause/stop buttons. And adding buttons with a meaningfull name for your device is easy as pie.

I love it.
Saturday, August 02, 2008 11:00:15 AM UTC
I have the Logitech Harmony 520 remote, and I pretty much hate it. It's the only reason I haven't bought a second one for our other tv setup.

My two biggest beefs with it are:
1. A limited range of IR. If I'm laying on the couch, I have to hold the remote at arm's length above my head to get it to see the cable box. Other remotes don't have this problem, they seem to see things fine.
2. The clickiness of the buttons suck. I feel like I have to mash the heck out of the buttons to get them to do anything, and the "auto scroll" after holding down a button is difficult.

Does the 880 suffer these problems too?
Saturday, August 02, 2008 3:13:25 PM UTC
Does anyone have a Media Center PC and an Xbox 360? My current 880 flips them both on at the same time. I'm guessing they have the same frequency (obv), but was hoping there was a secondary and maybe this remote handled them better. That, and I would like a layout that made more sense. While the wife gets it, few visitors do. I think the Harmony One can solve some of that. I was looking at the 1000 recently, but it looked like it'd take 2 weeks to setup.
Saturday, August 02, 2008 3:24:41 PM UTC
I've had an 880 for several years now and havent had any problems with the battery or the contacts. I often leave it unplugged for up to a week before it finds its way back in to the craddle. No problems. The WAF factor for me has been very high.

The only downside, and the reason why I'm going to replace it here soon, is that the 880 doesnt have RF. Like you, I'm having a house built and decided to put all of the components in the server closet. Instead of using an IR repeater, I want the remote to use RF to send the signal to the server room (which then blasts IR to each component seperately).
Tom Denny
Saturday, August 02, 2008 8:00:38 PM UTC
Great review - I've got the 520 and my only problem is with the buttons and, of course, the WAF. when it works, it's awesome - but when it messes up (usually due to my own setup), it's a pain.

Does the One or the 880 resolve the button problems?
Sunday, August 03, 2008 1:38:00 AM UTC
My family had one of the original Harmony remotes before it was bought by Logitech. The "smart state machine" thing was hard to get used to, especially for the less technically inclined among us. Anytime someone used a regular remote to turn the tv off, the next person who used the Harmony remote couldn't get the tv and the cable on at the same time :)
Sunday, August 03, 2008 3:14:54 AM UTC
Scott, what's your experience with durability on the high-end Harmony Remotes?

I've used a couple of the mid-range remotes, starting with the H659. I loved it, but I had to request warranty exchanges a couple times due to screen and backlight issues. Screen died on one, backlight died on another. FINALLY got one that was solid as a rock for a year or so, and the the timer on the backlight died (e.g., it would come on, but would never turn itself off, requiring me to push the backlight button to turn it off).

Well, that was all the excuse I needed to upgrade to the Harmony 670, which had a better button layout for DVRs. My 670 served me well for over a year, until my youngest son, a toddler, whacked it on the kitchen table (not terribly hard, think "BabySmash" hard) which messed up the LCD. The lower half of the screen now only displays every third horizontal line of pixels, which makes it really hard to read.

Well, we had a Harmony 550 put away as a gift idea for my mother-in-law. I don't know why I thought that was a good idea, she's not technophobic but has said more than once that our remotes confuse her. So we opened the 550 and started using it as a replacement for our 670. The button layout isn't as nice, but the screen, while still backlit monochrome like the 670, is roughly twice the resolution.

So anyway, the moral of the story is that the mid-range Harmony Remotes have not had the best track record in our home in terms of durability. We love them, though, and wouldn't ever go back to our old remote-juggling ways. So back to my original question - What's the durability like on the 880, or the Harmony One? I'm hesitant to buy one if I'll end up replacing it like I have the others.
Sunday, August 03, 2008 3:44:03 AM UTC
I love mine and the battery life is pretty good. Any
Sunday, August 03, 2008 4:25:55 AM UTC
Scott - Funny you should post this. I just recently completed our AV/Computer Rack Build-Out of 2008. I went a different route - Universal MX900. Thing is fricking bulletproof, but it requires a "pro" to help - no problem here in that my good friends run a high-end home theater outfit and hook me up with programming. One thing that was a deal-breaker - RF. I've got solid doors on the cabinet, no IR gonna shoot through that. When I get pictures up on Flickr, I'll post a link. After your closet work awhile back, I put a lot of thought into the computer rack, AV and the MX900 fit what I needed. Glad you like the One.
Mark Deason
Monday, August 04, 2008 11:21:06 AM UTC
Ahaha, nice post. Gave me some good laughs :)
Monday, August 04, 2008 12:48:33 PM UTC
Quick Questions Scott - How is the response time on the Harmony One? I've got an 880 and the time it takes to relay the IR signal is tremendously slower than my TiVo Remote, I got used to it after a while, but it is kind of annoying. With my TiVo remote, you can hit the fast-forward button 3 times in very rapid succession, and it works great, with the 880, you need a very slight pause between each hit otherwise it won't work properly. Does the Harmony One experience this same problem?

Thanks for the review!
Monday, August 04, 2008 2:59:50 PM UTC
Scott, I have a Sharp Aquos TV (LC-52D82U) and I was able to find discrete codes for on/off and all 6 inputs to use on my Pronto. Did you search Remote Central?

The WAF on the Pronto has been pretty bad, especially considering I'm on version 3 and there has really been no improvement since version 1. Thanks for the review.
Andy Lapin
Monday, August 04, 2008 7:34:19 PM UTC
Scott: I'm guessing that when you say the connections are tighter on this remote than on the 880 that I won't have to listen to my remote as it gets a connection - oops lost it - oh there it is again - nope not quite. Which translates into Beep (light up screen) - beep beep - Beep (light up screen) - beep beep. Which further translates into "can anyone shut up that remote while I try to watch this movie?"

My real question is this: how do you know the connections are better? My 880 didn't have problems for about the first year. I'd hate to spend that kind of cash to end up with the connections wearing off again down the road.

It's enough to get me to visit my local electronics store this week though. Thanks for the review.
David Martin
Tuesday, August 05, 2008 3:10:59 PM UTC
+1 for the Harmony One. My wife loves and so do I.
Tuesday, August 05, 2008 5:11:22 PM UTC
I have been really impressed with Logitech's tech support. Every time I've had an issue with a new device not responding correctly, they've had my profile updated and ready for download by the next day. It's pretty cool to get an email telling you your issue has been resolved, plug in your remote, log in to your account, hit "Update Remote" and have it just work.

And my wife LOVES the remote :)
Wade C
Thursday, August 07, 2008 1:45:53 AM UTC
If anyone has the answer for this that would be great.. All is setup fine including my favorite channels and all is working EXCEPT when I attempt to chose a channel with one of my favorite buttons you see it appear on the tv but it jiust stays on the channel it was on?? Direct TV HD box?? Checked all settings nothing seems wrong.. My 880 was doing this also.. Help! JK
Monday, August 11, 2008 6:43:33 PM UTC
Not only the wife but the kids like it too, maybe even more than I do :D

// Ryan
Ryan Heath
Monday, August 11, 2008 6:53:46 PM UTC
Another Ryan here who recently bought this remote...all I can say is "WOOT"...my wife and I had a small ceremony where we sent all the other remotes into exile...it was glorious. Last thing I need to find though is the USB thing for my PS3...anybody have a good source?
Sunday, August 17, 2008 7:52:44 PM UTC
Scott,

Curious where you got the icons for your favorite channels? I have the Harmony One and what comes with it are just a few. Wondering if there is a site available where you can download the common channel icons. I have foudn some for the older remotes, but the
images don't fit the harmony one very well.

Thanks,


Kevin
Saturday, August 30, 2008 1:01:27 AM UTC
Kevin,

You can find a large variety of icons here: http://www.iconharmony.com/icons/

-Alex
Alex
Tuesday, September 02, 2008 3:25:59 AM UTC
How did you get your Harmony One working with the Aquos? My LC-37G4U has the same input cycling issue, and I'm having trouble getting it to select any particular input.

Thanks,

Chris
Chris
Tuesday, September 02, 2008 4:42:25 AM UTC
I picked an input that I could count on having a discrete code, like "HD" or "AV1" and tell the Harmony to START there, then i have it go "up up up OK."
Comments are closed.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.