Where we really began to miss our Harmony remote was when we set up the Acoustic Research Universal Smart Remote with our devices. The lack of any external software makes adding devices more of a chore as you must manually input the brand name using the remote's number pad (similar to texting on a cell phone's keypad). Once you enter the brand name, you must then manually cycle through a seemingly limitless number of possible device codes until you find the specific set that works with your device--and that can often be a long list. It's here that the Wi-Fi feature would have really shined. Entering a model number and having the remote download all of the IR codes for each specific device would have been a great way to compete against a remote that requires a separate software installation to do the same thing.
After you've added your devices you're going to want to set up activities. Harmony users will find the term familiar, as it implies the same idea. However, the way the Acoustic Research remote turns on multiple devices and switches inputs may frustrate some users. The activity mode has you manually interject, requiring you to hit the input button until you get the source you requested. We recommend skipping this and opting for the "edit" option so that you can manually add a direct input command (if your TV/receiver/etc. supports one) to the activity. While customizing each activity can become a grueling task, we are confident enough to claim that the remote does offer enough customization options for you to have each mode act exactly the way you want it to. The remote also has the capability to learn IR commands, as well, so there won't be a situation where you are left out of options.
Once you've trudged through the customization process, you'll actually find that the remote performs well. We liked the quick response time we got from each button pressed, something a few Harmony models have issues with. We were happy with the remote's battery life, as it lasted long enough for us to perform all of our testing on a single charge. The display will dim and eventually shut off if not used for a few minutes. Occasionally we did have to "wake" the remote by placing it back in the cradle, but it never went dead.
We'd recommend the Acoustic Research Universal Smart Remote only if you are really drawn to the idea of having your program guide displayed directly on your remote control. However, the painstaking setup and gimmicky Wi-Fi features hinder the overall experience. If the remote used Wi-Fi for device codes, or was considerably cheaper than the average Harmony, we'd have an easier time recommending it. While Harmony remotes do have their faults, there is currently no replacement for their software counterparts that make setup an overall more pleasant experience.
Editor's Note: The first remote we received from Acoustic Research had difficulties connecting to a Wi-Fi access point, specifically a router with any security encryption. After receiving a replacement unit from the company that had no issues connecting, it was our determination that the first remote we received was defective and thus have raised the overall rating of the product accordingly.