Editor's Note (February 19, 2009): The rating on this product has been changed due to competitive changes in the marketplace. Readers interested in this product should compare it to the more recent Logitech Harmony One.
The Logitech Harmony 880 was the first Harmony remote to feature a color screen and a built-in rechargeable battery along with a docking station. Overall, we liked the design of that model, as well as its nearly identical RF-capable (radio frequency) sibling, the Harmony 890. But as soon as Logitech came out with its thinner, sleeker 2006 line of monochrome Harmony models--the 520, the 550, and the Advanced Remote Control for Xbox 360, we knew it was only a matter of time before the company found a way to throw a color screen and a rechargeable battery into the new, slim chassis. And now it has.
Priced at $200 (list), the Logitech Harmony 720, like the less-expensive Harmony 520, is currently sold at discount stores such as Wal-Mart and Costco. Measuring 8.1 inches long by 2.1 inches wide and less than an inch thick, the 6-ounce 720 is a little more than an inch longer than the Harmony 520, 550, and Xbox 360 remotes. As noted, the biggest difference between this model and those is the color screen and the rechargeable lithium ion battery.
The LCD is larger than that on many of Harmony's monochrome models. The increased screen real estate offers room for a total of six contextual icons (vs. four on the aforementioned models), corresponding to adjacent hard buttons. This LCD is also slightly sharper and brighter than the Harmony 880's and 890's, but those models accommodate eight contextual icons on their screens.
The 128x160 color LCD screen is still fairly low-resolution, but it's certainly a step up from a monochrome screen: The activity-based icons are now a little cleaner-looking and easier to read in color than in grayscale.
For the 880 and 890, Logitech went with all hard-plastic buttons--generally a good thing, though buttons such as the video-transport keys (record, play, rewind, fast-forward, pause, and stop) and the 12-digit keypad were still spaced very close to each other, so it was hard to operate those remotes by feel alone. In this design, the number of hard buttons has been reduced, but the overall button layout is again pretty well thought out, and we appreciated that all the buttons are either backlit or glow in the dark.
If you look at the 720 next to the 550, you'll notice that Logitech has moved the main video transport buttons lower down on the remote, which puts them within closer reach of your thumb. The only drawback is that those buttons, as well as those that make up the numeric keypad at the bottom of the remote, are small. We're also a little disappointed that, even though the 720 is longer, it doesn't have the 550's extra row of four buttons--directly below the numeric keypad--that can be mapped to corresponding functions (sound, picture) or specialized keys that relate to your cable or satellite box. (DVRs often require confirmation keystrokes for playback and recording.) And finally, there have been some reports that text labels printed on the case under the transport control buttons have worn off after a couple of weeks of use. (We didn't experience this problem in our three-day trial, but we can see how the paint could rub off. On other models, such as the 550, the labels for the transport buttons are under a sheet of clear plastic).
Like the 880 and 890, the Logitech Harmony 720 includes a docking station for juicing up the included rechargeable lithium-ion battery; you simply place the remote in its cradle. Not only is it nice to have a recharging option to save dough on batteries, but if you're good about leaving the remote in its cradle, you'll always know where it is when you need it. If we had one complaint, it's that we wish the remote would lock into its cradle a little more securely. As it stands, the remote looks really nice sitting in the cradle--the dock and remote mesh well together and keep a low profile, but if you jostle the dock (beware of the curious child), the remote ends up dislodging from its charging connectors a little too easily and thus fails to recharge. Hopefully, Logitech can someday move to a magnetic-style charger or add some mechanism that gives you the option of clamping the remote to the dock.
As with all of Logitech's new remotes, this model features a motion sensor, so that when you pick up the remote, it automatically turns on. You can also easily add your own digital images as backgrounds and screensavers--there's a slide-show feature--though we found that we had to crop our images into vertical shots or they'd appear hideously stretched on the screen. And it really isn't a good idea to have a picture as a background because it makes the icons difficult to read; you're better off sticking with the default blue background.