A universal remote control is an amazing device to use if you have a serious home-theater system or even a semiserious one with three or more components. The best universal remotes can unify all those different clickers into a single wand in a way that can feel magical. All of the best universal remote options have superior ergonomics, with more intuitive button layouts and a better feel than standard remotes. And many of them work with your smartphone or voice systems like Amazon Alexa and Google Home.
My family and I have used many of the smart remotes on this list to control my main home-theater system for months or years at a time. At various points, they've controlled multiple devices including my TVs, AV receivers, game consoles, Roku streamers and even a cable box DVR. My family uses the system as much as I do, and my main criteria in a smart universal remote is making it simple enough for a child to operate.
Here are my favorite choices for best universal remote over the years that are currently available, in ascending order of price.
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Logitech Harmony wrote the book on the universal remote control, and these are its most basic clickers I can recommend. The main appeal over a cheaper, non-Harmony-based remote controller, or the clicker that comes with your cable box, is the activity-based control. Press the "Watch TV" or "Listen to Music" buttons and the remote controller turns on all the relevant devices (such as your smart TV, blue-ray player, cable box and AV receiver), switches to the right inputs and maps the keys to that activity (Volume to the receiver and Channel up/down to the cable box, for example).
Unlike more-expensive Harmonys (below), which use a universal remote app for setup and control, you'll have to use Harmony's Mac- or PC-based software to program the remote. The 650 and 665 also rely on IR (infrared) codes emitted from the front of the remote -- if you want point-anywhere convenience, you'll have to spend up for a system with a hub.
The 665 is the only one currently listed on Harmony's site but the 650 is identical (aside from color and number of devices each can control) and can often be found for less, especially refurbished.
Caavo's Control Center is one of two non-Harmony smart remotes on this list and is also the second-cheapest, but there's a catch. To get Caavo's advanced features, you'll need to shell out bank for the service fee. It costs $4 per month, $40 per year or $130 for the lifetime of the remote.
Unlike Harmony, Caavo Control Center includes an HDMI switch in addition to the smart remote. You plug your stuff into the switch and it handles the rest, including automatically recognizing your gear during setup. Caavo has its own voice control system and onscreen display to help you find stuff to watch, the clicker itself is simple and elegant and the remote finder is gold. Like the hub-based Harmonys below, Caavo doesn't require line of sight (the switch acts as the hub) and will also work with voice commands from Alexa and Google Home speakers.
The Hub is the only clicker on this list that doesn't actually include a clicker. Instead, you control everything using the Harmony smartphone app -- or by talking to your Alexa or Google Home speaker. The hub itself nestles deep in your AV cabinet, blasting out Infrared, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi signals to your equipment. This Harmony smart control is a great system if you live on your smartphone, but for most people investing in a real remote is worth the extra few bucks.
My pick for the best universal remote for the money, is the Companion, a real remote tied to a Harmony Hub. Since the Harmony Hub handles the actual command sending you don't have to aim the remote and risk one of your devices missing a command -- which leads to confusion and delay. The Harmony Companion doesn't just handle your entertainment devices, it can also communicate with some home automation devices such as Philips Hue lights. The remote is slick and easy to hold, and the battery lasts for months. In my years of using it at home, the main things I missed are backlighting behind the keys and a remote finder.
The wacky Cube is a mashup of universal remote controls, Fire TV 4K streamer and Amazon Echo speaker. It comes with a remote but its keys are sparse and rudimentary: real device control happens via your voice. The Cube has an IR blaster to control your gear and a mic sensitive enough to hear your commands over the blare of music. On the downside, you'll need to keep your old remotes around for many functions.
This controlling device is often sold for as little as $80 or less, so definitely wait for a sale -- or Prime Day -- before buying it.
Now we're getting into big spending territory. The Elite's main draw over the Companion is its screen, and for most users it's just not worth it. The touch screen makes it more versatile than cheaper models, especially for calling up favorite channels and Roku apps, and the full backlighting is great. Unfortunately, both suck a lot of battery power so you (and your family) will need to remember to park the remote in its dock on the reg.
Logitech's newest all-in-one remote control is its most voice-centric yet. Like the Caavo, you can use voice commands to control stuff by talking into the smart control, but unlike Caavo, the Express can talk back in Alexa's voice. It's like having a miniature Alexa speaker in your hand. After a couple months as my family's main remote I find myself wanting an actual power button -- you have to say "Turn on the TV" or "Watch Netflix" or even "Turn off the TV" to get stuff to happen -- but my main quibble is its high price. As Harmony's only remote with a finder function, however, this is still the one I'd get if money wasn't an object.