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Best universal remotes of 2019

From Harmony to Caavo to, well, other Harmonys, here's our favorite clickers, hubs and screens for controlling a cabinet-full of gear.

15-logitech-harmony-express
Sarah Tew/CNET

If you have a serious home-theater system, or even a semiserious one with three or more components, a universal remote is a wonderful thing. The best universal remotes can unify all those different device clickers into a single wand in a way that can feel magical. All of them have superior ergonomics, with more intuitive button layouts and a better feel than standard remotes. And many work with your phone or voice systems like Amazon Alexa and Google Home.

My family and I have used most of the remotes below to control my main home-theater system at home for months or years at a time. At various points they've controlled my TVs, AV receivers, game consoles, Roku streamers and a cable box DVR. My family uses the system as much as I do, and my main criteria in a universal remote is making it simple enough for a child to operate.

Here's my favorite universal remotes over the years that are currently available, in ascending order of price.

Note that CNET may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.

Logitech Harmony 650/665: $50

Logitech Harmony

Logitech Harmony wrote the book on universal remotes, and these are its most basic clickers I can recommend. The main appeal over cheaper, non-Harmony-based remotes, 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 turns on all the relevant devices (such as your TV, 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 an 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 Control Center: $60 plus service fee

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It's one of two non-Harmony 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 for the service fee. It costs $4 per month, $40 per year or $130 for the lifetime of the remote.

Unlike Harmony, Caavo includes an HDMI switch in addition to the 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.

Logitech Harmony Hub: $70

The Hub is the only clicker on this list that doesn't actually include a clicker. Instead, you control everything using the Harmony app on your phone -- 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. It's a great system if you live on your phone, but for most people investing in a real remote is worth the extra few bucks. 

Logitech Harmony Companion: $105

Sarah Tew

My favorite remote for the money on this list, the Companion is a real remote tied to a Harmony Hub. Since the 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 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.

Amazon Fire TV Cube: $120

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The wacky Cube is a mashup of universal remote, 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 IR blasters 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 product is often sold for as little as $80 or less, so definitely wait for a sale -- or Prime Day -- before buying it.

Harmony Elite: $250

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 touchscreen 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 Harmony Express: $250

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Logitech's newest remote is its most voice-centric yet. Like the Caavo, you can use voice commands to control stuff by talking into the clicker, 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.