Editors' note: Confused about how this model stacks up to other Harmony remotes? See CNET's Which Logitech universal remote is right for you? for updated comparisons and recommendations.
Logitech's line of Harmony universal remotes has been gobbling up market share for years, but the common complaint of many users has been that they remain too expensive--the good ones invariably cost $150 and up. But that's changing for 2010: Logitech has unveiled a trio of new universal remotes with prices ranging from $100 to just $50. Based on the same general design as the Harmony 700 ($150 list, controls six devices) are the Harmony 650 ($100 list, five devices), Harmony 600 ($80 list, five devices), and the entry-level Harmony 300 (reviewed here). The 300 carries a list price of $50, and can already be found online for closer to $40.
(Note: The Harmony 300 has a black matte finish, and the Harmony 300i has a glossy finish that's more prone to smudges and fingerprints. That--along with the fact that each model is only available through some exclusive retailers--is the only difference between the two products.)
To hit that ultra-affordable price point, of course, there had to be some compromises. The 300 controls only four products, it lacks the LCD screen found on the step-up 600 and 650 models, and most of the buttons aren't backlit. It also has only a stripped-down version of the activity-based control functionality that Harmony models are known for; there's just a "Watch TV" button to fire up your TV, audio receiver, and cable/satellite box, and switch them to their proper respective inputs.
Otherwise, control is accomplished by toggling to one of the four device keys, and then choosing your commands. The device keys are prelabeled (TV, Cable/Sat, DVD, VCR/Aux), but you can assign them to anything you'd like. Those four keys are also the only backlit ones on the remote; that said, the button layout is intuitive enough that you probably won't have any trouble navigating your fingers by touch in a darkened room.
In addition to the device and "Watch TV" buttons described above, the top section also includes the power button, TV input toggle, and five dedicated numbered buttons--assign them as favorite channels, or to other functions you'd like. Below that, things are almost completely unchanged from the layout of the Harmony 600/650/700 models. The middle section has five-way directional keys, channel and volume controls, and some standard DVR keys (Menu, Guide, Info, Exit). On the bottom third of the remote, you'll find standard video transport controls (play, pause, rewind, etc.) and a 12-digit numeric keypad.
Since we were already fans of the design and layout of the similar Harmony models, we liked the carry-over here of the presence of a dedicated page up/down rocker (good for paging through lists on electronic programming guides), four color-coordinated buttons (for assigning to those unique controls on cable boxes and game consoles), and having both fast-forward/rewind and chapter skip forward/backward controls as separate buttons. The 300 also adds dedicated "List" and "Live" buttons not found on other Harmony models, which is perfect for DVRs.
The Harmony 300 is powered by two AA batteries (included). As expected at this price point, there's no rechargeable battery or cradle option, as found on the Harmony 700 and higher models. But you can always invest in two pairs of your own rechargeable batteries, and swap them in and out as needed.
The setup process of previous Harmony remotes involved installing software on your Mac or Windows PC, inputting the make and model of your home theater gear, telling the software how it was connected, and then uploading the resulting info to the remote via a USB cable. For the most part, it worked well, but the learning curve--though generally simpler than many other universal remotes--could still be intimidating for tech novices.
For the Harmony 300, Logitech has overhauled the setup process with an eye towards simplicity. You start by setting up an account at myharmony.com (you'll just need an e-mail address and password). The site will then automatically install software onto your Mac or Windows PC. The software is basically a browser-based, idiot-proof version of the previous Harmony iteration. The setup wizards now ask very simple straightforward questions, so users need only to know the make and model of the products they wish to control, and how they are connected (e.g., which input on the TV the DVD player is plugged into: HDMI 1, Component 2, and so forth).