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Logitech Harmony Elite review: Touchscreen remote gives you total control, for a steep price

The Elite is the best Harmony yet, with a responsive touchscreen, full backlighting and the ability to control up to 15 devices. But are those extras worth the high cost of admission?

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David Katzmaier
David_Katzmaier.jpg

David Katzmaier

Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming

David has reviewed TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home entertainment gear at CNET since 2002. He is an ISF certified, NIST trained calibrator and developed CNET's TV test procedure himself. Previously David wrote reviews and features for Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as "The Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics."

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6 min read

I'm a huge fan of Logitech Harmony remotes. They are my single strongest recommendation for anyone looking to make their home entertainment center easier to use. If you routinely juggle two or more remotes, the company's latest hub-based models are far superior to standard universal clickers.

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8.0

Logitech Harmony Elite

The Good

The Logitech Harmony Elite is a unique universal-remote system that can control your entire home theater using your iPhone or Android phone or tablet, or the included remote, via the Harmony Hub. The touchscreen makes it more versatile than cheaper models, especially for calling up favorite channels and Roku apps. It operates via radio frequency (RF), rather than infrared (IR), so you don't need line-of-sight to your components. Harmony's activity-based system offers easy operation for functions like "Watch TV," and the Elite handles up to 15 AV devices.

The Bad

Significantly cheaper versions like the Harmony Home Control can do almost as much. The battery only lasts a couple of days per charge, so you'll have to remember to keep it in the charging cradle between uses.

The Bottom Line

The Logitech Harmony Elite adds a useful touchscreen to the best universal remote system around, but it's not worth the high price for most buyers.

I've been using the latest high-end version, dubbed Elite, at home as my main clicker for the last couple months. It's Logitech's best remote yet, but unless you have money to burn, or really want its extras like a touchscreen, fully-backlit keys and control of up to 15 devices, get the Home Control instead.

Both offer Harmony's most important features, including a two-piece design with a separate hub that hides among your gear, allowing seamless control of all of your home entertainment devices, and many smart-home devices, from a single remote -- or the Harmony app on your phone or tablet. Harmony's hub-based systems are designed so well, my 4-year-old uses one with no problems.

And me and my kids really like the Elite's screen. They can easily recognize and engage the "Watch Roku" activity, then click the Nick Jr. icon, and be watching the latest "Mutt and Stuff" in no time. Once I trained the munchkins to always return the clicker to its cradle for recharging (upon pain of no dessert!), it's been smooth sailing. I especially love being able to pull out my phone to turn off the living room TV from afar, once kiddie TV time is over.

As long as your family's cradle-return discipline is solid, the only major downside to the Elite is price. It retails for $349 in the US and Canada, £279.99 in the UK, and $549.95 in Australia. That's more than twice the cost of the Home Control, which happens to have a battery that lasts for months (seriously).

Logitech Harmony Elite

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Screen time

The main question with a remote like this is whether the screen brings enough to the table to be worth the extra money over the Home Control, which sells for less than half the price. That depends on how much you're willing to spend, and how much you value the screen's benefits.

One of those benefits is the ability to easily access more activities from the remote itself. Harmony remotes center around "activities," like "Watch TV" or "Play PlayStation 4." Selecting an activity causes all of the devices that use it -- such as a TV, AV receiver and cable box for Watch TV -- to turn on and switch to the correct inputs, and also maps the remote's hard buttons to the right commands.

For Watch TV, for example, most commands like Guide, Menu and DVR would go to the cable box, the volume/mute commands would go to the AV receiver, and the perhaps you'd map a picture mode or screen format command for the TV.

Sarah Tew/CNET

With the Home Control, there are only three "Activity" keys, and long-pressing each key can activate another three. The screen of the Elite can contain as many activities as you care to create using your available devices.

Another nice use for the screen is favorites. With Watch TV you can designate any number of TV channels as favorites, and they appear complete with network icons on the remote screen for direct access -- no need to memorize channel numbers. The same goes for Roku channels; the screen provides direct access to Netflix, Amazon Instant and other apps if you set up a Roku device. That feature doesn't work with other streamers like the Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV, however.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The screen also allows access to more commands since you can create as many "soft buttons" for each activity as you want. That's especially important if you want to control more smart-home devices, which often have functions that don't map intuitively to standard AV device commands. It's also great for things like AV receiver sound modes, aspect ratio commands on a TV, multi-function sequences of commands, and more.

The Home Control remote has no way to easily access every command from every device, but the Elite's Devices button, in combination with the screen, does just that. Of course you can also assign whatever commands you want to the remote's physical keys using the software.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Harmony app for iPhone, iPad and Android phones and tablets allows many of the same advanced functions as the screen, including extra activities, direct device access, favorites and gesture control. The Home Control and the Elite use the same app.

I found the Elite's full-color screen easy to use and relatively responsive, although it didn't feel as sensitive as a phone or tablet screen, and the resolution is much lower, leading to chunkiness in some icons for example. At times it was a bit too responsive, and more than once I engaged an activity more than just by picking it up. I also liked the haptic feedback, so you get a little jolt of reassurance when you select items or long-press a button.

Thumbs-up for better buttons

The original Harmony Touch and Harmony Ultimate had the same screen as the Elite, but I complained about the nonsensical button placement, with the "transport" keys -- play/pause, fast-forward/rewind, stop and record -- mounted a far to the top, necessitating an inconvenient stretch of the thumb to reach.

I give the Home Control and now the Elite a big thumbs-up for moving those controls within easy reach. They're right under the screen on the Elite, above the main four-way cursor pad. Stashed at the bottom, where they belong, are the less important color-coded keys and smart-home keys.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Elite's button layout could use some improvement though. I'd still like to see dedicated fast-forward and rewind keys in addition to the skip forward/reverse keys (pro tip: I reprogrammed the largely useless "stop" key on my "Watch TiVo" activity as fast-forward). And the placement of the touch-sensitive "Device" and "Activity" keys meant I occasionally hit one by mistake, for example when I miss the skip forward button. For frequent commercial-skippers like myself TiVo's peanut is still the best remote, but the Elite is very good.

The overall length of the Elite and the Home Control clickers are similar, but the thinner, lighter Home Control felt a bit friendlier in my hand, and I prefer its rubberized buttons to the Elite's hard plastic. I did appreciate the scooped-out back of the Elite, however, allowing me to move my thumb to the top and bottom easily.

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Backlight good, battery life bad

Aside from the screen, one of my favorite extras on the Elite is full backlighting behind every hard key, making it much easier to use in a darkened home theater than the Home Control.

Dropping the backlight allows the Home Control to achieve tremendous batter life, however -- you'll typically go half a year or more before you have to replace its watch battery.

With its screen and backlight, the Elite uses a rechargeable battery that replaceable in case it goes kaput. The package includes a sleek-looking cradle that charges the remote, keeps it upright and also provides a convenient place to park it, which helps prevent dreaded RLS (remote loss syndrome). Of course, a Roku 4-like finder function, complete with a button on the hub, would be even better.

Logitech claims a 20 percent improvement in battery life compared with the Harmony Ultimate, but in my time using the product that didn't matter much. If the Elite went longer than three days on a charge I felt lucky, and a couple of times when I forgot to recharge it, I had to resort to another remote. If you get the Elite, you'll basically have to keep it in its charging cradle when not in use. That's not a big deal for some people, but for others it might be a deal-breaker.

Like the Harmony Ultimate, the Elite can control up to 15 different home theater devices, compared to eight on the Home Control. Unlike the Ultimate and the Home Control, which offer a choice of black or easy-to-find white, the Elite only ships in glossy black.

Check out the Harmony Home Control review for detailed tests and impressions of the app and more in-depth descriptions of other aspects of the hub system, and how the remote works with Smart Home devices.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The best Harmony, with caveats

For most people, the screen-less Harmony Home Control is plenty. The two remotes use the same excellent app, and that app provides many of the advanced functions and access that the Home Control's physical clicker lacks.

On the other hand, if you have an advanced enough system, more than eight devices, or just want the best Harmony remote on the market, the Elite is for you.

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8.0

Logitech Harmony Elite

Score Breakdown

Design 9Ecosystem 10Features 9Performance 9Value 6