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

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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.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Ecosystem 10
  • Features 9
  • Performance 9
  • Value 6

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.

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).

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.

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