Logitech Harmony Touch review: Fancy touch screen fails against cheaper clickers

In practice the screen wasn't as responsive as a button. Quickly hitting Skip Forward in succession was a recipe for under- or overshooting the target, such as the end of a commercial break, and I found I had to pace my clicks to the slower remote. Compared with my phone the pace of scrolling was slightly more sluggish, and occasionally my swipes didn't register or there was an annoying delay in response. Speaking of phones, I really would have appreciated the subtle reassurance of haptic feedback, but it's not available. The numeric keypad should be fine for all but the fattest of finger, however, and overall the touch screen is usable enough for what it has to accomplish.

Like Logitech's other recent remotes including the 650, the Touch uses the excellent MyHarmony.com Web site for programming and customization. The site makes an irreducibly complex process as simple as possible with ample wizards and help options, although it's not without its issues.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The setup process is identical to that of previous Logitech Harmony remotes. You connect the Touch to your Internet-connected Windows PC or Mac with the supplied USB cable, sign in to MyHarmony.com (or create a new account) and answer a fairly simple online questionnaire. You choose your home theater components from a list, explain how they're connected, and define their roles in activity-based functions, such as Watch TV, Watch DVD, and Listen to Music. For each function, you specify which devices and inputs the remote must control. The software makes many common decisions automatically, for example mapping volume keys to control your AV receiver rather than the TV's volume. After you've completed the questionnaire, the software uploads all the relevant control codes to the Harmony Touch.

The initial setup process supposedly provides the option to copy your existing commands from your old Harmony to the Touch, but that failed for me. The software told me, "Devices and activities cannot be copied from this particular account." Even if the copy works, however, favorite channels and button customizations won't work.

As a Harmony veteran I was able to program my modest setup (six devices, five activities) in about 20 minutes, but it took another half hour or so of fiddling with button customizations to get everything just right. One annoyance was that two of my activities, using a Roku box and a PS3, didn't map most of the buttons correctly by default, so I had to manually program every hard key (easier than it sounds thanks to the site's drag-and-drop interface). Learning extra commands was a cinch, and interestingly the Touch's IR sensor is on the back, rather than the base as with previous remotes.

I did hit a snag trying to use another USB cable than the one Logitech supplies. I figured any old cable would work, but most of the ones I tried failed to sync entirely, or would fail halfway through. Moral of the story: use the supplied cable.

Harmony deserves credit for upgrading its software on a regular basis. It recently added the option to change the order in which devices are powered on, and more importantly now allows more than one Harmony remote to be associated with each account.

The Harmony Touch features a built-in, nonremovable rechargeable battery along with a charging cradle. A Logitech representative quoted an approximately weeklong battery life for light TV watchers, but closer to two or three days for heavy TV watchers. That was pretty conservative; I found it was closer to a week in my household with the touch screen turned up to full brightness, and we aren't light TV watchers.

Logitech Harmony Touch
Sarah Tew/CNET

This battery life is quite weak compared with what I get with my 650 -- a few months at least on standard AA rechargeable batteries. Many people will keep the Touch happily ensconced in its cradle, however, so battery life shouldn't be an issue. It's too bad they made the battery nonremoveable, though, because batteries can fail, and in this case you'd be left having to call Harmony as opposed to simply replacing the batteries yourself.

On the other hand, with a cradle as a home base, you might spend less time hunting around the living room for the clicker.

The Touch shares a few other notable features with other Harmony remotes, such as Help. If something doesn't seem right after initiating an activity, you can hit the question mark on the screen. It calls up a "Fixing problem" notification and automatically tries to correct the most common issues, for example by switching inputs on your device or devices. If that doesn't work you'll be walked through a series of questions like, "Is the TV on?" or "Is the TV set to input 1?" Answering yes or no causes the remote to attempt more fixes and ask follow-up questions until the problem is resolved.

My wife uses Help all the time on our 650 and it works great. She also mentioned that she noticed the Touch didn't require her to use Help as much as the 650 did, which might mean it has better infrared coverage or doesn't take as long to carry out an activity (I didn't notice any such difference myself, however).

Harmony arbitrarily limits the number of devices its remotes can control, I assume as a way to encourage you to buy a more expensive remote. The 650 can only officially control 5 devices, while the Touch (the more expensive model Logitech wants you to buy) can control up to 15. Of course, if you feel cramped by the device limit on the 650, you could always try my easy hack.

Some past Harmony remotes included RF compatibility to allow control of devices hidden out of sight in cabinets and extend range of control, but the Touch does not support RF at all, and unlike the Harmony 1100 it won't work with the company's RF extender.

Harmony also talks up the Touch's ability to integrate with the Skype-enabled Logitech TV Cam HD: "Accept and place calls, mute, control pan/tilt/zoom and more, all from one simple-to-use remote." I didn't test this feature.

There's only one universal remote I recommend, and it's the Harmony 650. Logitech has pared down its formerly prodigious line to only three remotes -- the $65 Harmony 650, the $250 Harmony Touch, and the $325 Harmony 1100. Unless you have money to burn and a compulsion to blindly purchase the newest cool-ish gadget, no matter what it is, there's no good reason to buy a Harmony Touch while the Harmony 650 exists. The 650's reliance on buttons is a major asset in a living-room remote, not a liability, and its price tag makes the Touch seem like a cruel joke. If you must have a touch screen in the living room, save some money and buy a Kindle Fire HD or Google Nexus 7, and save controlling your entertainment center for a Harmony 650.