Harmony has been building universal remotes for a number of years now. Honestly a couple of years ago, with the release of the 880, Harmony converted me from years of using Phillips Pronto remotes. The Harmony remotes were simply easier to program and faster to change when a new component was introduced or swapped. And they could be dropped on the floor and stepped on by dogs without any serious damage.
Each new model works on perfecting the last incarnation with an easier to use more flexible platform. The Harmony “One” is the newest of the bunch and touts a snazzy touch screen and a black glossy finish. It looks impressive but I wanted to find out if it is as impressive to use.
- System Requirements: PC Windows 2000, XP, Vista
- Mac OS X 10.3 or later
- Lithium-ion Battery
- MSRP $249.99 USA
The Design (Build and Feel)
Just about every Harmony model uses a different layout for the buttons. The Harmony One continues this trend and uses yet a different button layout, but this time I think they might have it right.
Earlier models contained many buttons the same shape and size. The Harmony One uses different shaped buttons for each function, making the remote very easy to use without looking at it. Using the remote in the dark is also very simple, as all the buttons are illuminated in white, with clear labels. The 880 had buttons which were flat with the surface of the remote, making it fairly hard to navigate without looking at it.
The most notable new feature is the touch screen which replaces the earlier navigation screen that used hard buttons beside soft menu items. The new touch screen works more like an iPhone or Apple Touch where the user simply touches the icon or control.
The screen is a vast improvement over previous models in terms of clarity and color. The icons are clear and almost 3 dimensional. Themes can be applied to the remote to meet your individual taste, and while there aren’t many choices right now Logitech could certainly build more later. You can even create a slide show of photos on the screen based on photos you upload to the remote using the supplied software.
The screen has arrows on each side to change pages (access additional functions) and two buttons at the bottom of the screen to access other options such as preferences, devices, etc. When first using the remote I found the screen to be not very sensitive to my touch, almost to the point that it annoyed me. I adjusted the screen sensitivity to the highest level and this seemed to address the issue for the most part.
Harmony One shares with the 880 a sensor, that knows when you pick it up, activating the screen before you touch it. It seems simple but it impresses guests.
As with any touch screen device, this remote is going to get covered in fingerprints. What makes this particular remote worse is the fact it uses a glossy screen which looks great when it is clean, but once you have to adjust something while eating some buttery popcorn, everything becomes a smear. To be truthful, it isn’t that bad. You can still easily see the images, but they are no longer the crisp images with which you started the evening.
To clean the remote, simply give it a little wipe, and for an extra shine, a little Windex on a piece of paper towel seems to do the trick. I use a Windows mobile phone with a touch screen and I have a matte texture screen protector on it. I have considered trying to get one for the Harmony One to avoid having to clean it so often.
No More AA batteries
The Harmony One comes with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and cradle for charging. The cradle design is much better than that of the 880 which sometimes had problems, making proper contact, when docked. The Harmony One makes a perfect connection every time. The new cradle does have a very bright white light on it which you will find annoying in a darkened home theater. A bit of black tape can fix that in a hurry.
Programming and Software
To program any of the Harmony remotes, you use the same process. Simply install the software on the included CD, create an account and start following the wizards. As with most software, you should probably download the latest version from Harmony before you get started. The software also has an option to check and update the firmware of the remote, so this should also be done periodically
The wizards to set up the remote are designed to be used by someone with very little experience. They simply ask you questions about the devices you have and how you do certain functions like “Watch TV” or “Listen to Music”. This is great for someone who has no experience programming a universal remote. However, for those of us who have spent years programming remotes that are more complicated (and ultimately more flexible), it takes awhile to find all the menus and options to adjust things like the time delay to be set between IR commands or add additional IR signals to be sent to any activity. Most of the advanced options are present, you just have to look for them.
The best part about the Harmony software is that it allows you to upgrade remotes without having to go though the programming process again. Simply click the Replace Remote button in the software.
The Harmony One software does have a few different options due to the new button layout, but if you have programmed another Harmony remote, the process to program the Harmony One is identical.
Not all universal remotes are created equal. Every now and then Dell or Amazon will have a sale on Harmony Remotes. Someone in my office full of programmers will post a link to these deals. The reactions from the employees in the office are quite mixed. Some people cannot believe someone would pay over $100 for a remote when you can buy a new DVD player for significantly less than that. Other people will praises the remotes simply for the ease it brings to other users of the entertainment center in their homes.
Honestly, if you have ever been away from the house and received a call that sounds something like, “You need to come home because I cannot get sound to come out of the TV,” you need to buy a Harmony remote. The best thing about any Harmony remote is the “Help” button. It simply walks the user through all the possible options, asking them simple questions like “Is the Receiver on the DVD Input (yes/no)” then it make the appropriate adjustments based on the answers. It is so simple . . . . and so brilliant.
I purchased the Harmony One when it was first released long before any reviews had been published, and I purchased it solely on the history I have had with the previous products. It is a good remote, however I feel Harmony lost a tiny bit of the magic it had with the 880. The street price on the Harmony One at the current time is about $210. That is almost twice the street price of the 880 (around $130). I am not sure the additional value is there. It looks a little nicer and there is eye candy and geek factor provided by the touch screen. But the 880 has all the same functionality with a stronger IR signal and more dependable hard buttons for the functions assigned to the screen. I will continue to use the Harmony One over the 880 but if you don’t own a Harmony yet, I would seriously consider the cheaper 880 if you are on a budget.