Logitech’s Harmony brand stands atop the universal remote business, a marketplace that has only expanded as we introduced more game consoles, streaming boxes, and video-streaming services to our home entertainment centers. The latest release is the Harmony Express, a minimalist remote with built-in Alexa.
At $249 the remote comes with some sticker shock, but that price tag covers the cost of the device’s accessibility, compatibility, and streamlined setup. If you have a Harmony Hub, paired with something like a Harmony Elite, you won’t find any game-changing functions to justify the upgrade. Instead, this device is for newcomers and individuals that shied away from creating a unified voice-activated entertainment system because of the setup process. The Harmony Hub and Elite systems offer best in class compatibility, and excessive customization options, but those devices rely heavily on user input, either through software syncing or touch-screen interfaces. The Harmony Express does most of the work for you by automatically finding television inputs, streaming devices, consoles, and more. It even simplifies the Alexa integration in a way I’ve never seen before, but we will get to that in a bit.
The device works by using infra-red sensors, the same you would find in a standard remote. The infra-red beams are shot out through a small puck-shaped device that sits by your television. A secondary sensor can be placed behind a cabinet door, allowing you to control a device that would normally be blocked. Using the new Harmony Express application on a smartphone or tablet, users are guided through the new setup process. If you have used previous Harmony apps, the new system will seem almost magical in its simplicity. Popular devices like the PS4, Roku, or an Apple TV will appear automatically in the application, and a menu allows you to add devices manually.
At this point, previous Harmony users will start to notice the upgrades and streamlined design. Instead of manually adjusting inputs and commands, the Harmony Express knows which inputs your television is using and shows an icon for each input used. Then, you simply drag and drop the devices to their respective input in the application. The app does all the work, setting these inputs for you internally, so the Harmony Express knows what to do when you ask it to “go to” a device after setup is complete. The setup can be done in about 10 to 15 minutes, even if you have an entertainment hub the size of a small theater. It’s one of the best revamps I’ve seen from a company in a while, and the process is a dramatic improvement from the former system.
Once setup is complete, you can start diving into voice-activated greatness. The remote’s circular middle button fires up Alexa, but you don’t have to say “Alexa” to start it. Just pressing the button is enough, and you can tell the remote to “go to Hulu” after pressing the button. This is an important feature, not only because it removes the pause that you would usually take when waking Alexa, but if you have another Alexa device in the room with you, it won’t activate.
The Harmony Express uses location data from your cable or satellite service to set your programming guide, removing the need to customize each channel for your remote. The Harmony Express learns which channel NBC is for example, so you can tell it to go-to NBC without having to pair the network to channel 510 in the settings. Again, this is another improvement from previous remotes. Switching to new content is faster, and easier when using the Harmony Express. When your “Game of Thrones” binge-session is over on Apple TV, you can tell your remote to go-to ABC for the nightly news and everything is done for you. In previous models, you would first program ABC as a favorite channel so the remote knew the channel number, then when you’re down with “Game of Thrones, you would switch to your cable or satellite device, then tell it to go to ABC. While jumping to the news while you’re still on “Game of Thrones” seems like a simple command, in actuality, the Harmony Express cut out three steps that previous models would have needed to make that switch. That’s the basis of the Harmony Express, it’s not a giant step forward in functionality, as much as it is a giant leap in simplicity.
You can find the Harmony Express right here on Amazon.
I mentioned earlier that Logitech made Alexa paring easier than ever. For the first time that I’ve seen, the Harmony Express app finds and installs its own Alexa skill during the setup process, and completes the pairing on its own. While simple, it cuts out another step and makes the Alexa integration more straightforward than ever. Once the installation is complete through the Harmony Express app, the device appears on your Alexa app and is instantly ready to go.
Overall, the setup is a fantastic improvement, allowing practically anyone to create a voice-activated entertainment system in just a few minutes. There are some areas that Logitech hasn’t been able to conquer just yet, but that seems to be an internal struggle with platforms and providers, not a fault of the company. While you can use Alexa to change the channel and switch to content on your streaming device, you can’t use the same voice-search technology to search through your Apple TV or Netflix library. Apple still demands that you use Siri for that on Apple TV, and ROKU makes you use its own remote, and so on. You can still use the Harmony Express remote to find your content, which has directional buttons for navigation, volume controls, media playback controls, and a home button. You can also use voice-activation to jump to popular apps like Hulu or Netflix; it’s only the search functions within the apps that are hampered at the moment. Logitech did confirm that they are working on bringing each of these search functions to the Harmony Express, but we don’t have a timeline.
The Harmony Express is a complete redesign of the setup process used in previous remotes. Those that have mastered the setup process in the past may think that the simplicity doesn’t justify the price tag, but for anyone that was on the fence, the new device allows them to take advantage of the technology without the know-how. The Harmony Express also makes it easier to switch out devices, without the need to reprogram ‘activities’ and customized settings, something to think about if you like to upgrade your tech. The drag and drop interface is practically foolproof, and new users will have a system that allows easier integration and upgrades.
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