By Ben Bowers
on 10.3.12
Photo by Eric Yang

Logitech has comfortably dominated the consumer universal remote market for years, thanks to their intuitive, powerful software and sleek, ergonomic hardware. But like any race that’s already won, pushing limits took a back seat to simply holding a lead. Case in point, the company’s existing Harmony 900 and Harmony One flagships were released over three years ago — which might as well have been when Rome burned, in tech time.

Since then, touchscreen devices like phones and tablets have emerged as the Swiss Army knives of the 21st century, absorbing functions once perfected by dedicated hardware with just a few flicks of an app. It was in this environment that the company’s long awaited successor, the Logitech Harmony Touch ($250) was hewn in an attempt to combine the best elements of a tried and true wand remote with the effortless browsing of a touchscreen. Did Logitech succeed in their home theater tightrope walk? Find out after the break.

At first glance, the inclusion of a new 2.4-inch color touch-screen is the stuff of home theater geek nightmares. That’s because compared to virtual buttons, physical buttons are easy to navigate “blind”, without taking your eyes off the screen. The good news is that Logitech hasn’t forgotten this fact, and still included a bevy of traditional buttons for those who can’t let go.

Anyone willing to branch out and give the attractive screen a try will be richly rewarded, though, with a heap of convenient and familiar interactions that make using a home theater setup easier than ever. Just as with the One and 900, the user’s first choice on the Touch’s screen is what they’re interested in doing — i.e. watching a movie, playing a video game, listening to music or stoning their brother-in-law (ok, that last bit isn’t a true option). Tapping an activity automatically triggers a macro chain of commands that turn on the appropriate devices and proper inputs, letting users sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

After selecting an activity, the touchscreen fully comes into play, letting users perform common actions like flipping through on-screen menus, rewinding/fast-forwarding, pausing, playing, etc., — via swipes and taps. Logitech’s My Harmony software automatically applies certain gestures to common needs depending on the activity you select, but these gestures can be re-programmed at will directly from the remote if needed. Tapping on the right-hand corner of the screen will also pull up a menu of recognized gestures, just in case you’re not sure which strokes do what.

The screen plays a bigger role, particularly when watching TV, showing a list of up to 50 favorite TV channel icons that users can switch to with a simple tap. Compared to older models, which required a series of button presses to scroll through touchscreen menus, the Harmony Touch works just like a smartphone, revealing more options with just the flick of the thumb. Overall, the new navigation experience feels seamless after a slight learning curve, especially when navigating more complex UI’s such as an Apple TV or Roku box. We personally still prefer using physical transport controls when wading through recorded DVR content, and the fact that these critical buttons are now awkwardly placed at the top of the remote is a little frustrating. Perhaps more time with the device will wean us from these traditionalists ways.

For experienced Harmony users, the single most significant upgrade on the Touch, without a doubt, is the ability to adjust remote settings, button layouts, favorites and nearly anything else (except adding a new device) directly on the remote. This tweak alone will save users countless trips back and forth from their computer while verifying that all commands, timing delays and various control interfaces are optimized to their liking.

An initial setup and sync using Logitech’s free My Harmony software is still required out of the box, and thankfully, it’s also been optimized to get users clicking in no time. The most notable changes in this arena include the ability to support multiple remotes and import settings from an existing Harmony remote, eliminating the need to create multiple accounts for individual remotes. Populating favorite channels is also infinitely easier. After selecting your DVR model and inputting a zip code, the software provides a list of available channel options, complete with their logos and appropriate channel numbers. Should channels numbers or names change in the future, the remote will automatically update accordingly, insuring that same press on the ESPN icon always takes you to the right place.

Three years is an eternity to wait for the next evolution in any tech field, but it’s clear that Logitech has used the time wisely to blend the best of new and old. While the learning curve is somewhat steeper than many couch potatoes might prefer, progress rarely comes without renewed focus. Long time Harmony owners in particular will appreciate how the company has addressed many existing gripes — proving that Logitech is dedicated to listening to their fan base — even if they’ve created some new reasons to fuss in the process. If you’re willing to pay $250 to rule your home theater with an iron fist (or in the case of this remote, a soft touch), it doesn’t get any better than the Harmony Touch. That said, if swiping and tapping isn’t your thing, the Logitech Harmony One and 650 are now more solid bargains than ever.

Editor’s Note: The Harmony Touch is an IR-only device, so if you need RF control for components stashed in closets or behind walls, this isn’t your magic wand.

Buy Now: $250