By Ben Bowers
on 5.7.14
Photo by Henry Phillips

Logitech’s well-respected Harmony line of universal remotes has evolved to keep pace with the mobile revolution, letting consumers choose between dedicated remote hardware or a mobile app for lording over their home theaters. The Harmony Smart Keyboard ($150) is aimed at Home Theater PC owners tired of switching between a remote and keyboard, as well as users of set top boxes sick of searching for content one letter at a time.

SET-TOP BOXES AND MORE: Streaming Device Shootout | GP100: Roku 3 | Testing the Xbox One

The small, rubberized full-QWERTY keyboard includes an integrated touchpad with two clickable buttons plus a series of special home theater keys. Dedicated activity buttons for tasks like watching a movie or TV are located in the upper left corner. A row of function keys for volume, pause, play, record, skip, guide, menu and delete runs across the top, while the colored V, B, N and M keys pull double duty as replacements for gaming controller commands. During our strenuous “testing” with Titanfall and movie marathons, it also filled in as an effective, albeit slightly awkward to hold, remote.

A Harmony Ultimate Hub is included as part of the package, allowing the Smart Keyboard to speak to almost every home theater component under the sun, including Bluetooth devices like the PlayStation, and an IR blaster gets to devices hidden behind cabinets. The Hub also gives owners the option to use the Harmony app as an alternative means of control during Candy Crush breaks.

Like its Harmony forebears, the Smart Keyboard is an excellent product, but its appeal over other solutions is still admittedly narrow.

Whether having a remote on a mobile device interests you or not, the app is a required download for setting up the keyboard. Logitech’s dead-simple software walks buyers through the process using a series of easy to follow prompts like “What input does your TV need to be on to play games?” The hub and keyboard function buttons cover most needs, like navigating through menus and making selections, but one of two included USB receivers must be plugged into the back of a computer or gaming system in order for typing to work.

Over the course of a few weeks, the Smart Keyboard worked as advertised at GP HQ, controlling a Roku 3, Amazon Fire TV, Xbox One and a conference room PC. Using the Harmony app to control the system when the keyboard was being used (or was buried under a pile of gear) was a welcomed bonus. The only hitch was that the integrated trackpad isn’t currently compatible with the Xbox One, which isn’t a deal breaker. Otherwise, the Smart Keyboard feels a good fit for the standard office setup.

Like its Harmony forebears, the Smart Keyboard is an excellent product. At a retail price of $150, it’s also theoretically the cheapest fully functional Harmony remote available when you consider that Logitech sells the Hub on its own for $100. But its appeal over other solutions is still admittedly narrow.

Anyone switching frequently between traditional computing tasks and entertainment activities will appreciate the Smart Keyboard’s versatility. For more typical home theater users, though, faster searching through services like Netflix isn’t enough of a value alone to justify buying it over Logitech’s $130 Smart Control package, which pairs a traditional wand remote with the same Harmony hub, especially when you take the option of typing on the Harmony App into consideration. If devices with voice searching capabilities like on Amazon’s new Fire TV are any indication, manually pounding out search queries in general may also soon go the way of the dinosaurs and Mel Gibson’s career.