Unwrapping the Harmony Touch, Logitech’s new beauty of a universal remote control ($249.99 USD), got me thinking about the history of remote control, and of how far things have advanced in my lifetime. When my folks bought our first TV set, the closest thing they had to a remote control was me. When my dad wanted the channel changed or the volume lowered, he’d ask me to do it. I would dutifully get up, walk to the set, and fulfill his wishes. Ten years later, our audio and video gear finally began to come with remote controls. At first these were connected to the components by wires and controlled only very basic functions. But very rapidly, or so it seems now, remotes added more and more buttons and were able to control all of the functions available on the front panel of the components they commanded. Later, when remotes began to control functions omitted from those front panels, it became a case of “lose the remote and lose control.”
By this time, remotes were included with virtually every audio and/or video component. We’d gone from no remotes to way too many -- at one time, six were lined up on my coffee table. In 1985 came the first universal remote, from Magnavox, and in 1999 the formation of Intrigue Technologies, which marketed Harmony remotes. Intrigue was bought by Logitech in 2004; since then, “Harmony” and “universal remote” have become synonymous.
Although the Harmony Touch differs in many ways from earlier Harmony models, the basics are unchanged: With it, you can control all of your audio and video equipment, put your five or more manufacturers’ remotes in that catchall drawer, and forget about them. But do save them, in case you need to teach the Harmony a new command.
The Harmony Touch is gorgeous -- sleek, with a gleaming black faceplate and a textured gray back, it’s the smallest Harmony yet, measuring only 7.25” long x 2.25” wide x not quite 1” thick at its thickest, and weighing a mere 5.7 ounces. The box it comes in is downright seductive: black, heavy cardboard with teal lettering and a full-size picture that shows the Touch displaying its Favorite Television Channels screen. Inside the box, the remote nestles in a plastic caddy, and under that are compartments for the accessories: a charging cradle, an AC adapter and cord for the cradle, a USB cable, and an instruction manual.
The Touch has a contoured back, and most of its weight is in its bottom half. It fit perfectly in my hand, with a nice balance seldom found in these devices, along with a very solid feel and excellent build quality. In a big departure for Harmony remotes, its 2.25” touchscreen starts about 2” below the top edge. Above the screen are physical pushbuttons for Play/Pause, Fast-Forward and Rewind, Record, Stop, and Off. The last turns off not the remote, but all your other components. Directly above the screen are two important soft buttons: Favorite Channels and Home.
Below the touchscreen are more physical buttons: Direction, Exit, Menu, Volume, Channel Up and Down, Mute, Return, DVR, Guide, Info, and the four color buttons -- red, green, yellow, blue -- found on remotes for Blu-ray players. The rest of the controls are on the touchscreen, which works very much like a smartphone’s screen, with swipeable menus. Many settings can be changed directly on the screen: background color, brightness, timeout, time, recording activities, activity icons, and delays for the signal going to each component. You can also change the icons for each activity: the selection includes Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and general ones such as music notes, 3D glasses, or gaming controls. You can also resequence activities. Say you find that you use “Watch a DVD” more often than some other virtual buttons; you can move it up front. It’s a first for Harmony to allow so many adjustments from the remote itself, but the more important ones still require going to the computer (see below). The hard buttons are backlit; the soft Favorite Channels and Home buttons aren’t.
First, set up the charging cradle and plug it in. Unlike other Harmony remotes, the Touch’s cradle holds the remote upright, and so requires a much smaller footprint. Once the remote is charged (Logitech says this will take about two hours, which seems about right), you’re ready to go. The battery is not user replaceable, and Logitech includes somewhat ominous instructions for “removing the battery at the end of product life.” I’m not sure if that means the battery is expected to last the life of the remote, or whether it is the life of remote. It’s too early to tell; I’ve been using mine for a month, and it’s doing fine.
To set up the Harmony Touch, you first connect it to your computer using the USB cable. If you own an earlier Harmony remote, you might be able to port over all of your settings. The Logitech Harmony software will check for this. If you start from scratch, as I did (my Harmony 890 Pro was incompatible with the Touch), you’ll be guided to a site where you’ll set up your account, just as you do for other Internet accounts. After that’s done, you can start setting up your Touch.
You’ll first be asked to enter your devices and their model numbers. This step is important: You must enter the model number precisely as it appears on the component. If it’s a BDP-10, say, don’t omit the hyphen. Logitech supplies pages in the instruction book where you can write these all down. Do that, and then check them before proceeding. The Touch can control up to 15 devices.
Once your gear is logged in, you can start to set up activities, such as “Watch Television” or “Watch a Blu-ray.” You’re asked to enter the components used for each activity, along with other pertinent information. In my case, “Watch Television” involves my Mitsubishi monitor, the Yamaha receiver I use as a preamp, and a Motorola cable box/DVR. I had to add in that the “preamp” must be set to “DVD” and the Mitsubishi to “HDMI Input 1.” The Touch’s Favorite Channels screen is neat: Input your zip code, and the software brings up a list of available channels. You can pick up to 50 favorites, to be displayed with each network’s icon. The channel numbers are still there in small print below the icon, but it’s much easier to tap “CNN” than input the channel number.
Logitech’s old setup screens were close to a nightmare: unfriendly to a fault. The new ones are very user friendly, with easy-to-follow instructions. When you set up an activity, a series of lesser commands will be shown on the remote’s screen, four at a time. If you’re in “Watch a DVD” mode and you need the “Aspect Ratio” command, you can scroll down to it -- or, if you find you use it a lot, you can move it up so it will be among the first commands you see. The only rub is that the commands to call up the soft-button keypad, labeled 123, and to go to the Gestures screen, seem fixed. Otherwise, you can add, subtract, and reorder screens any way you like. And if you later change your mind, you can plug into the computer again and change them quickly and efficiently. Every time you change one of the Touch’s settings on the computer, you’re reminded to Sync the remote itself, which takes half the time it did with Logitech’s older models. With the Touch, Sync also works in reverse: when you plug the Touch into your computer, you’ll be asked to wait a few moments while any changes you made on the remote are Synced with the computer.
You can also change the functions of the hard buttons. I’ll probably never use Record, but I do have five devices that have an Eject function -- I opened the Touch’s screen that allows me to change the functions of hard buttons, dragged the Eject command over to the Record key on the image of the remote, and it was done. I did have to change that for each device -- a bit of pain -- but because each piece of equipment is separate, it is almost infinitely adjustable. As it was, I also used the hard Record button as a “+” command for my Logitech Squeezebox Touch. That component has no Eject function, but I need “+” to add titles to my current playlist.
Many have complained about the Touch’s top controls lacking Chapter Skip, but you can add those as soft-button commands on the touchscreen, or you can change the Fast-Forward/Rewind hard buttons to Chapter Forward and Back. Of course, then you’ll need to put the Fast-Forward/Rewind controls on the screen, or make them correspond to another pair of buttons. But the Harmony Touch is so flexible and adjustable that you can make it do exactly what you want it to. If you don’t ever use your BD player’s Subtitle or Angle commands, remove them to have a shorter command scroll. If, later, you find you need them, you can always restore them.
With the Harmony Touch, setup is an ongoing process. I set up the basics, such as that Eject command, then just started using my system, keeping track of what I actually use and what I don’t. I was amazed to find that I use less than half the commands available to me. When I came across a situation that needed an odd command, I altered the screen and/or hard buttons to suit.
At the bottom of each of the Harmony Touch’s menus is a circled “?,” for Help. If you tap "Watch Television" and the cable box doesn’t turn on, tap “?” -- you’ll be asked if the television is on (yes), then if the cable box is on. Receiving a “no,” the Touch then adjusts and turns on the cable box. You’ll then be asked if that has fixed the problem.
One useful command is not explained: the three dots (. . .). Normally that would mean extra pages, but on the Harmony Touch it takes you to the Devices menu. When I turn everything off at the end of a listening or viewing session, one or another component is sometimes left on. When that happens, I can tap “. . .” and then the component’s icon on the touchscreen, find its Off button, and turn it off. Since my unusual system layout makes this happen fairly regularly, I moved the toggle switches up to the front of each device’s menu.
I often experience the above problem because my equipment is off to one side, some of it low and some of it high on shelves, while my TV is in front of me. The Touch seems to have a smaller angle of activation than other Harmony remotes, and at this point there’s no way to use RF extenders, as you can with some other Harmonys. I had to find a sweet spot at which I could point the Touch that would activate or turn off most or all of my components. But my situation is a little extreme; it’s unlikely the average user will have this problem.
I found the Harmony’s touchscreen to be one of the best I’ve used. It’s sensitive and sure. You turn the screen on by tapping it -- or, if the Touch is sitting in its cradle, it turns on when you pick it up. Some have lamented the fact that other Harmony remotes turn on when you pick them up, but that function was never anything but grief for me. Sometimes the display's light would come on, but the waking would come in burping beeps that could last seconds. But tap the Harmony Touch’s screen and it’s instantly fully on. With the other models, you often had to wait ten seconds for the remote to struggle to life after being removed from the cradle. Some might see having to tap the screen to wake the unit as a detriment, but I see it as an improvement. It worked every time.
The Touch also has Gesture controls. Tap the second tab under the Activities menu to bring up the Gestures menu. With this you can assign commands for up, down, left, and right swipes, as well as a tap of the center of the display, which is generally best left set to Play/Pause. I thought these Gestures would be little more than fun, but they’ve proven useful. I record a lot of TV programs on my DVR, and like to scroll past commercials. Now, once a program has begun, I can call up the Gestures screen, swipe to Fast-Forward through commercials, tap to Pause, and tap to Play. It’s a lot quicker than finding and pressing buttons.
Logitech’s Harmony Touch is a marvelous remote control that will do almost anything asked of it. The negative comments online have come, I think, from owners of earlier Harmonys who are ruffled that things have changed. The biggest complaint is about the placement of the touchscreen. Earlier Harmonys have the screen at the top, and people have gotten used to it being there. I found it best to work the new Touch with both hands: one to hold the remote, the other to tap. The screen is sensitive, and if you’re trying to reach for a top control, your finger can accidentally activate a screen command along the way. This will ultimately be a matter of personal preference.
Logitech offers several types of customer support, including e-mail or telephone. I found both of the latter to be useful, though the quality of phone support will depend on the technician who takes your call.
The Harmony Touch looks sharp, works accurately and well, and can control up to 15 devices. It’s easier to set up than its predecessors, and their problems of freezing and slow waking have been corrected. These days, of course, you can download an app and use your iPhone or tablet as your remote control. But for those who prefer to operate their home-theater and/or audio systems with a dedicated universal remote, the Logitech Harmony Touch is a very good choice.
. . . Rad Bennett
- Speakers -- MartinLogan: Ascent mains, Theater center-channel, Aerius surrounds, Depth subwoofer
- Receiver -- Yamaha RX-V661 (used as preamplifier)
- Amplifier -- Outlaw 750
- Sources -- Oppo BDP-83 Blu-ray player, Sony BDP-S270 Blu-ray player, Oppo DV-980H DVD player, Samsung BD-UP5000 Blu-ray/HD DVD player, Logitech Squeezebox Touch digital player, Psyclone HDMI switching box
Logitech Harmony Touch Universal Remote Control
Price: $249.99 USD.
Warranty: One year, limited.
7600 Gateway Blvd.
Newark, CA 94560
Phone: (800) 231-7717, (510) 795-8500