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Way back in 1950 Zenith released the first remote control for the television. It was called the Lazy Bone. At that time, it was said that by using remote controls we would all become couch potatoes. Instead devices as well as their remote controls proliferated like rabbits. They now are the cause of much frustration and aggravation. We have not become lazy bones because we often still have to jump up just to find the proper remote or to change the settings.

The good news is that the Logitech Harmony Remote Elite has changed all of that. This is a universal remote which controls up to 15 devices. My television room provided a great test of this remote. I have an LG smart TV, Sony A/V receiver, Cisco DVR, and Samsung 4K Blu-ray player. I also have an Xbox, Chromecast, Apple TV, Fire TV, and a Samsung smart TV

A Real Universal Remote

I have been using Harmony remotes for years and this model is the cream of the crop. It works with over 270,000 entertainment and smart home devices. So it can control lightbulbs, locks, switches, thermostats and other internet-connected home devices as well as your television and entertainment equipment. Another added plus is that it work with the Amazon Echo so you don’t have to lift a finger. Just tell Alexa what you want to do and she in conjunction with the remote will perform the requested function.

harmony remote

The Harmony Elite remote is 7 ½” x 2”. It has rounded sides so it fits nicely in the hand. The tilt sensor lights the screen automatically when you pick it up. You can customize things like the brightness and vibrations. You can even set a remote lock. The included cradle will both store and recharge the remote.

The Harmony Elite comes with a small 4” x 5” hub. This needs to be plugged in and placed near your entertainment equipment. The hub, which is only included in the higher-end Harmony remote products comes with several IR blasters. This allows it to control devices that might be behind shelves or doors. The hub is also necessary for communicating with the Amazon Echo.

harmony remote

Setup

There are two ways to set up this Harmony remote. You can use the desktop app on your computer or the mobile app on your smartphone. I suggest that you use the mobile app, which is simply fantastic. Once downloaded and set up, this intelligent app then scans your network for all of your applicable devices. The Harmony app found all but one of my devices, including lightbulbs and switches. It was easy to add the missing device, which happened to be the Fire TV.

The app then leads you through setting up activities. It’s quite simple.  In a few minutes you can have an activity like “Watch TV” or “Watch a Movie” completely installed. Pressing on the activity on the remote’s large 1 ½” x 2” touch screen will start the activity you requested. For example, if I press “Watch TV”, the television, cable box, and audio receiver will start. All will be set to the proper input.

The Harmony remote can be customized so that each button performs a certain task. You can also enter your favorite channels for quick access. In addition to the Harmony remote, with this model you can also use your smartphone as a remote.

Desktop App

I found the mobile app worked perfectly for the original setup. However, when I needed to change some functionality, it seemed much easier to do so with the desktop app. To use the desktop app, you must download it to your computer and attach the remote to the USB port of the computer with the included cable. This app starts with an overview of the Harmony remotes in your home. Since I have several older models as well as this new one, I am able to update them all in this app.

harmony remote

In this app you can see all of your activities so it is easy to change or update them. As you can see from my “martini glass” below, you can also change the icons.  You can also customize the display. While the touch screen default is white print on a black background with touches of color, you can use the photo of your choice for a background.

harmony remote

The desktop app also allows you to add customizations to your activities including adding delays in case your devices need a little more time to turn on.

Home Control & Alexa

In addition to the entertainment controls, the Harmony Remote has buttons that can control lights and other internet-connected devices. This works perfectly, but if you have an Amazon Echo, it gets even better. You can control all of your connected devices with voice commands. You can start or stop any activity by simply asking Alexa to do it. It works with a wide variety of home devices.

There are a couple of hitches here. First of all, there are two Harmony Remote skills in the Alexa app and you must activate both of them. This is where it gets a little weird. You can say things like “Alexa, turn on the DVD player,” but to change the channel you must say “Alexa, tell Harmony to change to channel 42.” You can also call the channel by whatever you named it in your Favorites like ““Alexa, tell Harmony to change to ABC.”

The other problem is that you have to be very careful about what you call everything and the wording you use when giving Alexa commands. For instance, you don’t want to have an activity named “play music” because to Alexa that means she should play music from Amazon on her own speakers. Another example is that I must say “Alexa, turn on the television.” If I say “Alexa, turn on the TV,” she will turn on the Fire TV instead of the regular TV.

Logitech has promised that it is working to combine the two apps in one and make everything easier. In the meantime you will have to watch what you say. This will improve over time and it’s not a big inconvenience. In fact, the idea of being able to control all my devices with my voice or with one touch of the screen is really quite wonderful. I love using the Harmony Remote Elite both with and without Alexa. With this remote I can actually become a Lazy Bone couch potato!

 

Sandy Berger, respected computer authority, journalist, media guest, speaker, and author, has more than three decades of experience as a computer and technology expert. Her eight books include: How to Have a Meaningful Relationship with Your Computer, Your Official Grown-up's Guide to AOL and the Internet, Cyber Savers –Tips & Tricks for Today’s Drowning Computer Users, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Better Living through Technology, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to the Internet, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Gadgets & Gizmos, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Online Health & Wellness, and Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Online Travel. Sandy’s newspaper column, magazine articles, feature stories, product reviews, and computer tips can be found at her website, Compu-KISS.