Logitech Harmony 650 Remote Control Review
By Sandy Berger on January 31, 2011
As we collect more and more television-related gadgets, the number of remote controls expands until we find ourselves fumbling with four or five remotes trying to find the right one for the task at hand. That’s where Logitech’s line of Harmony Remote Controls comes in. They promise to control several devices to make watching TV, playing a DVD, or listening to music possible with one-click on one remote. We took a look at the Harmony 650 remote to see if it delivered on this promise.
The Harmony 650 is at the low- to mid-range of Logitech’s Harmony remote lineup. This device retails for USD 100 and can be used to control up to five devices. The lineup starts with the 300i, which sells for USD 30, and goes all the way up to the 1100, which sells for USD 359. There are plenty of choices in between with a variety of prices and features.
The Logitech Harmony 650 Remote comes in a typical green and white box as shown in Figure 1.
As shown in Figure 2, inside the box is the remote, a USB cable for connecting it to the computer, two AA batteries, and some simple user documentation. The remote itself has a metallic pewter finish on top with a black bottom. At 1.1 pounds (500 g), its weight is average for a remote of its size. At its largest points, this remote measures 2.25 x 8.75 x 1.2 inches (57 x 222 x 30 mm) but is not rectangular. Instead it is ergonomically shaped with curved edges and an indentation in the middle for easy handling. There is also a bump at the bottom of the back as shown in Figure 3. This puts most of the weight of the remote near the bottom making it a bit easier to hold.
As shown in Figure 4, the Harmony 650 has an array of nicely labeled black and burgundy buttons. The black buttons are all backlit, but the four main burgundy buttons near the top are not. We wished for a little brighter backlighting, since we found that lighting to be just barely passable. One very nice feature is that the backlighting and the screen are motion activated so the screen and backlighting turn on when the device is moved and turn off when it is set down. The length of time that the unit stays illuminated can be adjusted during the setup.
The remote is roughly divided into three main areas. The top section, shown in Figure 5, has an on/off switch and five “activity” buttons labeled Watch TV, Watch a Movie, Play Music, Help, and More Activities. After the device is properly set up, pressing any of the activity choices will turn on the necessary equipment and will also make sure that the equipment is on the proper settings and/or inputs. The help button can be used at any time to help you fix an issue.
Below these buttons is a color LCD screen. It is a small (1” x 1”) screen, but it is quite readable. At the sides of the screen are four buttons for making choices that appear on the screen. Below the screen is another choice button flanked by forward and back buttons. More expensive remotes in the Harmony lineup have touch screens, but the 650 uses the buttons around the screen to make choices.
The middle section of the remote, as shown in Figure 6, has four standard buttons marked Menu, Exit, Info, and Guide. In the middle of these is an arrow up and down keypad.
Under that are four color-coded keys (red, green, yellow, and blue) that can be programmed to work with your devices. Below that is a directional keypad with an OK button in the center. This is used for scrolling through on-screen menus and choices. On either side of this keypad are volume and channel up and down controls.
Figure 7 shows the bottom section of the remote. Included here are the Mute and Channel Back buttons plus standard video controls like play, pause, rewind, record, etc. Under that is a 12-digit keypad.
In Figure 8, you can see that power for the Harmony 650 is provided by two AA batteries. Most of the higher-end Harmony remotes have rechargeable batteries. We, however, were happy that we could simply replace the batteries as necessary rather than have to find the charger and spend time recharging the battery. With the backlight set to its longest on-time and with extensive everyday use, our Harmony was still going after two months. We removed the batteries and kept them out for about five minutes just to see if the settings would remain when we had to change the batteries. When we replaced the batteries, everything still worked seamlessly.
The setup process is one of the things that makes this remote unique. Instead of looking up and inserting codes for your equipment, everything is done for you automatically. You simply hook the remote up to a PC or Mac computer with the included cable and install the software. As shown in Figure 9, the Micro USB connection port is on the top of the device.
The software installation begins automatically and the process has easy-to-follow instructions. You are asked to fill out a simple questionnaire. All you need to know is the make and model of the equipment that you want to control and how they are connected. Once you insert this information, activities are defined and the software looks up each of the devices and inserts the proper codes.
We set up a Samsung TV, a Pioneer receiver, a Time Warner digital cable box, a Samsung Blu-ray player, and a Sony CD player. The software automatically set up each of these devices in the remote control. We expected to have trouble with the Sony player because it is about 10 years old, but it didn’t pose any problem for the Harmony software. They have over 5,000 devices in their database and if you like you can check online to make sure your devices are supported before you buy the remote.
The software helps you define which devices are used for various activities. These activities correspond to the Watch TV, Watch a Movie, and Listen to Music selections on the remote. Although you are limited to five devices, you can also program in addition activities that may use those same devices. Since we already reached our limit on devices, we could not insert our Wii or Xbox as a device, but we were still able to set up activities so that pressing a button on the Harmony remote turned the television on and set it to the proper input for playing these devices.
The software does an excellent job of automatically mapping obvious functions to the default keys. If the functions of the device don’t have a corresponding key on the Harmony, the choices appear on the screen when you choose that device.
After the quick setup, our remote worked seamlessly to turn on and control our equipment for the various activities. So we turned our attention to putting our favorite TV stations into the Harmony. This was also easily accomplished, except for adding the logos. Unfortunately, we had to go to a separate website to grab the logos for the stations. This made the process quite cumbersome. The results, however, were excellent. As shown in Figure 10, our favorite stations were listed on the screen along with their colorful logos, making it easy to jump to our favorites.
While the main functionality of all of our remotes was now available on our Harmony 650, we found that there were still a few functions that had not been programmed into the Harmony. For instance, when we wanted to go to the list of recorded shows on the Time Warner DVR, we had to go back to the Time Warner remote. The solution was to add that functionality to the Harmony Remote. This required having the remotes talk to each other and letting the Harmony learn the additional functions. Unfortunately, this was not as easy as the main setup. After a trip to the Harmony website and a thorough look at the User’s Guide, we were able to transfer all the necessary functionality to the Harmony. Again unfortunately, these addition functions appeared on the screen. So to access a function like “List” (for a list of recorded shows), we had to press the Device button, then choose our cable box, then use the arrow keys to scroll over to the required function, as shown in Figure 11.
There would, no doubt, be times that using this somewhat convoluted method of reaching the proper function could be easier than finding the other remote, but we were not too happy with it. So we decided to look further into the User Manual to determine how to program the red, green, yellow, and blue keys shown in Figure 6. Again the process was not as simple as it should be. It took two tries to get it right, but we did get the List function working from one of the color-coded keys and we were able to program the other three keys for other often-used functionality.
The main specifications for the Logitech Harmony 650 remote control include:
If you are surrounded by remote controls and want to cut through the clutter and streamline your button-pressing, the Harmony 650 will definitely do the trick. It will make you feel like you have a magic finger: one touch to watch TV, play a movie, listen to music or play a game. If, like many, you have four or five devices to control, this universal remote is one of the best you can buy at this price range (USD 100).
While you do need a computer for the setup, most of the basic setup is done for you automatically. If you make a list of the equipment model and manufacturers and you know which inputs you turn each device to, you should be able to use this remote for your basic activities. If you are willing to take the time and are somewhat computer literate, you can program it to the point that you will never, or only rarely, have to rely on one of your original remotes.
If you have more than five devices to control, you will want to look at one of the more expensive Harmony remotes, but if you can get by with controlling five devices, this is a great choice.