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Review: Logitech Harmony 900 universal remote

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I wanted to love this remote. The Harmony One has a great form factor, and I was hoping that Logitech would add its current RF system to the mix. But that didn’t happen with the $400 Harmony 900. Instead, Logitech attempted to simplify the RF setup even though the current method is easy enough and managed to muck things up. The remote’s nice, but crippled by a lackluster RF system and therefore nowhere near the best remote I have ever used.[PSGallery=aq8580kyln]

Things I like

The Harmony One was a welcome update to Logitech’s line of universal remotes a few years ago. It feels good in the hand, the buttons are nice enough, and the charging system is bulletproof. Thankfully, the Harmony 900 has the same exact form factor and charging system. The top touchscreen is responsive and bright, although a little on the small side. The physical buttons have just enough resistance behind them and work well. The form factor is nice.

harmon-15There are some differences between the One and the 900. The 900 sports a slightly different color scheme, along with themes for the top LCD screen.

Setup is easy. Logitech includes a program that installs a Web-based program that guides you through all the steps. It took me about five minutes to configure the remote. It may take a little longer for you if you don’t know model numbers, how everything is connected, and if you don’t have high-speed Internet. But if you do, it’s a breeze. I just wish Logitech would make an off-line program like Universal Remotes. I’ve had to leave a person’s house and find a hotspot to install a few remotes before.

I have to give Logitech props for making the RF system easy to configure. Now it’s done on the remote itself instead of on the PC. This means you can adjust things when you’re right next to the equipment, which is really handy if you aren’t using a laptop to install the remote.

Things I don’t like

The only reason a person would buy the Harmony 900 over the One is for the RF capabilities. This allows owners to stuff their equipment in a closest – or downstairs in my case – and control the whole system through the magic of radio frequency. I’ve used and tested five different RF remote systems over the years and never had an issue before. I have an issue with the Harmony 900, though.

Most RF systems have a range of about 100 feet depending on physical walls and wireless interference. The Harmony 900 remote has a range of about 20 feet even though the product description clearly indicates 100 feet. That means that I can use the remote just fine in the front part of my house, but not in the kitchen, which is apparently too far away from my equipment stashed in the basement, away from prying eyes and little fingers.

Part of the joy of having the AV equipment elsewhere is that you generally don’t have to worry about where you point the remote. Or you can crank the tunes in other parts of the house. RF remotes are great, but this remote fails miserably. The 20 feet range is just barely enough to reach all parts of my living room. However, if I step one foot through my kitchen door, it doesn’t work. It’s not a huge deal if you have a simple system, but if you have speakers located throughout your house or have video streaming to different rooms, this limited range is a deal breaker. Plus, everyone’s walls are different so YMMV.

logitech-harmony-900-ir-blasters2

no-shelfBut it’s just not the range I have beef with, it’s the implementation of the IR blasters. For some reason Logitech felt the need to design new IR blasters that sit on a shelf instead of sticking to the front panel of the device. This means that AV geeks that spent good money on equipment racks cannot use this remote because there probably isn’t a shelf available when the gear is flush-mounted. I can’t use the IR blasters on my office system because of the lack of shelf. Logitech didn’t need to reinvent the wheel, the mini IR blasters used by the industry for years work fine.

The new blasters use a 2.5mm jack instead of the standard 3.5mm plug, so your current IR blasters probably will not work.

harmony-900-errorI guess it wouldn’t be that big of a deal if the range was limited, but the remote also displays a error message when it’s out of range which requires the user to acknowledge it. This same error message pops up when the remote is giving a ramping command like volume control or navigation. For instance, if you hold down the volume button, that same message pops up as if the remote is having trouble communicating with the RF system even if the remote is within range.

I do need to point out that this is my second Logitech Harmony 900. The first one only had a range of 5-10 feet. Logitech support was great and sent me out a second one though.

Conclusion

I love the Harmony 900, but hate the RF system. Perhaps I received two bad eggs. Idk. But I’m also thinking that a lot of the problems can be fixed with firmware updates. My recommendation would be to hold off for a while, since I have a feeling that eventually it will be the best sub-$500 remote available. I’ll update the remote in a few weeks and see if it improves the range at all.

Pros:

  • Great ergonomics
  • Seemingly reliable charging system
  • Very easy setup

Cons:

  • Crappy RF system
  • Weird IR blasters

Product page

$400 @ Amazon

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