The TV remote control will not die. And that’s a good thing. Try as they might, startups have yet to provide a true remote control replacement. A dedicated remote is like a trusty pickup truck: It might not be the best looking vehicle but it gets the job done with little fuss. But even though dedicated remotes probably won’t be replaced, that doesn’t mean smartphone apps can’t supplement their existence.
Harmony Ultimate, packs the standard Logitech’s Harmony brand has long turned out some of the very best universal remote controls. Their latest is the standard affair of hardware including a multitude of buttons, touchscreens, and easy setup through Harmony’s web-based interface. Logitech also made this $349 system compatible with its Logitech Harmony Smartphone apps, allowing smartphones to fill in when the remote control inevitably goes AWOL.
Or, if you just prefer to use a smartphone altogether, the company also just announced the $129 Logitech Harmony Smart Control, a system that puts the smartphone as the primary controller (like the old Harmony Link) but also includes a small physical remote for backup (below left).
Both systems are compatible with nearly every home entertainment device ever made including game systems and the Philips Hue lighting system. Using IR blasters and your home’s WiFi network, devices can be controlled from the remote or smartphone even when they’re packed away out of sight.
With the rise of the smartphone, many technology pundits put the venerable remote on death watch. But it’s still here. Many smart TVs can now be controlled through a smartphone, but most cable boxes and entertainment systems require extra hardware like the Harmony Smart Control or Griffin’s Beacon.
I’ve owned and tested about a dozen high-end universal remote controls starting with an original Harmony before the company was purchased by Logitech. I’ve also tried most of the iOS remotes but find using my smartphone (or tablet) clunky and not nearly as intuitive as a physical remote. A remote control, while often a mind-boggling mess of buttons, is still the best way to control a complex home entertainment system and mindlessly channel surf on lonely Saturday nights.
The Harmony Ultimate will hit stores in the U.S. and Europe this month for $349. The Harmony Smart Control will drop in May for $129.