- Review Price: £306.80
Logitech’s series of Harmony universal remotes has been de-cluttering living rooms everywhere for many years, and the latest incarnation looks to be the most user-friendly yet. The Harmony 1100 allows you to replace up to 15 remotes and features a 3.5in colour touchscreen, which offers quick, clear access to all of your home cinema system’s functions.
The Harmony 1100 is an impeccably made and classy-looking gadget, clad in a black finish that feels quite rubbery to the touch. It’s compact and comfortable to hold, and the panel of commonly-used buttons (volume, channel, mute and menu controls) are conveniently placed for one-handed use, but you’ll need two hands to use the touchscreen keys.
It’s powered by a rechargeable battery, which means no more rummaging around in drawers for a couple of AAs after it stops working. In the box is a stylish gloss black cradle that not only recharges the battery but provides a home for the unit when it’s not in use. You can also buy an optional RF extender for controlling devices hidden out of sight.
There are some lovely touches that elevate the Harmony 1100 above cheaper universal remotes. When you leave it alone for a while the screen shuts down but thanks to the built-in motion sensor, it springs into life when you pick it up. And whenever you press a button on the touchscreen it gives off a cute little clicking sound.
But the thing we love the most is the simplicity of the setup procedure, which is controlled from a PC or Mac connected to the mini-USB port on the side of the unit. Install the supplied software on your computer, connect the Harmony and a series of onscreen prompts guides you through the entire setup process.
The first step is to find all of the devices in your home cinema system. There’s a series of drop down menus for the product type and manufacturer, then you need to key in the specific model numbers. The lack of recognition for Blu-ray is a bit odd (you have to select DVD) and it needed to learn a few commands for my Sky HD box and Panasonic DVD/HDD recorder, but all the other devices were found within Logitech’s massive database of over 225,000 devices from 5,000 brands.
But even if your product isn’t listed, getting the Harmony to learn commands is a hassle-free process, particularly with such clear onscreen prompts guiding the way. Simply point the original remote at the Harmony, press the relevant button and the software confirms that the key has registered.
After running through the initial setup wizard, you can go back into each device and change the settings to your heart’s content. You can reassign the hard or soft buttons to perform different commands, programme new commands, adjust the button delay and backlight, rename buttons and troubleshoot problems. You can also customise the look of the touchscreen with a choice of backgrounds, and even load up your own images as long as they’re no bigger than 160kb and 320 x 240 pixels. Images can be played in a slideshow too.
One of the Harmony’s most useful features is its ability to carry out Activities, which sends out a series of commands in one go (otherwise known as a macro). First-timers will love the way they’re described in plain English (‘Watch TV’ or ‘Watch a DVD’, for example) and once again the excellent onscreen menus make them easy to set up.
During the setup procedure, the clear, colourful prompts use phrases like ‘I use my Onkyo receiver to change the volume’, and all the way along it gives you the chance to review the settings and make changes.
After everything’s been setup and synced with the remote, you can get down to the business of controlling your home cinema system. The Harmony is generally easy to use – its touchscreen is responsive, the menus are crisp and easy to read and the hard buttons are satisfying to press. The main menu, which appears when you first turn it on, shows all of your created ‘activities’ in the form of large icons. If you want to jump back to this screen at any time, simply press the Activities button just below the screen.
It’s certainly slick but not without operational flaws. When controlling an individual device, the screen displays a 3 x 3 grid of buttons, with up and down keys on the left that let you scroll through different pages (which in some cases runs to five).
This isn’t particularly intuitive when it comes to using Sky+ HD, especially if you’ve grown used to Sky’s own remote. There doesn’t seem to be any logic behind the placement of the buttons, with related keys often on different screens – I found myself constantly flicking up and down the pages. For devices whose remotes have loads of buttons (like my Onkyo receiver), it takes a lot longer to find the button you want compared with the original remote.
Understandably there isn’t enough room to fit all the buttons on one page, but each page could have been thought out more carefully. Although you can reassign buttons, you can’t rearrange their position.
During the test we set up a couple of activities – Watch TV and Watch a DVD – and it had absolutely no problem performing both sequences. My TV, Sky box and Samsung Blu-ray deck sprang into life as planned and my Onkyo receiver flicked to the correct inputs. When you select an activity there’s a jazzier set of controls than the ones described above, which is definitely easier to use but still not completely intuitive.
As universal remotes go, the Harmony 1100 has a definite air of luxury. Its excellent build quality, colour touchscreen and simple, computer-controlled setup procedure just about make it worth that hefty price tag, and from our experience it works flawlessly with a range of home cinema devices. Our only complaint is the muddled layout of some of the button menus, which makes the process of controlling certain devices more long-winded than we’re used to, but it’s certainly not a deal-breaker.
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