Logitech has just announced a new remote control that shakes up what consumers expect from the company's Harmony line. The $ 249.99 Harmony Express, which begins today, has a small, refurbished design that eliminates the touch screen and many programmable buttons on other Harmony remotes. Instead, Logitech is betting everything on Amazon's Alexa voice assistant.
Alexa is incorporated in the same remote control; Yes, there is a microphone there, along with a speaker so you can hear Alexa's answers. If Logitech's other Harmony remotes are aimed at home theater enthusiasts, the Express is meant for occasional consumers who want to enter their living room, turn on the TV and get to Netflix or Prime Video with voice commands. That sounds great in theory, but my time with the Express so far shows that Alexa might not be ready to handle all that responsibility.
Also, why in the world this is $ 250? A lot of televisions and broadcast platforms like Roku and Fire TV are already compatible with Alexa. Does Logitech's ability to control a large number of living room devices pay off? Voice search is a good advantage to be had at remote controls, but making the voice the central user experience is also taking a big leap.
For the release of Harmony Express, Logitech is starting again. The company created a completely new add-on application that offers an extremely simple configuration process and optimized interactions thereafter. For now, that application only works with the Express. This remote control is not compatible with the older Logitech Harmony application, nor is your hub compatible with other older remote controls. It is charged via Micro USB, but you rarely have to worry about a remote battery exhausted.
To start, turn on all your devices and then the application looks for them. He successfully recognized my TCL Roku TV and Xbox One; I had to add my PS4 and the Vizio soundbar manually. Then, drag and drop each device into its respective HDMI port so the Express knows where to find everything. It is compatible with the most popular devices, including Apple TV, Fire TV and Roku. You can even choose which device you prefer to use for each of the popular streaming applications. After this comes the Alexa configuration, where you must link Harmony Express to your Amazon account.
Once everything is done, you can say something like "go to Netflix" and your TV will be activated, it will switch to the correct HDMI input and it will load the application. You can open any number of streaming applications, but you can not tell Alexa to play a specific program. Therefore, you will find the circular four-way navigation keyboard often to start seeing something. The Express can also tune specific channels (by channel number or name) in many decoders or, in my case, through the antenna connected to my Roku TV. Basically, you can run any command that your device supports, but it requires talking to the remote control instead of touching a touch screen or a shortcut button like you would with another Harmony.
The remote control itself feels good. I discovered that my thumb rested naturally on the OK / voice button. It weighs hardly anything, and has a soft touch finish on the back for additional grip. Alexa's voice also comes clearly through the speaker, albeit a bit loud at times.
And, of course, you can always ask the Alexa General Express questions about things like weather or sports scores. Logitech designed its Alexa integration to be "push and hold to talk", so it's not as if the remote control was constantly listening to "Alexa" as an Echo speaker would. You can adjust the volume of Alexa responses, but the voice can not be deactivated completely.
Logitech includes a hub / IR blaster in the box, which is what connects to the Logitech server and controls all the commands for each of its devices. Once you've set up the Express, that intelligence extends to your Echo speakers, so you can tell those devices to turn on your TV, for example. It is possible that your TV or game console is already compatible with Alexa individually (my TCL TV and Xbox One do it) (but an infrared gun is not required), but there is definitely a convenience to chain everything together.
However, there is also the opportunity for cross-flows and conflicts between Alexa's abilities. If both your TV and Harmony Express understand "going to Netflix" as a command, which one wins and makes the request? How does Alexa know how to use Logitech Express instead of controlling your Xbox One with Microsoft's ability? Logitech admits that this is an area where consumers can get inconsistent results from time to time, and it's something that Amazon also needs to have a hand to solve. If you prefer to use the remote control as a remote control, the physical buttons on the Express will control whatever application or device you are currently using, and all of them will be illuminated. You can also customize each button to execute a different device command with a short press or a long press, which is useful since there are not many of them.
I have not spent enough time with Harmony Express to offer a review yet, but I am very confused about who is going to buy this product. I get the concept and for who it is: the people who want a universal remote control that is not too complex. But … $ 250? At the price, would not users of home theater systems prefer the customization and the more advanced automation capabilities of Harmony Elite? Alexa is still not reliable enough for that crowd, and having to constantly talk to a remote control can be quite annoying.
Similarly, I do not see many casual consumers turn that in just for the added convenience of Alexa in their lives. For $ 100? Sure, you could make a much better argument to give the Express a try. He has done what I have asked so far without many problems or problems. But I do not think Alexa has evolved enough in the living room for Logitech to be asking for $ 250. As it stands, Harmony Express is not replacing any member of the Harmony lineup. Harmony Elite is still the flagship, and there are cheaper options if you prefer a more traditional universal remote control. But if you want to try Logitech's newest approach, you can request the Express from now on.