First Look: Logitech Recharges the Harmony Remote
At a Glance
Logitech knows when it has a good thing going. When we reviewed the company's Harmony 676 remote control in January, the device got our nod as the best model in its class. The latest addition to the Harmony line, the $249 880 Advanced Universal Remote, builds on that success in some minor but ultimately meaningful ways. We looked at a preproduction unit.
The same things that make the rest of the Harmony line outstanding are back, including an easy-to-use Web interface for programming the remote; a Help button that makes troubleshooting a breeze; and a comprehensive database of remote codes that makes it possible to control even your air conditioner.
But we almost feel bad for Logitech. When your line of universal remote controls is widely considered the best in its class, figuring out what to improve gets tricky. Sure, you can add a bell here and a whistle there, but you can't do much to shift the paradigm--Moore's Law doesn't apply to remote controls.
So how do you make a good remote even better? First, you add rechargeable batteries. After living day in and day out with the 676, I discovered that its battery life didn't compare to that of traditional remote controls. The 880 comes with a rechargeable lithium ion battery that charges whenever it's sitting in its cradle. Now, if only there were a way to turn off the cradle's glowing blue light.
Logitech has also equipped the 880 with a color LCD, making the device even easier to use in dim light than previous models. The display's icons for different activities (Watch PVR, Listen to CDs) seem to scream out "press me!" but it's not a touch screen--you'll need to push the physical button next to the icon. The rest of the keys are easy to locate, and within a few days of using the 880, we were able to change channels and volume in the dark without any difficulty. The 880 has a motion sensor, as well, so it automatically lights when you pick it up.
Other new features are less useful. While we like the option to customize the background image via a USB connection (the same way you program the device), the remote won't accept images larger than 160KB in size. The Harmony software lacks the ability to scale your photos down, so you'll need to have another image editing application handy. And the 880's slide-show feature not only has a clunky interface, but it also raises a question: Who, exactly, wants to view photos on a 1-by-1.5-inch screen on a remote control? As for the company's claim that the Harmony 880 is perfect for HDTVs and DVRs, it is, but not any more so than the company's other recent remotes.
If you're an existing Harmony user, there's no need to rush out to buy an 880 unless you're really tired of swapping in new AAA batteries. But if you're in the market for a universal remote, you won't find one that gets you more for your money than the Harmony 880.
Harmony 880 Advanced Universal Remote
Logitech's excellent universal remote gets even better with the addition of rechargeable batteries.