Logitech just announced a new remote that shakes consumers' expectations of the company's Harmony product lineup. The $ 249.99 Harmony Express, which ships today, features a redesigned, tiny design that eliminates the touchscreen and many programmable keys of other Harmony remotes. Instead, Logitech relies on Amazon's Alexa language assistant.
Alexa is built directly into the remote itself. Yes, there is a microphone and a speaker so you can hear Alexa's answers. With Logitech's other Harmony remotes aimed at the home cinema crowd, the Express addresses occasional customers who want to go into their living room, turn on the TV, and get voice commands to Netflix or Prime Video. Theoretically, that sounds great, but my time with the Express shows that Alexa may not be ready to take on all that responsibility.
Why is this thing in the world 250 bucks? Many TVs and streaming platforms like Roku and Fire TV already support Alexa. Is Logitech's ability to control a large number of living room appliances worth such a premium? Voice search is a good bonus for remote controls, but making the language the central user experience is also a big jump.
Logitech launches new Harmony Express release. The company has developed a completely new companion app that provides an extremely simple setup process and then optimizes interactions. At the moment this app only works with the Express. This remote is not compatible with Logitech's older Harmony app, and its hub is not compatible with older remote controls. It charges via micro USB, but you rarely have to worry about getting a dead battery.
To get started, turn on all your devices and the app will search for it. It has successfully recognized my TCL Roku TV and Xbox One; I had to manually add my PS4 and Vizio Soundbar. Then drag each device to the corresponding HDMI port so the Express knows where to find it. It supports most popular devices like Apple TV, Fire TV and Roku. You can even choose which device you want to use for the most popular streaming apps. This is followed by the Alexa setup, which requires you to link the Harmony Express to your Amazon account.
Once done, you can say something like "Go to Netflix," and your TV will be powered on, switch to the right HDMI input, and load the app. You can open any number of streaming apps, but you can not tell Alexa to play a particular show. So you will often use the four-way circular window to actually look at something. The Express can also set certain channels (channel number or name) on many cable boxes or in my case via the antenna connected in my Roku TV. In principle, you can execute all the commands that your device supports. However, you need to talk to the remote instead of tapping on a touchscreen or keyboard shortcut like you would with another Harmony.
The remote itself feels good. I found out that of course my thumb rested on the OK / Voice button. It hardly weighs anything and the back has a matte soft-touch finish for added support. The voice of Alexa is also clearly through the speaker, although sometimes a bit sharp.
And of course you can answer Alexa's general questions on issues like weather or sports scores. Logitech has designed the Alexa integration to be pressing and holding conversations. So it's not as if the remote is constantly listening for "Alexa," as is the case with an echo speaker. You can adjust the volume of Alexa's response, but the voice can not be completely turned off.
Logitech includes a hub / IR blaster that connects to the Logitech server and receives all the commands for each of your devices. Once you have set up the Express, these echo speakers will be transmitted to your Echo speakers so you can tell these devices in a similar way, for example, by turning on your TV. Your TV or game console may already support Alexa individually – my TCL TV and Xbox One (no IR blaster required) – but it's definitely convenient to chain everything together.
However, there is also the possibility for crossed streams and conflicts between Alexa abilities. If both your TV and the Harmony Express understand it as "going to Netflix," which one actually wins and executes the request? How can Alexa know that you are using Logitech Express instead of controlling your Xbox One only with Microsoft's own capabilities? Logitech admits that this is an area where consumers can occasionally get inconsistent results, and it's something Amazon has to bring to the solution as well. If you prefer to use the remote just like a remote control, the physical buttons on the Express control all the apps and devices you're using, and they're all backlit. You can also customize each key so that another device command is executed by a short press or a long press. This is useful because there are not many of them.
I have not spent enough time with the Harmony Express to give a review yet, but I am very confused as to who will buy this product. I understand the concept and who it is meant for: people who want a universal remote that is not overly complex. But … 250 $? Would not the home theater users prefer the adaptability and advanced automation features of the Harmony Elite? Alexa is not reliable enough for that amount yet, and if you're constantly talking to a remote, it can get pretty annoying.
Likewise, I do not see that many casual consumers spend so much just to have a little more comfort in Alexa's life. For $ 100? Sure, you could put forward a much better argument to give the Express a shot. It has been done what I have asked so far, without many problems or problems. But I do not think Alexa has developed enough in the living room for Logitech to charge $ 250. As it stands, the Harmony Express does not replace a member of the Harmony product line. The Harmony Elite is still the flagship and there are cheaper options if you prefer a more traditional universal remote. However, if you want to try the latest approach from Logitech, you can order the Express now.