Logitech Harmony remotes are among the most robust and powerful universal remotes out there. But all that power leads to complicated setup processes and a confusing controller. The $250 Harmony Express wants to simplify things. Does it succeed? Yeah, mostly.
The Harmony Express is an unusual universal remote system from Logitech. The controller itself is so nondescript it could be confused for a Roku remote. You won’t find a display or even very many buttons. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t powerful.
Harmony Express can do nearly anything any other Harmony remote system can do, and it has an additional trick up its sleeve. The remote doubles as an Amazon Echo, giving you voice control of your media center. You can turn on your TV, open Netflix, or start up your PS4 or Xbox all by voice. And thankfully, commands are natural to use too: “Open Xbox” will turn on your TV, surround sound, and Xbox while moving everything to the correct source.
Unfortunately, voice control isn’t an optional feature. Anytime you want to use change sources, say from Xbox to your Roku, you have to use your voice to make the jump. The controller doesn’t have any input or source button at all.
But what really makes Harmony Express special is how easy it is to set up.
Setup is a Breeze
I have a pretty complicated media center that involves a Roku TV with an Xbox, a PS4, and a surround sound system. And the surround sound system also plays host to a Nintendo Switch, a Wii U, and an Nvidia Shield. Despite that fact, I still had the Harmony Express up and running in about fifteen minutes.
That’s in no small part due to the Harmony Express’s incredibly intuitive app. I positioned the main Harmony IR blaster and the mini-blaster and plugged it in. The main blaster goes out in the open, and the mini-blaster is useful for when a stereo or other IR device is blocked by the doors of your entertainment center. Just tuck it in front of the blocked device. After connecting my Amazon and Logitech accounts, the Harmony Express automatically found my TV, Xbox, PS4, and Switch, thanks to their Wi-Fi connections. It walked me through a pairing process with each and then allowed me to add my stereo and Wii U manually.
Once the stereo was programmed, sorting out sources was a simple drag and drop process. You drag the icon for a device (like Roku, or Nvidia Switch), and drop it onto the appropriate connection, like HDM1 or HDMI2.
The app automatically prompted me to pair to my Xbox and Playstation and asked questions about when I should hear sound from the TV and when it should pump through the stereo system. In short order, I was ready to use the controller.
A Simplified Universal Controller for Most Your Stuff
The Logitech Controller looks like a premium Roku remote, with backlit buttons that turn on when you lift the thing. The telltale sign that this is a different controller is the large round button at the top you use to activate Alexa. It looks and feels good, and the simple layout is easy to use.
Whenever possible, the controller remaps its buttons on the fly to control whatever device you’re using. Did you turn on your Xbox? It’s an Xbox media controller. Jump to Roku? It’s a Roku remote. Decide to play the PS4; now it’s a PlayStation media remote. The system can communicate over IR, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth, which covers an extensive list of devices. Enough of the usual buttons, like home, back, volume up and down, are present to work just about anywhere.
You don’t need to do anything on your end so long as you used the Logitech controller to switch sources. The downside is if you didn’t use that controller to change sources, then it will be mapped for the wrong thing.
Voice Control is Convenient
It’s nice that I don’t have to remember which input the Xbox or Switch is on. I can say “turn on <DeviceName>,” and it switches to the right source then turns on the device if it can. That’s convenient. Even better, with everything turned off, I can say “Open Netflix,” and the Harmony Express turns on my stereo, my TV, and pulls up Netflix. That’s a feat that usually requires setting up complicated routines, but here it just works. Logitech promises you can choose which source it uses for Netflix or Amazon Video, but when I tried to make the change I couldn’t. The app stated that due to Roku’s Alexa integrations, Harmony Express will always launch the app on my TCL TV. I use my Roku interface to watch Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon anyway so I don’t mind, but if you have a TV with Roku and prefer to use another device like Apple TV or Playstation for your streaming services, you may want to keep that limitation in mind.
I’m equally impressed with Logitech’s implementation of Alexa. Every voice command is natural to use, whether that’s “Turn on the Playstation” or “Open Hulu.” And anything else you can do with Alexa, like controlling your smarthome, works with the Harmony express too.
Except When It’s Not
But sometimes I don’t want to talk to my controller. Unfortunately, the only way to change sources from the controller is by voice. It just doesn’t have a “source button” to switch inputs. If I don’t need to switch—say I’m already on the Roku TV and want to watch Prime Video—I’m fine. But the moment I want to move to the Xbox or Nintendo Switch, I’m required to speak to the remote.
For that reason alone, my wife refuses to use the thing. She doesn’t want to talk to the TV—ever. That leads to conflicts; if she switched from Xbox to Roku with a different remote, then the Logitech controller is mapped wrong. Because there are no indicators on the remote, I can’t tell it won’t work until I try to use it and it fails, which is frustrating. I’m forced to speak to the remote to fake switching inputs so that it can remap its buttons. And that’s the downfall of the system.
Harmony Express is Simple, Powerful, but Too Reliant on Voice Controls
Universal remote controls, especially powerful ones, can be complicated and frustrating to set up. Harmony Express’s setup process turns that line of thinking on its head entirely. It’s simultaneously powerful and yet easy to use. If you’ve always wanted a Harmony Remote but were intimidated by setup or the vast amount of buttons I would probably recommend the Harmony Express to you. With some qualifications.
You need to be willing to hide away all your other remotes for your media center. That’s usually the basic premise of a universal remote, so not a big deal. Except, you also need to be willing to talk to your TV. If you don’t like voice assistants or don’t like the thought of speaking commands to your media center frequently, then you might think twice before buying the Harmony Express.
And if you live in a multi-person home, you’ll want to make sure everyone is willing to use it. Because unless everyone is ready to commit to voice commands, the system adds as much frustration as it solves. But for the right person with the right expectations, it’s a good universal remote that just about anybody can use.
Here’s What We Like
- Super easy to set up
- Even easier to use
- Controls your smarthome
- Has backlit buttons
And What We Don't
- You're required to talk to the remote
- Gets confused by other controllers
- Everyone in the home has to like talking to the TV