Logitech only announced a new remote control that shakes up what consumers have expected from the company's Harmony system. The Harmony Express's $ 249.99, which is being shipped today, features a newly developed small design that gets rid of the touch screen and many programmable buttons from other Harmony remote controls. Instead, Logitech is investing everything in Amazon's Alexa voice assistant.
Alexa is built directly into the remote control itself; yes there is a microphone there, along with a speaker so you can hear Alexa's answer. If Logitech's other Harmony remotes are focused on the home theater system's enthusiasm, expressing is for free consumers who want to enter their living room, turn on the TV and access Netflix or Prime Video with voice commands. It sounds good in theory, but my time with Expressen so far shows that Alexa is not yet ready to handle all responsibilities.
Also why in the world is this thing $ 250? Lots of TVs and streaming platforms like Roku and Fire TV already support Alexa. Is Logitech's ability to control a large number of living room facilities that are worth such a premium? Voice search is a good bonus to have on remote controls, but touching the central user experience also takes a step.
For the launch of Harmony Express, Logitech starts to look fresh. The company created a brand new company app that offers an extremely easy installation process and streamlined interactions thereafter. Currently, this app only works with Express. This remote is not compatible with Logitech's older Harmony app, and its hub is not compatible with older remote controls. It charges over Micro USB, but you rarely need to worry about a dead remote battery.
To get started, turn on all your devices and then scan the app for them. It successfully acknowledged my TCL Roku TV and Xbox One; I had to add my PS4 and Vizio soundbar manually. Then you drag and drop each device to their respective HDMI port so that Express knows where to find everything. It supports most popular devices, including Apple TV, Fire TV and Roku. You can also choose which device you prefer to use for each popular streaming application. After that, Alexa setup, where you need to link Harmony Express to your Amazon account.
After all, you can say something like "go to Netflix", and your TV will own power, switch to the right HDMI input and upload the app. You can open a number of streaming apps, but you can't tell Alexa to play a specific show. So you will find yourself using the circular four-way navigation plate often to actually start looking at something. Express can also tune to specific channels (via channel number or name) on many cable boxes or in my case via the antenna connected to my Roku TV. You can basically do any command your device supports – but it requires you to talk to the remote instead of tapping a touchscreen or shortcut button that you would have on another Harmony.
The fjord itself feels fine. I found that my thumb rested naturally on the OK / voice button. It hardly weighs anything, and there is a matte soft touch on the back for extra grip. Alexa's voice also clearly comes through the speaker, if it is a bit sharp sometimes.
And of course you can always only ask Express General Alexa questions about things like weather or sports results. Logitech designed its Alexa integration to be press-and-hold-to-talk, so it's not like the remote will constantly listen to "Alexa" as an Echo speaker. You can adjust the volume of Alexa's response, but the voice cannot be completely shut off.
Logitech contains a nav / IR blaster in the box, which is the one that connects to Logitech's server and draws all commands for each of your devices. Once you have configured Express, these smarts extend to your Echo speakers, so you can tell these devices that you are starting your TV, for example. Your TV or game console can already support Alexa easily – my TCL TV and Xbox One do (no IR blaster required) – but there is definitely a convenience in chaining everything together.
But there is also the possibility of crossed streams and conflicts between Alexa skills. If both your TV and Harmony Express understand "go to Netflix" as a command, which wins and actually performs the request? How does Alexa know how to use Logitech Express instead of just controlling your Xbox One with Microsoft's own skill? Logitech admits that this is an area where consumers may get inconsistent results from time to time, and that is something that Amazon also needs a hand in the solution. If you prefer to only use the remote control as a remote control, the Expressen physical buttons will control which app or device you use that time and they are all backlit. You can also customize each button to make another device command with either a short or long press, which is useful because there are not many of them.
I haven't spent enough time with Harmony Express to offer a review yet, but I'm very confused about who will buy this product. I get the concept and who it is for: people who want a universal remote control that is not too complicated. But … $ 250? For the price, home cinema users would not prefer Harmony's Elite adaptability and more advanced automation features? Alexa is not yet sufficiently reliable for that audience, and it is quite annoying to have to constantly talk to a remote control.
Similarly, I don't see many vacant consumers handing over so much just because some have added Alexa convenience to their lives. For $ 100? Sure, you can make a much better argument for giving Express a shot. It is done what I have asked so far without many problems or hiccups. But I don't think Alexa has developed enough in the Logitech living room to ask for $ 250. As it stands, Harmony Express does not replace any member of the Harmony series. Harmony Elite is still the flagship, and there are cheaper alternatives if you prefer a more traditional universal remote control. But if you want to give Logitech's newest approach a try, you can order the Express launch right now.