Logitech just announced a new remote control that shakes up what consumers have come to expect from the company's Harmony range. The Harmony Express, which begins to deliver today, has a newly developed small design that gets rid of the touch screen and many programmable buttons from other Harmony remotes. Instead, Logitech bets on the Amazon Alexa Voice Assistant.
Alexa is built right into the remote itself; Yes, there's a microphone in there, along with a speaker, so you can hear Alexa's answer. If Logitech's other Harmony remotes are aimed at the home theater enthusiast, Express is meant for informal consumers who want to enter the living room, turn on TV, and go to Netflix or Prime Video with voice commands. It sounds good in theory, but my time with Expressen so far shows that Alexa may not be ready to handle all of the responsibilities.
Also, why in the world is this thing $ 250? Lots of TV and streaming platforms like Roku and Fire TV already support Alexa. Is Logitech's ability to control a large number of home appliances worth such a premium? Voice search is a nice bonus to have on remote controls, but getting voice is the central user experience also a good step.
For the launch of Harmony Express, Logitech starts fresh. The company created a brand new companion tab that offers an extremely simple setup process and streamlined interactions thereafter. For now, this app only works with Express. This remote is not compatible with Logitech's older Harmony app, nor is it the hub compatible with older remote controls. It costs over Micro USB, but you rarely need to worry about a dead remote battery.
To get started, turn on all your devices and then the app searches for them. It well recognized my TCL Roku TV and Xbox One; I had to add my PS4 and Vizio audibly manually. Then, drag and drop each device onto its 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 even choose which device you prefer to use for each of the popular streaming apps. After that comes the Alexa setup, where you need to connect Harmony Express to your Amazon account.
When everything is done, say something like "go to Netflix" and your TV will own, switch to the right HDMI input, and upload the app. You can open any number of streaming apps, but you can't tell Alexa to play a specific show. So you find yourself using the circular four-way navigation pad often to actually start seeing something. Express can also tune to specific channels (by channel number or name) on many cable boxes or, in my case, through the antenna connected to the Roku TV. You can basically do any command the device supports – but it requires talking to the remote instead of pressing a touch screen or shortcut as you would on another Harmony.
The remote control feels fine. I found that my thumb rested naturally on the OK / Voice button. It hardly weighs anything, and it's a matte, soft finish on the back for extra grip. Alexa's voice also comes through the speaker clearly, too, if it's a bit sharp at times.
And of course you can always ask the Express General Alexa questions about things like weather or sports points. Logitech developed the Alexa integration to be press-and-hold-to-talk, so it's not like the remote control will constantly listen to "Alexa" as an Echo speaker. You can adjust the volume of Alexa's response, but the voice cannot be completely turned off.
Logitech includes a nav / IR blaster in the box, which is the one that connects to the Logitech server and draws all the commands for each of your devices. Once you have set up Express, they extend to your echo sounders, so you can tell these devices to turn on your TV, for example. Your TV or game console can already support Alexa individually – my TCL TV and Xbox One do (no IR blaster required) – but it's definitely a convenience in cutting everything.
But there is also the possibility of crossing streams and conflict among 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 using Logitech Express instead of just controlling Xbox One with Microsoft's own skills? Logitech admits that this is an area where consumers can get inconsistent results from time to time, and that's what Amazon also needs to have a hand in solving. If you prefer to only use the remote control as a remote control, the physical buttons on the Express control any app or device you use at that time, and they are all backlit. You can also customize each button to make another device command with either a short press or a long press, which is useful since there aren't 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 theater power users would not prefer the customization and more advanced automation capabilities of the Harmony Elite? Alexa is not yet quite reliable enough for that crowd, and having to constantly talk to a remote control can be quite annoying.
Similarly, I don't see many informal consumers handing it much just for any extra Alexa convenience in their lives. For $ 100? Sure, you can make a far better argument for giving Express a shot. It's done what I've asked so far without many problems or hiccups. But I don't think Alexa has developed enough in the Logitech room to ask for $ 250. As it stands, Harmony Express does not replace any member of the Harmony lineup. The 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 give Logitech's latest approach a try, you can order Express starting right now.