Over the years we've gone through a number of remotes here at UKGamer and it's a bit of technology which we hold dear to our hearts. Why? Because it's the type of gadget that not only looks cool but you actually use. All the time. It's not like that PDA you bought back in the late 90s promising yourself you would religiously fill it up with your weekly timetable or that fancy watch which is water resistant to 300 metres but you don't even know how to dive.
The high-end universal remote market only has a few major players with Philips, Logitech and Universal Electronics carving up the majority of sales. Universal Electronics typically cater to system installers and their products, especially the NevoSL, is hard to obtain if you aren’t in the industry. However both Philips, with their Pronto and Logitech with their Harmony lines aim to bring automation and decluttering the coffee tables and sofa armrests of homes up and down the country.
The Harmony 700 is a rechargeable unit with a small colour screen going for around £100. The design is sleek and comfortable to hold, however it is considerably bottom heavy thanks to the batteries. Unsurprisingly there's a lot of buttons but its all nicely located and grouped, although if you like to punch in channel numbers then we found them to be a bit too close to the bottom for comfort. The central thumb area has all the buttons you generally need with the activity controls making good use of the small but perfectly adequate screen.
Unlike the higher-end units, there's no recharge dock but simply a small wall charger which connects to the front of the 700 through a standard USB cable. Logitech say that you can go a week between charges and depending on the amount of channel surfing you do, that isn't an inaccurate statement. We typically got in the region of five to six days between charges.
The fit and finish of the Harmony 700 is felt as soon as you grasp the remote with your fingers and tighten your grip. There's no creaks or the feeling that the plastic is the same thing you find used to make throwaway cutlery and that's a satisfying feeling. Even the buttons produce a reassuring tactile click upon depression. If you are getting the impression that this seems like a quality product then our experience certainly wasn't to the contrary.
Push to click
Logitech boast a infra-red code database of over 225,000 devices but it really depends how discerning you were when purchasing your equipment. Even if your device isn't listed, it's not the end of the world as the 700, like most remotes of their ilk can learn commands from your existing remotes. It's very handy if you have older units or ones from specialist manufacturers.
The whole setup is about as easy as these things gets and certainly beats the myriad of options and possibilities found in Philips' ProntoEdit software. Depending on how complex you want your setup to be and the number of activities to be programmed, you should be all sitting and clicking within the time it takes to watch a game of footie. This is partly down to the mature Harmony software and the rigidity of not having a fully programmable touch-screen.
The Harmony range of remotes all focus around the notion of "activities", a term used to signify a single button click setting off a number of events. An activity may include switching on your television, amplifier and setting it to the corresponding input along with increasing the volume to a default level. All this from a single button click. But what happens when you want to do all that in reverse? Well then the remote needs to know what is the current state of the equipment (from its previous interaction with it). So instead of increasing the volume, it decreases it before switching off the amplifier. The Harmony 700 does all of these things and is remarkably easy to setup. Of course the difficulty varies with the number of objects to be controlled and the amount of state which has to be taken into account but in the time it's taken you to read this paragraph even a novice user would be able to get a basic activity setup.
If you think we're making a big deal about the Harmony configuration then you have to understand that with a device such as this, the configuration plays a big part when it comes to the usability of any remote. Too difficult then you won't get the most out of the device. Quite simply it is the cornerstone of a good remote and Logitech have made it easy to capture the maximum from the Harmony 700 through simple yet powerful software which imparts a far greater impression than any sleek contour of the remote itself.
Price wise the Harmony 700 retails for £100. For that you get a well designed and useful bit of kit to control all your kit. If you are looking for a full on remote control experience with touch-screen, Wi-Fi and complete programmability then the Harmony 700 will fall some way short, but then so will your budget. You want all of that? Expect to pay anything in the region of five to eight times the cost of the 700. What the Harmony 700 does superbly is blend price, features, looks and ease of setup into something that looks good and declutters your living room. There's not really much more you could want from a universal remote.