best universal remote

Best Universal Remote: Harmony 350 vs. 650 vs. Companion vs. Elite

After months of testing, I found Harmony Companion is the best universal remote because there are no device limitations and it’s affordable. Harmony 650 is great for those who have only IR devices and need smart home control.

I’ll explain how I reached my conclusion by comparing four universal remotes (Harmony 350 vs. Harmony 650 vs. Harmony Elite vs. Harmony Companion) while evaluating four categories: software, design, compatibility, and unique features.

harmony companion

Harmony Companion

10
  • Software: You program the remote and set up your devices with the Harmony phone app.
  • Design: It doesn’t fit in the hand as nicely as the others. It uses a CR2032 battery that lasts about a year.
  • Compatibility: It works with any WiFi, RF, Bluetooth, or IR device.
  • Notes: 1. You can control up to eight devices, and create unlimited activities, but there are only three activity buttons. 2. There’s no help feature. When your devices don’t respond, hitting the activity button again fixes things.

Best for you if...

You want to control devices that aren't IR compatible, like Roku, Fire TV, and Sonos. It works great as a supplement to your phone apps for like light dimming. The buttons aren't backlit, and there isn't an indicator or help feature after you press an activity button.

harmony elite

Harmony Elite (950)

6
  • Software: You program the remote and set up your devices with the Harmony phone app.
  • Design: It has a rechargeable battery and charging base, as well as a touchscreen for managing devices and activities.
  • Compatibility: It works with any WiFi, RF, Bluetooth, or IR device on the market.
  • Notes: 1. You can control up to 15 devices and create unlimited activities. 2. The screen is helpful and shows more devices, but it’s old school tech. 3. It's $200 more than any other Harmony for incremental upgrades.

Best for you if...

You want the features of Companion, but want to control ALL of your smart home devices with a physical remote rather than apps. The help feature, extra devices, backlit buttons, and touchscreen are upgrades but aren't enough to justify the $300 price tag.

harmony 650

Harmony 650

6
  • Software: You add your devices on the Mac or PC app, then sync with a USB cable.
  • Design: It has a useful LCD screen, backlit buttons, feels great in hand, and uses two AA batteries.
  • Compatibility: It will only work with IR devices, and there must be a clear line of sight between Harmony and the device.
  • Notes: 1. You can control up to eight devices, and one-touch activity buttons turn on all your devices and put them on the correct inputs. 2. There's a helpful feature when your activities aren't performing correctly.

Best for you if...

You want to control IR devices that traditional remotes can handle and you don't need smart home control. Harmony 650 has a traditional approach and feels familiar, but offers simplicity with one-touch activity buttons and a help feature when issues arise.

harmony 350

Harmony 350

2
  • Software: You add your devices on the Mac or PC app, then sync with a USB cable.
  • Design: It feels the same in hand as the 650, but there’s no LCD screen. It uses two AA batteries.
  • Compatibility: It will only work with IR devices and there must a clear line of sight between Harmony and the device.
  • Notes: 1. You can control up to eight devices, but only four buttons for them and you can only create one activity. 2. The activities don’t work as well. 3. There’s no help feature because there’s no LCD screen.

Best for you if...

You want an affordable universal remote for controlling only a few devices. “Activities” are Harmony’s best feature, but because there’s no screen and you only get one activity, it doesn’t work well as it does on other Harmony remotes.

Advantages of Harmony

  • I started using Logitech Harmony remotes in 2013. Before Harmony, I tried many universal remotes. The problem with those was setup and compatibility. You get a manual with codes for each type of device and brand. You enter codes while pointing your remote at the device and pray you performed the button cadence correctly AND entered the correct code. It’s painful. Harmony got rid of that setup process by introducing software to remotes.
  • With Harmony, you edit the settings on your computer, plug the remote into the computer and let the settings sync.
  • Harmony has more than 270,000 home devices with over 6,000 brands in its database. It’s compatible with virtually any device.
  • You’re future proofed. When new devices come out, Harmony adds them to their database. You don’t need to upgrade your remote when you upgrade your entertainment devices.
  • Harmony has one tap “Activity Buttons.” For example, you can create an activity called “Watch Movie” that turns on your Samsung TV, Roku and Sony receiver, then changes your TV to the “HDMI 2” input, sets your receiver to the correct setting, then locks your August smart lock, and, finally, dims your Philips Hue lights to 5%.
  • The remote knows which devices are being used after you tap an activity button. For example, when you turn the volume up, Harmony knows you’re using a receiver because it’s in the activity and it will turn up the volume on your receiver, not the TV. All of these settings are configurable.
  • If you have a remote with Harmony Hub, you can control smart home devices you wouldn’t usually be able to control with a traditional remote.
  • You can remap buttons to perform whatever action you want. Plus, on remotes with the hub included, you get extra “Home Control Buttons” that can be mapped to any smart home device.

Disadvantages of Harmony

  • Setting up a Harmony remote is easier than setting up a traditional universal remote, but Harmony’s software is terrible. It’s slow to load and sometimes disconnects from the Internet, and main features are buried in the interface. It has a 2.2-star rating in the App Store, so these are issues many users experience. Once you get your remote hooked up, you’ll see the magic, but getting there can be a pain.
  • Harmony doesn’t have competition in the high-end universal remote market and hasn’t released a new remote since 2015. With more competition, Harmony would be more likely to improve and update their apps, release more new products, and offer more competitive prices.

Purpose of Harmony Hub

  • Harmony Hub lets you control IR devices. It communicates to IR devices via IR, but it interacts with your remote (Companion or 950) via WiFi. You get control over Roku, Fire TV, Hue, Sonos, August, Nest, Ecobee, and other devices on your network.
  • You don’t need to be in the line of sight of your device. You can control the living room TV from your bedroom, for example.
  • If you don’t want a physical remote, you can control your devices and activities with the phone app.
  • It can communicate with Alexa to make a “dumb” device smarter. Most TVs or cable boxes don’t have a voice assistant built in, but with Hub, you can say “Alexa, turn on ESPN” or another activity and the devices will be powered on and put on the correct inputs.
  • Rather than plugging your remote into a computer to sync your settings, you configure with the phone app. There are a few advantages with the phone app:
    • Finding your devices is easier. It shows each WiFi connected device, and you can tap the ones you want to add, rather than typing the model numbers of your devices.
    • With the desktop app, you change multiple settings, then sync, wait a couple of minutes, then confirm that your devices work how you want them. With the mobile app, you can test your devices as you configure the settings.
 
companion

5.0 Stars

Companion

Notes:

  • Harmony Companion comes with Harmony Hub, which lets you use devices that aren’t just IR. It can control any device, whether it receives IR, RF, WiFi or Bluetooth signals. Also, you don’t even need to be in the same room as the device, just on the same network.
  • You can control eight devices and unlimited activities.
  • It’s a great remote if you plan to use the Harmony app and want a physical remote to supplement it.
  • You get one IR blaster that hooks up to the hub and adds more versatility to your system.
  • There are four “Home Control Buttons” with corresponding up and down rockers. I used these buttons for my Hue lights. A tap of the down button would dim my living room lights.
  • You configure your settings in the Harmony phone app, then your Hub and remote will sync.
  • I love the size and material of the remote, but it doesn’t fit in your hand as nicely as the others.
  • There’s are three features from Harmony Elite that aren’t on Companion:
    • There’s no help function. I found if you tap the activity button again, the inputs fix themselves.
    • The buttons aren’t backlit.
    • You get unlimited activities, but there are only three activity buttons.
 
harmony elite

3.0 Stars

Elite

Notes:

  • Harmony Elite comes with a charging dock, two IR blasters, Harmony Hub, and the 950 remote. (You can buy Harmony 950 without the hub and it works fine, but you can only control IR devices. It has a micro USB port and can be configured on your the app).
  • The remote has a rechargeable battery and charges with the dock (included).
  • You can have up to 15 devices on the remote with unlimited activities.
  • There are four “Home Control Buttons” with up and down rockers that correspond to them. I used these buttons for my Hue lights and smart plugs.
  • You configure your settings in the Harmony phone app, then your Hub and remote will sync.
  • The remote is a great size and feels fantastic with the perfect ergonomic fit in your hand.
  • You can use the Harmony phone app as your remote too.
  • Harmony Elite is the same as Companion with a touchscreen and backlit buttons.
  • My problem with Harmony Elite is the price tag. For the listed price of $350, I need a premium screen, like those found in a smartphone. Harmony Elite’s touchscreen reminds me of screens before smartphones were out because it’s slow, lacks responsiveness, and has poor pixel density. That’s why Companion works perfectly: you control most things with your phone, then when you need a physical remote, you can get most things done with its basic buttons.
 
harmony 650

3.0 Stars

Harmony 650

Notes:

  • 650 is an infrared (IR) remote. It only works with devices that can receive IR signals and needs to be pointed at the device. Most devices can receive IR signals, but there are things to consider:
  • There needs to be a clear line of sight between the remote and the device. You can’t keep your IR devices inside a cabinet or hidden because they won’t receive the signal.
  • These popular machines can’t receive IR signals: PS3, PS4, Sonos speakers, Hue lights, Amazon Fire TV and some Roku Sticks.
  • You can create unlimited activities and get three activity buttons.
  • It has an LCD screen that’s useful (but it’s not a touchscreen). You can:
    • See and scroll through all your devices and activities on the screen.
    • See which action is being performed.
    • Use the “Help” button and assistant, both of which are great. Let’s say you hit the “Watch Movie” activity, but your TV didn’t switch to the correct input. You hit the “Help” and the screen will show you it’s fixing things and ask you a series of yes/no questions until everything works. My parents use this feature and love it.
  • It needs two AA batteries.
  • It syncs to your computer with a micro USB cable.
  • The remote is longer than ideal, but it feels great in hand.
 
harmony 350

1.0 Stars

Harmony 350

Notes:

  • It’s only compatible with IR devices and needs a clear line of sight to function.
  • There’s no LCD screen.
  • It needs two AA batteries.
  • You edit your settings on your computer (Mac or PC), then sync the settings with a micro USB cable.
  • You can control up to eight devices, but there are only four device buttons so you’ll need to master the long-press and the short-press.
  • You’re only allowed one “Activity” and it doesn’t work as nicely as the other Harmony remotes because it forgets which buttons control which actions while in an activity.
  • The buttons aren’t backlit.
  • There isn’t a “Help” feature like that of Harmony 650.

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