Logitech’s new $250 Harmony Express remote puts Alexa in control

Logitech just announced a new remote control that shakes up what consumers have come to expect from the company’s Harmony lineup. The $249.99 Harmony Express, which starts shipping today, has a revamped, tiny design that gets rid of the touchscreen and many programmable buttons of other Harmony remotes. Instead, Logitech is betting everything on Amazon’s 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 responses. If Logitech’s other Harmony remotes are aimed at the home theater enthusiast crowd, the Express is meant for casual consumers who want to walk into their living room, turn on the TV, and get to Netflix or Prime Video with voice commands. That sounds great in theory, but my time with the Express so far shows that Alexa might not yet be ready to handle all that responsibility.

Also, why in the world is this thing $250? Plenty of TVs and streaming platforms like Roku and Fire TV already support Alexa. Is Logitech’s ability to control a vast number of living room devices worth such a premium over something like the Fire TV Cube? Voice search is a nice bonus to have on remotes, but making voice the central user experience is also taking quite a leap.

For the launch of the Harmony Express, Logitech is starting fresh. The company created an all-new companion app that offers an extremely simple setup process and streamlined interactions thereafter. For now, that app only works with the Express. This remote isn’t compatible with Logitech’s older Harmony app, nor is its hub cross-compatible with older remotes. It charges over Micro USB, but you’ll rarely have to worry about a dead remote battery.

To get started, you power all of your devices on, and then the app scans for them. It successfully recognized my TCL Roku TV and Xbox One; I had to add my PS4 and Vizio soundbar manually. Then, you drag and drop each device onto its respective HDMI port so that the 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 using for each of the popular streaming apps. After this comes the Alexa setup, where you’ll need to link the Harmony Express to your Amazon account.

Once everything’s done, you can say something like “go to Netflix,” and your TV will power on, switch to the right HDMI input, and load up the app. You can open any number of streaming apps, but you can’t tell Alexa to play a specific show. So you’ll find yourself using the circular four-way navigation pad often to actually start watching something. The Express can also tune to specific channels (by channel number or name) on many cable boxes or, in my case, through the antenna plugged into my Roku TV. You can do basically any command your device supports — but it requires talking to the remote instead of tapping a touchscreen or shortcut button as you would on another Harmony.

The remote itself feels nice. I found that my thumb rested naturally on the OK / voice button. It weighs barely anything, and there’s a matte soft-touch finish on the back for added grip. Alexa’s voice comes through the speaker clearly, as well, if a bit sharp at times. Another advantage of that speaker is a new remote finder feature; tap an icon in the Harmony Express app and the remote will emit a sound for easy recovery when it’s been lost to your couch cushions.

And of course, you can always just ask the Express general Alexa questions about things like the weather or sports scores. (No, you can’t play music through the remote’s speaker. Why would you want to?) Logitech designed its Alexa integration to be press-and-hold-to-talk, so it’s not like the remote will constantly be listening for “Alexa” like an Echo speaker might. You can adjust the volume of Alexa’s responses, but the voice can’t be fully turned off.

It’s a Harmony, so there are still plenty of IR blasters involved.

Logitech includes a hub / IR blaster in the box, which is what connects to Logitech’s server and pulls in all the commands for each of your devices. Aside from infrared, the hub can also send out commands via Bluetooth (for devices like the PS4) and Wi-Fi. Once you’ve set up the Express, those smarts are extended to your Echo speakers, so you can similarly tell those devices to turn on your TV completely hands free. Your TV or game console might already support Alexa individually — my TCL TV and Xbox One do (no IR blaster required) — but there’s definitely a convenience in chaining everything together.

However, there’s also opportunity for crossed streams and conflict among Alexa skills. If both your TV and the Harmony Express understand “go to Netflix” as a command, which one wins and actually performs the request? How does Alexa know to use the Logitech Express instead of just controlling your Xbox One with Microsoft’s own skill? Logitech admits this is an area where consumers might get inconsistent results from time to time, and it’s something Amazon also needs to have a hand in solving.

If you prefer just using the remote like a remote, the physical buttons on the Express will control whatever app or device you’re using at that time, and they’re all backlit. You can also customize each button to do a different device command with either a short press or long press, which is useful since there aren’t many of them.

I’m very confused about who is going to buy this product. I get the concept and who it’s for: people who want a universal remote that’s not overly complex. But... $250? At that price, wouldn’t home theater power users prefer the customizability and more advanced automation capabilities of the Harmony Elite? Alexa isn’t yet quite reliable enough for that crowd, and having to constantly talk to a remote control can get pretty annoying.

Likewise, I don’t see many casual consumers handing over that much just for some added Alexa convenience in their lives. For $100? Sure, you could make a far better argument to give the Express a shot. It’s done what I’ve asked so far without many issues or hiccups. But I don’t think Alexa has evolved enough in the living room for Logitech to be asking for $250. As it stands, the Harmony Express isn’t replacing any member of the Harmony lineup. The Harmony Elite still remains the flagship, and there are cheaper options if you prefer a more traditional universal remote. But if you want to give Logitech’s newest approach a try, you can order the Express starting right now.

Comments

Overpriced

It sounds and looks very nice but $250 is simply too much. I bought the Harmony One remote a long time ago and it felt very premium but even that was only $120.

I could maybe see it being $150. They are out of their minds if they think it’s going to sell well for $250.

Get the Smart Hub (Smart Control now days I believe) with a hub and remote for much less. The hub can be automated through google home etc if you want to use voice control. If you really want to deep dive the hub will integrate with Home Assistant too and with some custom buttons mapped to Harmony activities you can expose the voice controls to siri if you’re in an Apple house.

Had ours working with Siri and Google Home for some time now, although we prefer the remote.

That older model seems to cover a lot of what this does and it’ll also support the existing mobile app if that’s to your liking.

The Smart Hub/Smart Control is vastly underrated. They are cheep, reliable, egomaniac, easy to configure, and the battery lasts well over a year. Toss in an echo dot or google home and you are done.

Egomaniac!

Logitech really need to build their own HDMI switch into the Hub for these things. The target market for a $250 AIO remote are likely to have a TV with just two or three HDMI inputs to handle their set-top box, at least one high-end console, Nintendo Switch, FireTV/AppleTV/Roku/whatever, ARC soundbar and anything else they might have under it. So build the Hub functionality directly into a decent HDMI switch that supports ARC and CEC and use that to control the TV. That might be worth $250.

I would buy that product.

Why? Harmony already works with a vast array of switches. I currently use an Apple TV, Chromecast, PS4, Switch, FireTV (never got around to unplugging it), and my TVs built in smart functions. These are all tied to a single input on the TV, routing through a Denon receiver. My 3 year old Smart Hub manages these flawlessly.

$250 is insane for this. Why wouldn’t someone just buy a fire TV cube, which has Alexa and an IR blaster built in for $80? You get Alexa control without having to find the remote and push the button, it can play tv shows by name and it is less than half the price.

I would imagine scores of YouTube TV users know why. I have two Cubes sitting on a shelf because we switched to YTTV.

Or they could get an Entire Xbox One S with Blu ray UHD support, a Hard Drive, and full support for any TV service.

It charges over Micro USB, it is 2019 why isn’t it USB-C for that price

I currently have the Harmony Elite and a few echo dots. This is really strange price point because the person willing to pay $250 for this thing is probably the same person looking at the Harmony Elite, which is much better.

So this is like Caavo? Except it does less and costs more..

At least there’s little risk of Logitech getting bankrupt anytime soon.

Nothing like Caavo, this is just a remote.

Other than the cheap, easily scratched plastic, Caavo has really been fantastic in our house. We have two now with lifetime service. One underrated feature of being an HDMI switch as well is everything being plugged into the hub. I don’t even have to tell them the make and model of my devices, it just knew.

I was 1 of 4 out of the box with my devices when I bought mine about a month ago. Their support team has been great and the Caavo developers have already added 2 of those devices to the supported list.

For some reason, in 2019, the Harmony skill STILL doesnt support multiple Hubs – until they fix this glaring issue I wouldn’t even look at this (ignoring the fact its $250) as I bet it will happen here too

We have 3 entertainment areas/tvs and have 3 hubs – I can only have Alexa working on one at a time, which is bonkers – let me group the Echo and Hub like I can lights, or better yet understand the naming of the hubs themselves (office, living room, family room)

Likewise, they need to update the IFTTT applet. It can’t trigger stuff today, and can only start and stop activities. But, it can work with multiple hubs at least.

For our second hub, we use this as a hack just for switching activities and turning off by voice. It’s not full control, but it can at least be added to routines. Some extra activities with extra start commands to help out.

Actual support for Alexa/Google/IFTTT with all commands and multiple hubs would be a HUGE improvement and open up so many possibilities. Probably enough to drive sales of second units. Way better than this remote with a mic in it.

Who wants these remotes? Who looks at the remote and says "less ergonomic, more complexity through obfuscation?" Who thinks voice is a good idea for controlling media playback?

I hate it.

Oddly enough "Alexa pause the tv" and "Alexa turn up the volume" are a few of the most used commands in the house – From the kitchen, while dealing with two toddlers voice can be a boon – but its a pretty narrow use case.

I have a fireTV Cube, and I actually do use, "Alexa, switch to Netflix" and "Alexa, switch to cable" pretty frequently. I also just say the name of a show/movie and it will start playing it or show me the service I can get it on.

They need to stop making things more expensive while removing features if they don’t want the Chinese to steal their lunches.

When I read the title of this article I was pretty excited. I thought we were finally getting a Harmony Elite with a built in mic that works with Alexa. Boy was I dissapointed.

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