Harmony Express Remote review

Defined more by what it cannot do than what it can, sadly

As an avid user of smart assistants and a home theater geek, I’m a big fan of anything that can combine the two. In the past, I’ve reviewed the Logitech Harmony Companion and Logitech Harmony Elite.

I enjoyed both of them for different reasons and loved the option to use voice commands with either Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. That’s why I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Logitech’s new Harmony Express which actually has Alexa built directly into the remote.

Hardware

The Logitech Harmony Express bundle comes with the remote, a hub, and an IR blaster. One of the best things about the Harmony remotes is the combination of a wireless remote and hub.

Instead of using an infrared emitter on the remote to communicate with your various devices, the Logitech remote connects wirelessly to the hub which sends out the IR signals.

This allows you to use the remote at greater distances and without requiring line-of-sight to the devices themselves. You can place the hub almost anywhere, even behind cabinets and use the IR blaster to extend its range or to get around obstacles such as shelves.

Remote design

I really enjoy the feel and shape of the Harmony Express remote. It’s a minimal, lightweight remote with backlit buttons that feels good in hand and is easy to hold and operate. While Harmony Express doesn’t offer a lot of buttons, those provided are the most important.

Almost every button pulls double duty, allowing a second action performed by long pressing. Several of the buttons can even be customized in the Harmony Express app, giving more advanced users a way to make the remote work the way they want it to.

The microphone worked great during the past few weeks as I put it through its paces and the tiny speaker puts out a lot of volume. Actually, it put out a little too much volume. Even though the app allows you to adjust it, I found that on the lowest level it was still too loud for my tastes.

Setup

Upon getting a universal remote the first thing you have to do is set it up. Some are easier than others, but no matter what, it’s going to take some work. Logitech uses a dedicated app for the Harmony Express which is different from the one for the Companion or Elite remotes.

In my opinion, the new app is more streamlined and less complex and has a better overall design. It does a good job auto detecting some smart devices such as my Roku TV or a Roku box in another room. For the most part, however, you’re going to have to spend some time looking up model numbers for your various home and audio equipment.

App

If you’ve used the Logitech Companion or Elite in the past, then you may or may not enjoy the new app. It’s really hard to say, because it’s so different. It offers far less advanced options, but provides a more simple layout and design.

The Harmony Express drops many of the advanced features such as creating your own activities, such as assigning a button or voice command to turn on your TV, receiver, Roku, and open up Netflix all at once.

Instead, it opts for a more simplistic approach and tries to group together devices, making the remote less flexible and less complicated to set up.

How well does it work?

Let’s start off with what the Harmony Express does well. The Alexa integration on the remote works very well. It always hears me properly and I don’t have any issues where I needed to repeat myself.

Long pressing the button to activate Alexa without using the hot word was very convenient, and it makes me wish I had a dedicated button for this with other smart speakers. It was so nice to not have to repeat “Alexa” over and over, and took one less step out of controlling the TV with a digital assistant.

Another benefit of having Alexa built into your remote is that it can do much more than just control your TV. Want to know the weather, the weight of the moon, add pickles to your shopping list, check on your recent Amazon order, or control your lights? The remote can do it all,

It can also play music through its tiny speaker. However, similar to most third-party Alexa devices, the Harmony Express doesn’t support calling, announcements, or drop in.

Now, despite having a great design and a capable digital assistant built in, most of the time I found myself frustrated by the Harmony Express. You might be wondering, if Alexa works so great on the remote, what’s the problem?

Well, the simple fact is, the commands available are very limited. With the Harmony Express, you can power the TV on/off, adjust the volume in 5-step increments, mute the TV, change channels by name or number, open a selection of apps, and play/pause or fast forward and rewind media.

The Harmony Express also won’t support doing a chain of commands, such as turn on the TV and open Netflix, or open Hulu and turn the volume up.

If you were hoping you’d be able to search for movies and TV shows by the title, actor, or director like Android TV boxes or the X1 cable box, then you’re going to be disappointed.

Even more problems arise when you jump back and forth between your cable box and smart TV apps. While Harmony Express had no issues opening Netflix, Hulu, or Vudu, it simply refused to open Plex or Google Play Movies. Not only that, but due to the simplicity of the remote, there was no way to open the home screen on the TV to access the app.

I even tried programming the home screen button for the TV into the remote, only to be disappointed. It seemed that the arrow buttons were still assigned to the cable box; I could not navigate the TV. That left me forced to reach for another remote, use the Harmony Express app, or use voice commands to open one of the supported apps. Or, maybe just exit it and open Plex instead.

Battery

I am not a fan of remotes that require regular charging. Even with the Harmony Elite only needing a charge every few days, I still found it frustrating when I’d forget.

The Harmony Express was a huge surprise because, even after using it for the past four weeks, it has still not required charging. That’s pretty impressive for a remote that is mainly used for voice controls and one that includes buttons with back-lighting.

Final Thoughts

In the end, the Harmony Express is a product that is more defined by what it cannot do than what it can do. It would be best suited for people who have a very simple home theater setup and can more easily deal with the limited voice commands and buttons on the remote.

In my opinion, asking $250 for what little the remote can do is not worth it though. If you’re looking for a much better and cheaper smart home remote solution, I would recommend picking up the Harmony Companion with an Echo Dot or Google Home Mini instead.

Not only is this setup cheaper, but it’s far more flexible. You’ll get all the same great voice commands with a much more capable remote. Plus, it’s cheaper to buy both of these than it is to buy the Harmony Express. You’ll save even more money if you already have a smart speaker.

Availability

You can learn more about the Harmony Express at the Logitech website where it’s also available to purchase for $250. It’s also offered at Amazon and Best Buy.

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