Back in 2006, I raved about how much I loved my Harmony 525, and I stand by it. The Harmony range is miles ahead of most other universal remotes, and I’ve used the trusty 525 almost every day since I got it to control my growing army of devices, with even sticky tasks like substituting in a new TV being quick and painless.
My only real concern was the build quality – I called it “acceptable for the price”, and the fact that the 525 now goes for £45 should tell you what that’s euphemistic for – and that’s turned out to be what necessitated an upgrade. It’s survived being sat on and thrown across rooms without increasing in creakiness, but heavy use of the colour buttons (they’re my ad-skip hot keys for my DVR) has left every rubber button on the thing requiring a painful degree of force to activate, if it decides to activate at all.
The 525 and its cousins are a holdover from before Logitech acquired Harmony, so in an effort to get something with the tank-like build of my other Logitech products, I went for a more recent design in the form of its flagship, the Harmony One. One may be a lower number than 525, but it’s spelled out so that you know that it’s better.
The first improvement is in the build quality, which is great. It’s solid, without creaking when you manipulate it, and the buttons are a huge improvement. Gone are the frankly rubbish rubber keys, replaced with ones that feel solid and all have a satisfying click to them so that you’re not reliant the glow of the remote to know if you’ve registered a press. The way that just the white button text glows looks a hell of a lot nicer than the cheap blue glow of the 525, which was itself an improvement on the old-school orange and green glows of the other models.
I’m kind of ambivalent about the touch screen. It allows for cool features like custom channel icons – although, disappointingly, no custom activity icons (yet), so no 360 logo on my ‘Play Xbox 360’ activity – but the screen with mappable buttons on the old one was much easier to use blindly, without actually having to look at the screen. Maybe it’ll come with practice, but it’s not as intuitive.
The One – [insert Matrix reference here] – also doesn’t have ‘hard’ buttons for the four colour functions that are so important for digital TV, and increasingly important on Blu-ray for accessing the bookmarking and PIP functions. Obviously they can be mapped to the screen, but when I’ve gone from a four-button screen with four colour buttons to a six-button screen with no colour buttons, that’s a net loss of two functions, which have to be moved to the second screen. I miss having teletext constantly at my fingertips already, and it seems like a silly little omission.
There’s another good/bad change, which is in how it’s powered. It’s rechargeable and comes with an AC-powered dock, so no more buying batteries. However, a full charge will apparently only last a week of normal use, and I’m not entirely sure that having to charge the remote every week or so is preferable to a couple of quid on AAAs every six months. Financially, sure, but when plugs are at a premium with the amount of equipment that I have, I’d rather not have to dedicate one to my remote. Maybe future firmwares will increase the efficiency, because it’s quite profligate with the screen: it’s obviously the most power-hungry feature, so how about not turning it on whenever I nudge the remote?
Those who aren’t set in their ways with a previous model and especially those who still juggle a small army of remotes will love it, and the Harmony system remains the best around whether you’re spending £100 on the One or £45 on the 525. Most of my concerns have fallen away in the weeks that I’ve been using it as I’ve got into new habits, but that’s not to say that the remote hasn’t been subject to some strange design decisions. Still, a tentative thumbs up from me.