News: Make Your Smart Home Smarter with a Truly Universal Remote

Make Your Smart Home Smarter with a Truly Universal Remote

True home automation doesn't require interaction from the user. But let's be real, no system is going to be 100% autonomous. You'll always need a manual override for situations programming can't account for. So what's the best manual override system? I'll tell you right now, it doesn't involve yelling at Alexa or Google.

Take a cue from the UX design behind those "dumb" home control devices you replaced with smart switches and the like. You know, light switches, toggles, buttons ... these were the interfaces of choice for decades, and that's because they work so well. They just feel natural.

The Harmony Hub is the perfect manual smart home interface. The Hub itself is a box that sits on a shelf or table. Why would you need an extra box just for a remote? Because the Harmony Hub connects to almost everything, which wouldn't be doable with a battery-powered device.

The Logitech Harmony Hub and Companion remote. Image by Dallas Thomas/Gadget Hacks

It connects to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and contains traditional IR remote capabilities in addition to RF connectivity. RF (radio frequency) is used to connect with an optional remote, which means you don't need line-of-sight to control your devices. But more importantly, Wi-Fi means you can control your smart home products with it.

Out of the box, the Harmony Hub will pair with Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Lutron, Honeywell, Ecobee, Qivicon, August, Insteon, LIFX, and Hunter Douglass smart home systems. But if you have other device brands, you can connect them to the Hub by way of one of these supported systems — for example, anything you can connect to SmartThings can be controlled by the Harmony Hub.

You can get the Harmony Hub by itself if you don't mind using a smartphone app to control your devices, but that kinda defeats the purpose here. It's better paired with either the Companion remote (pictured above) or the Elite remote, which adds a touch screen to the Companion's basic form factor.

The Logitech Harmony Companion remote. Image by Dallas Thomas/Gadget Hacks

There's an older model called the Harmony Smart Remote Control that does many of the same things as the Harmony Hub and comes with a remote that's very similar to the Companion. But it lacks dedicated smart home controls, so you have to add any smart devices (and their states) to the remote's "Activities," which can be tricky. Still, it's significantly cheaper.

The Companion is my pick of the three. It's a sleek, ergonomic remote with a grippy plastic finish. Buttons are tactile and responsive, and all the important keys can be pressed without adjusting your grip. The icing on the cake is a set of dedicated smart home buttons (the orange ones towards the top). You can press these to toggle on or off and dim multiple devices.

Overall, it's a fantastic product. I have been a little frustrated with the Logitech Harmony mobile app at times, and it's required to set up the remote. But other than that, I've loved this device enough to purchase three and set them up in convenient spots around my house. It truly feels like a smart home when you're not bumping up against a problematic automation just to turn on the lights.

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Cover image by Dallas Thomas/Gadget Hacks

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