Logitech on Tuesday announced the Harmony Express, a new universal remote that features the Alexa voice assistant.
Amazon's increasingly ubiquitous helper is built into the device and is accessible via a large circular button at the top of the remote The idea with the Harmony Express is to use Alexa to control the various devices in your home theater. The past Logitech Harmony Remotes have been usable with the associated Alexa skill for those with separate Echo devices, but here the voice controls are baked in.
The Harmony Express costs $ 250 and is available starting a Tuesday.
All about Alexa  The remote is itself small, light, and minimalist from a design perspective, emphasizing the newfound focus on voice commands. There's no built-in display and only a handful of physical buttons: just basic playback, volume, and navigation controls. Naturally, there is a microphone and speaker, and the Alexa button glows its familiar shade of blue when activated. The few physical buttons are all backlit.
In some ways, the use of voice controls with Harmony Express is similar to what Amazon has done with its Fire TV Cube streaming box. As with this device, you can use Alexa on the Harmony Express to tune to specific channels on a cable box; saying "go to ESPN," for example, will instruct the cable box to input the channel numbers associated with that channel on its own. You do not have to say "Alexa" to activate the assistant, but Harmony Express only understands a limited set of phrases-saying "switch to ESPN," to continue the example above, will not do anything. The assistant can turn a TV or streaming device on or off via voice commands, as well as access a cable box's DVR recordings. Logitech says you can use similar commands to tune to specific channels through an antenna as well.
This is a universal remote, you can also use Alexa to control various other home theater devices. At launch, Logitech says the Harmony Express will be able to directly launch Netflix and similar apps – including Amazon Prime, Hulu, and HBO Now-on Apple TV (4th gen or later), Roku, Fire TV, Sony Android TVs , and a select number of Samsung and LG TVs. It will not be able to do this on game consoles like the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, although you can still use voice commands to switch to HDMI inputs connected to those devices after proper setup.
Since the Harmony Express is an Alexa device, it also works somewhat like a portable Amazon Echo. You can use the Harmony Express to answer general knowledge questions, detail the weather, see what's coming up on your calendar, or other typical Alexa tasks. It can also control various smart home devices, too. The main exclusion, according to Logitech, is that it does not support music and audiobook commands, since it would be a battery drain and the built-in speaker is not designed for music.
Regarding battery life, the The company says the Harmony Express should last at least a month per charge. (You charge it via a micro-USB port and we're a little disappointed that it does not have USB-C.)
Logitech says it plans to add additional voice control capabilities after posting. In the course of a demo in New York City earlier this month, the company mentioned that it is looking to add the ability to launch specific shows or tune to specific sporting events by name, among other things.
Still a Harmony
Having the built -in voice functionality is the big reason you'd buy the Harmony Express over one of Logitech's more standard universal remotes, but the company says the device works with all the same devices as the past Harmony remote controls, sans voice commands. That includes a ton of TVs, A / V receivers, Blu-ray players, speakers, game consoles, and the like, although it's worth looking for the company's compatibility list if you're unsure if your gear would work.
The remote It comes with a puck-shaped blaster that utilizes infrared, Bluetooth, and WiFi to control all these devices, as well as a mini-blaster for extending the IR range if needed. Having Bluetooth and WiFi allows Harmony Express to control devices like the PlayStation 4 that are not controllable by older Harmony remote controls that rely solely on infrared. When you're paired with a compatible device, the Harmony Express's on-device controls will automatically map to the currently in use device. The remote does not need a line-of-sight to control these devices, either.
All of this is a new Harmony Express app developed specifically for the new remote. This means the new remote is not compatible with Logitech's existing Harmony app or the hubs that are designed for older Harmony devices. But it does make the setup process a little bit more straightforward: the app will scan for devices in your home – though you may have to add one or two manually-then you drag and drop the icons for each found device to the corresponding HDMI the port is on your TV. It then has you associate streaming apps with certain devices, so when you tell the remote to "go to Netflix," it knows which device to light up. Unfortunately, you can not use the app to actually control your home theater; It's mostly there for setup and the nifty ability to set a remote alarm if it ever goes missing. Logitech really wants you to use your voice here.
For what it is worth, Logitech says that it is not taking any data for advertising purposes itself and that Harmony Express does not record anything when the Alexa button is not held down.
If you have no interest in being part of that, or if you are using voice controls first and foremost, it will probably be safe to do that. overlook Harmony Express in favor of the Harmony Companion. If you prefer a touchscreen, Harmony Elite is better fit. Personally, given that Alexa is already baked into so many smart home devices these days, my first impression is that the Harmony Express market could be a niche one. It's not hard to imagine the voice commands here getting mixed up with other Alexa enabled devices in a home theater. At $ 250, the remote will definitely not come cheap either.
Listing image by Jeff Dunn
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