Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Logitech's Harmony Smart Keyboard at Best Buy puts remotes out to pasture

4/08/2014

It wasn't so long ago that our home theater system consisted of a TV, a stereo receiver and a DVD player. But in the past couple of years, the entertainment center has attracted new devices like paperclips to a magnet.

I've worked in a satellite receiver, Apple TV, a Roku box, two game machines, and Google's Chromecast, along with a big pile of remote controls. What I didn't have was a clean and simple way to control all that gear. But that changed earlier this month when the Harmony Smart Keyboard from Logitech arrived from the folks at Best Buy.

Logitech has been the leader in building smart control technology into handheld remotes and lately into the Harmony app for Apple or Android mobile phones and tablets. The brains of Logitech's system is a Wi-Fi-enabled Hub that communicates with the apps and issues commands to the TV, receivers and other gear. The app turns iOS & Android smartphones into a personal universal remote.

Users start by setting up an online account and profile and entering the brand and model information for each item they want to control. The system supports IR, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections. Once everything is entered, users can press a single button on the mobile app to "Watch TV" or "Watch a Movie."

Adding a keyboard extends the full Harmony control experience to the keyboard and makes enjoying digital media even easier. The keyboard is solidly made with a full-sized letter keys, a trackpad with mouse buttons and several dedicated function buttons. Three one-touch buttons bring up the TV, movie player or computer and using long or short presses double the functions to six. Function keys control volume and video playback. I especially like the functions that bring up menus, my DVR and channel guide.

I got the system up and running after just a few minutes of setup time. It recognized my somewhat obscure Dell plasma TV, my older Roku box and an off-brand HDMI switcher. And if you've ever had to use a handheld remote control to enter passwords and usernames or search for a movie title, you'll appreciate doing it with a full keyboard. The system comes with a pair of USB receivers that can be used to control a computer or an Xbox or PlayStation game machine.

The Harmony Smart Keyboard costs $149.99 and is available exclusively at Best Buy until June 21, 2014. I'm ready to let it put my basket full of remote controls into retirement.

The reviewer has been compensated in the form of a Best Buy Gift Card and/or received the product/service at a reduced price or for free.




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Follow me on Twitter @ricmanning and read my technology columns at My Well Being.

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