After Hours

Geek Gifts 2010: Logitech Harmony 650 Remote

For multimedia consuming geeks there is great desire for a true universal remote. Does the Logitech Harmony 650 Remote accomplish this elusive goal?

If you are like me, and I suspect that many of you are, you have at least three and possibly five or more wireless remote controllers in your media watching room. You need separate remote controllers for the LCD television, the Blu-Ray DVD player, the Roku box, the Stereo Receiver, the DVR, etc. Switching the input setting on the LCD from television to the Blu-Ray so you can watch a HD movie involves juggling remotes that rival the expertise of Anthony Gatto.

Did you know there was such a thing as the Internet Juggling Database? Neither did I.

The Logitech Harmony 650 Remote tries to combine at least some of these various remote controllers into one slick improved controller. Using an online database of devices and the ability to reprogram your Harmony 650 via the PC, this remote can control just about any device - if you set it up correctly.

Specifications

  • Product: Logitech Harmony 650 Remote
  • Part Number: PN 915-000116
  • Windows PC: Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7, USB port, Internet access
  • Mac: Mac OS X 10.4.8 or later, USB port, Internet access
  • Cost: approximately $100

What I like

  • Slick design: The Logitech Harmony 650 Remote is very stylishly designed. It feels good in your hand and is well balanced, making flipping through channels a breeze.
  • Online setup: The ability to program the remote so that it works with all of your various devices is arguably the most important feature. If you know the product number of your devices, you are going to be able to control it with the 650.
  • Help button: One of my favorite features is probably not the one Logitech representatives would like it to be - the Help button. If your 650 Remote fails to recognize one of your devices after you have programmed it, the remote will attempt to correct itself. And when this occurred (way too many times), the Help button brought the 650 Remote back in line without having to rerun the setup wizard on the PC.
  • Activity buttons: The Activity buttons is a great idea - push one button for watching an HD movie and the LCD television switches the input, turns off the DVR, and turns on the Blu-Ray player. No more juggling of remotes.

What I dislike

  • Online setup help: The online setup is an excellent idea, but is poorly executed. You have to know the exact part number for each and every device. There is no list of potential devices by manufacturer to choose from - you have to literally look at the back of each device to find its part number and enter it in. A little assist with a drop down menu of choices would be so much better for the average consumer.
  • Number pad: While, in general, the layout of buttons on the Harmony 650 Remote is intuitive, there is one area that could stand to be re-worked. The number pad tapers in and down at the back of the remote, which makes using only one hand a little tricky. With a little less curvature, typing channel numbers would require a little less extraordinary dexterity.
  • Stability: This is more annoyance to be avoided than anything else. Once you set up your Harmony 650 Remote, do not use the other controllers that came with your devices. In my situation, a family member would use the Motorola remote for our cable company DVR when I was out of the room and the Harmony remote would lose its programming. I was able to bring it back with the Help button, but that sort of defeats the purpose of a universal remote doesn't it?

Geek bottom line

At around $100, the Logitech Harmony 650 Remote is not a bad deal for a moderate multimedia consuming geek or geek in the making. Once it is properly configured and programmed, and the other remotes in the room are locked away, the 650 works very well and would make a fine gift. However, you'd better be absolutely certain that you know or know how to get the specific manufacturer part number for any device you want the remote to control, because the online database does not offer in any help in that department.

Geek gift score (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: **
  • Geek factor: ***
  • Value: ***
  • Overall: ***

Want more reviews of tech gadgets and gizmos? Download the PDF of TechRepublic's Geek Gift Guide 2010.

About Mark Kaelin

Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.

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