- Easy to set up
- Intuitive; scrolling through menus and channel icons is similar to a smartphone
- Able to use the 30-second skip button for Bell Fibe
- Nice sleek, lightweight design that contours to the hand
- Font on screen only allows short activity names or the name is cut off
- Play/Stop/Pause/FF/REW buttons are above the screen, making it awkward to access them
- MyHarmony.com portal requires the installation of Microsoft Silverlight
Harmony is known for developing intuitive universal remotes that are easy as pie for even techno-phobes to program. And there's no exception with the new Harmony Touch, which kicks the top-selling Harmony One up a notch with a sleeker design, more touch-based controls, gesture controls, and a redesigned online setup process.
General design is similar to the One, but this remote is much smaller and lighter, with fewer buttons and more space dedicated to the 2.4" touch LCD. The charging dock is upright as opposed to the One's lie-flat design, which means it takes up less room on the side table. Physical buttons include those required for PVR functions, like play/pause, stop, rew/ffd; plus a four-way navigation pad, and one-touch access to Menu, Guide, and DVR, among a few others. Everything else is accessed via the touch screen, or can be activated using gestures (more on this later.)
Like with the One, initial setup involves logging on to the MyHarmony.com portal, plugging the remote into the computer via the included USB cable, and entering the devices in your system one by one. Harmony includes a handy section in the manual for jotting down manufacturer and model numbers of each piece of equipment prior to starting this process so everything is at your fingertips. The company's database is vast, including more than 225,000 home entertainment devices and 5,000 brands; from major manufacturer TV models, to niche brands, gaming consoles; even the Apple TV. It can control up to 15 devices at once.
Note that if you already own a One, you can simply port all of the settings over to the Touch. However, for the purposes of this review, I decided to start anew with setup.
I added eight devices in total: a Samsung PN50C550 plasma TV, Motorola VIP 1232 for Bell Fibe TV service, Marantz AV-7005 pre-amp/processor, Microsoft Xbox 360, Sharp BD-HP22U Blu-ray player, Arcam Diva DV78 DVD player, Sony DVP-NC625 CD/DVD player, and an Apple TV. Once devices have been successfully inputted, it's time to set up the Activity buttons. These are frequently used actions that can be controlled in one button push (or, in this remote's case, a screen touch.) Common activities include Watch TV, Play Games, or Watch a Movie, for example. To set up an Activity, choose said Activity, than select the devices that are involved in the Activity, and the actions they must take. For example, to watch TV, my Samsung TV must turn on and stay on the HDMI 1 input, the Marantz pre-amp must power up and adjust to the SAT input, and the Motorola box must power on. To play games, the TV must turn on to HDMI 1, the pre-amp/processor switch to the GAME input, and the Xbox 360 power on. Setting these up was so simple that the MyHarmony system had already guessed correctly which devices were needed for each Activity and suggested them. This just left me to select the proper inputs for each.
Select your TV provider, and you can choose up to 50 favourite channels to add for one-touch access. Hit the Star bookmark button on the remote, and logos for these channels come up, much like icons on a smartphone screen, allowing you to scroll-up/down and access their favourite networks quickly.
You can also get creative with the naming of Activities. For example, instead of Play Xbox, I used "Stupid Games," as a joke for my hubby. Instead of Apple TV, I used "iPad on TV," so when my dad's over visiting, he knows to push this button if he wants to get something from his iPad to appear on the TV.
Once basic setup is complete, just hit Sync, let the settings load onto the remote (it may take a few minutes), then unplug it, and control away!
Everything worked on the first go. Even with the Apple TV, I received a warning that it may not work initially, and included steps to take if it didn't. But I never had to perform them; tapping the "iPad on TV" Activity instantly brought up the Apple TV menu without a hitch.
Unlike the One, the Touch doesn't have a clearly-marked Help button to diagnose an issue. It does have an on-screen question mark that can be depressed if something goes awry. And instead of going through a step-by-step Q&A like with the One (e.g. Is the TV on? Is it set to the HDMI1 input? And so on), the Touch simply blasts the devices and, quite often, fixes the issue in one quick step. A home icon near the top, right on the screen makes it easy to go back to the Activities screen to switch to a new action, or get to a desired device menu.
Also eliminated from the physical button section, and which makes for the Touch's much sleeker look, is the numeric keypad. That can be called up on the screen when needed. Though with 50 channel favourites, it's unlikely you'd ever need to manually input a channel! Functions can also be controlled using gestures, though as neat as this feature is, I've never really taken to it myself.
Once you're comfortable with the basic operation of the remote, you may wish to get into some of the more involved settings.
There are, for example, customization options. You can do everything from change what task a button performs, to programming how channels must be inputted (for example, do you want to have to hit Enter before it switches to a channel? Do you need to add a "0" in front of single-numbered channels?) You can add an extra step to an Activity, like having the Guide appear every time the Watch TV action is made, or make it go straight to recordings from startup.
Speaking of recordings, as an almost exclusive PVR user, I was happy to find that, surfing through the menus revealed the ability to operate the 30-second forward skip, 7-second backward rewind features that are available using the Bell Fibe's own remote with the Touch. That was one feature I missed when using the One, I'd often just use the One to start up an Activity, and to control volume, but use the Bell remote for everything else because of this. The fact these controls can be accessed on screen makes it a little less awkward that the play/pause, fast forward/rewind PVR physical buttons are at the very top of the remote, above the screen. These would typically be the buttons I access most frequently, so it would be much more comfortable to have them front and centre, at thumb level versus having to shift the remote down my hand and reach my thumb over the screen to get to them.
As you add or remove devices from your system, you can easily log back into MyHarmony and add them, add Activities, or adjust settings as needed.
Like the One, and other programmable Harmony remotes, the Touch can be easily be programmed for someone from virtually anywhere; all you need to know is the devices and model numbers in his home system, and the proper inputs. Plug the remote in to whatever computer is used, and sync it to save changes. This means I could set up a remote for my dad, for example, from the office, package it up, and hand it to him ready to use. Note, however, that the MyHarmony.com portal requires the installation of Microsoft Silverlight, which takes up quite a bit of room.
When it comes to ease of set up, intuitive operation, sleek design, and seamless control of devices, the Touch is just as great as the One; if not a smidge easier thanks to a few eliminated steps, as noted above. It adds to the experience with attractively laid out favourite channel icons, and touch functions for specific provider services, where available. As noted, the gesture control is a nice addition as well, for those who would make use of it.
At about $250, the Touch is coming in at a similar price point to the One (the latter now sells for about $200). At a time when touch is what consumer's know and love; from their smartphones to their tablets; it's a great way to add this familiar element to the TV experience as well.