With more universal remote apps becoming available for the iOS and Android devices, we figured it was only a matter of time before Logitech would bring its industry-leading Harmony brand over to tablets and smartphones. Well, now it has with a $99.99 accessory and free app called Harmony Link that are due to arrive in October.
The hockey-puck-size device is designed to sit near your AV setup, and taps into your Wi-Fi network to translate your commands into IR (infrared) signals that then get blasted out to your TV and various other components. Initially, Logitech is targeting iPad users because the iPad's larger screen offers a more "immersive experience" and will allow users to download a rich personalized program guide with data provided by Rovi. However, Logitech says the remote control functionality of Harmony Link also works with the iPhone or iPod Touch as well as with Android smartphones.
Here a some key notes about the product:
- Works over Wi-Fi and has a built-in IR blaster to control nearby components.
- Free apps for iOS and Android platforms.
- Same, easy wizard-based programmable setup as other Harmony but no PC is required.
- Activity based interface ("Watch TV," "Play Game," "Watch DVD," etc...)
- Controls up to eight components
Includes a cabled IR mini-blaster accessory so you can control entertainment devices both inside and outside of a closed entertainment cabinet (additional mini blasters can be purchased separately).
Harmony Link can connect with more than one iPad at a time, letting multiple family members use their own iPad with their own set of favorite channels.
- Rovi is providing program info for Harmony Link App.
Initially, smartphones will not receive personalized program guides from the downloadable app; only the iPad
Harmony Link will support iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch running iOS 4.0 or later, and Android smartphones running Android OS 2.0 to 2.3.4.
- Price: $99.99.
- Availability: October.
We got an early look at the Harmony Link in action on an iPad and were generally impressed with what we saw. In the pre-iPad era, we'd reviewed such tablet-style remotes as the Harmony 1100 and the iPad's touch screen is much sharper, more responsive, can display a lot more information, and is far more vibrant. (And, of course, the iPad has dozen of other uses, while the Harmony 1100--like all dedicated remotes--is a one-off device.)
As far as the IR blasting went, Logitech reps had the Harmony Link next to a TV on stand with shelf in it. The IR blaster was able to reach components on the shelf inside the stand, which is why reps said they were comfortable offering only one mini "extender" IR blaster with the device for those who have components in a closet or closed cabinet. (You'll be able to add a second one if needed.)
The one problem with using an iPad as a remote is that most people won't want to use a tablet as just a dedicated remote. However, the good news is thanks to multitasking, you can do other things on your iPad (surf the Web, do e-mail, play a game, etc...), then come back to the remote app when you need to change the channel or switch to another activity.
While the iPad offers the most robust interface, we have a feeling a lot of folks will be interested in turning an old iPod Touch into a full-featured universal remote. True, you can't get all that many virtual buttons onto the small screen of an iPod Touch, iPhone, or Android smartphone, but those devices do fit in a single hand and feel a lot more like a traditional remote.
Of course, if you are more of a traditionalist, Harmony does offer a number of affordable remotes that cost less than $100 that work just fine.
While the Harmony Link looked promising in our initial walk through, we were a bit disappointed to see that Logitech didn't include Bluetooth support. That means the Harmony Link won't be able to directly control the Sony PlayStation 3. Instead, PS3 owners will need to invest in the separate Harmony PS3 Adapter, which sets you back an additional $50 to $60.
Logitech isn't alone in the "turn your phone or tablet into a remote" game. Vizio and Sony tablets have built-in IR blasters and remote software, while Peel and Griffin offer iPad-to-hardware relay boxes similar to the Harmony Link. But Logitech is counting on leveraging its already megapopular Harmony name, plus its existing expertise and product code database.
Once we get our hands on a review sample of the Harmony Link next month, we'll test it out on both iOS and Android devices and post a full review. Until then, check out Logitech's video demo below: