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Harmony 688 Review

Highs

  • Easy to set up and very customizable; good ergonomic design; comfortable to use

Rating

Our Score 9
User Score 0

Lows

  • Database categorization not very intuitive; tight spacing of some buttons
In general, we felt that the Harmony 688 remote was fairly easy and pleasant to use.

Summary

The Logitech Harmony 688 is a very versatile universal remote control that is quite capable of replacing all the remotes in a typical or even complex home theater system. It is easy to setup and to customize using its vast component database online. Also the remote has a nice appearance, sports a good ergonomic design, and is relatively easy and comfortable to use. The price is reasonable for a remote control with its capability. If you are in the market for a universal remote control, we highly recommend putting this remote on your short list.

Introduction

The role of a remote control as part of a home theater system has evolved quite significantly over the past decade. A remote control used to be just an after-thought supplementary component. But nowadays, a remote control, especially the universal one, is considered an essential component of a home theater system. It potentially makes or breaks the ease of operation of a system, which in turn affects the level of enjoyment that the system can deliver. Can you imagine the nightmare of having to go through a dozen of different remote controls to operate a system?

Harmony 688 Remote
The Harmony 688 Remote Control

A good universal remote control could simplify a great deal the operation of an otherwise complex system by replacing the functions of all your component remotes. But simplifying the operation of a system is not the only requirement for a universal remote control. The remote control itself has to be easy to setup and comfortable to use. Currently, your choice for a programmable universal remote is relatively abundance. On one hand, the availability of options is good, but on the other hand, this means that one has to do some homework in order to come with a proper choice for his/her situation.

Most of the universal remotes in the market today are programmed by inserting codes based on brands or by learning the commands from another remote directly. But the family of remotes from Logitech Harmony is programmed in a different way: by utilizing the power of the internet. The one reviewed here is the Logitech Harmony 688, which has an MSRP of $249.95. The review sample comes in metallic silver finish, but gun-metal black finish is also available.

The Harmony 688 remote is sleek and has a modern look. It could fit nicely in an average adult hand and quite comfortable to be operated one hand. It employs a unique curvy button layout as can be seen from the picture. In such a layout, no two buttons are the same. They might be mirror image to each other, but none is exactly the same. Its buttons and LCD display are all backlit.

Setup and Customization

The Harmony 688 remote comes with installation software CD, USB cable, quick-start guide, and four AAA batteries. The software should be installed in a computer that has a USB port and an internet connection. Once you have installed the software and created a user login, you just need to follow the step-by-step online guide to configure your Harmony 688 remote. It is that easy! Our only minor complaint was that the component categorization that the guide used was not very clear. For example, all preamps and receivers were categorized into ‘Stereo Receiver’. It would be clearer if stereo preamps and receivers were categorized separately than surround preamps and receivers.

The Harmony database in the Logitech website, from which you can download the codes for your device, is very extensive. We were initially skeptical about the internet setup approach and the coverage of the database. But since we were able to find the codes for several of our non-mainstream audio components, such as Shanling CD-S100 or NIRO home-theater-in-a-box system, we were skeptic no more. In fact, we felt the setup approach by using the power of the internet was very appealing. Once a configuration for a component is created, it is available for everybody else to download and use. And you can always create your own if you don’t like what is offered in the database.

The download time for configuring and updating the remote is quite reasonable even when using a 56k modem connection. A broadband internet connection is of course nicer for such purpose, which reduces significantly the download time.

Although you’ll likely find your component in the Harmony database, the labeling might not be to your liking. But this is not something to worry about. You can always customize the labels in your Harmony 688 remote easily.

Above the remote’s display, there is a set of activity buttons, such as ‘Watch TV’, ‘Play Video’, etc. These buttons can be programmed with a series of sequences to turn on the components necessary for the associated activity and put them in the appropriate state. For example, you can program the ‘Play Video’ button to turn on your TV, select the component video input, turn on your DVD player, turn on your receiver, and select the DVD input on your receiver. That way, with just a press of a button, you are ready for DVD enjoyment. This is of course much preferred than the alternative, which involves turning on the components one by one and then select the appropriate input.

Usage

In general, we felt that the Harmony 688 remote was fairly easy and pleasant to use. For starter, it is self-contained in terms of instructions, so you just need to follow the instruction given on the display. Or, you can press ‘Device’ button, to operate each individual device. The Harmony 688 remote also has a set of buttons that are especially convenient for use with a recording device, such as DVR or VCR. That is definitely a plus for users who do a lot of recording in such a device.

The Harmony 688 RemoteWe had a minor annoyance in regard to moving through the pages of the flexible buttons around the remote’s display. That was because we could only move forward through the pages, but couldn’t move back. So if we missed a page, we had to cycle through all the pages to arrive at the desired page.

Other than that minor quibble, the Harmony 688 remote worked as advertised. It doesn’t mean that the codes that are downloaded from the database are always right for every button, but you can easily correct the one that is not right. Heck you can even ignore the codes from the database and just use the learning function to overwrite all the codes directly from the device’s remote control. This is the flexibility that we dearly admire.

One of the reasons why the Harmony 688 remote is quite pleasant to use is due to its ergonomic shape. As has been mentioned earlier, it fits quite nicely in an average adult hand and one-hand operation of the remote is quite easy. Its buttons have good size and its layout is pretty nice too, although we were not too crazy with the oval-layout buttons in the middle of the remote. We thought the spacing of some of the buttons in there could use some improvement.

Because the buttons and display are backlit and the labels are on the buttons, the Harmony 688 remote is great to use in a dark room. The blue backlight is sensor activated. It is automatically on for a few seconds when the environment is relatively dark. The backlight could also be forced by pressing the ‘glow’ button on the remote.

Conclusions

The Logitech Harmony 688 is a very versatile universal remote control that is quite capable of replacing all the remotes in a typical or even complex home theater system. It is easy to setup and to customize using its vast component database online. Also the remote has a nice appearance, sports a good ergonomic design, and is relatively easy and comfortable to use. The price is reasonable for a remote control with its capability. If you are in the market for a universal remote control, we highly recommend putting this remote on your short list.

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