Logitech Harmony 550 Universal Remote Review

Overall Score

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The Logitech Harmony 550 is perhaps the most appealing remote in the Harmony line to me.  It is at the lower end of the Harmony price spectrum, but it has a back-lit LCD and a sleek design that make it desirable.  I have also had somewhat good luck with Logitech devices in the past (despite the scroll-wheel from hell on my G5 mouse… you FireFox/IE middle-clickers know what I’m talking about!).  So, when my Universal R6 kicked the bucket a couple months ago I decided to pull the trigger on the 550.

The 550 comes in a simple, no-frills plastic package (I usually prefer that with non-luxury items because I don’t like paying for expensive-looking packaging).  It came with a USB cable, installation CD, installation guide and 4 AAA batteries.  It may seem like a small detail to some, but I applaud Logitech for including the batteries.  I like to buy a device and have everything I need to get said device up and running included with it.

After taking the 550 out of the package and playing with it a bit I could already tell that it was nicer than the Universal R6.  By that I mean that the buttons "felt" better, it has a sleek design, an LCD, and the "glow" feature (AKA backlight) is pretty nice.

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The software installation itself was pretty painless.  Standard stuff (installation location, a bunch of clicking the next button, you know the drill!).  So, after the installation I fired up the app and much to my dismay…

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They want me to create an account so I can "access my account from anywhere".  Hey, Logitech, this is a remote!  Why should I be forced to create an account?  It doesn’t make sense to me, but they don’t ask for much, so I went along with it.

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To add insult to injury they forced me to give them First Name, Last Name, Email Address and Country.  I know this data makes great charts for a bunch of managers sitting in a board room somewhere looking at sales by region, but it annoys me when I have to enter a bunch of demographic information to get simple devices like a remote up and running.  I’m obviously more sensitive to this sort of thing than the average user, but I wanted to include this as a warning to all of those people out there who are finicky about giving any information out to anybody.

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After the "getting started" step, the software checks communication with your device.  After checking communication you add your devices and it suggests "activities" (no screenshots of this process… didn’t want this to look like a step-by-step guide and bore readers to death!).

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The activities the software suggested seemed pretty accurate to me based on the devices I added (XBox and an LG Plasma TV).  Setup of your devices is done using a wizard-based interface.

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After you get everything set up, the software updates your remote with your settings.  I thought it was nice how you can see the output and track what’s really going on behind the scenes.

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My final complaint about the software: when you close the app it tries to stay running in a system tray icon so it can launch when you plug the device in.  I personally think it’s annoying how many developers in the world take a reckless stance on system tray icons when writing apps.  Here’s a note to all of you would-be system tray clutter creators: DON’T DO IT!

One other quick note: the software told me that I wouldn’t be able to control my XBox without an add-on, but I was able to control it with no problems without buying any add-on.  Strange, but I was happy to be able to control my XBox for watching DVDs (I could never get my old Universal R6 to control my XBox).

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Logitech seems to be putting an emphasis on "Activities".   When you start an activity the remote will power on whatever devices you might need, get them to the proper inputs, then switch context to allow you to control all of the devices with ease.  For example: if you’ve selected "Watch a DVD", your volume buttons will control the volume on your TV, but you can press the "menu" button to access the menu on your DVD player.

The activities work pretty well, but this isn’t exactly a "killer feature" since remotes have had features like this for a while now (even my cheapo Universal remote had "macros" to do stuff like this).  However, the fact that you can configure the activities in software is nice.

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I personally am not a huge fan of the number pad on the 550.  It’s location on the bottom of the remote makes it one of the least-accessible areas on the remote, and the buttons are somewhat small and not as easy to press as the other buttons on the remote.  This is not a deal-breaker for me as I rarely use the number pad, but chronic number-punchers might be annoyed.

The Vol +/-, Ch +/-, Glow, arrow pad and "OK" buttons are about as perfectly placed as I could ask for (of course every hand is different so your mileage may vary!).  When I hold the remote my thumb naturally rests right on the "OK" button.  It’s perfect for channel surfing and navigating DVD menus.

The killer thing about the 550 is the angle at which it can operate.  I’m not sure if the IR port on the 550 is built for ultra-wide dispersion or what, but it seems like I can point the remote just about anywhere and it works flawlessly.  It’s great to not have to worry about pointing the device right at my TV (especially while you’re learning the layout of the buttons… you can have the remote facing you and still operate a device).

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After about a month of using the remote I observed a rather annoying issue.  The bottom half of the screen went partially dead (every other line on the screen is toast).  Not a huge problem, but it does upset me being as how reliable LCD screens are certainly a solved problem.

When you buy a somewhat expensive remote like this, you want to operate worry-free.  Unfortunately, that has not been the case for me.  I’m sure Logitech’s support department will be great, but the fact that I need to contact them for a replacement is a slight failure in my eyes (I value my time!).

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The 550 and I have had our ups and downs.  I’d be lying if I didn’t point out the fact that I said a few harsh words when I noticed the screen flaked out on me, but for the most part this is a great remote.  This model specifically puts itself in a price range that’s easy to swallow, yet offers a lot of nice features.

I’ve checked out some other remotes, and once I get past this price range I keep on looking for killer features (like voice commands) that aren’t there.  Why would you want to pay $400 for a remote that doesn’t really bring anything new to the table?  If your answer is "it’s a status symbol!" I find that acceptable, but it’s not a good enough reason for me to tell you to shell out your hard-earned cash.

The bottom line is: the 550 is a good buy if you’re in the market for a universal remote.  It’s not going to revolutionize the universal remote world, but it’s not going to let you down (unless the screen goes out on you!).

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