Logitech Harmony 880 Advanced Universal Remote

Imagine a remote that feels just perfect in your hands. It has the right curves, the right fit, even the perfect weight. It sits snuggly in your grip with an all-too-familiar shape and contour. Close your eyes, and move your thumb over its top surface to find the Volume, Channel, and Play keys. Can’t find them? Right…exactly. And that’s my biggest issue with this, the flagship of Logitech’s line of Harmony remote controls. For $250 – not outrageous for a universal remote, and certainly not the most I’ve paid for one, but still pricey – I had higher expectations.

The Harmony 880 Advanced Universal Remote puts a whole new face on the standard, yet outstanding form-factor of earlier Harmony remotes. It’s a face with a beautiful, bright, color LCD display. Unfortunately, it’s a face that lacks critical tactile differentiation between buttons. In a dismal design move I’ll never understand, Logitech gives new life to the horrid ring-of-buttons first introduced on the Harmony 688. The 880 is the first of a many models that blend the most used remote buttons – Volume and Channel – into a bezel that curves around the navigation pad and display screen at the top of the remote. Look carefully at the image of this remote, and notice that this affords you no means of differentiating the Volume and Channel buttons from any of those surrounding, including the Previous Channel, Mute, and some odd up and down arrow buttons. Raised dimples on each button at least let you know where on the bezel to press, but without actually looking at the remote, it’s nearly impossible to identify any one button from another.

The problem prevails with the shuttle control, numeric, and other buttons. These appear as though they were once one button carved into smaller segments. There is nearly no detectible physical differentiation from one button to another, again, making it impossible to know what you’re pressing without looking at the remote. That, in itself, sucks…but the situation is worsened by the poor backlighting that pales next to the bright LCD screen.

And that screen is so bright. It’s clear, it’s beautiful, and it seems completely out of place in the otherwise artificially-organic design of this remote. The sharp corners and hard edges scream next to the over-accentuated curves of the neighboring buttons. That said, the screen is large and offers up to eight customizable activities and functions per page, which can be navigated both forward and backward – an improvement over older Harmony remotes, which only let you page forward through activities. One additional benefit this remote offers is the ability to specify the order in which activities display on the screen. This is a long-needed upgrade for Harmony, but quite frankly, there’s no good reason why the same improvement couldn’t be made to earlier models with simple firmware and software upgrades. Of course, that wouldn’t encourage devoted Harmony users to upgrade to a remote…would it?

One final point: Who thought it would be a good idea to have to dock a remote? If you don’t regularly place this device on its home base, it will be brain-dead in just a few nights’ use. This, supposedly, is Logitech’s answer to the poor battery consumption of earlier models. But seriously, do you have a plug readily accessible to your coffee table that wouldn’t require exposing a power cable across walkways frequented by you, family, friends, and pets? ‘Cause I don’t. And the dock design itself makes it far too difficult to properly place the remote so that it actually makes the right contacts and recharges.

After about three weeks’ use, I returned this remote to the store from which I bought it. I continue to seek out the perfect remote. While Harmony remotes come closest to this target, Logitech just keeps missing the mark.

It’s worth noting that I tested this remote nearly a year ago. This is significant for two reasons. First, after almost a year, I still harbor the same ill feelings for this device. Secondly, though the physical design of newer Harmony remotes (like the 520 and Xbox 360 models) was a fresh and unique departure for Logitech, they continue some of the bad design legacy established by this particular model.

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