Hands-On: Logitech Harmony Smart Keyboard

The latest Harmony remote is designed to make surfing through channels and smart TV content a lot easier.

Streaming media has invaded your home theater gear — sort of. These days, web-based services can be found through all sorts of AV devices or easily added via a compact media streamer. The latter is pretty simple and not too intrusive. Plug it in, hook it up to your TV or receiver, and connect it to your preferred web connection. Could it be any easier? Wait until you actually try to navigate through it.

Having a web-enabled device in your AV arsenal can provide instant access to a slew of entertainment options, such as Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, VUDU, Hulu Plus, Pandora, Spotify and more. Choosing one of those services should be pretty pain-free, using your preferred device’s remote. However, once you try to search for a title, actor or genre, things can get a little tricky — and downright frustrating.

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For this purpose, Logitech has introduced the Harmony Smart Keyboard. The latest entry in the company’s popular line of universal remotes puts all of the Harmony goodness into a keyboard and touchpad combo.

Despite looking like something that should be paired with a PC, this product is specifically designed for the living room. Because it’s a Harmony universal remote, it’s compatible with over 225,000 different devices. Just don’t expect it to control that many simultaneously. Instead, the Harmony Smart Keyboard can replace up to eight of your existing remotes.

It does that control via the included Harmony Hub. The Hub looks a lot like a media streamer and is the piece that allows the system to accept infrared (IR), Wi-Fi and Bluetooth commands. That Hub also allows users to incorporate the Harmony App for iOS and Android devices. Considering how the Hub sells for $99.99 on its own, having it packaged up with the Harmony Smart Keyboard makes the kit’s $149.99 purchase price so much sweeter. (However, if you already have the Hub, just know that the keyboard isn’t sold separately.)

Besides the Hub, the box includes the keyboard, two USB receivers, one USB extender, a power adapter, an IR blaster, and a USB cord. For money, it’s pretty complete. However, you will need to supply few things. First of all, you’re going to need a web connection (wired or wireless) and the aforementioned Harmony App, which is free for both iOS and Android devices. Naturally, you’re also going to need one of those portables. The Harmony Smart Keyboard is compatible with Android devices with Android 4.0 or later, as well as the iPhone 4s or later, the iPad (3rd gen or later), the iPad mini, and the iPod touch (5th gen or later) — as long as those Apple devices have iOS 6.0 or higher. It also works with any Bluetooth-enabled device.

Of course, you’re also going to need components to control. Besides TVs, Blu-ray players and receivers, the Harmony Smart Keyboard works with the Apple TV, Roku devices, PCs and Macs, TiVo boxes, the Xbox and PS3, and the newly released Amazon Fire TV. This may sound sort of complicated for a keyboard, but nothing could be simpler.

Start by downloading the Harmony App. Once it’s ready to roll, hook up the Harmony Hub. This device really lives up to its name. As mentioned, the Hub receives all of the commands from the keyboard and the app, and then sends them out to your AV devices in the form of Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and IR signals, as well as through the included USB receivers. Just plug the Hub into an outlet near your AV cabinet.

Just as a side note: I have an open AV cabinet. If you don’t, the Harmony Smart Keyboard does come with an IR mini blaster for placing the Hub inside a closed cabinet.

Now back to that app. This is necessary to complete the rest of the setup. You have to connect the Harmony Hub to your home network, as well as your Harmony account. (And you need an account, if you don’t already have one.) During the setup process, you will need the make and model number of every device that you want to connect. Also, you’ll be able to set “activities,” which is what Harmony has built its empire upon. This allows you to tap into several devices with one button or command. For instance, you can fire up the TV, the receiver, and the Blu-ray player all at once to “Play a Movie.” Not only will you be able to control certain devices and set activities, but this setup process also allows you to designate which devices will have keyboard access.

It’s important to note that you won’t be able to add keyboard access to every device in the cabinet. For instance, the app didn’t connect the keyboard to my Panasonic TC-P50GT25 plasma TV. Also, some devices, such as PCs and gaming consoles, will require one of those USB receivers to make the keyboard magic happen. The app setup will prompt you for all of that. It takes a few minutes to go through, but it’s easy and all-inclusive.

The Harmony Smart Keyboard looks a lot like your standard computer keyboard, although it’s slightly more compact in some areas. Of course, it also has the activity buttons at the top and the touchpad and mouse are off to the right. Otherwise, there shouldn’t be too many surprises.

Well, there are a few.

The Harmony Smart Keyboard works in conjunction with the Harmony Hub and the Harmony App.

First of all, the Harmony Smart Keyboard has no backlighting, which could make navigating in a home theater or any other dark setting sort of difficult. Since this product was released, Logitech did introduce the Illuminated Living-Room Keyboard (K830). Don’t be fooled by the lower price ($99.99); this is not the same device. The K830 is designed for typing and navigating on a computer connected to the TV. It does not work with AV devices or the Harmony App. More importantly, it doesn’t work with the Harmony Hub.

Even more shocking is that the Harmony Smart Keyboard doesn’t provide the same functionality for all devices. For instance, I was very excited to fire up my Roku and search through the vast wasteland of YouTube using more than a pair of arrow buttons. However, the YouTube app on Roku does not accept keyboard text entry. It works with Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, but not YouTube or Hulu Plus. However, Apple TV and Fire TV users won’t have the same text issues. The same goes for the touchpad; it’s specifically designed for use with the PS3, PCs and Macs.

When it came to text entry, I did appreciate having a keyboard on hand. Does anyone actually like scrolling? That said, I’m not a fan of using a full-sized keyboard for controlling my DVR, Blu-ray player and other AV devices. Your mileage may vary. However, this is where the Harmony App comes in nicely, as it operates like any other remote. I tested out the iPhone and iPad versions and found this to be a more comfortable way to control day-to-day viewing.

If you’re looking for an all-in-one solution, the Harmony Smart Keyboard may be it, if you’re willing to switch between the keyboard and the app. Of course, you can use the keyboard to control AV devices, but it’s a bit clunky — until you need to actually type something. This is where the keyboard shines, obviously. Just know that some devices (such as the Roku) won’t offer typing features on specific apps. And if you can’t type, do you really want a keyboard in your AV mix?

Logitech Harmony Smart Keyboard

Also Check Out:
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