If you enjoy streaming movies or music, or playing games on your TV, then you've probably discovered something: most TV and set-top box remotes are painful to use. Simple stuff like navigating within on-screen menus, pausing or rewinding videos is easy enough to do. But when you want to search for music or videos, surf the web, or even set up your account with e-mail address and password, scrolling and clicking for letters on a virtual keyboard is just painful.
And if you think things would be easier by plugging your laptop or Macbook into your TV for content, it's not: you've just added another component to the mix, and one that might be connected to your TV with a physical cable. A wireless keyboard for your PC can be helpful, but then you need additional remote controls to operate the TV and/or receiver and other components.
Logitech feels your pain. Today, the company has unveiled the newest member in their Harmony line of universal remotes: the Harmony Smart Keyboard. This one has all the activity-based controls of a standard hand-held Harmony remote, but it's integrated into the form factor of a full-sized wireless QWERTY keyboard with track-pad. Fully compatible with the Harmony hub (included), the Smart Keyboard can operate any of over 225,000 A/V devices such as TVs, set-top boxes, Blu-ray players, receivers, game consoles and more. It also provides a satisfying full-sized keyboard experience for your connected PC, MacBook or streaming media box.
If you've used a Harmony remote before, you'll be familiar with the set-up of the Harmony Smart Keyboard. Once you've set up the Harmony hub, connecting it to your home network, and put batteries in the Smart Keyboard, you'll run through a web-based wizard to identify all of the components in your system. Once this is done, the Harmony app will guide you through setting up "Activities" which are different ways of watching TV or movies, listening to music or playing games. An Activity of "Watch HTPC" might power up your connected home theater PC, TV and A/V receiver and set everything to the right input so it's ready to rock. You can create up to six different activities, controlling up to eight devices from the Keyboard.
If you plan to control a PC or MacBook with the Smart Keyboard, you'll want to use one of the included USB receivers which enables full PC control wirelessly. But you don't need to connect a PC to get the full functionality of the Keyboard. The Smart Keyboard is also compatible with game stations such as Sony PS3, XBox 360 and XBox One, as well as set-top boxes such as AppleTV and Roku. Logitech reps tell us they are planning to offer compatibility for Sony's PS4 as well, once this functionality is enabled and supported by Sony.
The Smart Keyboard can also control traditional devices such as TVs, Blu-ray Players and DVD players. Smart TV app control is also available for some brands and models. Logitech has a list of certified Smart TV models on their Harmony support web site.
If you're worried about controlling devices in other rooms or locked away inside a cabinet, that's not a problem for the Smart Keyboard. The included Harmony hub has full RF and Bluetooth support so it works through walls and closed cabinet doors. The hub converts commands it receives from the Smart Keyboard into whatever is necessary to control the device: IR (Infrared), Bluetooth or RF (Radio Frequency). An included IR blaster can be placed inside a cabinet or closet to operate the components within.
Also, if you want this type of advanced A/V system control in a smaller form factor, you can download the recently upgraded Harmony app for Android and iOS. This free app is compatible with the Harmony Hub and Smart Keyboard and can provide advanced activity-based control of up to 8 components. Harmony's smart state feature keeps activities synchronized across all devices so if you start an activity from the Keyboard, that same activity will be active on your smart phone or tablet. This means you won't accidentally power down your whole system when you're trying to power it up.
We have a review sample of the Harmony Smart Keyboard in the labs and will be sharing our detailed impressions of it in the near future. From a quick take, I'd say it will be more of a supplement to our current Harmony Ultimate remote, not a replacement for it. For most day to day operations, the Harmony Ultimate hand-held remote is perfectly capable at system control. Its hard buttons, color menus and gesture pad provide quick access to device menus, DVR access, content discovery and playback. The Smart Keyboard, while it does map some its keys to these same functions -- and its touch pad doubles as a gesture pad for device control -- is much better suited to text-heavy tasks such as web browsing, account set-up - even e-mail access.
The Harmony Smart Keyboard will be available for $149.99 (MSRP) exclusively at Best Buy and in Logitech's online store later this month. Logitech reps tell us distribution may be expanded to other channels in the future.