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Just a Peek - Logitech 880 Remote: An Evolutionary Step Up

by

- August 25th, 2006

From a Distance

A while ago (two years, in fact) I wrote a review of the Harmony 659 Universal Remote.  I really enjoyed that remote. It did everything a remote should do, and did it with style and at a reasonable price. Because of it I sacked the four remotes that came with the various pieces of my entertainment system, for which my wife continues to thank me.

After using the 659 for almost two years I've found only two minor, but nonetheless annoying problems.

The first problem becomes noticeable when the batteries start to fail. The remote starts to act really strange -- sometimes it will work normally, sometimes it will only turn off one part of my entertainment system, the receiver for instance. Other times it would refuse to change a channel or control the volume even though other functions worked normally. Put in fresh batteries and the remote would start working again. Since batteries can last up to six months, the problem was only a bit more than a nuisance.

The second problem had to do with the LCD screen. Control functions for different devices are accessed via the buttons on either side of the screen; if I wanted to activate the Picture in a Picture function on my TV, for instance, I had to scroll through the options displayed on the remote's screen, which was fine for less used functions. The problem is that, because the screen could only display so many characters, the function names often appeared cutoff or cryptic. For instance, if I wanted to pick between antenna inputs (either A or B) I'd have to guess which button to push, the screen would cut off the trailing 'A' and 'B'.

Luckily, I seldom needed to use those functions, and generally, life was good with my Harmony 659.

When the movie Click came out, a reporter at the Orlando Sentinel found my review and called me for an interview. It was a fun time, but it made me curious about the state of Harmony Remotes since I looked at the 659.

Well, Harmony is now part of Logitech, and the remotes they offer have evolved to include many excellent new features.

I got my hands on one of Logitech's newest remotes, the 880. If I was a happy person with the 659 I am now ecstatically happy with the 880.

Darwin Would Be Proud

The 880 is the obvious next step in the evolution of Logitech's remotes. Just like the 659, the 880 lets you program the remote by entering in the model numbers of your equipment in an account you set up on the Harmony site. You then create 'activities' such as 'Watch TV' or 'Listen to Music' using the features of your equipment. (Don't worry, the site steps you through this setup.) Once that's done a file containing your setup information is downloaded into the remote via a USB cable through your Mac or PC and, voilá! Your remote is programmed.


The 880 with Cradle
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image.)

I make it sound like programming the 880 is lot easier than it actually is. It IS easy, but the less geekier among us may run into a bit of trouble understanding what's being asked and deciding how to answer. I wouldn't want my mother-in-law attempting to program a Harmony Remote, for example, but the rest of us shouldn't have too much of a problem.

Just like intelligence and other key abilities separate (most) men from the common ape, so do key features delineate the 880 from models lower on the evolutionary tree. For instance, the 880 comes with a recharging cradle: NO MORE BATTERIES!! No more worn-out-battery weirdness either. The 880 can stay out of the cradle for a week or longer with recharging, but I've found that the cradle makes an excellent place to put the remote when I'm done using it for the day. My cradle sits on top of my media cabinet. I know where it is when I need to use it and it is always fully charged.

The 880 sports a color LCD screen that's easily twice the acreage of the 659's screen. The 880's screen is easy to read and there's nothing cryptic about the functions, everything is explained clearly


The 880's Colorful LCD Screen (enlarged)

The fun with 880 doesn't stop there:

  • The local time is now displayed on the LCD screen.
  • The Help button works much better at resolving problems with how the remote interacts with your equipment.
  • Switching between activities works much better now.
  • The color screen now displays customizable graphics for the activities
  • The styling of the 880 would make Star Trek's Geordi LaForge a happy camper.
  • The 'Guide' button creates four small windows on the side of the screen which scrolls through the regular TV channels (premium channels are excluded). This lets you watch your current channel which searching for something else to watch. (This feature may not be available on all TVs.)

Evolutionary Anomalies

There is a lot to like about the 880, but it has a few faults as well.

The designers of the 880 paid a little bit too much attention to the style of the unit and not enough attention to ergonomics. For instance, the 659 sports nice big buttons that even the eyes of a Baby Boomer can see without glasses. Many key buttons on the 880 are integrated into the silver 'swoosh' that surrounds the upper half of the unit. Aging eyes will have a tough time finding the volume control or channel selectors, and will have to hunt to change activities. The buttons are raised so that you can feel your way around, however, and you do get used to the layout quickly enough.

In general, all of the 880's buttons could be a tad bigger. Guys with bratwursts for fingers may find that punching a channel number or pausing a DVD on the 880 a challenge.

The 659 could download and display local TV listings, which were a convenient way to see what's playing. Alas, the 880 does not have this feature. Instead, the 'Media' button lets you pick from a list of your favorite channels (which you enter at the Web site during setup). This is a nice, but the channel listing would be great on the new color screen. The aforementioned 'Guide' button helps here too.

Beyond that I would just be nitpicking an otherwise excellent remote.

So, how many pesos does one need to part with in order to possess such perfection? Well, the 880 lists for US$249. The 659 can still be had at a list of $149. The 659 is a great remote, but, if you can afford it and don't mind the few problems I mentioned earlier, I'd spend the extra; the color screen and the ability to recharge it make the 880 worth it.

Review Item Logitech Harmony 880 Remote
Manufacturer Logitech
Price US$259
Street Price US$134 (Amazon)
Minimum
Requirements
Any Mac running OS X or
PC running Win2k or above.
Bottom Line

Logitech did a nice job on upgrading the original Harmony Remotes, they kept all of the good features, like online programming and activities, and added some nice enhancements, like the easy-to-read color screen and making the remote rechargeable. It seems that the 880 picked up a few undesirables as well, chief among them is the poor design of the buttons.

Still, this is a great piece of equipment  that any remote users would be happy to own. Check around to get the best price, but get one.

When I wrote about the 659 I said it would the last remote you'll ever buy; I was wrong. The 880 is definitely the last remote you'll ever need. (At least until Logitech comes out with a better one.)    

is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.

You can send your comments directly to me, or you can also post your comments below.

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