Monday, July 27, 2015

The Logitech Harmony Smart Keyboard

I've recently purchased the Logitech Harmony Smart Keyboard for my living room setup. The package includes the smart keyboard, a control hub, and an IR blaster extender.

What's included

When first opening the box, you will be presented with the keyboard. The keyboard includes three buttons on the top left for switching between what Logitech calls "Activities". An activity is a set of devices that are turned on and controlled together. For example, turning on the TV, soundbar and a gaming console at the same time. You can program 6 activities on the keyboard, three with a short press and three with a long press.

The keyboard has special function keys to control the different devices you have, such as the Sony Playstation keys on the V, B, N, M caps. The keyboard is made out of plastic, but it has a texture that makes it very grippy and easy to hold. The keys have a typical membrane laptop style feel. As a daily keyboard for typing on a computer I would not recommend it, but it is fine for general use in the living room.

After taking out the keyboard, the box contains the main hub, two USB IR receivers, and an IR blaster extender. The hub is able to control devices with Infrared (IR), bluetooth and Wi-Fi. It has IR transmitters all around the hub to send signals throughout the room. The IR extender is used to control devices in places where the hub's transmitters cannot reach like inside a closed cabinet. The package only includes one extender, but the hub has support for two with a 2.5mm jack. The hub is powered with an included mini USB cable at 5V/1A.

The two USB receivers use IR for communication with the hub. They are to be used with a PC, gaming console, smart tv, or any other device that does not have an IR receiver and cannot be controlled through bluetooth or Wi-Fi. The way the communication works is that the smart keyboard sends your command to the hub, and the hub then sends the signal to the device in whichever method it is programmed based on the activity you are currently in.


You use the Harmony mobile app to first connect to the hub through bluetooth and then configure it with your home Wi-Fi network settings. After logging in with your Harmony account, you will set up all the devices that you own. You enter in the company name and the model number of the device, and the app will look through Logitech's extensive database for it. Then it will go through the process of testing power and controls, completing the device setup.

If the device cannot be found on the database, it will guide you through the steps of manually setting it up. You will use the remote control from your device to record the commands onto the hub. After pairing the recordings with specific buttons, your device will now be accessible like any other device for use in activities.

Logitech recently released a firmware upgrade for the hub to become a "Home Hub," which provides the ability to control your home automation devices. As of this writing, it currently supports the Honeywell Wi-Fi Thermostats, Philips Hue, Google Nest, Smarthings, Lutron Smart Bridge, PEQ, and RHEEM. You can set these devices to perform an action when entering or leaving an activity. The firmware upgrade also brings in support for IFTTT.

Setting up activities is just as easy. You select the devices you want controlled in the activity, and then the input options required. For example, the HDMI input number the TV needs and the soundbar input setting for a gaming console. So when you turn on the activity, all the devices turn on and are set in the correct configuration like you would manually do.

My Configuration

I have my hub on a shelf next to a couch facing my entertainment system. The following devices are configured on my Harmony hub:
I have an activity to Watch TV, use my HTPC, Watch Fire TV, Play Wii U, and turn on my air purifier. Since it supports IFTTT, you create IFTTT recipes to toggle a Harmony activity. I use it to turn on and off my air purifier at specific times. Unfortunately, you can only have one activity running at the same time.

When connecting to the hub locally, or using the keyboard, the response time is very quick. The only delay is from switching inputs on your devices. During configuration, you can set delays for how long it takes a device to turn on before it can accept control input. Using the keyboard with my HTPC via bluetooth is not the fastest; you can notice a large latency between moving the cursor and seeing it move on the screen. But I am satisfied in its performance for my intended use, which includes opening up programs, navigating to websites, and typing. 

One of my Minor issues was when using the mobile app, I always have to connect to the hub via it's IP address. The app cannot automatically find it in my network and it always attempts to connect through the cloud. I also had a bit of trouble setting the hub up with my PC. It would just not detect the USB IR device, and the bluetooth setup worked but has a missing driver error which may confuse users. Only the USB receiver can provide the ability to wake up a PC from sleep.

Overall, I would still recommend it to others. If you find yourself having to fiddle between the different multimedia devices in your home entertainment setup, this is just the device for you. If you are looking for an IR blaster for your home automation, this device is also for you. Although it might be more expensive than going the DIY method and creating your own IR blaster, I believe the additional benefits of having an app and ecosystem already in place is convenient and worth the cost. I believe this is one of those gadgets where you don't see the real value until you experience the convenience it provides.


Sept 16, 2015

I had posted that the app had trouble detecting the hub in my LAN. Newer versions of the app seem to have fixed this, so it is no longer an issue. As for the USB receiver not being detected, after contacting Logitech Support, unpairing and repairing the entire keyboard on the hub fixed it. With those two problems resolved, the hub has been working wonderfully!

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