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Head to head: Budget universal remote controls

Review Logitech and One For All help you find the channel quicker
Mon Feb 15 2010, 14:25

Product: One For All Smartcontrol
Specifications: Universal learning remote control, three macro modes, four AAA batteries
Price: £30.00

Product: Logitech Harmony 700
Specifications: Universal learning remote control, colour screen, four preset macro modes with additional programmable modes, rechargeable battery, computer required for configuration
Price: £100.00

AS YOUR HOME THEATRE setup grows a new problem arises; how do you control the multitude of devices you have without juggling five or six different remote controls? Thankfully there are a number of cost effective solutions available with two of the more affordable ones featured here.

Universal remote controls aim to declutter your coffee table or sofa by replacing several devices with just one. There's a wide range of units available with prices to match. Manufacturers such as Universal Electronics and Philips aim for the high-end with products that offer a high degree of customisation and a price tag to make you baulk. Others such as Logitech have gone for the more attainable end of the market offering a balance between customisation and price.

img-1390One For All is Universal Electronics' consumer brand and has been around for the best part of two decades. Firmly entrenched in the value-end of the market, it originally catered to those who had lost their original remote control unit. However with the Smartcontrol it's making a move into the universal remote territory allowing the consolidation of other remotes and at £30 it's nothing short of a steal.

Despite its bargain basement pricetag the Smartcontrol (seen on the bottom in the image above) is a looker from any angle. The design may be lacking a flash LCD screen but the unit is weighted nicely and it looks the part with an understated black gloss and matte front ribbed with faux chrome plastic. With the device selection and macro activity status icons backlit the Smartcontrol punches above its pricetag, at least on looks.

As this is a learning remote control, you don't have to worry about whether One For All's device database contains every part of your setup. A substantial number of devices are covered in the code book supplied, however if you can't find what you're looking for, just grab your existing remote and point it at the One For All and it'll learn it. Because there's relatively little customisation, setup isn't difficult but can be a tedious affair; as you will end up spending a while planning keypresses on the macro "Smart Control" buttons.

The macro buttons are what really make the One For All stand out. Allowing the control of multiple devices through a single keypress is nothing new, but at this price point you'd be hard pressed to find such a feature. Macros give you the ability to turn on your set-top box, television and receiver and select the corresponding input on your receiver and display panel all with a single button press. The setup of these is fiddly and will require repeated tries to make sure the order is exactly what you want.

The layout of the Smartcontrol is good, with a central joypad flanked by channel and volume rocker switches. It's pretty standard fare with most remotes adopting this layout followed by numeric buttons lower down and more intricate operation buttons on the top half of the remote. The switch gear doesn't come with any reassuring tactile feedback but in truth the overall quality is hard to fault for a device at this end of the market.

The four triple-A batteries inside reportedly power the unit for over 12 months but expect that to vary depending on the amount of channel surfing. The exceptional battery life is due to the few backlit buttons and icons along with the lack of a screen.

Unlike the Smartcontrol, Logitech's Harmony series of remote controls have been very successful in filling the gap between the One For Alls of this world and the high-end Philips Pronto or Universal Electronics' own NevoSL units. This Harmony, the model 700 (seen on top in the image above), offers up the usual blend of excellent build quality, curvaceous design, superb functionality and ease of use.

The Harmony 700 sits in the middle of Logitech's range priced at £100 and while that does seem steep after the One For All, the Harmony 700 has a few tricks up its sleeve. The most obvious is the inclusion of an LCD screen showing device status, functions, help and programmed commands. Other advantages include a greater number of macro actions with four dedicated buttons and more options available through the programmable display.

Like the Smartcontrol, the Harmony 700 is a learning remote control. However because the unit is more customisable, the setup procedure is a little more involved. Logitech's Harmony PC software is mature, with little change over the years. What this means is that the wizard driven interface has few kinks and lets you configure a powerful multi-device controlling remote in a relatively short time. In fact for more complex setups the Harmony is quicker to set up thanks to the wizard driven PC interface. The only downside is that you do require a PC with an Internet connection in order to set up your remote control.

The Harmony 700 is powered by a rechargeable battery unit, with a wall socket to USB power adaptor included. While not able to give the months of power that the Smartcontrol unit promises, the Harmony 700 can certainly go weeks without a recharge, which given the problems with older Harmony units to gain and hold charge is encouraging.

The extra cost of the Harmony 700 shows in the overall build quality. While both are as plastic as a Hollywood escort girl, with the Harmony you feel as if the work hasn't been done by a struck off quack. The backlit screen and buttons awaken when the remote is picked up thanks to a motion sensor and, although somewhat bottom heavy thanks to the battery unit, the remote feels comfortable in your grasp.

So which would we put on our coffee table? Both do their job admirably with One For All's Smartcontrol offering superb value for money. The Harmony 700 is a little more refined with a better setup procedure but you'll have to ask yourself whether it's worth the extra £70.

Pushing aside the functionality differences, of which there are relatively few, the Smartcontrol is perfect where there's likely to be more rough-and-tumble in the household. So if your kids like to take the battery covers off remotes, drop them or use them as weapons, then at £30 the Smartcontrol is the smarter choice. However, if you want to impress your mates then the Harmony 700 does a better job.

In Short
Universal remote controls help you reclaim your living room and both the One for All Smartcontrol and Logitech's Harmony 700 do a great job. They both look good, are easy to set up and reasonably priced. The Smartcontrol offers the vast majority of features you could want at an affordable price point. The Harmony 700 provides that little extra both in terms of looks and functionality but at a price that may be a little harder to stomach. But both will remove the remote hunting from your life. µ

One for All Smartcontrol

The Good
Does the job at a low price, looks more expensive than it is

The Bad
Programming complex macros can be a bit fiddly

The Ugly

Bartender's Score

Logitech Harmony 700

The Good

Easy setup, comfortable to use, colour LCD

The Bad
Requires a computer to set up

The Ugly
Expensive compared to the Smartcontrol

Bartender's Score


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