Best Universal Remote of 2021
The Logitech Harmony 665 is a multiple-device remote that is packed with programmable buttons to control one or many devices with the push of a button. The unit has an interactive help feature that will confirm actions and take corrective measures to ensure correct outcomes. Additionally, there is an LCD screen to aid the user in operations. This remote is capable of controlling over a quarter-million devices (10 at a time) and combining them into single functions such as turn on the TV, DVD player, switch to the appropriate channel, and HDMI input. Once set up, it's a smooth operator.
So, what's the catch? Simply put, the setup is prolonged and involved. You must retrieve all the paired devices' model numbers (usually on the back of the machine) and their inputs. Making matters worse, the companion software that allows one to run the set-up through their computer is a bit buggy. With these kinds of shortcomings, you may be wondering why we rated this remote so highly. Once the Harmony 665 is set up, it is incredible. You never have to fiddle with switching between multiple remotes, devices, and inputs ever again!
The Logitech Harmony 950 is like Sauron's One Ring: it rules them all. Truly, this remote's capacity to control up to 15 devices and coordinate them into actions with the push of a button is worth the programming effort upfront. The unit's prodigious touch screen makes it easy to use in the dark, too, and the gesture function with vibration confirmation means you don't even have to look at the control. This remote's customization options are truly vast and, once set up, it's easy to operate.
While we like the customization options and user interface on the Harmony 950, it is a double-edged sword. To create the customizations, one has to manually input the periphery device codes, and this can take some time. Additionally, the computer software supporting the device was a bit clunky and required patience and fiddling. As the frustration of the prolonged programming set in, the cost of the unit seemed more and more exorbitant. That said, once the programming was complete, we felt the ease of operation was more than worth the cost and effort.
The GE UltraPro is a basic device that is easy to program and use. The remote can manage up to 4 devices and has a simple, easy to navigate user interface. The UltraPro is the obvious alternative to the remotes that are designed to accommodate tens of devices in customized combinations that take considerable time and patience to program. As it is, this unit is among the most straightforward devices to set up on the market, and it works well with satellite/cable boxes, too.
While the UltraPro is a breeze to set up, this ease is largely the result of the limitations of the remote. For example, the remote lacks programmable keys that will perform multiple functions such as "watch movie" which, on other models, will turn on a DVD player, change the TV to the appropriate channel, and input. In the same vein, it also lacks programmable favorite channel buttons. Despite these customization shortfalls, we think that most people with basic home entertainment systems will find this remote to be more than enough to manage their devices. Moreover, they won't waste the better part of a day laboring to program the unit.
The GE Pro is a simplistic but effective device for managing common home entertainment systems, especially those with satellite/cable/streaming boxes. The remote's supple backlit buttons, compact dimensions, easy to navigate user interface, and competitive price make it an easy choice for all but the most complex entertainment systems. The unit has a simple, direct code entry for the devices it controls — meaning that set-up is as easy as pushing a few buttons. Finally, the GR Pro has a channel back button, a master volume control to sync all sound devices, and a "dot" button for digital channel selection.
As is often the case with streamlined products, the Pro's strengths can also be seen as weaknesses if they fail to meet your needs. For example, the unit's painless programming is the product of the limited customization options and the lack of multi-function keys which, on other devices, perform several tasks with a single button. An additional limitation that will make this remote inappropriate for some consumers is its lack of compatibility with RF streaming devices. However, if you're looking for a remote to control four devices such as a TV, DVD player, soundbar, and a satellite/cable box, this is a fantastic option.
The Logitech Harmony Companion is a remote control system that includes a universal remote, hub, and smartphone app. This system allows one to control a wide variety of smart home devices such as thermostats, lights, and locks, as well as common entertainment electronics like televisions with either the remote or a smartphone. Additionally, the system will work with RF devices such as the Roku Streaming Stick. On top of RF and IR, this system also uses Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections, making it truly universal. Finally, this system allows for 50 TV channels to be set, and it has customizable multi-device buttons, which we like despite the programming hurdles.
As is the case with all of the remotes that have multiple device customization options, the set-up process for the Companion can be tedious. To counteract the frustration of implementing programming protocols, we kept in mind that our future selves would appreciate the effort when, for example, starting up a movie on the entertainment system would be as easy as pushing a button. Aside from the protracted set-up process, this remote control lacks backlighting, and the unit is powered by a watch battery (CR2032), which is annoying because hardly anyone has these cells on hand. Despite these shortcomings, this control system is incredibly powerful, and in the right context, well worth the effort of setting it up.
The Philips SRP9141A/27 is a basic universal remote that is a breeze to program and easy to operate. It works well on basic home entertainment systems that include TV, DVD, soundbar, and cable/satellite/streaming boxes. In acknowledgment of its intended use, the unit has a DVD open/close button that may seem unimportant but is actually quite convenient. Additionally, it boasts a primary audio function that automatically sets the volume control on the remote to whatever device is in operation at that time — simple, right? Additionally, at 5 ¾ inches long, the remote is just the right size to be easily operated with one hand.
As is the case with all the remotes that are easy to program, the Philips SRP9141A/27's functionality is very basic. The unit can only be programmed to 4 devices at a time. It also lacks single button, multi-device programmable functions such that you can turn the TV to movie mode without bothering with turning on the DVD player, changing the channel and the input. Also, this remote lacks backlighting — an oversight that we can't defend. Yet, we think that the simplicity of programming and operating this remote will outweigh these limitations in the mind of many.
The SofaBaton U1 is a decent budget alternative to some of the more sophisticated devices on the market. Unlike many low-cost models, this one will manage up to 15 devices at a time. To ease the inherent difficulty of multi-device programming, the U1 has a computer set-up option as well as an app. Additionally, the unit has an OLED screen that eases the burden of navigating between devices once the set-up is complete.
While the U1 offers many of the features of its more expensive counterparts, it lacks RF functionality and won't work with stick streaming devices. Moreover, the device's "learning mode" — which is supposed to seamlessly transfer the original remote's keys to the U1 — is not very effective. Adding to the set-up difficulties is the app, which is a real pain to learn. As it is, we found it much easier to manually enter device codes into the remote. It's undeniable that this remote has some notable shortcomings. However, if you are willing to spend the time to master its set-up procedures, the U1 will save you a lot of money and distill the operation of multiple devices into a single remote.
The Philips SRP2024A/27 is designed to address the problem posed by the radio frequency (RF) streaming devices such as the Roku and Fire sticks that are increasing in popularity. (Note: we tested the Fire Stick model for this review but there is a Roku Stick version available as well). Few "universal" remotes are compatible with these devices, so it's nice to see that one can forgo the expensive hub systems by simply storing the stick on the back of the remote. Other convenient features include channel back and DVD open/close buttons as well as a volume control on the side of the remote that's always accessible no matter what side of the remote you are using.
While we found the Philips SRP2024A/27 to be a good — and economic — option for both RF and IR devices, this unit does not allow one to program complicated actions into a single button. Moreover, it's limited to managing just 4 devices at a time. However, this limitation means that it is straightforward to program particularly if you are using device code direct entry. As such, the ease of operation goes a long way to offset the frustration of not having backlit buttons or batteries included with the purchase.
While we like the basic nature of the Philips SRP4229B/27, it is not for those seeking customization capabilities to set, say, their favorite channels or a play movie sequence to individual buttons. Moreover, the unit isn't compatible with RF stick devices. Finally, this remote lacks button backlights, which is pretty annoying. Yet, if you're seeking an inexpensive and utterly simple programmable remote, this is the ticket.
The RCA RCR313BR is a basic remote that is designed to control a cable/satellite/streaming box, TV, and DVD player with a single remote. We can't overstate how easy this model is to program and operate. There are four programming options that include direct entry of the device codes, brand code search, auto code search, or manual code search. Whichever you prefer, you're more than likely going to have your devices programmed in just a few minutes. We also like that it has big buttons for those folks with failing eyesight and less than nimble hands.
While this unit is praiseworthy for its simplicity, it is extremely limited in its capabilities. To put this in context, this remote won't control a soundbar or any other sound device. It lacks buttons like channel back and DVD open/close. Only a few keys are backlit instead of the whole pad, which we would prefer. Finally, don't be taken by the manufacturer's claims that this device is RF compatible — it is not. That said, the RCA RCR313BR is a good choice for basic entertainment systems where having two or three remotes is just unnecessary.
Why You Should Trust Us
Senior Research Analyst Austin Palmer and Senior Review Editor Nick Miley have been working together to test consumer electronics for the past two years. Their research, testing, and documentation of the process have been fine-tuned to assure the delivery of accurate, easy to understand comparisons of the best products on the market. Their extensive experience testing soundbars, computer peripherals, smart home devices as well as Bluetooth-enabled electronics makes them the perfect team to test universal remotes.
Together these two researched and purchased the most promising universal remotes available. Once the devices arrived in-house, the team set to testing them in practical scenarios. Their analysis consisted of cataloging the features of each remote, including the type, size, action, illumination, and layout of the buttons. More importantly, they set up all of the remotes tested to control a TV, DVD player, soundbar, and a streaming device paying close attention to the programming ease and effectiveness.
Analysis and Test Results
Our assessment of universal remotes consisted of three avenues of investigation. Namely, these are set-up, capabilities, ease of operation (post setup), and a complete evaluation of the button array. Collectively, these metrics cover every aspect of remote performance contributing to user satisfaction. The details of these evaluations, including which models performed the best, are discussed below.
There's a catch-22 inherent in the set-up of a universal remote that we will get into in more detail in the capabilities and ease of operations sections. Suffice it to say that, in general, the easier the set-up of the remote, the less functionality will be provided to the user. For example, the overall low-ranked RCA RCR313BR is a breeze to set up due to its extensive device code library, but more consequentially, the remote can only handle 3 devices at a time. Moreover, there are no programmable keys. All of this adds up to minimal set-up time.
Conversely, remotes like the SofaBaton and the Logitech Harmony 950 can be programmed to 15 devices. The Logitech Harmony 950 also has multi-function programmable keys that allow one to complete complex actions like changing the channel, input, and devices to accommodate switching to a movie setting or back to a cable TV setting. Programming such functions takes considerably more time and attention to detail than simply setting a remote to operate a few basic devices.
Our testing protocols for this metric consists of programming each remote to a TV, a DVD player, a soundbar, and a streaming device. We go through all the set-up options and determine which is easiest and most efficient. Most units we tested come with a device code library, which, in general, we found to be the most straightforward and effective set-up method. Additionally, if a model has accompanying set-up software that runs on a computer or a smartphone app, we tested that method as well.
The capabilities analysis covers a broad range of features that are available on the various remote models under our review. Specifically, we want to know what kind of devices the remote can control as well as how many. Devices are divided into two parts: control method (radio frequency, infrared, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi) and device types (DVD, TV, cable/satellite/streaming box, etc). We also want to know what controls the remote assumes. For example, will it control volume, channel, and input selection as well as more sophisticated actions such as programmable keys that synchronize multiple functions into a single button? There are few truly universal remotes out there but the Logitech Harmony Companion does check all the boxes. It communicates with IR, RF, Bluetooth, and WiFi, and the remote system is highly customizable and capable of managing as many as 8 devices at a time.
Our testing for this metric picks up where the set-up metric left off. We use the TV, DVD player, soundbar, and streaming device and run function tests that confirm that all the buttons work as advertised, including master volume controls that require the remote to automatically switch between devices. Additionally, we test multi-function buttons such as "watch movie" that coordinate multiple devices simultaneously. Once we get away from models that utilize an RF connection, there are several highly capable remotes such as the Logitech Harmony 665 and the Logitech Harmony 950 which can be programmed to 10 and 15 devices, respectively, and have a dizzying level of customization.
Ease of Operation
The ease of operation analysis looks at the use of the remotes after they have been properly set up. This evaluation not only looks at the navigation of the remote (this is particularly important with the devices that have complex functions) but also the layout of the buttons, button size, lettering, and backlighting. As we observed in the set-up metric, the more sophisticated the remote, the more difficult it is to operate. So, when we say that a remote like the Philips SRP9141A/27 is easy to operate and the SofaBaton is not, it really isn't a fair comparison. The previous model barely meets the requirements to be considered a universal remote while the latter can control up to 15 devices.
While we certainly acknowledge that some units have more complexity and thus require more time and skill to navigate, some remotes strike a good balance between ease of use and capabilities. Specifically, we were quite impressed with both the Logitech Harmony 665 and the Logitech Harmony 950 in this regard. The Harmony 665 checks a lot of the easy-to-operate boxes, though the buttons have small print, and it's a bit oversized. However, it has an auto-correcting help function and backlit buttons that go a long way in making operation easy. Conversely, the Harmony 950 is just the right shape, has gesture controls that are quite modern and intuitive while maintaining a level of complex operations that will satisfy tech-savvy users.
This exhaustive, hands-on review of universal remotes looks at all the aspects of functionality and performance and lays out the results for comparisons across devices. Specifically, we assessed the setup process, which includes compatibility with common devices and the difficulty of connecting these devices to the remote. We also evaluated the capabilities and ease of use. The prior focus on the remote's ability to perform complex tasks, and the latter focuses on how the execution of said tasks. All in all, this review covers everything a consumer will want to know before purchasing a device that aims to simplify and enrich their entertainment experience. So, get ready to pop some corn, kick up your feet, and start your favorite program sans frustration.
— Nick Miley and Austin Palmer