Best universal remote control

There are plenty of choices out there, even if they do come from just two companies.

universal remote control hero Rob Schultz

There was a time when a single brand dominated the universe of universal remote controls: Logitech’s Harmony. That changed when Caavo shipped its second-generation Control Center, which is good enough that we can recommend it as the best mid-priced product in this category. Want something more powerful? That’ll be a Logitech Harmony Elite. Need something cheaper? Buy a Logitech Harmony 665.

Sure, you can still find a sub-$20 “universal remote” if your regular clicker breaks, but those are little more than cheapie replacements, not true universal remotes that live up to the name. There are also uber-expensive remote controls you can buy from customer installers, but TechHive focuses primarily on the DIY market, so we’ll ignore those in this story.

Here are our top picks in three categories, followed by links to all the rest of our reviews of universal remote controls (we’ll update this list as new models come to market).

Updated May 1, 2019 to add our review of the new-for-2019 Caavo Control Center, which has new firmware and a brand-new mobile app to go with it. The new features are broad and deep, if a bit buggy at launch, and include parental controls that let adults monitor and control what children are watching on TV, and a "wellness feature" that could be handy for adults who need to monitor the well-being of parents who are aging place. Caavo has also lopped 40 percent off the cost of the hardware, reducing it from $99.95 to $59.95, but the price of the optional subscription service that makes the most of the hardware has been doubled, from $19.99 per year to $39.99 per year. Taking the price of the hardware and the subscription, the Caavo remains our top mid-range pick

Best universal remote: High end

With a price tag north of $250, this remote might cost more than some of the components you’ll control with it. And while the learning curve is steep, you can’t argue with its power to up to 15 other devices. What’s more, its built-in touchscreen makes it more intuitive for new users than any other remote on the market.

Runner-up

The Harmony Express is only slightly less-expensive than the Harmony Elite, but it is a highly capable remote that’s a breeze to program. And having Alexa onboard lets you also control elements of your smart home, albeit it one at a time (the Elite lets you create complex macros that can trigger many more devices all at the same time).

Best universal remote: Mid-range

The Caavo Control Center underwent a major update in May 2019 that added a host of new features, including new parental controls that let you monitor and control what your kids are watching on TV. We encountered a few bugs at launch and hope they'll be squashed in short order. Caavo has also lopped 40 percent off the cost of the remote, but they'll recoup that quickly through the increased cost of the optional subscription plan needed to take advantage of most of those new features. The hardware itself hasn't changed and remains limited to controlling just four HDMI devices, so it’s still not the right pick if your home theater is packed to the gills with A/V components.

Best universal remote: Budget

Just $50 will get you this incredibly capable remote, a standalone model that includes a small LCD that displays contextual information depending on what device you’re using. Can’t remember what you programmed a random button to do? This remote will clue you in.

How to pick the right universal remote

Logitech’s Harmony line can be divided into two camps: remotes that work with a bridge, and standalone remotes that don’t. The bridge–called the Harmony Hub–is a single device that is bundled with remotes across the high end of Logitech’s Harmony line. (Think of the remote as merely an accessory that makes working with the Hub easier.) The Hub plugs into wall power and works as a massive IR blaster. It also relays Wi-Fi and Bluetooth commands, which means you can use Hub-capable remotes to control more than just the gear under your TV. If you want to use your phone as a remote control, purchase a system that includes the Hub.

caavo remote Caavo

Caavo is the only other player besides Logitech making a great universal remote.

The standalone remotes are exactly that: You program them via your PC, but they’re just standard infrared remotes on steroids. There’s no way to use your phone or tablet with these remotes.

Note that, whichever of the Harmony remotes you choose, a learning curve will apply. Programming remotes via Logitech’s PC application (or mobile app, in the case of Hub-ready remotes) is easy to get started with, but mastering it isn’t terribly intuitive, and these apps can be slow and sometimes buggy. After changes are made via an app, your remote will then have to be synced with the app, a manual process that can be cumbersome. The bottom line: If a Harmony remote is in your future, be prepared to spend some time mastering it.

So, does a universal remote control really make sense? If your coffee table is littered with hardware for managing your entertainment center, it does—provided you’re ready to accept that no universal remote is truly universal. While almost any function can be mimicked by these systems, some are simply impossible to copy: They can’t fully replicate the Apple TV touchpad, for instance.

All our universal remote control reviews

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