The Usability Blog
A Practical Guide to User Experience Insights

The Usability of Remotes

Every so often we feature user experience based reviews of everyday items. With that being said, back in November, I had a very successful Black Friday and got myself a new receiver and remote control for my home theater (online, of course, no way I’m fighting Black Friday crowds for any deal). Now lots of people would say a remote control is a remote control, end of story. I, however, respectfully have to disagree after getting my Logitech Harmony Elite set up; it’s truly light years above anything else I’ve used. As I got it set up and started using it two seemingly minor, but truly impactful, things stood out to me about the remote and showed how much thought Logitech must have put into this remote; button placement and how smart the remote truly is.

I’ll start with button placement, specifically the placement of the play/pause buttons and the other buttons that go hand in hand with them. I’ll admit that even though I’m a UX professional, I hadn’t paid much attention to the placement of buttons on a remote control before…I mean, who would? Logitech, that’s who. It’s very clear that they put the legwork into designing their current top of the line remote, the Elite, to improve upon the previous contender, the Ultimate One.

Let’s look at the Ultimate One first.ultimate fullAs you can see in the image, the touch screen is in the middle of the remote, with the play/pause buttons at the top of the remote. When you take into account the profile of the device and where your hand naturally sits while holding it, your thumb is naturally over the touch screen and can’t really reach the play/pause buttons. Now, you might be asking yourself, “Why do I care about that?” It’s simple, really; once you’ve used your remote to navigate to what you’re watching, what buttons do you care about? It’s volume and the play/pause buttons. So with the Ultimate One, those critical, most used, buttons are not comfortable or easy to reach.

Now let’s look at the redesigned Elite remote.


elite full Logitech clearly rethought the button placement on this one and move the touch screen to the top. When you look at where the device sits in your hand naturally, you now have perfect easy access to both volume and the play/pause buttons. It’s great! It’s clearly something Logitech has known about for a while, as their entry level remote the Harmony 350 while laid out very differently than the touch screen remotes, has the play/pause buttons easily reachable in the natural holding position of the remote.350 full

Not sure what happened there on the Ultimate One, but they realized their mistake and rectified it perfectly.

The other thing that blew me away while getting my Elite set up was how smart the thing actually was; it really knew what I wanted to do before I did it. The best example of this is the volume controls. I used to have the Harmony 350, which was a great entry level universal remote. One of my biggest complaints about it, though, was in regards to the volume controls. I have a full home theater, powered by an AV receiver. With the Harmony 350, I had to go in and manually redirect the volume controls for each device to actually point to the receiver so that the only volume control that mattered was what was being changed. As I changed, added, or removed devices to my home theater, I’d often forget about that step, hit the volume button and nothing would happen; I forgot to remap it to the receiver.

So when it came time to finalize the setup of the Elite that popped into my head. I dove into the various settings on the iOS app to try and figure out how to remap the volume buttons to always control the receiver. What did I find when I located the right setting? It had automatically set itself to control volume exclusively on the receiver! Taking my biggest frustration on the previous remote and having it fixed automatically on the new one? That’s how you improve a user experience!

All in all, I have to say Logitech really knocked it out of the park with the new Elite. They really paid attention to the little things, and it shows in a great way. I have to say that I have zero buyer’s remorse on my $350 remote control, which is something I honestly wasn’t expecting, and that’s due largely to the care Logitech clearly took in improving the experience.

-Cameron Duggins, Senior User Experience Analyst, Usability Sciences


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