Editors' Note: From 2007 onward, Logitech included redesigned charging cradles with the Harmony 890. While 890 owners who purchased the unit with the original cradle are now out of warranty, they can contact Logitech customer service to receive a 50 percent discount on new products. (Given the age of this product, CNET suggests choosing the similar RF-equipped Harmony 900 or Harmony 1100 instead--just be aware that those products do not support macro-based programming.)
If you've followed the evolution of Harmony universal remote controls, you know that the Logitech Harmony 880 was the first Harmony remote to feature a color screen and a built-in rechargeable battery, along with a docking station. We rated that 880 very highly but noted in our review that we'd like to see an RF version--unlike IR, which is limited to line of sight, RF passes signals through walls and cabinets--that would appeal to people with hidden components and possibly multiroom setups.
Now we have it.
Priced at $399 (list), the Logitech Harmony 890 comes with one RF-to-IR receiver and looks identical to the IR-only Harmony 880, except that it comes in a lighter, more silvery finish. Measuring 8.1 inches long by 2.3 inches wide by 1.3 inches deep and weighing 5.8 ounces, the Harmony 890 retains the dumbbell shape of the company's earlier remotes. In addition to the screen's color capabilities, the LCD is larger than that of Harmony's monochrome models. The increased screen real estate offers room for a total of eight--rather than six--contextual icons, corresponding to adjacent hard buttons.
The 128x160-pixel color display is low resolution (read: early Palm color screen), but it's a step up from the monochrome screens found on such models as the Harmony 520 and the Harmony 550. One thing we didn't love was that the activity-based icons could have been a little cleaner-looking and easier to read. Logitech has made some tweaks in this area, but the icons still aren't as readable as they should be.
Some Harmony remotes feature soft, rubbery buttons that sometimes aren't as responsive as we'd like. For this model, Logitech has gone with all hard-plastic buttons--generally a good thing, though buttons such as the video-transport buttons (record, play, rewind, fast-forward, pause, and stop) and the 12-digit keypad are still spaced very close to each other, so it's hard to operate by feel alone. However, it's worth noting that context-specific side keys--volume and channel up/down--are raised nicely in just the right places. All in all, we felt the button layout was pretty well thought out, if not for a couple of nonintuitive choices among the video transport and set-top box keys; we would've reversed the Info and Exit buttons, for instance. Still, it shouldn't cause too much irritation and seems friendly enough toward digital set-top boxes, DVRs, and even Media Center PCs, though you will have to map or customize certain buttons manually to perform specific tasks. Additionally, almost all of the buttons are backlit, which is nice for a darkened home-theater environment.
Like the 880, the Logitech Harmony 890 includes a docking station for juicing up the included rechargeable lithium-ion battery; you simply lay the remote in its cradle. Not only is it nice to have a recharging option to save dough on batteries, but if you're good about leaving the remote in its cradle, you'll always know where it is when you need it. The other nice feature that the Harmony 890 offers is its motion sensor; when you pick up the remote, it automatically turns on (this feature is now available in other, less expensive Harmony remotes). You can also easily add your own digital images as backgrounds and screensavers--there's a slide-show feature--though we found that we had to crop our images into vertical shots or they'd appear hideously stretched on the screen. And it really wasn't a good idea to have a picture as a background, because it made the icons difficult to read; stick with the default blue background.