The Logitech Harmony Express universal remote trades complexity for Amazon Alexa

Logitech today announced the Harmony Express — a simplified remote control that shuns a touchscreen and eschews an overwhelming amount of buttons and instead relies on Amazon Alexa to do most of the heavy lifting.

As home entertainment systems have become more complex — and the advent of smart home products only deepened that complexity — Logitech's remote controls also grew more and more futuristic. All kinds of buttons that can do all kinds of things. Touchscreens more like what you'd find on early smartphones.

Logitech Harmony Express

And, of course, programming for all that complexity also become a bit more ... complex.

That's where the Harmony Express really looks to change things. It's got a brand-new app to set things up. And instead of dedicated buttons that will launch various activities, you'll just press a button and tell the Express what you want it to do. "Turn on the TV." Or "Watch CNN on Apple TV." Take your pick.

You'll still need to walk it through the initial setup, of course. But the new Harmony Express app (on Android and on iOS looks far less daunting than its aging counterpart, so it should be far less confusing for most folks. (And, no, you can't set up your older Harmony remotes with the Express app.) You'll hook things up to your Amazon Alexa account, of course, and that's what really gets things going.

And if any of your devices have an accompanying Alexa Skill, the integration is that much deeper. That's also its Achilles' Heel, of course. Multi-function devices like this are a slave to the API. And if the API ain't great, the user experience can suffer.

In other words, your experience is going to vary depending on what all you've got hooked up in your living room, or bedroom, or wherever. (It's perfectly possible to use multiple Harmonies Express in a home.)

The remote itself is extremely basic, though still very nicely designed. The button you press to trigger Alexa also serves as a selection button and directional pad. Elsewhere you'll find back, home, menu, play/pause and forward/reverse, and volume controls. And that's it. Everything else is meant to be triggered by your voice.

The Harmony Express sports a rechargeable battery, which you'll juice up via micro-USB. (The USB-C ecosystem just isn't quite there, they company told us, and so micro-USB it is.) You should get a couple months of use on a single charge, and it takes less than an hour to juice back up.

Logitech Harmony Express will retail for $249 — squarely between the likes of the Harmony Elite and Harmony Companion. (Which have long been the two universal remotes we recommend.) Harmony Express is available today at Amazon, and at Logitech's website. It'll also be sold at Best Buy.

Also great remotes ...

Logitech Harmony Companion

Logitech Harmony Companion ($104 at Amazon)

If silent buttons are more of your thing, this is the universal remote for you.

Logitech Harmony Elite

Logitech Harmony Elite ($269 at Amazon)

All the buttons you could ever need, plus a touchscreen.

Phil Nickinson