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Published Jun 9, 2022 1:00 PM

Juggling multiple remotes for TV, cable box, soundbar, game consoles, and all the other devices in your living room can get extremely frustrating. Once upon a time, manufacturers made third-party universal remotes, which connected to many devices so you could navigate them all with one magic wand. Despite the fact that we have more devices than ever, universal remotes are a dying breed. You could argue they’ve been replaced by smartphones but switching between a hundred different clunky apps just isn’t as elegant as the defunct, yet still supported Logitech Harmony remote. Here’s the thing, though. There are still a few companies that make universal remotes. And some of the old devices, including the Harmony remotes, still work well if you’re willing to buy a used one. If your coffee table full of remotes needs taming, the best universal remotes can still swoop in and cut out some remote clutter.

How we picked the best universal remotes

I have covered the consumer electronics industry for more than 10 years for TechnoBuffalo, Gear Patrol, CNN Underscored, and iMore. The coverage included reviews and reports on TVs and third-party A/V gear, including universal remotes.

To make our selections, I leaned on hands-on testing, as well as extensive research on the current third-party remote market. I checked peer reviews, user impressions, forums, and retailer comment sections to get a sense of what universal remotes are currently popular.

What to consider when choosing the best universal remotes

A good universal remote will consolidate your collection of remotes into a single tech navigation tool. It can dim your smart lights, switch on your TV, and start playing a movie through your streaming devices, with a few quick taps. Or you can program it to do all of those things at once with a single press of a button using a “macro.” 

A good universal remote should also feature broad device compatibility and, like any good gadget, a well-organized layout that’s intuitive for novices and veterans alike. While a display isn’t necessary, it’s a nice perk because it allows users to scroll through their list of customizable activities.

Device compatibility

You want to make sure your universal remote can connect to all of the devices in the space where you plan to use it. You should be able to juggle between 5-10 devices at once (or more), spanning home entertainment, smart home, and other kinds of gear. Broad device compatibility will allow a universal remote to fit seamlessly into your daily routine, and make it easier to get the most out of all your devices.

Battery life

A universal remote can’t do its job with a dead battery. When doing our research and testing, we hunted down options that could last a few months between charges. 

We generally prefer remotes that feature a rechargeable internal battery to minimize the possibility of e-waste. For remotes with rechargeable batteries, we prefer a charging hub over a simple cable, but that is definitely not a dealbreaker. If you’re using a battery that relies on disposable AA or AAA cells, we recommend purchasing rechargeable batteries.

Design

Universal remotes generally share the same design language as the TV and cable remotes you’ve likely used your whole life. In most cases, they have many, many more buttons. Sometimes they also have a small display, which is great because it helps you keep track of what you’re doing. Still, for the most part, the best universal remote shouldn’t be hard to parse.

Beyond our picks’ general shape and size, we looked out for things like a comfortable button layout. Commonly used buttons, including volume, pause, and play, should be easy to find without requiring someone to hunt for them. 

A great third-party remote should also have customizable buttons you can set for specific tasks, like turning on your TV to a particular input. Of course, we also tried our best to find options that look nice and feel good in hand, too.

Price

Strictly speaking, there’s nothing essential about a universal remote. It’s a luxury meant to make your technological life a little more convenient. Given that, every person will have their own thoughts on how much they’re willing to spend for convenience’s sake.

Luckily, there are universal remotes for every budget. The most affordable ones provide limited functionality, akin to a TV remote, but with a wider range of functionality. The prices go up from there as companies add more broad support for many devices, displays for better navigation, charging stations, and more. The very best universal remotes are typically a few hundred dollars.

On top of that, our picks include a couple of remotes that are no longer in production. They are still fairly easy to find, new or used, but they cost a lot more than you’d expect. Do not fret if our top picks aren’t your price range, as there are always more affordable options that can pare down your pile of remotes.

IR, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi support

All universal remotes use an IR (infrared) transmitter to send a signal to your TV, which interprets that signal to actions like lowering the volume or changing the channel. Lower-priced universal remotes generally come equipped with an IR transmitter. The best of them should also support Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, allowing them to communicate with a wider range of modern devices like game consoles and smart home gear.

The best universal remotes: Reviews & Recommendations

Finding the right universal remote will let you consolidate your collection and bring some order to your living room. Though the list of appealing options is dwindling, there are still a few great universal remotes out there.

Best overall: Logitech Harmony Elite

Amazon Renewed

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Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: With broad device support, a capacitive touchscreen, and support for one-touch actions, the Harmony Elite is tough to beat.

Specs

  • Size: 7.56 x 2.13 x 1.14 inches
  • Weight: 0.36 pounds
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
  • Battery life: 3-7 days

Pros

  • One-touch actions
  • Custom activities
  • A capacitive touchscreen makes it easy to control your devices

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Not in production, so may be difficult to find new

Although it was discontinued in 2021, the Logitech Harmony Elite remains the best universal remote we’ve tried. It includes broad device support for over 270,000 entertainment and smart home devices, as well as customizable one-touch macros. It features a small capacitive touchscreen that makes navigating a potentially dizzying array of devices easy to follow. Though Logitech no longer manufactures Harmony remotes, the company still updates them, so they are still a viable option.

That said, getting a Harmony Elite for a reasonable price isn’t easy. It was expensive from the start, retailing for $349. Now that there’s a limited supply, that price has only gone up. Even used models can cost nearly $400 or more. Still, if you’re searching for the versatile, feature-rich universal remote, nothing touches the Harmony Elite.

Best for home theater: SofaBaton U1

SofaBaton

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Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: The SofaBaton U1 offers a similar experience to the Harmony Elite, including a small OLED display, in a more affordable package.

Specs

  • Size: 7.7 x 1.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Weight: 0.61 pounds
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth
  • Battery life: N/A (requires two AA batteries)

Pros

  • Small OLED display
  • Can control up to 15 devices
  • Supports over 350,000 devices

Cons

  • Can’t control Wi-Fi-based devices

Though we have a soft spot for the Harmony remote, there are still companies making great universal remotes. Case in point, the SofaBaton U1 can connect to over 350,000 devices from 6,000 brands and features a companion iOS and Android app so you can configure the remote on the fly. It can control up to 15 devices at once using IR blasts and Bluetooth. You can also assign buttons to perform specific actions and even create shortcuts to launch activities. 

The SofaBaton U1 does all this for $69.99, far less than the Harmony remotes cost before scarcity drove up the price. Though it isn’t as easy to program, and can’t control Wi-Fi-based devices like smart light bulbs, it gives the Harmony remotes a run for their money. It’s a convenient, affordable, no-compromise universal remote in a reasonably polished package.

Best simple: One for All Smart Control 8 (URC7880)

One For All(r)

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Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: The One for All URC7880 looks basic at a glance, but features customizable buttons and controls up to eight devices.

Specs

  • Size: 9.4 x 4.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Weight: 0.46 pounds
  • Connectivity: Infrared
  • Battery life: N/A (requires two AA batteries)

Pros

  • Simple, straightforward design
  • Can control up to eight devices
  • Customizable shortcut keys
  • Remote finder feature

Cons

  • Doesn’t work with Bluetooth devices

The One For All Smart Control 8 resembles a stock remote you’d get with a TV but can do a lot more. It can control up to eight devices via infrared and will work with everything from a TV to a set-top box to a Blu-ray player. It also features customizable shortcut keys that you can program via a smartphone app. Our personal favorite feature, though, is the remote finder, which lets you use a companion app on your smartphone to make the remote emit a noise so you can track it down.

The Smart Control 8 only communicates with devices via IR blast, so it’s really just for home entertainment centers, rather than a full suite of smart devices. Still, its comparatively simple construction and narrow focus make a solid, affordable choice looking to combine a few of the remotes around the TV.

Best for Apple TV: Apple TV Siri Remote

Amazon

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Buy it used or refurbished here: eBay

Why it made the cut: The Apple TV Siri Remote features an improved design, precise D-pad, and touch-sensitive jogwheel for easy control.

Specs

  • Size: 6.93 x 2.62 x 1.04 inches
  • Weight: 0.28 pounds
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
  • Battery life: Two months

Pros

  • Clicky buttons
  • There’s a mute button
  • Jogwheel controls

Cons

  • Kind of expensive if you’re upgrading from an older Apple TV remote

With a lovely aluminum design and precise D-pad, the Apple TV Siri Remote is the best option for the company’s set-top box. The significantly improved 2nd-generation remote includes a mute button, as well as a more intuitive directional pad with a touch-sensitive “jogwheel” similar to the experience of using an old-school iPod. Of course, you can also use the Apple TV Siri Remote for system-level TV functions like power and volume. For people with basic setups, that’s all the “universal control” you really need.

Best for Alexa: Amazon Fire TV Cube

Amazon

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Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: The Amazon Fire TV Cube makes it easy to control your entire setup without even touching your remote.

Specs

  • Size: 5.5 x 1.4 x 0.62 inches
  • Weight: 0.09 pounds (without batteries)
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
  • Battery life: N/A (two AAA batteries)

Pros

  • Powerful voice controls
  • Preset app buttons
  • Simplistic layout

Cons

  • Voice recognition isn’t always perfect

It might seem unusual for the Amazon Fire TV Cube to show up on a list of the best universal remotes since it’s a … box. Just hear us out, though. The Fire Cube is a surprisingly powerful device. The set-top streaming device allows you to control your TV and any other Alexa-compatible smart devices in your home with voice commands you speak into its small remote.

When you set aside the Alexa functionality, the Fire Cube remote, which you’ll also find in many new Amazon Fire streaming devices, is fairly rudimentary. Once you get into the swing of using voice commands, though, you won’t care about any of the buttons, anyway.

Best budget: GE Universal Remote

GE home electrical

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Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: The GE Universal Remote is easy to use, offers master volume control, and can connect with up to four devices at once.

Specs

  • Size: 7 x 2.24 x 1 inches
  • Weight: 0.2 pounds
  • Connectivity: Infrared
  • Battery life: N/A (requires two AAA batteries)

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Connects with up to four devices
  • Master volume control

Cons

  • The plastic design feels cheap

If you just want to consolidate remotes and have no need for customizable buttons, touchscreens, voice controls, or any of the other features we’ve highlighted in our other picks, then you’re looking for the GE Universal Remote. For about $10, you’ll get a remote that comes pre-programmed with support for thousands of AV devices and can control up to four devices at once. It also supports master volume control, so you can adjust the volume of whatever device you’re connected to, whether your TV or Apple TV. It isn’t special, but it gets the job done and is very cheap. There’s nothing wrong with paying a little when that’s all you need.

FAQs

Q: How much do universal remotes cost?

Today, universal remotes range in price from $11 to about $400. As we mentioned, that number has inflated a bit in the last year or so thanks to high demand for the limited quantity of Logitech Harmony remotes available online. When you don’t factor in the harmony remotes, the price range for a fully featured universal remote comes to between $50-$100.

Q: How do I program a universal remote?

Universal remote programming varies from device to device. Sometimes you have to enter a code that identifies the product you wish to control. Other devices have standardized control codes that you can find on the device’s remote or manual. Still others can pair with a remote via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

We generally prefer universal remotes that can be programmed via computer software or an app. The Harmony Elite, for example, features an app with a database of about 250,000 control codes. That way, you can just look up your device and easily connect.

Q: Do universal remotes work with all brands?

Universal remotes generally have a broad compatibility with AV systems that support IR control. You should have no trouble controlling the core components of a home theater setup—TV, soundbar, set-top box, etc.—regardless of the brand. Not every universal remote can connect to devices via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, but those that can should be able to connect to any brand of smart device.

Final thoughts on the best universal remotes

Clearly, we still have a deep affection for Logitech’s Harmony remotes. That said, there are still a few good options out there, so there’s no reason not to use one if you think it would help. It’s also worth noting that more and more devices can handle basic system-level TV controls, making it easier to get by with one remote if you’re just watching TV.

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