The best universal remotes can help clean up the clutter on your coffee table. Instead of reaching for one remote to turn on your TV, another remote to turn on your soundbar, and yet another for your streaming stick, a universal remote can let you control everything from one device.
Better yet, the best universal remotes let you automate a number of tasks — such as turning on all the components, and having them change to the right settings — all with a single button press. Some universal remotes also have smart home controls, as well as voice search, so you can look for shows, movies, and more across multiple streaming services.
Among the best universal remotes, the choices are less than universal. Over the past few years, Logitech — which made the best universal remotes — discontinued its product line, so there are far fewer options than before, but you still have some choices.
Read on for the best universal remotes.
The best universal remotes you can buy today
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The closest thing you can get to Harmony's universal remotes is the SofaBaton X1. The remote itself has an attractive, comfortable design with just the right number of buttons — which are backlit, to boot. There's a small scroll wheel just underneath its display to let you switch between activities and devices; you then use the circular d-pad underneath to control your system. We liked the smooth, rounded edges of the X1, and its buttons offered just the right amount of resistance and feedback.
The X1 has a built-in battery (there's a USB-C port on the bottom of the remote), but it will last for weeks before it needs recharging. I wish it came with a small recharging cradle, which would make things just a little bit easier.
Like the Harmony Elite, the SofaBaton X1 sends its commands to a hub, so you can hide everything away behind a cabinet, for a cleaner look. Because the hub is connected to Wi-Fi, you can also link it to Alexa and Google Assistant for hands-free operation.
You can program the X1 with a number of macros to automatically turn your entertainment center to the right settings, However, it took some time for us to get everything programmed properly — getting it to switch the inputs on our Vizio TV was the hardest part — but after that, everything worked well.
The SofaBaton U1 looks a heckuva lot like the Logitech Harmony Elite, and it tries its best to perform like the best universal remote, too. However, when your remote costs just $49 — a fraction of the Harmony — you have to cut a few corners. For starters, the SofaBaton doesn't feel as nice as the Logitech, and the button presses aren't as smooth.
There's also a bit of a learning curve to programming the SofaBaton U1; We've tested a bunch of universal remotes, and it took us quite a while to figure out the U1. Once we got things sorted, though, it worked pretty well. Check out the SofaBaton U1 if you're looking for a universal remote that's less than $50.
Read our full SofaBaton U1 review.
The Amazon Fire TV Cube packs both one of the best streaming devices and Alexa into a single package, so you can use Amazon's assistant to not only look up shows and programs you want to watch, but also control your TV, cable box, switch HDMI inputs, and more.
Plus, as a streaming device, it offers an excellent 4K HDR image, fast response times, and more. The Fire TV interface could use some improvement — whose can't? — but it gives you access to just about every streaming service you could want. It also comes with a physical remote, but you can't use it to replicate everything you can do with your voice.
Read our full Amazon Fire TV Cube (2022) review.
Let's face it: The worst thing about the Apple TV is its remote. It prizes form over functionality, which with its minimalist design, is a real pain. The Function101 remote may not look as sleek as the Apple TV remote, but it's a heckuva lot easier to use. And, its larger size actually makes it more comfortable to hold.
However, the Function101 remote does not have a Siri button, so you can't use Apple's voice assistant to look up shows or enter passwords. But, at $39, it's a worthwhile tradeoff — until Apple designs something better.
Read our full Function101 Button Remote for Apple TV review
Discontinued universal remotes
Logitech decided to discontinue making universal remotes, which is a shame, because it made the best universal remotes around. However, the company is still supporting its remotes for the time being. If you can find them at a reasonable price, it might be worth picking one up.
Logitech Harmony Elite ($349)
Devices Controlled: 15
Favorite Channels: 50
Smart Home Controls: Yes
Logitech’s Harmony Elite, can control up to 15 devices at once. In addition to physical buttons, it has a color touch screen from which you can quickly select a favorite channel. You can also create custom buttons, such as Watch a Movie, to automatically turn all your devices to the right settings.
The Harmony Elite works in conjunction with the Harmony Hub (included), enabling you to hide electronics in a cabinet. It also works with several smart-home devices, including Philips Hue lights and the Ecobee SmartThermostat. It can be connected with Amazon Alexa, so that you can issue Harmony Elite commands using nothing but your voice. It's one of the best Google Home compatible devices, too.
Read our full Logitech Harmony Elite review.
Logitech Harmony 665 ($50)
Devices Controlled: 10
Favorite Channels: 23
Smart Home Controls: No
The Logitech Harmony 665 has a small display (which is not a touchscreen) with buttons arrayed around it, letting you quickly access activities, favorite channels and more. The Harmony 665 can be paired with up to 10 devices, and you can program up to 23 of your favorite channels on the remote, too. However, the Harmony 665 works via infrared (IR) only, so you can’t hide any of your entertainment center’s components, and this remote can’t be used to control smart-home devices.
Read our full Logitech Harmony 665 review.
Logitech Harmony Companion ($149)
Devices Controlled: 8
Favorite Channels: n/a
Smart Home Controls: Yes
Similar to the Harmony Elite, the Harmony Companion can also control smart-home devices in addition to your entertainment center. However, the Companion lacks of a screen of any kind, so you’ll have to designate physical buttons to enable Watch TV mode, for instance. The Companion comes with the Harmony Hub, so you can not only hide all your AV components, but also let you use Alexa and Google Assistant to control your TV and more. We also like that it has a physical number pad—something the Harmony Elite lacks—so it's easier to jump to specific channels on your cable box.
What is a universal remote?
Broadly defined, a universal remote is a device that can control all of your home entertainment devices — your TV, soundbar, streaming device, cable box, A/V receiver, and so on.
More importantly, the best universal remotes can be programmed to control multiple devices at once. Let's say you want to watch a show on your Roku device: You simply press a single button on your universal remote, and it will turn on your Roku streaming stick, turn on your TV and set it to the correct input, and turn on your soundbar or A/V receiver to the right settings.
Universal remotes have become less popular in recent years, as HDMI and CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) have been more widely adopted by TV makers. This technology allows the remote that comes with your TV to control more devices itself, which obviates the need for a third-party universal remote. Still, universal remotes can prove handy, especially if you have older components.
How to choose the best universal remote
If you've gotten this far, you know by now that truly good universal remotes aren't that common. Logitech's Harmony remotes were pretty much the only game in town, and work well, but now that they've been discontinued, you'll have to look elsewhere unless you can get them at a discount.
When it was available, the Harmony Elite, at the top end, cost around $250, and let you control everything you would want, and has a little touchscreen at the top that makes it easy to switch between watching, say, cable TV to your Fire TV stick to your gaming console. Below that was the Harmony Companion, which originally sold for around $149. It doesn't have a touchscreen, but we liked that it has a physical number pad at the bottom, which is better suited for those who like to punch in channel numbers. Both the Elite and the Companion have dedicated smart home controls, so you can dim the lights easily, and you can also use Logitech's app to control everything if you happen to lose your remote.
If you're looking for something a little different, the Caavo Control Center is an inventive universal remote that acts in many ways like a super-smart HDMI switcher. It also has its own universal voice search, so you can search across multiple devices and services for the program you want.
How we test the best universal remotes
To test universal remotes, we set them up in our home entertainment system, and connect them to several streaming devices (an Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV Cube, Roku) as well as a Dish TV receiver, and a soundbar.
We look to see how easy things are to set up, and once everything is up and running, how quickly and accurately the remote can send commands to all of our devices.
We also take into consideration the feel of the remote in our hands, as well as the ease with which we can reach all the buttons.