Best Universal Remote Control for 2020

The Sevenhugs Smart Remote U was very close to becoming a pick. Like the Harmony Companion, this remote can control IR, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi components (including some smart-home devices), but it doesn’t need a separate hub to do so, which is a nice perk. It can control up to 20 IR devices, has a rechargeable battery, and has Spotify and Sonos support built in. We found Sevenhugs’s app-based setup process to be the most intuitive platform we’ve tried; it was very easy to add devices, set up Scenes, create fully customized pages for the remote’s touchscreen, and fix problems on the fly. And it controlled all of our devices correctly.

Unfortunately, a couple of issues hold this one back. First, the remote has no physical buttons, and both the touchscreen and the virtual buttons on it are very small. We had to look away from the TV often to make sure we carefully pressed the right button, and still we often launched the wrong command. If you don’t mind the all-touchscreen approach, this may not be an issue for you—but we think that adding a few key physical buttons for volume, mute, and navigation would make a huge difference. Also, the Smart Remote U is more expensive than the Harmony Companion, currently doesn’t include support for Alexa and Google Home, and natively supports fewer smart-home devices (you can add control via Webhooks, but that’s more complicated).

Sevenhugs’s more expensive Smart Remote X is essentially the same remote, but it adds a point mode that automatically adjusts its interface based on what device you’re pointing it at. Unless you have devices scattered all around the room, we don’t think this extra perk will be that useful.

The Caavo Control Center + Universal Remote combines a handheld remote and an HDMI switch/control box (with four HDMI inputs and one output). The remote is a sleek, stripped-down design with important buttons like home, microphone, volume, back, menu, and more (but no backlighting). The control box supports 4K/HDR10 pass-through, and it adds an on-screen user interface to your system through which you can easily switch sources, voice-search content across platforms, unite your streaming apps from different devices, and set up favorites. Setup is easy, and the system reliably controlled our gear without any major problems. It also works with Alexa and Google Assistant for hands-free voice control.

However, because the Caavo system is more of a control platform than a universal remote, it won’t be the right fit for everyone: You can only connect HDMI sources to the control box; the remote’s limited button options can make performing more advanced tasks challenging; and you have to subscribe to the Caavo service ($4 per month, $40 per year, or a one-time lifetime subscription fee of $130 at the time of this writing). Plus, adding an interface on top of your sources can slow down some processes (like voice search). But if you’re looking for a highly affordable way to add more 4K/HDR-friendly HDMI inputs to your system and you like the idea of controlling your gear through an on-screen interface instead of activity buttons on a remote, the Caavo system is a simple, reliable option that works well.

The Logitech Harmony Express features built-in Alexa voice control and has a much simpler design than the Harmony Companion or Elite, with just 10 action buttons and a navigation wheel. You can control your AV system with your voice by pressing the remote’s Alexa button and saying commands like “Turn on Fire TV,” “Open Netflix app,” or “Watch ESPN.” While we found this remote easy to set up and reliable in executing commands, its limited button options make performing more advanced tasks challenging, and this system is totally locked into the Alexa ecosystem. Plus, it is no longer listed on Logitech’s Harmony page, so it may already be nearing its end.

Universal Remote Control (the company) used to offer a variety of good DIY remotes, but the company now focuses on the professional-installation market. You can still find some older DIY URC remotes online but at elevated prices.

RCA offers a four-device-capable “universal” replacement remote, as well as two-, three-, and six-device versions. The bigger RCA remotes even have programmable macros that let you power up several devices with one button press, but they aren’t capable of the kind of switching or complex control the Harmony remotes can accomplish.

Like RCA, One for All has several universal remotes in its lineup (for sale in the United States, at least), including the Simple 4; these have similarly limited programmability and support only three or four devices.