Best Universal Remotes of 2018

Anna Burleson ·
Entertainment Writer
Updated
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After about eight hours of research and 10 hours of testing in our lab, we learned a lot about connecting even the most complicated of home entertainment systems to one remote control. The overall best universal remote for under $80 is the Inteset 4-in-1. Its easy setup, ergonomic feel and backlit buttons make it a great choice for most people. The remote is available for a reasonable price, and we’re confident anyone from a newbie to a tech-savvy user can handle the setup.

Best Overall
Inteset 4-in-1
The Inteset 4-in-1 universal remote is the best overall for its simple setup, easy-to hold design, backlit keys, macro buttons and reasonable price.
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Best Budget
Insignia 4-Device
Similar to the Intesest model, the Insignia 4-Device universal remote is easy to set up, ergonomic – and also inexpensive.
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Best High-Tech
Logitech Harmony 650
The Logitech Harmony 650 is the best remote for tech gurus looking to take their home entertainment system to the next level.
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Product
Price
Overall Rating
Design
Capabilities
Setup
Ease of Use
Comfort
Lighted Keys
Batteries Included
Maximum Number of Devices
Programable Buttons
21-Foot Distance Test
Code Setup
Computer Setup
Online Troubleshooting
Phone Support
$26.95 Amazon
9.1 10 6.5 10
B
A+
4
4
-
-
$35.00 Amazon
8.6 8.3 7.8 10
D+
A-
-
8
4
-
$25.96 Amazon
8.4 8 7.8 10
D-
A-
-
8
4
-
$26.94 Amazon
8.4 6.8 10 10
B
C-
-
-
8
8
-
$31.99 Amazon
7.9 7.5 6.5 10
A+
B+
-
-
4
4
-
-
$8.49 Amazon
7.8 7.3 6.5 10
D
D
-
4
4
-
-
$13.49 Amazon
7.3 6 7.3 10
D-
D+
-
-
8
3
-
$9.82 Amazon
7.1 6.8 5 10
F
F
-
6
0
-
-
$9.77 Amazon
6.6 5.8 5 10
F
D-
-
-
8
4
-
-
Best Overall
The Inteset 4-in-1 is our overall best pick for its simplicity, comfort and design. There are other remotes out there for those well-versed in technology, but the Inteset is easy to set up and use, all while feeling comfortable in your hand.
Our testers said the layout of this remote’s keys made sense and that it felt good in their hands. The front is part shiny, part matte, and the back has a silky satin feel with a heavier rounded base that fits in your palm. This remote also has backlit keys, so you’ll never fumble around in the dark. The Inteset can connect to up to four devices. Although this is far fewer than others in our lineup, its easy setup and macro buttons put it at the top of our list. To sync this remote with your devices, you simply follow the instructions and enter a code that corresponds with the brand and type of your device. These codes are found online, and our testers found the correct code quickly and easily. This remote’s macro buttons also allow you to program and perform several tasks in a row with the push of one button – which is on par with the high-tech remotes we tested.
Pros
  • It’s ergonomic.
  • The buttons are backlit.
  • It’s inexpensive.
Cons
  • The shiny part of the remote face smudges easily.
  • It syncs with just four of your devices.
  • It’s not as high-tech as some remotes.
$25.95Amazon
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Best Budget
While similar to our best overall pick, the Insignia 4-Device Universal Remote costs slightly less, making it our budget pick. This remote is easy to use and set up, making it perfect for people looking to simplify their home entertainment system without spending a lot of money.
The Insignia is easy to program. As with most remotes, you simply enter codes found in the instructions that correspond with the brand and type of device you intend to sync. Although it isn’t backlit, the key placement was intuitive and the remote was comfortable to hold, our reviewers said. Though it connects to just four devices, our testers ranked it higher for its intuitive design. The Insignia passed our 3-foot drop tests, so it won’t likely break due to normal wear and tear in your own living room. It also worked a full 21 feet away from the devices with which we synced it, so you don’t have to worry if your home theater room is massive. This remote essentially covers all your bases without costing a lot, making it our best budget pick.
Pros
  • It’s inexpensive.
  • It’s easy to sync with your devices.
  • Our reviewers gave it an A+ for ease of use.
Cons
  • The buttons aren’t backlit.
  • The shiny part of the remote face smudges easily.
  • It syncs with just four devices.
$33.00Amazon
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Best High-Tech
This remote is perfect for tech gurus. With its plethora of functions and eight-device compatibility, this juggernaut is the best high-tech remote.
The Logitech Harmony 650 requires setup through your computer via a small USB cord. After entering model numbers for your devices, the remote guides you through programming the buttons. People who are used to this kind of thing will find it a breeze, but we’d caution against giving this remote to someone who isn’t computer-savvy. This remote will collect some usage data, so if that’s something you’re opposed to, Logitech’s high-end remotes aren’t for you. Our testers liked how the Logitech felt in their hands and were particularly impressed with its screen. This screen shows you the functions you’re currently using. For instance, if you were pressing “play” and nothing was happening, the screen would show that you were currently in TV mode, meaning you need to switch over to Blu-ray player mode and then press “play.” Our testers said that, although the buttons were small, they were easy to find, and that the weight of the remote felt solid and worth its higher price tag. With macro buttons that can program several functions into one button, this remote is perfect for a complex home entertainment system.
Pros
  • It’s the most expensive remote we tested.
  • It syncs with eight devices – the most of any remote we tested.
  • It has a color LCD screen.
Cons
  • Setup requires a computer and an internet connection.
  • The USB cord for setup is small and easily misplaced.
  • Setup requires manufacturer codes on devices, which can be difficult to physically access.
$39.70Amazon
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Best for Big Hands
This universal remote from Sony is larger than other remotes we tested.
Many of the most commonly-used keys like volume, channels and numerals are also rather large, making this remote ideal if you have big hands. You can sync it with up to eight devices including a VCR. While it’s not the sleekest remote out there, the matte face prevents scratches and smudges. It survived our drop tests from about three feet above the ground and worked 21 feet away from the devices we tested it with. It lacks backlit keys, but our tester with the largest hands really loved the design and feel of this universal remote.
Pros
  • It syncs with up to eight devices.
Cons
  • It lacks lighted keys.
$25.99Amazon
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Most Comfortable
The Logitech Harmony 350 looks sleek and feels great in your hand.
The modern design and shiny face feel futuristic. The buttons on this remote are small, but our testers liked the raised buttons. This design makes them easy to feel with your thumb as you search for the button you want. The shiny remote face does smudge easily, so keep away from snacks. This remote syncs with up to eight devices. Hook up the USB cord to your computer, then continue setup via an internet connection. It comes with the two AA batteries required for the remote to work and installing them gives the device a nice weight in your hand. It feels luxurious, not cheap.
Pros
  • It passed our durability test.
Cons
  • It’s expensive.
$24.99Logitech
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Why Trust Us?

In the lab at Top Ten Reviews, we test a lot of electronics, so we have equally as many remotes lying around. At home and at work, all of us have misplaced the TV remote, Blu-ray remote or the always-elusive VCR remote we’ve kept to watch all those old home videos. We’ve wondered if there might be an easier way, so we were excited to try universal remotes.


When we analyzed our testing data, we took into consideration the average person using these remotes. Therefore, we favored remotes that felt good in your hand and involved simpler setups. We know there are high-end remotes out there, like the Logitech Harmony Elite, but we kept the price range under $80 because spending hundreds of dollars for a remote seems extreme for the average TV and peripheral setup.

How We Tested

We looked online to find the most common universal remote retailers and the devices that had the best customer reviews. We selected brands and models that had a wide range of capabilities, from simpler types that connect to four devices, to one that connects to eight devices, sports a fancy LCD screen and requires a computer to set up.

Once the remotes got to our lab, our testers spent about 10 hours testing them. This meant unpackaging each one and attempting to sync it to several devices at once, including a Blu-ray player, TV and auxiliary unit. To test durability, we dropped each remote from about 3 feet above the ground at least twice. We also walked 21 feet away from the devices we had synced to test whether the remotes worked in large rooms.


We invited half a dozen testers to handle the remotes and report how easy they were to use. These testers ranked each remote based on hand-feel as well as ease of use. Those ratings were averaged and contributed to a remote’s ranking. While we favored remotes that could sync with a lot of devices, it wasn’t the defining characteristic – because we thought factors like comfort, ease of use and setup were more important.

Read the instructions before attempting to set up any universal remote. It will make your life a lot easier.


How Much Do Universal Remotes Cost?

The universal remotes we tested cost an average of $22. High-tech remotes or those can sync with a lot of devices cost more while simpler remotes that only connect to four devices cost less. Don’t forget you also need AA or AAA batteries, which cost roughly $5 for an 8-pack depending on where you shop.

Setup

We can't stress enough the importance of reading the instructions. During our evaluation, we realized remotes have slight differences in the setup process, so it's important to know what you're doing. Simpler setups merely involved installing batteries and reading the instructions to find the code matching the brand of device you want to sync to your new remote. Sometimes this required entering several codes until finding the right one, but we didn't think that was much of a hassle.

Some remotes have an automatic setup function for finding device codes. This usually means you must press a set button and then a search button until your remote automatically finds the right code.



More advanced remotes require a computer and an internet connection for setup. The two Logitech models we tested asked users to download software and create an online account. All device syncing is then done on your computer screen, with your new remote connected via a USB cord. You can then transfer your saved settings to other Logitech remotes, a feature we found quite convenient.

Features

Whether you buy a simpler remote or a high-tech one, many allow you to create preset tasks with the push of a button. This means you can program your remote to turn on the TV and then turn on your DVD player and its auxiliary audio unit, all by pressing just one button. Most remotes also have programmable colored buttons you can set to your own preferences, such as a favorite channel. Backlit buttons were also a plus to our testers.

All the remotes we tested were powered by AA or AAA batteries. We favored universal remotes that came with batteries in the package because of the convenience. Some models will let you put your remote to “sleep” to save the battery or let you know with a flashing light when the batteries are about to die.


Design

The overall body of the remote, the length, the width and weight, as well as the power management, should not be ignored when you're shopping for a universal remote. Your remote is going to sit in the palm of your hand, so make sure it fits there comfortably. Note whether the remote is so large you'll have to use two hands to operate it, or whether it feels too light and fragile.

We know you can learn how to use any remote, but keep in mind some have volume and channel buttons placed prominently, and others place the play, fast forward and rewind buttons in the most prominent positions. The buttons you use most often should be the most prominent and easy to use.