Submission by Timothy Edward Hawes With all the talk of wireless keyboards and mice on UKHA_D I thought I'd try a set to see what all the fuss is about. I decided on the Microsoft Wireless Optical Desktop; this is stated as suitable for Windows (98, ME, NT, 2000 & XP) and Mac (OS 8.6-9.x, 10.1, but not 10.0) computers. So what was in the box?
- Keyboard with optional clip-on wrist support
- 2-channel RF receiver (including USB to PS/2 adaptor for mouse)
- Software on CD
- Getting Started guide, and, to my surprise
- 4 AA Energizer batteries; 2 each for the keyboard & mouse
First impressions are that the keyboard is big: 455mm wide by 235mm deep (this increases to 270mm if you add the optional wrist support). It also stands tall – 55mm at it's highest point. The mouse is a good size, a simple enough shape but comfortable to use. The keyboard and mouse are finished in two-tone dark grey and silver. This looks better than it sounds, and it's better in the flesh than in some of the advertisement pictures. While, for the most part, the quality of molding for the keys was fine, on a few, the flash lines were not completely removed. A minor point, but IMO, does detract from the overall quality of the package. The two-channel RF receiver is finished in the same gray and comes with a two connections for the host PC; separate PS/2 plugs for keyboard and mouse, or USB for both).
I've been using the unit, at home and in my normal day job, for just over a week and have been testing it with the following applications: Email, surfing, MS Office, PLC programming software, MS Media Player, and finally, writing this review 🙂
Keyboard. Apart form the regular qwerty keyboard keys, the F1-F12 keys are assigned dual functions (save, open, new, etc.) accessible by holding down the "F-Lock" key. The unit also has an array of additional shortcut keys arranged over the top providing access to directories / functions such as: My Documents, email, IE homepage, MSN Messenger, and others. Perhaps the most useful additional keys are the transport controls for media playback software: play/pause, stop, next track, previous track, mute and volume up/down – much easier than Alt-tabbing back to Media Player to change volume or skip to the next track.
I'm not entirely convinced about the keyboard layout – the spacebar is nice & large but arrangement of the Home/End, Page Up/down & Delete keys is different to every other keyboard I've used in the past. When instinctively going for the "End" key, I'd invariably hit Delete instead and have to correct my document before continuing. Maybe it just takes a little getting used to. Another concern is the labeling of the additional shortcut buttons – I'm not convinced that this is up to hard / extended use and can foresee the labeling wearing off in time. It didn't happen on mine, but then I've only had the keyboard for a week or so. While on the subject of gripes, there are no LEDs for CAPS lock, Num Lock & Scroll lock. Obviously incorporating these would reduce battery life, however I find them useful on my current wired keyboard.
By far the biggest problem I have with the keyboard is with it's ergonomics. Ironic, since there's a *huge* RSI-type warning on the back of the unit ! The keyboard feels as if the keys have been rotated over backwards (away from user). Maybe this forces the wrists into the correct position for typing but it become uncomfortable for me after a only short time. In contrast, I can go for much longer on my regular IBM unit without experiencing any discomfort. I did not find the supplied wrist support particularly effective and the whole keyboard may benefit from a tall secondary wrist support. I should mention that there is another version of this keyboard with the so-called "natural" keyboard layout (the more expensive Microsoft Wireless Optical Desktop Pro). I have not used one of these but it may be the better option if you type for long periods.
In contrast, I'm a big fan of the mouse. It has two good-sized buttons with a light, but positive action. The scroll wheel is comfortable and is well-weighted. The mouse is well made and I found the optical sensor to be accurate and reliable on all of the tested surfaces (particularly the arm of the sofa 🙂 ). However, in keeping with all optical mice, the device can struggle on glass and highly reflective surfaces. The shape is comfortable in my large hands and is equally suited to right or left hand operation. I've not much more to add – it just does what you ask of it 🙂
RF receiver. For office use the range of the keyboard and mouse is adequate. The receiver does suffer from interference from CRT monitors / TVs, but careful placing of the receiver can avoid the worst of the problems. The generous 1.9m of cable between receiver and PC plugs helps here. In my lounge I got around 3.5m line of sight between the keyboard / mouse and the receiver. The receiver does appear to be fairly directional and best results are achieved from shooting directly at it. The good news is that, although the transmitters are low powered, they're strong enough to pass through blockwork internal walls. The receiver can operate on two channels and switching between them is simple. The frequencies used are actually part of the model car & boat radio control AM frequencies. I haven't been able to test the effect of an RC transmitter on the operation of the keyboard and mouse but the results may be interesting !
Software installation proceeded without incident on my Win2k Pro machine. The drivers come in two parts; one each for keyboard and mouse. A reboot is required following installation. While basic keyboard functions are supported without software, you need to install it to make full use of the extra shortcut keys. The mouse appeared to work perfectly without the software but I installed it anyway just to be sure.
I can't really comment on the battery life as I've not been using the desktop for long enough. All I can say is that after a week's full-time office use, I've not had to change out those originally supplied in the box.
In summary, I've had this unit on test and it's due to go to a Customer shortly. I'll miss the mouse, but I'll be glad to get my old keyboard back. The best points of this wireless desktop are:
- The mouse is excellent, smooth, accurate and comfortable
- The shortcut and media player transport keys are useful
- The RF receiver range is good for office use and general TV-based surfing
- Batteries *are* included!
Some areas are worthy of improvement, notably:
- I was disappointed in the keyboard generally; I found it uncomfortable for extended use, the layout of some keys took time to get used to and I have some concerns over the longevity of the labeling on the shortcut keys.
- For lap-top use in front of the sofa, a keyboard with integrated mouse / trackball / glide-pad would be more convenient. This applies to all similar wireless desktops and as such is not a specific criticism of this unit, more of this genre.
Where to buy: I bought mine from CPC, I've since found it cheaper at Overclockers. If you're desperate for one today, Argos'll sell you one !