Submission by Keith Finnett – It’s not often you can buy something that’s well built, ergonomic and a great gadget for under £50 – but Microsoft have produced a piece of hardware that would be a steal at twice the price.
However whilst we can access the media anywhere in the house thanks to our whole-house AV system, control of it has always been limited with the standard Microsoft infra-red remote control.
If I wanted to access the PC from the lounge to do anything but the standard functions provided on the IR controller, I had to either walk upstairs or Remote Desktop to the PC – which returns the PC to the user login screen, requiring me to walk upstairs to log back in.
Enter the newly released Microsoft Remote Keyboard.
Look and Feel – I ordered the OEM pack from GiGTEK Limited (no affiliation, etc.), so the standard brown cardboard box did not give any clues as to its contents – but I did pay less compared to the retail version! Opening the box and removing the compulsory packing bag proved that the sub-£50 price was looking good. The keyboard is sleek to the touch – it feels like a quality item. In with supplied the 4 AA batteries.
The first thing you notice is the unusual shape – the keyboard section in the middle is lower than the media control ‘wings’ on the left and right. You immediately want to pick it up with both hands, and doing so reveals that the media control buttons are all within thumb reach and in the right place. On the left you have the playback, record, channel and audio controls. On the right, you have the ubiquitous up-down-left-right-OK buttons, the TV and DVD quick-access buttons, and the green ‘gem’ start button.
Looking above the 116-key keyboard, quick-access buttons for the remaining media are lined up – videos, pictures and music and radio. To the left of these buttons are a PC sleep button and a TV power button (which uses the device’s learning functionality). In addition, there is a button which toggles the media control buttons’ backlighting. Press this or any of the media control buttons and they all glow orange – only for a few seconds, but it looks great against the silver buttons.
The final feature is an integrated thumb pointer (top right) with left and right mouse buttons (top left). This should be easy to use, but somehow disappoints – press the pointer to allow motion, then guide with your thumb. If you like laptop keyboard ‘nipple’ pointers (as I do), then it’s not as controllable; if you don’t then you’ll probably hate it. This might get easier to use, but after a few hours it’s not up to the quality of the rest.
On the underside of the keyboard your fingers are treated to two large rubber pads each located beneath the device’s wings. This allows you to grasp the device firmly.
Finally, something you do notice on first inspection is the physical proportions of the keyboard – it’s wide, not very tall and quite lightweight. At 650g, it is easy to hold and use – indeed place it on your lap and it feels just right.
Features – So why use this over the standard Media Centre remote control or a generic wireless keyboard? The specific media controls are a definite plus – all that is missing from the keyboard (when compared to the standard remote) is the Teletext control and associated coloured navigation buttons. I don’t use these, so won’t miss them.
Another benefit is the consolidated IR interface – the keyboard comes without the IR receiver (supplied with the remote), so there’s no need to find another USB port or IR extender. The IR itself is also good – Microsoft quotes a range of 30 feet. I’ve tested as far as possible and can confirm the signal is very strong.
Use is also instantaneous – there are no drivers required. However, you will need to ensure your installation has the correct patch (KB888795) applied to provide keyboard support. Since I had already installed all required patches, the keyboard worked seamlessly.
Conclusion – It’s a great gadget, is genuinely useful for the Windows Media Center junkies out there, and looks and feels good. Did I also mention it’s great value?