HTPC/Media Center PC Heaven... at a price!

May 5, 2008 (Updated May 5, 2008)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Small, stylish, full functionality keyboard with backlighting and integrated touchpad/d-pad.

Cons:Very pricey. Touchpad sensitivity not user-adjustable.

The Bottom Line: You get what you pay for but you really do have to pay for it.

A Home Theater or Media Center PC provides a level of versatility that no DVD Player, Tivo-style DVR, Playstation 3 / XBox 360, or AppleTV-like set-top box can match. The problem is, to actually use all the comprehensive functionality a Media Center PC offers requires both a keyboard and pointing device - items that do not lend themselves to being used in a living room while kicked back on the couch. The large bulky keyboard is probably not going to be acceptably stylish by at least one spouse. And obviously, using a mouse on the couch is not at all practical. Yes, there have been gryoscopic/3D mice that you could use in mid-air but they've been rather expensive and you're still left having to constantly swap back and forth between it and the keyboard... again, something that just doesn't work well from the couch, chair, or recliner in front of your TV. In recent years, a handful of keyboards with some sort of integrated pointing device have hit the market but they always still had one or more shortcomings. Generally, they either were still too big and/or had no backlighting - and let's face it, no one really wants to crank up the bright lights once your eyes have adjusted to the darkness of your living room at night.

Thankfully, Logitech has finally solved all these problems with their new diNovo Mini wireless keyboard. In fact, if you're already a HTPC (Home Theater PC) owner then this little marvel is probably the answer to your prayers. And if not, it could be the motivating factor to go ahead and experience the convenience of having a full-blown PC hooked up to your big screen. But even if you want to just stick with your Playstation 3 for the time being, this little beauty works with it also!

Well, let's get down to the nuts and bolts of the diNovo Mini. Size is roughly 6 x 3.5 inches. So, for something having a full QWERTY keyboard (including a Windows key, page up/down, etc.), dedicated media keys, plus a multi-function touchpad pointing device this obviously takes up far less space than a keyboard and mouse or even the prior generation of full-size keyboards with a built-in pointer. Additionally, the diNovo mini has a flip-top cover which hides everything when not in use and comes in a smooth piano-black finish. In other words, it's quite stylish and will easily blend right in to your decor. Hand-in-hand with the size is a weight of just 6 ounces - again, far easier to use than a big bulky keyboard. Of course, some people might now be wondering if the small size makes the keyboard unusable. But due to some excellent design work, it works quite well. If you use a Blackberry or something similar, you will immediately feel right at home. The keys are well-spaced and sized for thumb typing. The keys also have a nice rounded contour which facilitates this. If you're not familiar with Blackberry style typing, the idea of thumb typing might be a little off-putting but all I can suggest is give it a try. Many will be pleasantly surprised at how easily normal 10 fingered touch typing translates into 2 thumbed typing. Everyone I know who has tried it has felt right at home typing emails, entering URLs, or instant messaging. It certainly wouldn't be your first choice for typing out a long letter or report but then again, you probably wouldn't be doing that on your media center PC anyway. For its intended use it works quite well. And every single one of those keys is backlit so you'll have no problems using it even in a completely dark environment. Also, in a clever touch, Logitech made the backlighting a different color (orange or green) depending on which mode the multi-function pointing device is in so you can instantly tell.

And that should segue nicely into discussing the other big aspect of the diNovo Mini, the integrated ClickPad as Logitech calls it. This works as a touchpad to point and click OR as a d-pad (directional pad) to easily navigate through linear menus, in other words exactly like you would find in Windows Media Center (or alternative media center software). You easily change between modes by sliding a small switch and as previously mentioned, the different color backlighting will always remind you which mode you're in. As far as actual usage of the ClickPad, this is where some might be a little disappointed if they're expecting it to be as precise as an actual mouse or laptop touchpad. It is never going to be that accurate but it will get the job done. Some people might use their media center PC for playing games but if so, this is not going to be suitable for that. But for other typical uses (navigating the media center software, surfing the web, maybe navigating around a recipe program at dinner time, etc.) it will be just fine.

Lastly, let's cover the remaining aspects of this device. It's wireless connectivity comes in the form of bluetooth. This is a low-power form of wireless so it will help you get up to a month of use before recharging. It comes with a built-in lithium ion battery so you won't need to be constantly buying batteries for it. Even though I called bluetooth a low-power technology, don't let that scare you that it won't have a decent wireless range - it works up to 30 feet away, which should be more than enough for most people. Also, some who may only have a vague familiarity with bluetooth may be concerned about so-called pairing problems and will this communicate with your PC without headaches. That is actually not an issue here since this comes with its own small bluetooth receiver which you plug into a USB port on your PC. Basically what that means is it is communicating with itself, not something else, so there are no pairing issues. What this also means is that your PC does not need to already have bluetooth capability. In another clever idea, Logitech designed the small bluetooth USB dongle to fit into its own storage space behind a removeable cover on the back of the keyboard. So, if by chance you ever wanted to take the diNovo Mini and use it with another PC, you're good to go! It's all very easy, whether setting it up for the first time on the one and only PC you ever plan to use it with or taking it to show to a friend or maybe even using it to control a PC for presentations while on the road... you just plug that tiny bluetooth receiver into a USB port, the driver installs automatically, and you're up and running in less than two minutes. Logitech also provides SetPoint software that you can install if you want to customize some of the key assignments or adjust the cursor speed but this is not required. In closing, they've pretty much thought of everything! Sadly, that everything comes at a pretty steep price as you can see by looking at the current price comparisons supplied by Epinions in conjunction with this review.

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