Pros: Good size and ergonomics, nice keyboard, great trackball precision, good wireless performance
Cons: Trackball can be loose, no scrolling or sleep buttons, mouse buttons oddly placed
I had a full size wireless keyboard with a built in joystick mouse to control my HTPC. I finally got sick of how bulky it was and the joystick mouse never worked that great IMO. This Lenovo keyboard has been out on the market for a while now and I read some decent reviews on it so I finally caved in a couple weekends ago and bought it to see if it was really all it's cracked up to be. While it resolved a lot of the issues I had with the fullsize keyboard, it also introduced some new ones. I'll get into detail later, but first, the basic specs:
- Full QWERTY keyboard
- Trackball mouse
- Wireless 2.4GHz RF, comes with tiny USB dongle, no drivers required, even works in DOS
- Transmits up to 10 meters
- Has multimedia keys (FF/RW/Play/Pause/Vol+/Vol-/Mute)
- Has an on/off switch
- Runs on 2x AAA batteries
Build / Performance
It feels a little light and flimsy in the hand. If I dropped my TV remote several times from a few feet up, I'd be pretty confident it will still work. I cannot say the same for this remote. It does however have a nice rubbery finish on the back which makes gripping it easy with just one hand. However, chances are, you'll be using both hands to control the thing anyway, especially for typing.
The trackball offhand seems a little on the loose side, but after using it for a little bit, the looseness makes it easier to control, like the little trackballs on the older Blackberries. Therefore, I'm not sure if the looseness can really be viewed as a flaw... but maybe some other engineering decisions could have made a better compromise.
The keys though, are very solid and has a nice click feel to it. It is also a good size to do basic typing. Don't expect to type out a long e-mail of epinion reviews on it comfortably, but for typical web surfing, it will do just fine.
If you put it down on the table and try to press a key toward the left or right edge of the remote, it won't work too well as it has no support on the left and right edges. The little rubber "feet" on the bottom are clustered toward the center of the remote.
Wireless performance has been great for me. I don't go much farther than 10 feet from my HTPC and I have had no interference or performance problems at all. Just for yucks, I went into a nearby bathroom about 16 feet away and closed the door, it still worked fine. For reference, I plugged the USB dongle in the front of my PC, I'm pretty sure if I plugged it in the back, I wouldn't be getting as good range. Pairing was non-existent, all I did was plug in the dongle, wait for Windows 7 to recognize it, turned on the remote and it automagically worked.
Overall, it was obviously designed with some though in mind and I have no real complaints about the build and performance, but it could have been made sturdier.
Aside from the F keys (F1-F12), they keyboard portion has pretty much all the keys you would need and also in the right places. You have the "Windows" key, CTRL, ALT, all the punctuation, backslash, PgUp, PgUp, Home, End, and (big plus) dedicated number keys! It even has a special "CTRL-ALT-DEL key" so you don't have to try and press 3 keys at once on this small keyboard. I can see that coming in handy sometimes. All that said though, I still miss the F keys that were on my old fullsize keyboard since I use Alt-F4 a lot. But since real estate is limited on such a small keyboard, and push comes to shove, I do prefer they put the media keys on the top row instead of the F keys. And just to note, a lot of the keys are doubled up, especially some of the special punctuation keys due to lack of real estate, so accessing those requires a combination of the Fn key plus another key.
There is also this big bright orange key in the upper left corner, all it does it brings up Windows Explorer, very useless IMO since you could do the same with the Windows+E key combination. It would have been much more useful if it was the green "HOME" key they have on Windows MCE remotes. Or, if they made it into a "sleep" button... which is something I also dearly miss from my fullsize keyboard.
Needless to say, it's harder to type on this compared to my old fullsize keyboard, but I don't type that often anyway on my HTPC and the bonus of its compact size makes the difficulty typing a lot easier to swallow. Overall, I'm very pleased with the keyboard.
This is the area where Lenovo could have done much better. I mentioned the loose trackball earlier and while it's super easy to use, it can be a nuisance. When you leave the remote on your couch and jostle it around a little due to shifting yourself on the cushions, the trackball inadvertantly moves, which oftentimes on a HTPC, brings up on screen controls. I tend to just turn the remote off when I put down the remote so the trackball doesn't move accidentally.
Also, the left and right buttons are above the trackball... I'm personally more used to buttons being either on the side or below. Or, if the trackball itself could be clicked down and function as the left mouse button. Because the buttons are above the trackball, drag and dropping requires two hands... and if you want to point and click quickly, you'll have to use two hands. They really should have designed it so simple pointing and clicking requires only single handed operation. But, if you don't mind using both hands to operate this device, basic mouse functionality should be acceptable for most.
I do wish there was a dedicated scroll wheel functionality for the mouse. But, the PgUp and PgDn keys are easily accessable on the left side of they keyboard, and in most cases, they replace the scroll wheel functionality acceptably. What would have been really cool is if they made it so you can scroll by holding down the "Fn" key and using the trackball.
All that being said though, the trackball is precise and a joy to use! Espeically compared to the stupid joystick mouse on my old keyboard. I like it even more than the touchpad on laptops. Touchapds work great on laptops, but since you are holding this keyboard like a remote, the trackball is perfect. The loose trackball (when not in use), lack of scroll function, and oddly placed left and right buttons makes this mouse a bit harder to use than it should, but I was so thrilled with the preciseness of the trackball that I'm willing to say the whole mouse user experience has been slightly better, than the joystick mouse I used to use.
- Since there is an on off switch on the back, does that mean the keyboard doesn't automatically go into a "battery save" state when it is on but not being used? I tend to turn the remote off when I'm done using it just in case.
- I haven't had a chance to comment on battery life yet since it's only been a couple weeks, but so far so good
- The tiny USB dongle can be easily stowed in the battery compartment if you want to move the remote between computers.
- Not sure if they have any non-American versions of the keyboard with slightly different key layouts like they do for fullsize keyboards
While this little keyboard/mouse/remote holds its own in terms of features and performance, it was hard for me to love it because I was spoiled by the full featuredness of my old fullsize keyboard. On one hand, I am thrilled with the trackball precision, compactness, and well laid out keyboard... but on the otherhand, I can't bring myself to overlook the lack of scrolling function, slightly loose trackball, and a missing sleep button. I am very tempted to just give it an average 3 stars, but since they keyboard is nice and I would say the mouse functionality is acceptable, I'll be a bit more kind and give it 4. Finally, given that it only cost me $30, which is less than most wireless fullsize keyboards (and we all know smaller usually means more $$$ when it comes to electronics), it also made me forgive its shortcomings a bit easier and go with 4 stars. I was tempted to return it and try out some other mini keyboards, but after doing online research on some of the other ones available (like the Rii mini and iPazzPort), I felt this was the best bang for the buck.