Excellent follow up to previous version
Mar 29, 2012 (Updated Mar 29, 2012)
Review by alanp
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:OFN, keyboard layout, touch scroll is excellent, one hand use is easy
Cons:OFN is not as precise but other pros more than make up for it
The Bottom Line: I thought the old model was a very good attempt at an ideal HTPC keyboard/mouse, this model just made it a lot closer to ideal
I had been using the previous version of this keyboard for almost a year and didn't really feel a need to upgrade to this new one... but my son broke the old one (or so I thought he did, more on this later) which gave me a good reason to finally get this new model. If you read my review on the older version (the N5901), I can safely say Lenovo attempted to address most if not all of my complaints about it with this new incatation. Before we get into the details, some basic stats on this thing:
Recommend this product?
- Full QWERTY keyboard (but still no F1-F12 keys)
- OFN (optical finger navigation) pad, like a very compact touchpad, very similar to BlackBerry
- Touch sensitive scroll bar under the OFN
- Tiny little USB dongle, plug and play, no setup required, works in DOS/BIOS
- Wireless 2.4GHz
- Backlight!!! (plus option to disable it to save battery)
- Multimedia keys built in (Vol /-, Track Up/Down, Play/Pause, Mute)
- Run on 2x AA batteries
Build / Performance
Like its predecessor, the build quality isn't the best, it's still light and a bit flimsy feeling in the hand. But also like the older one, it's still very easy to grip and as long as you don't drop it repeatedly, it should have a long happy life. The OFN that replaced the trackball does make the keyboard feel a bit more solid though since you don't have the trackball rattling around anymore.
I have to say, the keys on this one actually don't feel quite as solid as the old one. They're still built relatively well, about as sturdy feeling as a typical non-touchscreen keyboard on a smartphone. The only way I can describe it is when you press down on them, the keyboard feels more "hollow" than the older version, like there isn't as much substance behind the keys. That being said though, it still is functionally as good as the old version.
In my testing wireless performance is just as good, if not better than the previous model. I typically sit around 10 feet from my HTPC and everything is great. In fact, this new one, so far, has not exhibited the occasional stuttering of the mouse cursor like the old one. It wasn't ever a big deal since it never really bothered me, it's just an observation. I did the same test as with the old remote, closed the door behind me in the bathroom about 16 feet away, no problems with this one. It works great for my purposes, but part of me is skeptical about the reliability of the wireless connection at the specified max 25ft. I do want to note that I plug in the USB dongle on the front of my HTPC, you'll no doubt get less range if you plug it in the rear.
Build quality wise, not much has changed. Overall, it's still good, but not great.
There have been several good improvements in this area. First, and probably the most sought after one is the backlight. Hooray, now I can use it easily in a dim room (think watching a movie). How does it work? The on/off switch now has a third switch option: "on with backlight". If you turn it to this mode, any key press will turn on the backlight for a few seconds. If you don't want to register a key press while turning on the backlight, just press the Fn key, it is a no-op when you press it by itself, and Lenovo designed it like this as there is a light bulb icon on the Fn key. If you turn the switch to on (without backlight) the keyboard acts as if it didn't have a backlight... I guess this is good for daytime use to save battery.
There are now more dimples ontop of select keys so you can get your bearing more easily on what keys you're pressing without looking. Nice simple change that makes a world of a difference to me.
The layout has changed significantly for the better. The enter key has been moved to the bottom right corner so it's now very easy to find and press. PgUp/Home PgDn/End used to be 2 keys, you had to use the Fn key to differentiate the usage. They have now been split up into 4 distinct keys. There is now a browser button next to the multimedia keys. Also, there is a Alt-Tab shortcut key to cycle through windows; very handy. Plus, if you press Fn with the Alt-Tab shortcut key, it closes a window, just like Alt-F4 on a regular keyboard. Because of the new browser and Alt-Tab shortcut keys have been placed next to the multimedia keys, the top row up keys is a little more cramped together so it is a little harder to operate the multimedia keys without looking. But they did get rid of that useless orange button that opens up My Computer on the top row!
The only kind of weird thing they did is they swapped the Ctrl and Alt key locations on the left side of the space bar. Usually the Ctrl key is to the left of the Alt... but the Alt is on the left. I guess it's better than not having an Alt key at all to the left side fo the space bar, like on the old model... but stil... Not only that, they also squeezed the shift key in between the Ctrl and Alt keys, when the shift key used to be to the left most key. Not sure why they made these two changes... but on the right side of the space bar, the Alt, Ctrl and shift keys stayed where I'd expect them to be.
For those of you who aren't familiar with the older model as a comparison, the keyboard in general is very well laid out, has dedicated number keys, and all the most commonly used keys and symbols are where you'd expect them. Because of the limited space, some symbols require the Fn key to type, but they are less commonly used ones. I already really liked the keyboard functionality of the older model, and now with the improvements, I'm absolutely thrilled.
If you read my other review, even though the trackball had its quirks, I personally appreciated it a lot because it was a very precise pointer (if you use two hands and and ignore the inconvenient location of the mouse buttons). I even felt it was a nicer navigation device than your typical touchpad. Since the OFN is like a tiny little touchpad, it made me hesitant to upgrade to this one.
So first things first, how is the OFN? It's not bad at all, and this is coming from a user who really liked the trackball. The precision of pointing has decreased a tiny bit, but not enough to tick me off. The biggest difference is being able to move the mouse long distances easily; it takes 2 or 3 swipes to get across 1920 pixels, and this is with the mouse on the highest sensitivity setting in Windows. But, the multiple swipe inconvenience can easily be forgiven because of what I'm about to say next...
The OFN can be press down to use as a left mouse click!!! This was my biggest wish from the old model, I always wanted to click down on the trackball to left click. It will take a little getting used to because I'm so used to left clicking the button with my spare hand, but I can tell I already I will prefer the new method once I get used to it. Speaking of buttons though, the buttons are still inconveniently located on top of the OFN, but it's not as big of a deal anymore since you can now just press down the OFN to left click.
And the reason the buttons stayed ontop of the OFN is because there is an absoultely wonderful touch sensitive scroll bar under the OFN... it works like a scroll wheel. I missed this a lot with the old version; and while you could use PgUp/PgDn to scroll most web pages, it just wasn't the same.. plus you had to use two hands to do it. This addition, plus the left click functinality of the OFN, makes this keyboard easily operatable with one hand.
Lenovo realized the flaws in the old trackball method, either on their own or they listened to user complaints... either way, thumbs up for addressing them! I wish the OFN was just as precise as the trackball, but considering all the other improvements, I'm can't complain too much. Whether you have used old trackball model or not, I'm confident you'll find the OFN and touch scroll bar very functional.
- Little USB dongle has a slot carved out for it under the battery cover for easy transportation in case you want to move it between computers
- The keyboard now uses larger AA batteries. Probably to account for the extra juice used for the backlight.. so I'm guessing battery life will not suffer, or if anything increase compared to the old one. EDIT: I wanted to add that I never had to change the batteries in the entire 11+ months. Might be a sign that this one will last just as long.
- Keyboard is just SLIGHTLY larger than the older model
- Why is the USB dongle blue colored now? Looks kind of odd sticking out of the front of my HTPC
If I didn't make it clear already in the rest of the review, I'm very excited to have this new version of an already good keyboard/mouse. I was hesitant to upgrade, but now that I did, I have no regrets. If you are looking for a new portable keyboard/mouse for an HTPC, there really isn't much of a reason to not get this one. Even if you already have the old version, and you have about $40 to burn, this new one has some very significant improvements.
Oh, to finish the story about how I thought my son broke the old keyboard, he smashed it into the ground and the batteries and battery cover fell out. His grandpa put it back together but put the batteries in the wrong way!!!! I didn't realize this, so I thought the harsh impact broke it. I guess it's testimony that these little keyboards are actually build reasonable well, despite how flimsy they feel. Now I have both the old and new one, and I'll be happy to use the old one with my laptop in the bedroom now!
Amount Paid (US$): 36
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