Product shootout: A comparison of six media center keyboards

Product shootout: A comparison of six media center keyboards

Summary: When the Bluetooth inside David Gewirtz' media center laptop died, he used it as an excuse to get and test six media center keyboards and see which would stand up to the rigors of couch-writing. The winner may surprise you.


Logitech Wireless Touch Keyboard K400

Image courtesy Logitech.

I am writing this article on the $39.99 Logitech Wireless Touch Keyboard K400, which I honestly thought would be a winner. Its distinguishing characteristic is its Windows 8-ready multi-touch touchpad that's built into the still-compact keyboard.

But... this keyboard is very annoying to use. I really like the multi-touch scrolling of the trackpad. It's comfortable for my arm and dragging down with two fingers is quite natural --- until the keyboard goes rogue. Even just doing a simple drag, the keyboard will sometimes go where it wants to go. Often, when I take my fingers up off the trackpad, the keyboard will decide to scroll the page up or down quite a distance. The de-bouncing is just not robust on the trackpad.

The keyboard is also uncomfortable. The keys are a little too tight, and worse, the space bar sticks so I often have to push harder and feel a double-bump as the space bar is hit. I'm less than 1200 words into this article, and my thumb actually hurts.

Finally, even though I didn't touch the trackpad at all during the article, it's decided (probably as a pinky hovered over it) to delete paragraphs a few times. It might be nice for occasional typists with smaller hands, but it's not for me.

Logitech diNovo Mini

Image courtesy Logitech.

It doesn't look like the innovative but pricey $150 Logitech diNovo Mini is offered by Logitech anymore, although it's still available for sale online.

Obviously not intended for long-form writing like this article, we found it useful to quickly pick up and type in a Web address, or login to the system. That said, we also haven't used it for a few years because it also needs a charger. Once it ran out of a charge, remembering to keep it on the charger was a pain. More to the point, when we'd pick it up to use it, it would often not have a charge -- and not be usable until we waited for it to charge, at which point, we'd no longer need it.

An innovative novelty, but for the price, we see why it didn't last.

Apple Wireless Keyboard

Image courtesy Apple.

We have three of these $69 Apple Wireless Keyboards in the house. One is hooked to my Mac mini the the studio and two have been the workhorse keyboards in front of our Windows 7-based media center PC. I have one other Apple keyboard (the wired version with a number pad) in front of my iMac, but since I rarely use the iMac, I never got around to replacing that keyboard.

Of the three Apple Wireless Keyboards we have, although they look identical, two of them require only two AA-batteries, while the oldest requires three batteries. On a Windows PC, the control key is the command key, and the keyboards have no dedicated delete-character-to-the-right key.

Even so, and even after looking at an entire range of keyboards that were sexier, offered more features, or just simply weren't yet another Apple product, we're sticking with these chicklet keyboards and returning the others (even if the lettering on some of the keys has worn off after a few years of constant use).

They've worked reliably for years. My wife likes how they can hook over the edge of her lap desk. They're light. They run on the batteries for quite a long time, and they don't hurt to use.

So, as much as I wanted to find something better (and, had it not required a USB charging dongle, the Logitech Bluetooth Illuminated Keyboard K810 might have been that), it seems that our trusty Apple Wireless Keyboards are still standing in this massacre of a product shootout.

Topics: After Hours, Consumerization, Microsoft, SMBs


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • The k400 is not multitouch at all

    the scrolling is done in the hardware itself, and I checked and the only other feature the drivers mention is tap-to-click.
  • Apple Wireless Keyboard is simply the best at perfect price

    My only wish in Christmas 2013: Apple drops the keyboard price to $49.99 this holiday season.
  • A better keyboard

    You sell the Microsoft 5000 short. I have one I use with my iPad and love it. First off, the curved keyboard works because having your hands turned inward is the natural position to type in. Hold your hands in front of you and look at them. They’re turned in, unless you are forcing them to be parallel. I type a lot because I write novels, and hand comfort is important to me. When I try to use a “normal” non-curved keyboard, it feels awkward and I have to force my hands to be parallel by bending my wrists sideways.

    In addition, the 5000 is solid. I tried a number of blue-tooth keyboards and all of them flexed when typing fast. The solid feel of the 5000 is a blessing.

    I don’t know where you get this start up time problem. Mine does not do that.

    I like this keyboard and have even bought a couple for Xmas gifts to friends to use with their tablets.

    Have a nice day,

  • Has anyone...

    Had any experience with those small, Blackberry like keyboards with a media center (XBMC in my case)?

    Of those above, I have the Arc for use with my regular PC, but would prefer something more compact/remote like for my XBMC since it resides in my living room. I like the fact that these BB like remotes have a trackpad but yet are still small enough to sit on an end table rather than a full sized (even if compact) keyboard.
  • Logitech K400

    I have a Logitech K400 I use with a laptop connected to my TV via HDMI and I love it for that purpose. There are new drivers for it v6.5 that adds some more features to it for Windows 8
  • No number keypad?

    I keep a standard PS2 keyboard connected to my laptop when it's at my desk, but it's wearing out & causing even more mistakes than I do. I was hoping you'd show us a full-size keyboard with a number pad.
  • wireless keyboards

    I am happy with the Logitech K360 wireless mouse/keyboard combo, sadly I don't they are sold anymore.
    Its compact but still has a full keypad and the keyboard runs on 2 AA batteries while the mouse uses 1.
  • MS 5000 + companion 10-key + BT mouse

    The noted delay is a power saving function. It only happens when you haven't been typing for a few minutes and restart. Once started it keeps up. Many have said you either love curved keyboards or hate them. I've been using an ergonomic keyboard since the first MS Natural. 'nuff sed.

    I travel with my notebook and often find the boardroom projector (or hotel flat screen TV) is located somewhere other than the best place to sit. Bluetooth to the rescue. But a full keyboard is too big to fit in my PC bags. The MS 5000 and its separate companion 10-key pad fit separately. My mouse isn't MS. But with BT, I only need BT for all and not 1, 2, or even 3 USB nano transceivers. Screw cheap OEMs and their 2.4GHz wireless - gimme BT!

    Hint: Cyberguys markets replacement netbook feet (and notebook size, but they are too big). The netbook size is perfect for putting the MS-5000 keyboard at the right pitch when on a table, and fold when not needed.
    Jim Johnson
  • Logitech Bluetooth Illuminated K810 is the best! I solved the fatal flaw!

    David is right - the Logitech Bluetooth Illuminated Keyboard K810 is the best. And I solved the fatal flaw; I bought two on sale. I keep one plugged in next to the couch in my media room. When my first runs out of juice, I just unplug my second and keep on going. It cost me $149 + shipping for two of them, which is a little expensive, but my comfort and productivity are worth it.
    ks consulting
  • batteries

    are the spwn of shaitan run rampant upon the earth. My apple magic mouse (micky of course) eats them. It should be wirelessly rechargeable. My apple keyboard (pluto of course) is not as hungry, but it still eats em... It should be wirelessly rechargeable. I do have an mx5500 bundle, the mouse is rechargeable, the keyboard isn't. The keyboard does not live up to the spillproof brag. Though the worst of it came from my sugar junkie days... The bad thing about all logitch prods is that they do not have good drivers and they don't update them - my mx5500 should be the bees knees for w8, but it isn't... Bad logitech, but there may be a frisson of the Robber Barons freezing out the enemy aliens in this, dunno...
    I think we should MAKE the moghuls make products that are wirelessly rechargeable (on a industry standardised chargo-MAT-ic magic charging carpet for yer stuff say) And still be able to be wired up (and charged!) just using a standard usb cable...

    Lets stamp out the evil tyranny of batteries, for once and for all. We need a rechargeable spring (the season, not the slinky, although hmmm...)

    and david I think you are the visionary leader to lead the uprising... and lead us all to a battery-less future.

    (mind you I still want to be able to replace the rechargeable batteries in my devices with standard sized ones, none of this hermetically sealed apple tyranny please)

  • Good write upon on a *very* subjective topic

    This is a very subjective topic where the right answer is which keyboard works best for you. For some of us, that may mean we have multiple keyboards. In my own example, 95% of my typing is done on one of three keyboards.

    For mobile/wireless I have an Apple Wireless keyboard at my desk. I like it for all the reasons David mentions. It is primarily used for my iPad, but also gets paired to whatever BT device needs a keyboard at the moment. It's downside is that it is terrible for travel, due to the incredibly sensitive power button on the side and the concurrent tendency for the media keys to get bumped. When I almost drove off the road when my iPad jammed out the power chords to Bat Out of Hell, I decided I needed a change.

    For travel purposes, I've gone with the Targus BT keyboard. It types almost as well as the Apple, but has a physical power switch on the bottom, better battery life and a very useful set of iPad support keys. However, I've paired it with laptops and media centers with fantastic results.

    For home and office, what can I say? I'm an anachronism. I've got two Unicomp keyboard. For those who don't know, these are the original IBM Model M keyboards that us old fogeys started our careers using. They still make them. They're still loud. They're still heavy. They're still indestructible. And you can't still type all day on them and your wrists feel great. Frankly, for couch typing they're great. You can use them in the "Programmer's Sprawl" without a problem. You know... feet propped, sprawled back with the keyboard in your lap? Actually the 3-4 lb weight becomes a benefit here because of the added stability. The only downside is that you may need a USB extension as this is only a wired keyboard. Nevertheless, it's such a joy to write on that I'll unplug it from my main system and take it wherever it's needed in the house.

    Big point is David has it right. You have to try the keyboard out and see which really works best for you in the environment you'll be using it.