Adesso wireless mini trackball keyboard more useful as a bludgeon [review]

Would you work 100 feet away from your desk? (Perhaps if you had a ridiculous display setup.

Would you work 100 feet away from your desk? (Perhaps if you had a ridiculous display setup.)

With Adesso's wireless mini trackball keyboard, you can.

I took Adesso's WKB-3000UB device for a spin this week. It was painful.

Most often you find wireless keyboards in homes in which the computer serves as a multimedia center. They're great for manipulating photos and video from afar, as well as for presentations using a projector, but they aren't necessarily intended to replace a traditional keyboard. After all, why spend the extra money if you're not going to use the wireless?

Adesso attempts to kill several birds with one stone by offering a wireless, mini keyboard with a built-in trackball. Wireless for the distance (up to 100 feet, the company says), mini for portability and a trackball for mousing precision.

It's a nice idea in theory, but the execution just isn't up to par.

Out of the box, Adesso's keyboard was easy to set up but frustrating to use. After plugging in four AA batteries, just plug in the keyboard's rather large (2.5-in.) receiver into an open USB slot on your computer, pair them with a button press on each end of the connection, and away you go.

To be fair, the RF receiver worked admirably at a distance. It didn't really keep connectivity to 100 feet -- I'm thinking more like 50, judging by ZDNet HQ's aisles of cubicles -- but for all but serious presenting, it was fine.

The problems crop up when you actually type on the thing. Despite the fact that the device is first and foremost a keyboard, the sensitivity on it was severely lacking. I found myself having to push rather hard on the keys to register letters and commands. By typing at regular speed with regular pressure -- a fairly accommodating way of typing, I should note, since I switch back and forth between desktop and laptop for work on a regular basis -- my typing comes out misspelled, missing characters and pairs of letters along the way.

In fact, this review would have been unpublishable had I not gone back and corrected the keyboard's omitted characters.

In terms of feel, the Adesso feels like a budget keyboard. It's hollow feeling, made of blown plastic. The keys are wide and flat, which is good, but they rock a bit too much for me, especially considering the short distance they have to go relative to a regular-sized desktop keyboard.

Speaking of which -- why bother with a mini keyboard at all? I'm using Adesso's "mini' keyboard directly in front of my full-size (numerical pad, etc.) Dell standard keyboard, and the Adesso is just 2.5 inches smaller than the real thing (and quite a bit thicker).

Many people find mini keyboards difficult to type on, though I understand the desire to use one for wireless multimedia purposes. In this case, the Adesso is almost as big, but come with the drawbacks of having a smaller keyset. Why not just go full-size? The "bezel," if you will, is two inches wide in some places (I'll tell you why, below), yet you type on a miniature keypad. It's immensely frustrating, particularly since my ultraportable laptop manages to fit a full-size keyboard on it, save for a numerical pad.

The reason the bezel is so large in some places is where the "trackball" part comes in. Interestingly, Adesso goes with the tried-and-true trackball as the cursor implement of choice, which on paper is a great idea: they're easy to use, exact and extremely quick once you get used to them. Adesso places a black plastic trackball to the right of the keypad and left- and right-click buttons on the right in a curved fashion. For distance use, there's also a trigger-style select button on the top right corner edge and a scroll wheel on the top left corner edge.

When you use this setup, it's both innovative and unintuitive. Why? A great input setup allows you to use everything seamlessly. The Adesso keyboard hampers you depending on which input method you use; right-clickers will feel lost on the board, while trackballers will find the lack of buttons around the ball frustrating.

The Adesso keyboard often forces you to use two hands for full "mouse" capabilities -- leaving none for the keyboard. That means moving between mousing and typing can be simply maddening for your productivity.

In fact, typing this review with the Adesso keyboard took at least twice as long as it would have with the ol' Dell, and that doesn't even count my self-corrections from all the typos.

Speaking of mousing: I found the optical trackball to be as unreliable as the key sensors on the board. My cursor skipped around on the screen and it was very hard to "target" things to select. Moreover, I found the matte plastic ball to be missing the perceived weight and smoothness of scrolling as a proper trackball from, say, Logitech.

As for fit and finish: Adesso doesn't pull any punches for this budget wireless keyboard in terms of build quality. The plastics are run of the mill, the sensing issues are a showstopper, even the little Windows logos on the Windows keys were slapdash, with off-center, inconsistent, uneven marking with visible drip marks that would befit a spray-painted stencil rather than a $72 piece of electronic equipment.

The bottom line? If a wireless keyboard frustrates you enough to want to get up and go over to your computer (or switch back), it's not worth the time or money.

Adesso's keyboard can be had for just over $50, but the only thing it feels good for is to smash someone across the teeth with it. (Warning: link SFW, but involves a moment of movie violence)

I understand the need for a budget input device, but for something that impedes your computing experience so broadly -- and yet is so unnecessary, being wireless -- I simply can't recommend it.

You're better off saving the cash for a $99 Logitech diNovo or a Microsoft wireless keyboard and mouse, depending on your usage needs.

In Adesso's case, you get what you pay for.