About three years ago I started moving our family towards a cable/satellite free lifestyle. One of my first projects was building a Home Theater Computer. AMD had recently introduced the 780g chipset that would allow me to build an inexpensive, quiet machine that would handle streaming HD video without the need for an internal video card. The build went well and I settled onto my sofa to enjoy a little Netflix. I then realized that holding a full-sized wireless keyboard wasn’t going to work. So, it was off to the internet in search of the perfect HTPC keyboard.
Much to the delight of several web retailers I have now purchased close to a dozen different solutions. Everything from a decent Adesso Wireless keyboard to some no-name eBay “finds”. None of them really fit the “sofa experience” though…so my search continued. Eventually, I came upon an ad for Lenovo’s Multimedia Remote, a fan-shaped mini keyboard with a trackball and some dedicated keys. I broke out the credit card and a few days later I was pretty happy with the purchase and only had a couple of complaints.
Since this is a mini keyboard, touch-typing isn’t a possibility and the Lenovo keyboard was black with grayish key cap lettering for the primary letters. In anything other than a bright light it was impossible to find specific keys. The second annoyance was the lack of an easy way to scroll through web pages or windows. I wandered over to the Lenovo user community and posted my comments both good and bad.
Around mid-July I was pleasantly surprised to see that Lenovo had actually taken their customers comments seriously and were releasing a new version of the Multimedia Remote Keyboard. A few weeks later I had ordered and received two Lenovo Enhanced Multimedia Keyboards. I’m very pleased with the new model. It’s not perfect, but it’s a very nice upgrade.
Here’s a short video made by Lenovo that goes over the keyboard:
Keyboard Basics and Specifications
- 2.4G wireless keyboard
- Touch pad cursor/mouse control with slide bar
- Designed for one-handed operation
- Ultra-small USB receiver – plug and play
- Back-lit keyboard with 75 keys
- Up to 3 month Battery life (two AA)
- Range up to 30 feet
- Compatible with Windows® 2000 ,XP, Vista® & Windows® 7
- Height: 1.3” (33mm)
- Width: 5.5” (140mm)
- Weight: 4.64 oz. (.13Kg)
Look and Feel
With the exception of the chrome-colored frame (which I believe is aluminum) around the keyboard and the small metallic frame around the touch dot the keyboard is made of plastic. The newer model weighs a bit more than its predecessor, but is hardly a chore to hold. The handle section of the keyboard has been changed from a shiny “piano” black to a flat black. This does a nice job of hiding finger prints and smears.
Around Back: Batteries, Receiver Storage and Power Switch
The backside is also flat black and has non-slip paint. Parents should note that the battery door is not secured by a screw and might be accessible to young children. The battery compartment has spots for the two AA battery power sources and a slot for storing the USB receiver when not in use. The new model sports a bright blue receiver rather than black. I believe they did this so that people could easily identify the receiver when they first purchased the unit. The power switch is now three position (off, backlight enabled and on) as opposed to the earlier model’s off/on switch. The device feels solid and well-built. My original keyboard has been subjected to many drops and standard usage-abuse without damage and I have no reason to doubt the same wouldn’t be true for the new model.
Setup is a Breeze
Plug the USB receiver into an available USB port on your computer, allow Windows a minute to install the drivers and you should be up and running. No disk, downloads, or special drivers are necessary. While Lenovo only lists the device as being compatible with Windows 2000 on up, I was able to install and use it with Ubuntu (Linux) as well. I was unable to test it with a Macintosh, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it worked.
Pointer/Mouse and Scrolling Control – The Touch Dot and Bajoran Scroller
As you can see from the picture the keyboard has a “paddle” like shape. When you hold it your thumb naturally falls on the track pad/mouse control. In the previous version the mouse had been controlled with a roller ball. Like any rollerball it suffered when someone with less than clean hands (think popcorn greasy) got the ball a bit slippery.
The new “touch dot” (my term not Lenovo’s) negates that issue, but after using the keyboard for a couple of weeks, I would prefer the touch area to be bigger, and rectangular in shape. The original model’s roller ball was about 15 mm across while the newer touch dot is roughly 10 mm wide. It felt a little small under my thumb. I find that moving the cursor completely across the screen requires picking your thumb up and resetting it back to the leading edge of the touch dot. This occurs even with the acceleration turned up more than half way. It’s not a huge issue and I’m sure over time I’ll get used to it, but if the touch pad area was 15mm across and 12mm tall I believe it would be more comfortable, the accuracy would be improved and the pointer travel per swipe a little nicer.
The touch dot also handily doubles as a left-mouse button when you press down. This is handy especially when you’re using the device with one hand. There are two other mouse buttons that are built into a silver frame just below the bottom row of keys. The earlier model had the mouse buttons in the case itself surrounding the roller ball. I find both placements to be acceptable and quickly got used to the new design.
One of the failings of the original keyboard was the lack of any easy way to scroll the way you do with a wheel on a mouse or by sliding down a notebook’s track pad. Lenovo came up with an interesting solution. Slightly below the touch dot there is a one-inch long area that is marked by a series of slightly raised dashes. It has a distinct feel and is easy to find even in the dark. I’m going to indict myself as a Star Trek fan by describing the feel as what you would expect running your finger down the bridge of a Bajoran’s nose. Best of all it won’t sneeze on you (sorry) and it works quite well at scrolling through web pages, menus and lists.
Let There Be Backlighting
The biggest improvement to me was the much-needed addition of backlighting to the keyboard. The lighting is triggered by pressing any key, but to prevent that first key-press from entering an incorrect command there is a dedicated backlight key just to the left of the space bar. It’s easy to locate with the same thumb you’re using to control the mouse. The light is more than adequate to see all the keys and stays lit for roughly five seconds which I found sufficient to find whatever key I sought.
Special Function Keys
While you could use this keyboard for any standard PC keyboard function it really is meant for the home theater crowd and offers a number of dedicated “multimedia” keys. The top row of the keyboard contains volume, mute and standard play/pause, stop, skip ahead and skip back keys and a default browser launch key. While hitting Ctrl-Alt-Delete isn’t all that necessary for Windows users nowadays Lenovo included a dedicated key (activated by hitting the Fn key first). It’s no longer necessary to contort your fingers on the tiny keyboard to execute the Vulcan nerve-pinch on your computer. The only keys I would have liked to have seen are a dedicated “.com” keyboard and perhaps not requiring a Shift-2 to produce an “@” symbol.
Range and Battery Life
The keyboard uses the 2.4ghz band for communications and advertises a 30-foot range. I didn’t get out the tape measure for exact measurements on the range, but some random tests had me convinced that if the range wasn’t exactly 30-feet it was pretty close. This included me controlling one computer from a different room that was down a hall unknowingly while writing this review.
A keyboard remote just isn’t going to be used constantly or for long periods of time and after two plus years of use I had never changed the batteries (two AAAs) in the original keyboard. Lenovo appears to have taken the extra battery drain of the back-lighting, touch dot and scroll bar into account and now requires AA batteries. They state that the batteries should last 30 hours. That could equate to months considering the limited number of times you’ll really be using the keyboard.
What’s Doesn’t It Do?
This device is a keyboard and mouse combination with a few “remote” function keys. It is not a replacement for a typical remote control. In many cases you’ll find that you will also need another remote to control other devices like your TV, AV Receiver or DVD/Blu-ray player.
It’s always nice to find a company that listens to its customers and improves a product based on those comments. Lenovo has done just that and while I would have given the original keyboard a score of eight out of 10, the current model rates at least a nine. It’ll take a few months of use to truly determine if it’s as durable and comfortable