Sunday, April 18, 2010

MS Wireless Desktop 1000

After hooking up a spare desktop computer to my 42" HDTV, I quickly came to the conclusion that I needed a wireless mouse and keyboard to perfect the experience. I have no problem being tethered by wires to a desktop PC when I'm sitting right in front of it, but from the couch six or more feet away wireless is required.

A quick trip to the store and I had a Microsoft Office Desktop 1000 in my hot little hands. The Office Desktop had two things going for it right from the start; it included both a mouse and a keyboard in the package and, even combined, cost less than most other wireless keyboards on the shelf. Microsoft has also earned a reputation for producing some decent peripherals, which was an added bonus.

The box included the keyboard, the mouse, a USB receiver, a CD for the software installation and the usual slim-and-next-to-useless manual and warranty registration cards. Installation was simple; pop in the CD, install the software, plug in the USB receiver and that's it. If I didn't want to use the enhanced functions of the multimedia keys, I could have forwent the software installation.

The keyboard is a solid and not-overly large device. The keys depress nicely and spring back smoothly; typing is easy and comfortable. In addition to the usual 104 keys common to most Windows keyboards, it has a row of multimedia keys above the function keys which can be configured to launch various applications. By default, the first five launch your email client, web-browser, chat-client and media player (these can all be tweaked to launch whatever application you want). The next five have to be manually configured (the first time you press the key you will be prompted with a "hey, what do you want me to do?" dialog box). After that there are the usual start/stop, forward, rewind and stop multimedia keys which most media players honor, and a trio of volume control keys. The latter did not work straight out of the box for me; I had to manually copy a DLL file into my Windows\System32 directory before the buttons functioned as directed. Apparently this was a result of a previous wireless device installation on my computer.

The keyboard also has three additional keys; one key launches the calculator (this cannot be reconfigured), a second toggles an Exposé-like task switcher (ditto) and the final is the Function-Lock key. Unwisely, Microsoft bound each function key to a secondary function (F2, for instance, doubles as an "un-do" key) but this feature is not supported in most applications and, worse, conflicts if programs expect that key to perform its usual function. Fortunately, a quick press of the F-Lock key turns off this uselessness.

The mouse, on the other hand, is lackluster; it's large and not particularly comfortable. It only has three buttons (the usual two and the scroll-wheel doubles as a third), lacking the thumb buttons common to most new mice. The wheel scrolls very roughly and does not tilt.

The wireless receiver is very large; it's bigger than the mouse, in fact. It has three diodes reflecting the Capslock, Numlock and F-Lock status the (venerable Scroll-lock is left without any diode). But for all its size, the receiver is not particularly robust, which leads us to the main failing of these devices: range. Microsoft boasts a six-foot range, and the keyboard and mouse achieve this... barely. Beyond that, you won't receive any signal. Even at four to five feet away from the receiver, you will notice both the keyboard and mouse are twitchy; the mouse cursor won't track smoothly, and you'll have to pound on the keys twice for every letter you want to type. The devices also require general line-of-sight to the receiver to work, so you can't hide the receiver pod out of sight.

 In the end, I was disappointed with this hardware. The keyboard was well designed and offered a number of useful features (although the default configuration was poor) but the extremely limited range, uncomfortable mouse and bulky receiver more than offset the positives. Perhaps used on a office desktop these disadvantages might not be apparent but in a situation where a wireless keyboard is actually necessary it is hard to recommend.

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