Introduction

 

The cord-cutting trend has made streaming STBs (set-top boxes) and HTPCs (home theater PCs) popular. Remotes are bundled with all OTT (over-the-top) boxes and Android media streamers, and Media Center remotes are common for HTPCs. However, as media consumption becomes more interactive (for example, consumers explicitly searching for a movie to play on Netflix), the use of remotes with limited functionality becomes cumbersome.

Last  year, we visited some vendors at CES to look at the options on display for interacting with HTPCs. Our criteria for paying attention to a device included the following:

  • The device should be wireless and optimally sized (neither the mini- varieties which make typing with large fingers difficult, nor the full-sized combos which come with separate keyboard and mouse units)
  • The device should come with either an integrated touchpad or a trackball
  • Ergonomics and ease of use with a layout as similar as possible to a traditional keyboard while also allowing for short-term single handed operation common in HTPC scenarios
  • Be adaptable for the occasional prolonged typing / computer interaction task with properly sized keys

Some of the other desirable features include prolongation of battery life by going into sleep mode (either automatically, or through an explicit toggle switch), 5 GHz communication frequency (to avoid the crowded 2.4 GHz spectrum) and an integrated rechargeable battery with a charging dock. It would also be nice to have ease of use with Windows 8.x (in terms of replicating touchscreen functionality on a touchpad). Obviously, features have to be traded off to hit an acceptable price point. So, the options we want to look at might not hit any of the desirable features too.

I have been using a Logitech K400 for more than a year, and it has managed to become the mainstay in my HTPC setup. Frequently available for less than $30, its feature-to-price ratio is simply unparalleled. Unfortunately, the keyboard does have a few drawbacks with respect to ergonomics and key placement, making it challenging to use it for extended typing duties. With a better budget, would it be possible to improve the HTPC interaction experience? That is what we hope to answer with our 'Interacting with HTPCs' series.

In today's piece we will be looking at three different wireless HTPC interaction solutions with MSRPs ranging from $50 to $70:

  1. IOGEAR GKM561R 2.4GHz Multimedia Keyboard with Laser Trackball and Scroll Wheel
  2. SIIG JK-WR0412-S1 Wireless Mini Multimedia Trackball Keyboard
  3. SIIG JK-WR0312-S1 Wireless Multi-Touchpad Mini Keyboard

We will first take a look at the features offered by each of these keyboards in detail along with some usage impressions. This will be followed by the comparison of the pros and cons of each of these units on a single page. Note that most of the aspects presented in keyboard reviews are subjective and dependent on test environment. For example, even the wireless range may vary from one test location to another because the 2.4 GHz channel being used might exhibit interference issues under certain conditions. This could result in improper functioning and range issues. All the three units we are covering today operate in the 2.4 GHz band and have an advertised range of 33 ft (under ideal conditions). We will not be covering the range factor any further in this review.

IOGEAR GKM561R - Features & Usage Impressions
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  • kolepard - Sunday, March 2, 2014 - link

    The section on the Logitech appears to be missing at the moment. Reply
  • kolepard - Sunday, March 2, 2014 - link

    Ah, nevermind, I see now. Reply
  • sepffuzzball - Sunday, March 2, 2014 - link

    I still use my Logitech Dinovo Edge for my HTPC...still haven't found one that looks better! Bit expensive at $100 when I bought it (on sale I believe too) though... Reply
  • xraycat - Sunday, March 2, 2014 - link

    This is the latest HTPC keyboard/mouse/remote device I'm using:
    http://liliputing.com/2013/04/feilan-fl-102-media-...
    I've got the Lenovo Remote Keyboard v2 and used to have v1. This Feilan device is great as it can switch between PC (RF) and TV (IR). The only downside is it can't switch between multiple IR devices, I just program the buttons to operate my TV and cable box simultaneously.
    Reply
  • willis936 - Sunday, March 2, 2014 - link

    After reading through this I realized how cheap it would be to be able to control my desktop from my TV in the next room. I have an HDMI extender going to it and it works great but having to use a dinky android tablet for remote desktop or get up to change/set stuff up is annoying. $30 to be able to just turn on my tv and use my computer from my couch? Yep. Reply
  • Don Tonino - Sunday, March 2, 2014 - link

    I'm not sure if it is still on sale, but for the last 3 or 4 years I've been quite happy with the Enermax Aurora Micro (http://www.enermax.co.uk/aurora-micro-wireless). The aluminium face place adds to the weight, but it has a really neat finish and feeling IMHO. Reply
  • kgh00007 - Sunday, March 2, 2014 - link

    What about this Logitech k820 all in one, totally awesome and multi touch touchpad supports windows 8 gestures!
    http://www.logitech.com/en-us/product/wireless-all...
    Reply
  • Vincent - Sunday, March 2, 2014 - link

    I have the IOGEAR and am unimpressed with its build quality. The left mouse button sticks and the trackball does not consistently respond. I have two Logitech K400s and they are way better. Reply
  • ganeshts - Sunday, March 2, 2014 - link

    The trackball issue - I have seen that on almost all trackball based units I have used - FWIW, the trackball quality, feel and responsiveness was better on the IOGEAR compared to the SIIG.

    Now, the K400 is a touchpad unit -- So, it wouldn't be fair to compare the trackball vs. touchpad build quality. In addition, the K400s are almost half the weight of the other units. For many people, it appears a little flimsy.. Having a toddler around in the living room, I have been worried about the health of the K400 when it gets into her hands :)

    It is all a subjective experience -- Personally, I prefer the touchpad to the trackball keyboards, but different people have different requirements / preferences.
    Reply
  • casteve - Monday, March 3, 2014 - link

    I have the K400. On the plus side, it's cheap and Logitech's paired wifi transceivers work great. On the minus side, the touchpad response is horrible/erratic. If they put in a decent quality touchpad and added a backlight to the keyboard (HTPC lives in a dark room, eh?) it would go from mediocre to great. Reply

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