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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  • Aikouka - Tuesday, March 4, 2014 - link

    I use a Logitech MediaBoard Pro, which was originally designed for the PS3. It has a trackpad, physical on-off switch, and the best aspect for me is that it uses Bluetooth for connectivity. I use it on my NUC, which means I don't take up one of the valuable two rear USB ports on some wireless dongle. The only downside is that the keyboard lacks a Windows key since it was originally designed for the PS3. Reply
  • jensend - Tuesday, March 4, 2014 - link

    Why aren't there any Bluetooth Low Energy/ Bluetooth Smart keyboards? Somebody showed a paper-thin one last year as a tech demo, but that's it.

    I'd imagine that lower energy use would be worth going for in a keyboard. The connection latency is low enough you can leave it idling in an unconnected state when not typing and still get good responsiveness for the first keystroke. Bluetooth Smart may be 2.4GHz but its frequency hopping is much smarter than most non-standard RF peripherals. Gigabyte's BRIX systems come with BT4 built in, while it's cheap and easy to install it in the NUC, and not so hard to put it in any HTPC system.
    Reply
  • Imaginer - Tuesday, March 4, 2014 - link

    As much as the keyboards with built in trackballs are nice in having one periphery device (instead of two with a cordless keyboard and trackball), the ball on the built in all in one keyboards are small.

    Small so that there is still A LOT of work in manipulating the pointer on HTPCs. You can forget about gaming with it, since your thumb would be doing more work to position the ball (even accounting for speed settings).

    The smallness of the ball, is to account for the compactness of the device. Great, if you occasionally point.

    The trackpads, are more of a compact design in a three dimensional space (still space taking in the 2D plane). Basically, your TV and HTPC interfaced like a laptop.

    I will say this as an HTPC user. The keyboard is great for searching for text entry. The HTPC CAN be great for a work environment (properly matching your seating distance, your TV viewing size aperture, and the TV's resolution and scaling of elements with all of the factors in balance). It is possibly my preferred method (keyboard in lap, my trackball to the side) with no harsh edges or even levitating my arms for a desk.

    A Logitech K800 and a M570 is my setup. both arms and hands naturally rested and not gripping (like the built in trackballs on the right side on some of those keyboards) for prolonged input of pointing or typing. The downside, is that there are two devices to account for. Most of the time however, the M570 sees more use on an HTPC setup so it can be paired down to one device (especially with the virtual on screen keyboards of Windows 7 and 8 OS areas, more so with 8).
    Reply
  • sergekarramazov - Wednesday, March 5, 2014 - link

    it seems that nobody heard about the new logitech Harmony Smart Keyboard. I saw many references about the k400 (that i personaly owned) but nothing about this Harmony keyboard. It's much more expensive than the k400 but with all the functions of an harmony remote : http://www.logitech.com/en-us/product/harmony-smar... Reply
  • widescreen - Wednesday, March 5, 2014 - link

    I've been using the K400 for a while on an old HTPC using XBMCbuntu and it worked great. Now I just switched to a NUC i3 haswell running Openelec and the range is terrible. Like 3 ft max. In openelec or in the bios, same thing. Plugged it into my laptop running Win7 and range was fine.
    Haven't tried in windows on the NUC yet to check if it's software or hardware related.
    Reply
  • rahnold - Wednesday, March 5, 2014 - link

    Apple Wireless Keyboard + Apple Magic Trackpad + Twelve South MagicWand? Reply
  • mrdanno - Friday, March 7, 2014 - link

    GREAT article! I've been trying to replace my Dinovo Edge forever...left click died ages ago, right click a year after that...but it's still a slick, rechargeable, backlit wireless keyboard & touchpad combo. I cannot believe Logitech has nothing that replaces it properly...

    I'd like something to do plenty of typing, gaming too...just a full-sized keyboard, that can be backlit, and has some form of touchpad/trackball/etc... I can use a wireless mouse for gaming, as I do now, so the touchpad just needs to be for casual use. Basically I'd like a new Dinovo Edge for less than a king's ransom, why is that so hard to find??
    Reply
  • JaLooNz - Friday, March 7, 2014 - link

    Why not review the Thinkpad Trackpoint Bluetooth keyboard? Seriously I feel that trackpoint is better than any touchpad. Reply
  • mikato - Friday, March 7, 2014 - link

    Personally I love my Logitech K400. I got it for $15 refurb on newegg. It is just what the doctor ordered for couch-HTPC-surfing. I bought it even though we already have a really nice K800 keyboard and G-series gaming mouse for gaming wirelessly and it was a great purchase. Reply
  • coolhund - Monday, March 10, 2014 - link

    Tried several of those, incl. the diNovo mini. All were very unreliable or far too huge and the diNovo even had some keys not getting recognized after a while amongst other glitches.

    Then I bought 2 Riitek ones: http://www.riitek.com/product_Info.asp?id=81 & http://www.riitek.com/product_Info.asp?id=77 and never looked back. They have been working for over 3 years now.
    Reply

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