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Field Tested: Logitech and Microsoft Media Centric Keyboards

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September 12, 2005

Field Tested: Logitech and Microsoft Media Centric Keyboards

Field Tested: Logitech and Microsoft Media Centric Keyboards

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September 13, 2005 As society enters the next phase of embracing the computer - welcoming it into our loungerooms - every computer manufacturer and peripheral maker is dreaming up new ways of how they're going to break into the entertainment and consumer electronics business. Logitech and Microsoft are no exception, they have just released media center devices to help you transform your PC into the media hub of the future. Interestingly, though Microsoft is far better known for its Windows operating system, it has more than 200 people working in hardware development at redmond - which makes it the world's most focussed developer of keyboards and mice. Last year it conducted research across the world looking at how the world is using computers and the media centric keyboard is the result of that research. It shows ...

Logitech Cordless Desktop S510 Media Remote

Logitech's new keyboard/mouse combo package, the Logitech Cordless Desktop S510 Media Remote (quite a mouthful), include a stylish remote, and claims to have extended the distance you can have your devices from the receiver to 5 meters. Logitech's strategy has been to add media functions into a desktop keyboard set that's meant to primarily be used on your desktop. In fact they even provided an extensive reviewers guide with a section on "Market Positioning" that justifies building a "media centric" kit for everyone that doesn't know about Microsoft's Media Center Edition of Windows XP. They really drive home that point by providing their own MediaLife Software that ambitiously tries to offer Media Center like application interface, while ignoring the fact that there are already a half dozen best-of-breed alternatives that aren't tied to your keyboard or remote control. We liked the hardware, but were left scratching our heads as to why they even included this software in the package.

Microsoft Remote Keyboard for Windows XP Media Center Edition

In almost complete contrast, Microsoft's new Microsoft Remote Keyboard for Windows XP Media Center Edition (also quite a mouthful), is more akin to a TV remote control than a PC keyboard/mouse. Microsoft had built a device that considerable better suited for use with a PC that you're trying to operate from a lounge chair in your living room. In effect, the device IS a giant remote control, with all the expected Media Center control features, and a built in "eraser" mouse to navigate Windows when you're not in Media Center mode. Included software?

There isn't any. In fact, to get the device up and running you just install the batteries, go to your Window's control panel and perform a Window's Update. The software update that you need will show up in the list of required software for your PC. It was slick, clean, and didn't add any bloated applications running in the background on our PC. There is a catch here though, this device will ONLY work on a Media Center PC, if you're not running Microsoft's Media Center Edition of Windows XP, then you're out of luck.

Also, the device communicates via IR, but doesn't come with an IR receiver. It communicates with the same one that your Media Center remote control does. Again, slick seamless and quite effective when you're trying to control a PC from your couch with a keyboard on your lap. It's even a learning remote, so you can program your Television's on/off control into it as well as the volume control for your home theater setup.

In practice these two products are very different. We focused on using them with a full featured Media Center PC in a living room setting. Admittedly, this puts the Logitech product at a disadvantage, since it's really more of a desktop product. With that said, what we found isn't all that surprising.

The Logitech S510's range isn't quite far enough to be used at a reasonable viewing distance from a typical Media Center setup. Also, the media controls don't map well to Microsoft's Media Center software (which is the standard we tested against, not because it's from Microsoft, but because it's the best we've seen). The mouse isn't as substantial as we would have liked. It doesn't have the solid feel of some of Logitech's higher end models. When all was said and done, we liked their DiNovo Desktop better than this newer product.

Maybe we're suckers for the fact that it uses Bluetooth and for the additional range that comes along with that, or maybe it's the super-slim design, but to us the higher price for the DiNovo is worth paying for if you want a "coffee table" keyboard set for a living room PC. On the other side, we think that Microsoft really hit a home run with their new keyboard/remote device. As a living room PC keyboard it works well, includes an integrated mouse, and is functional for all the little things that you can't do when you're not using the Media Center application interface. Although they got most of it right, there's still some room for improvement. The "eraser" mouse was hard to control, and could stand some improvement.

After years of using similar devices on ThinkPad laptops, we expected better. We also couldn't figure out why they bothered with the learning remote features. There are only 3 keys you can program, so it's actually kind of a useless feature. They should either add a lot more programmable buttons (for powering a home theater receiver, switching audio and video modes for the display and receiver, etc.) or they should remove the programmability to reduce the cost. The half step taken here doesn't add enough functionality to get any other remote controls off our coffee table. Don't get the wrong impression though, these problems amount to minor peccadilloes for a device that's nearly ideal as a laptop keyboard.

Overall, we'd recommend Microsoft's Remote Keyboard for anyone actually using Media Center in a home theater setup. We're not as bullish on Logitech's S510 desktop set. There are better alternatives available from Logitech that already fill the niche that they've targeted, and we feel that their DiNovo Desktop is a better choice than this new device. The product works as designed and delivers what they promise, but we just couldn't make it do what WE wanted. Overall, trying to walk the fine line between actual Media Center, and a PC that wants to be a "media hub" but isn't, yielded a product that isn't that well suited to be a desktop product or a living room one.

Microsoft Remote Keyboard for Windows XP Media Center Edition is scheduled to be widely available by September 2005 for an estimated retail price of US$104.95.

Logitech Cordless Desktop S510 Media Remote is scheduled to be widely available by September 2005 for a suggested retail price of US$99.99.

Dave Weinstein

About the Author
Mike Hanlon After Editing or Managing over 50 print publications primarily in the role of a Magazine Doctor, Mike embraced the internet full-time in 1995 and became a "start-up all-rounder" – quite a few start-ups later, he founded Gizmag in 2002. Now he can write again.   All articles by Mike Hanlon
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