Today we’re looking at a review of next gen keyboards and computer inputs.
These are non-traditional ways to type, tap, click, scroll, pinch, drag.... and turn? An awesome bamboo keyboard that connects through bluetooth, an all in one keyboard and trackpad in one that you can use wirelessly with your laptop and a third device, and I have to say device, because you don't have a frame of reference for it, the PowerMate. Read on...
Bamboo Bluetooth Keyboard ver. 2 by iZen
This section is being typed on the iZen. To start, this is a fully functional bluetooth keyboard plain and simple. It has a Mac layout but it works with Windows 8 and Android as well. The dedicated buttons work well within each different OS. For example, the “comd” button which is Apple specific, acts as the windows key when being used with a windows machine. The function keys above are hit and miss. They all work properly with a mac, switch to windows though and the volume and music controls work but other keys aren't so successful. Remember though that this piece is designed for mac so anything beyond that is gravy.
Pairing is simple and straightforward. There is a mechanical switch for on and off, and a single pairing button. A bluetooth logo on the front of the keyboard is backlit with a red led and it blinks while in pairing mode. On a windows 8 machine, the keyboard asks you to type in a say, 10 digit code and press enter on the keyboard to pair. The keyboard is quick and responsive and as an added benefit it's gorgeous. Regular readers know that this site loves wooden gadgets! Wood Week let us see so many great products and a product like iZen fits right in with that idea. The keyboard is made from actual renewable, recyclable bamboo. Front and back is all wood, there are still some plastic trim pieces, but this is 95% real wood. The wood is not polished, it's much more raw and actually feels like wood under your fingers. If you like that you'll be in heaven but some might get a bit fatigued after long periods of typing. There are rubber bumpstops at the bottom to make the piece non-slip, but the angle is not adjustable. The angle is very minor but it actually feels great while typing on the edge of a table.
There is no number pad, which allows the piece to keep a very small footprint. The keyboard is just over one pound and it comes with it's own microUSB charging cable. It isn't cheap, but that's because it's made better than many other wooden keyboards that are really just thin veneers on poor quality keyboards.
Update: here is what seems to be the same keyboard for less than half the price. This is eBay so it's untested and sent from China. A purchase like this doesn't come with the piece of mind you can get ordering from an established company like izen, but it's hard to argue with the price.
Update 2: iZen is looking into this eBay version of the product. In response they are offering a 20% discount to my readers between now and the end of the year. Please message me on Twitter if you are interested and I will give you the coupon code to get the keyboard at a discount!
Wireless All-in-One Keyboard (TK820) by Logitech
I my experience, this is the first All-in-One keyboard that doesn't feel like half a thought. The experience is very complete and you immediately see it's value when you get your fingers on it. It's unfortunate that it doesn't allow bluetooth and it's made specifically for windows though. Great for the Windows devoted, bad for the rest of the consuming public. Limitations aside, I really can't say enough about the experience of using this device. It's the size of a full size keyboard, it's technically mobile, but you might have a hard time fitting it into most bags. It's only about one and half pounds and it's remarkably thin, but it's 16” from end to end. The touch pad alone is double the size of the built in touchpad on my laptop. The keys are spacious and fingers really respond to the Incurve keys which are designed to fit the natural curve of a fingertip. That's not all for the keys though, Logitechs PerfectStroke key system claims to distribute pressure evenly across the key surface. You get the satisfying feeling of a mechanical keyboard but it's still very quiet even while furiously typing away.
The touchpad is fine tuned for Windows 8 but it also works with Windows 7. The now familiar gestures work well and they are even expanded with Logitech's SetPoint software. You can assign different actions to different buttons and gestures. It's a very customized experience. The whole thing is powered by 4 (included) AA batteries which is a bummer. They are rated for 6 months of use though, which is great. Again, Logitech should have added the option of bluetooth and they should have allowed for a microUSB recharging option. This device is great enough to be a daily use keyboard, but I can't worry about carrying AA's in the modern world. My backpack can charge USB devices... GET ON BOARD LOGITECH! You'll use Logitech's unifying receiver to connect. If you aren't familiar, this is a full sized USB nub that stays fixed in an available slot on your laptop/computer. The great news is that you only need one nub. It can be paired to up to six devices which means one unifying receiver is probably all you'll ever need. It claims the standard bluetooth range of up to 33ft. More than enough to use the keyboard from any point in a room.
I love this device and it's exciting to see Logitech moving in this direction, a very well thought out device and the only improvement that it really needs beside what I'd mentioned is an included case. This is a larger version of Logitech's tablet keyboard for Android/windows devices. That keyboard comes with a convertible case/device stand. It's so well designed and protective without being a hassle to remove and replace the device. I'm afraid to scratch the All-in-One as it bumps and shifts in my backpack. The keyboard needs some type of protection. Aside from that oversight, BUY WITH CONFIDENCE.
Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop by Microsoft
The sculpt is an entirely new shape of the wireless desktop. Of course ergonomics are old hat at this point. We've become used to things molding to our bodies. The days of boxy and beige are gone forever and things get smaller and more comfortable by the day. The Sculpt Desktop set is a step in that direction for ergonomic keyboards and mice. Whereas the older ergonomic keyboards have been huge bulky affairs, the sculpt sheds those unneeded pounds but doesn't sacrifice quality. If anything, this is a more comfortable and completely stable version of the idea. The keyboard cutout is the elephant in the room here. Is it just a gimmick or is it necessary. In the end it's just a practical way to not waste plastic and reduce bulk. I've actually placed a cell phone stand in the gap to take advantage of that space and it's actually working great.
A desktop keyboard needs a number pad. While you can get by with tablet or laptop keyboards, you'll inevitably end up doing something like your taxes on a desktop, without a number pad you'll go insane. Microsoft has cleverly separated the number pad on the Sculpt so that you can store it in a drawer when not in use. When you are using it, you can position the number pad in the exact right angle for your wrist comfort. Comfort is the overall impression you'll take from the Sculpt. The natural arc of the keys as well as the domed center automatically positions your wrists in a uniquely comfortable position. The keys themselves are of the scissor switch variety. They provide a nice bit of solid bounce while typing. The included mouse is taller than most any mouse that you've used to date. It's almost like having a tennis ball in your palm. While that might seem a bit too large, it's actually extremely comfortable and it makes me wonder why my previous mice have been so low by comparison. It promotes a side resting position for your hand and your thumb falls into a naturally sculpted groove with a thumb triggered button that functions as the windows key by default. It's a bit odd to press at first, you'll need some time to get used to the angle. Microsoft's included Blue Track tech means that this mouse will track on any flat surface including glass. The cushioned palm rest completes the though, it's a bit of a magnet for scratches and stains as it's an almost suede like material. It provides a great feel though during prolonged use. A removable lift is also included, it is it's own piece though and it's about the length of the keyboard itself. If you don't plan to use it, storage could be difficult. I'm always a fan of inbuilt lifts but I believe that Microsoft did such a great job “trimming the fat” off of the ergonomic keyboard idea, that perhaps built in lifts would add too much odd bulk to the design.
Though it will work with other operating systems, the Sculpt is optimized for Windows 8. Each wireless piece is powered by traditional batteries (included). The keyboard needs 2 AAA batteries, the mouse needs 2 AA batteries, and the number pad uses a “watch” style CR2430 battery. Each piece has a 10 ft. wireless range and connection was extremely stable in my testing. Everything connects with a single small dongle similar to Logitech's unifying receiver, it conveinently stores away inside of the mouse's battery compartment. Access to the battery drawers are handled with magnets as is the attaching of the keyboard lift. It's a fun twist that shows Microsoft is thinking about a better way. The advertised 3 month battery life for the pieces is extremely disappointing and might actually be enough to walk away from it completely. I've used a Logitech wireless desktop that promised a year on a set of batteries as well as numerous rechargeable models. In this modern world, something like this is a nearly unforgivable oversight. If you already have a set of rechargeable batteries like Sanyo's Eneloop than perhaps you'll be happy, but if not, the extra investment on top of an already pricy desktop set is a bit upsetting. If the set was microUSB rechargeable than this would be a definite buy, as it stands you need to think about this one for a bit.
Power Mate Control Knob by Griffin
The PowerMate is gorgeous, mysterious, and actually kind of amazing. This is one of those devices that can be as much as you want it to be. Maybe you've seen videos online of people that use their smart phones to turn on the lights in their house, operate the TV with their voices, feed their pets while away, etc. Tech today is amazing, but some things still need you to finish the job. The PowerMate is a device that most will use to simply control iTunes (still worth it) but it can be so much more if you want it to be.
Technically, the Powermate is a multifunction input knob. That sounds like gobbledy-gook, but there isn't a better way to describe it. It's basically a dial that looks and feels just like the volume knob on very high end audio equipment. It spins freely and is one of the most solid pieces of tech that I've ever handled. It's predominately metal construction with a very stable rubber base that keeps it in place. The beauty of the piece is enhance by a deep blue LED backlighing in the base. It isn't just for looks though as it can be programed to do things like glow brighter as the volume increases. It has an attached translucent USB cable that is 22” long but also includes a 40” extension cable in the box. The piece looks like it's straight from the future and I actually laughed the other day when it popped up in a multimillion dollar Sci-Fi movie. The engineers sat at a futuristic control panel and the centerpiece of the whole thing was a PowerMate knob.
The piece works for Windows or Mac but there is definitely a Mac slant here. The latest software ONLY works on Mac while the last official release for windows is only recommend for XP and Vista. It will work on Windows 7 and 8 but don't expect a lot of help. The Knob has pre-programed functionality with programs like iTunes and iMovie/GarageBand on the Mac. The real value here is the expandability of the piece. You can program just about any key function to be triggered by the knob. You can program just about any combination of movements to respond. A single click, a long press, a turn left or right, or a press and turn left or right. The hard part is that you need to take some time to make this product work for you specifically. It's so amazing to scroll through a folder full of hundreds/thousands of pictures with ease. If you edit photo or video this can be a HUGE time saver. The best part is that the cost of entry is very low here. You can find the PowerMate for relatively cheap and see how it fits into your routine. It's really worth your time, give it a chance. BUY WITH CONFIDENCE
Thank you again to the companies above for supplying their product for this review.
ENJOY YOUR GADGETS!