Date: November 14, 2007
Author(s): K. Samwell
VidaBox produces some of the finest HTPCs on the market, but until recently, they’ve bundled keyboards from other companies. We are taking a look at their first own offering, a wireless solution with built-in trackball. It’s compact, sturdy and surprisingly impressive.
Whether you’re sitting on your couch using your home theatre pc to surf the net, play Unreal Tournament or chat with your friends about the Doctor Who episode you’re watching (Jack is the Face of Bo!?!), this keyboard will definitely do the job. It’s lightweight, compact and versatile.
This keyboard is perfect for a HTPC (home theatre pc) setup. That being said, while not its main design, it also functions quite well for everyday use with your pc, particularly if you’re familiar with using a normal laptop keyboard layout, or have a small amount of desk space to work with.
Opening the box, I’m greeted by a keyboard, a USB receiver, a storage cover and an instruction sheet.* What I like immediately is this does not scream “I’m a PC keyboard disguised as a HTPC keyboard.”
One caveat, I’m testing this out on my PC for the simple reason the home theatre system is in disarray at the moment while I try to figure out why the DVD player keeps losing sound. The effect is the same however, as I’m using it wirelessly, testing out the range and functionality of the keys. Since most HTPCs are setup in a closet or cabinet, I’m testing this mainly parked on my lap with my desk between the keyboard and the USB receiver to simulate possible interference from a cabinet door. I haven’t detected any yet, read on!
*Note: The USB extension cable was not shipped with my keyboard, seems the boss (Rob Williams) kept it for himself! ;-)
Transport Buttons Compatibility: Native to Windows Vista, XP, 2000, and Ubuntu Linux 7.04.
Let’s look at how the instructions compare with the online specs and instructions of this device, which can be found here.
Instructions: Connect the USB receiver to the USB extension cable and place the USB receiver in a location away from other wireless electronics and where it will have full line of sight with your keyboard at all times. Bring the wireless keyboard within 3 feet of the USB receiver with clear line of sight – no obstructions.
Website: This product comes with its own high frequency USB receiver, and comes packaged with everything you need to get started!
30-foot (10m) wireless range (so 30 foot wireless range if I use a 27 foot USB extension cable?)
Unlike other conventional infrared (IR) and radio frequency (RF) wireless keyboards, special high frequency wireless technology allows a pronounced increase in performance – with a minimum in dropped signals and “dead zones.” No more frustrations with non-working keyboards!
So the instructions are saying one thing, while the online information completely contradicts it:
Already I’m confused and I haven’t even put batteries in it yet – oh wait never mind, they’re included. Well at least that’s a bonus.
Author’s Note: After this review was initially posted, we received notice from VidaBox that "The 3′ range requirement is ONLY during synchronization of the keyboard. Beyond that, you can use the keyboard with its full 30′ range." I wanted to clarify any misunderstanding in this regard.
So let’s plug this thing in and take it for a test drive. There appears to be no software drivers required, so let’s see how it goes. (By the way – Windows XP recognized it immediately, no drivers required, no software required and I did not have to synch the keyboard and receiver as stated on the in-box instructions, however knowing how to do so may come in handy someday).
G6sh 5t’s s6 t5ny
Oops, Num Lock was on! That first sentence was supposed to be, ‘Gosh it’s so tiny’, but with Num Lock on, some of the keys act as a numpad, which I didn’t notice, though there are tiny faint blue numbers on some of the keys. Sadly other than an onscreen indication at toggle, there’s no way to know just by looking at the keyboard if your Num Lock, Caps Lock, Scroll Lock or function keys are in active mode. And when I meant this keyboard is tiny, I’m not kidding: Dimensions: 12.83″ x 5.04″ x .97″ (326mm x 128mm x 24.72mm).
Let’s look at some other keys. The compact-ness of this keyboard does allow your fingers to reach every single key quite comfortably.
Across the top between the mouse keys on the left and the mouse tracking ball on the right, are what appear to be media and shortcut keys. The first one is the keyboard synchronization button, for when you need to resynch it to the receiver. The second one opens Windows Media Player and starts playing the CD in my drive. The next three are volume, specifically mute, volume down and volume up. The play/pause button follows that and skipping across we find stop, replay and skip to next track to round out our audio controls. Next up is the email button, quickly opening my default mail program and lastly a W with a circle around it, which opened a browser but not my default browser (for shame). And finally we’re at the mouse track ball.
The mouse track ball is actually surprisingly fast and accurate, though I still have my regular mouse plugged in for those quick jobs. Using the trackball is actually a two handed affair, your right hand controls the cursor and your left hand has access to the â€˜mouse buttons’ – odd choice, I would have found a way to put the mouse buttons actually over with the trackball, but no one asked my input when they designed this.
On a side note, the trackball faintly flashes when the keyboard is in use and lights up sparkly red when the trackball itself is in use. I don’t see the reason to have it flash when idle, except to use up battery power. It also oddly lights up for no apparent reason on occasion. Just a side note, I would not recommend using this trackball if you’re playing games with this keyboard, it’s small and unfamiliar to most gamers. It does however work quite well with all the Windows applications with normal point and click requirements.
There is a function key on the bottom left which I keep hitting when I intend to hit the Ctrl button next to it. It does not appear to affect the F1 through F12 keys at the top, and playing with it a little yields no obvious use. It does not affect the numpad or any other keys. I’m presuming it comes into play somehow, but without a manual it’s a mystery.
One thing missing – a scroll wheel. Now perhaps we’re all just spoiled, but some sort of scrolling option would have been a nice addition.
Problems I see with this keyboard specifically with the keys:
Lets test out this 3′ vs 30′ issue.
Wow that kinda surprised me – particularly the part where I spelled everything correctly without looking at the screen!
Sadly I can’t take it to the full 30′ or I’d be outside my home, I was sitting on the windowsill at 25′ as it is, but it would appear the instruction insert is either out of date or simply incorrect. The instruction page is meant for this keyboard, but perhaps either not translated well, or no one has read it in a long time. Ignore it and go with the online specs.
Now I toyed with it a bit, and the only issue I did find and which is noted on the instruction sheet, occurred when I crossed the streams. (Great plan Ray…) I currently have a cordless mouse talking to its receiver. If the keyboard and its receiver do not cross paths with the mouse and its receiver, all is fine. When I put the keyboard receiver on the other side of the mouse/receiver line, I found some interruption. But then again, crossing the streams is never a good idea.
Quite frankly if you’re sitting 30′ away from your TV, you either have very good eyesight or a 100″ screen. The range of this keyboard definitely exceeds most people’s requirements.
A note about the battery life:
Since I’m obviously not going to stare at this thing for two months, I’ll take their word on its idle battery life and follow up on the forum post related to this review.
A note about the protective pouch sleeve:
At first I was like – what the heck? – it comes with a cover? I thought the days of keyboard covers had come and gone, but then it dawned on me again, this isn’t meant as a keyboard for daily use, you’re going to want it tucked in an end table or your media cabinet and in those cases, a protective cover makes a great deal of sense.
Overall if you’ve already invested thousands for your home theatre PC setup and all its peripherals, then the $62.99 price tag for this keyboard is not significant. Its range and reliability make up for the small flaws. I’m totally surprised at this little keyboard, to be honest. And I think you’ll be surprised at the 9/10 I’m giving it. I think this is the highest mark I’ve given anything, ever!
Author’s Note: We just received this from VidaBox, "To thank your readers for their time in reading your review, we’ve authorized a special discount code – ‘techgage’ (without the quotes) – which is good for 10% off the VidaBox keyboard w. optical trackball!" ~ Thank you so much!
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