Match this keyboard with your Media Center PC, and you may never leave your couch again. The £59 Microsoft Remote Keyboard for Windows XP Media Center Edition is a multimedia trinity, combining the best features of a keyboard, a mouse and a remote control in a gorgeous package that looks as stylish next to your flat-screen TV as it does sitting on your coffee table. Though we weren't overly impressed with the embedded mouse, this wireless keyboard is a fitting companion for any PC running Microsoft's Media Center Edition 2005 OS (MCE), and we like that it syncs with your other remotes to eliminate living-room clutter.
Thin and light enough to rest on your lap, the sculpted keyboard does not sacrifice style for functionality. It features rubberised soles that give it a nice sturdy feel when rested on a coffee table or a desk, and its raised sides fit well into the hand to make it relatively comfortable when holding it in the air. Microsoft boasts a 9m range between your PC and the keyboard. While that distance is attainable, the keyboard requires a direct line of sight to its receiver; the signal is lost with the slightest obstruction.
The Microsoft Remote Keyboard features 26 MCE-centric keys including MCE's iconic green Start button, media control keys, navigation keys and channel and volume keys. All 26 media keys have a nice smooth texture and are very responsive. They're also backlit, allowing you to control your PC from a darkened living room -- a feature we really appreciate. The QWERTY keys, however, are not illuminated, so you'll have to rely on the glow from your TV for midnight messaging or performing movie and artist searches. Furthermore, the keys produce a loud clicking noise when pressed, which could be annoying to you and those nearby.
In place of a mouse, a pointer nub is positioned in the upper-right corner of the keyboard, while the corresponding right- and left-click buttons are on the keyboard's upper-left corner for convenient two-handed navigation. We liked the keyboard's feel and found it easy to use the keys to browse through photos and playlists within MCE. However, mousing around with the nub is an exercise in frustration and requires just the right amount of pressure. Apply too much pressure and the pointer will zoom across the screen, apply too little and it won't move at all. This mouse is just as difficult to use with the oversize menu buttons in MCE as it is in the regular Windows interface where more precision is necessary.
In addition to controlling your PC, you can program the keyboard to learn commands from other remote controls, such as your TV or audio receiver. To use the learning feature, you must place the remote control head-to-head with the keyboard's infrared port and press a series of keystrokes. After fiddling about with the commands, we were able to successfully assign an unused key on our keyboard to turn our television on and off.
Four AA batteries, which are included, power the Remote Keyboard, and Microsoft claims that will keep your unit operating for three months, depending on the amount of use, of course. To conserve battery power, you can opt to turn off the backlighting. There's also a security switch on the front of the keyboard that locks down the keys to prevent accidental strokes when not in use.
The keyboard will work with any PC running MCE 2005, but you'll need to download an updated driver from Microsoft's Web site (the driver is not included with the keyboard) to enable communication between the keyboard and your Media Center's built-in receiver.
Edited by Lara Luepke
Additional editing by Kate Macefield