Logitech Presents the Key(board) to Efficiency

By Eric Grevstad | Posted August 10, 2004
Touch typists, like piano players, use both hands at once on the keyboard, but most of us put our left hands on vacation while our right is maneuvering the mouse. Logitech wants to change that, promoting two-handed productivity with Internet navigation and scrolling functions at the left edge of its newest cordless keyboard — but if you do want to focus on the matching mouse, it's ready to navigate through even the biggest documents or images, with a wheel that handles horizontal as well as vertical scrolling plus in-and-out zooming.

Shipping later this month for $80, the stylish white Cordless Desktop LX 501 (and its blue-black sibling, the LX 500) pair a multimedia keyboard with a new version of Logitech's Cordless Click Optical mouse.

The two devices hold two AA batteries apiece (included) and share a radio-frequency receiver that plugs into your desktop's PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports or a notebook's USB port. Gamers, as usual, might want a slightly faster corded mouse, but we experienced only one or two minor skips when whipping the pointer back and forth at top speed in Microsoft Paint.

All Keyed Up
The LX 501 keyboard has a low, flat profile — what the company calls Zero Degree Tilt. The rows are all the same height, instead of rising from front to back — with an even lower profile (just 0.9 inch high if you resist the temptation to deploy the small prop-up feet normally flush with the bottom of the keyboard). Logitech says the no-slope design minimizes potentially painful or harmful wrist extension.

We say it takes a little getting used to — or at least, in our case, served to prod us to sit up straighter instead of slouching back and reaching for the keys. But, combined with quiet operation and a silky-smooth typing feel, the results are first-rate.

Logitech slightly redesigned cursor-control section, by kicking the rarely used Insert key upstairs to the function-key row. That made room for a double-sized Delete key adjacent to the horizontal pair of Home and End keys and the vertical Page Up and Page Down keys.

Like the familiar inverted-T arrow keys, they're more than half an inch closer to the main keyboard area than on most keyboards, scoring ergonomic points for reduced hand movement (and also putting your mouse that much closer, at least for right-handed users). Recessed edges make the Caps Lock key a bit harder to hit accidentally.

An F-Lock key toggles the function keys between their default and Microsoft Office-oriented settings (such as Undo, Redo, and launching Excel and PowerPoint). The LX 501 outshines previous Logitech and Microsoft keyboards by remembering your F Lock preference instead of always giving you Office mode at startup. However, it doesn't have an LED or system-tray icon to tell you F Lock, Num Lock, and similar status at a glance — there are LEDs in the translucent radio receiver, but that doesn't help if you've stashed that out of sight.

A scroll wheel (without the horizontal or zoom functions of its mouse counterpart; more on that in a second) sits at the left edge, along with browser back, home, and search (Google) buttons.

Initiate Launch Sequence
Launch keys in the top corners open Windows' My Videos, My Music, My Pictures, and My Documents folders. You can also perform a number of tasks including opening your e-mail, instant messaging, and Webcam applications. Logitech's SetPoint driver software lets you reassign these keys to open other folders or launch favorite programs or Web pages.

The LX 501 sports a media panel featuring multimedia volume control, mute, an iPod-style circular play/pause, next/previous track, and stop dial. You'll also find buttons for the record and burn-to-CD functions of MediaMatch Jukebox 8.0 or Windows Media Player 9.

The medial panel is a great feature, but needs expanding to include other programs. You can generically reprogram the buttons to launch, but not cut directly to ripping or burning in Ahead Software's Nero or Sonic's RecordNow or whatever. One nice touch, however: Not only is there an eject button, but when held down it pops up a menu in case you have two or more CD or DVD drives.

A Click and a Promise


Logitech Cordless Desktop LX 501
Logitech's new wireless keyboard and mouse feature vertical and horizontal scrolling and enough configurable buttons to launch everything but the space shuttle.
While the keyboard's browser controls take for granted that you'll be using your right hand for the mouse, the LX 501 edition of Logitech's Cordless Click Optical Mouse (not to be confused with last year's vertical-scrolling-only original, still listed on the company's site for $40) has a symmetrical oval shape for either hand.

In addition to the usual left and right buttons and clickable scroll wheel, you'll find what Logitech calls a QuickSwitch button just aft of the wheel. Clicking it pops up a menu alternative to Windows' Alt-Tab for switching between applications Unlike fancier mice, the Click Mouse doesn't have a browser-back button for your thumb, but you can reassign the QuickSwitch to that function (especially since there's another QuickSwitch button on the left edge of the keyboard).

The fanciest new feature is Tilt Wheel Plus Zoom, which offers sideways scrolling for wide spreadsheets or jumbo images. We found the proper driver-settings tab to adjust the speed, which was supersonically sensitive at first, we think it's a clear winner over the Tilt Wheel Technology that debuted in Microsoft's midrange and high-end mice almost a year ago.

While the Microsoft mouse wheel — set into a trough atop the mouse — feels bulky and clunky, Logitech has implemented the feature in a normal-sized scroll wheel that tilts with just a gentle push left or right. It also retains the familiar detents or "clicks" when scrolling up or down, unlike the vague, slippery feel of its rival.

And as a bonus, clicking the wheel toggles a zoom mode in which scrolling up and down zooms into and out of images or documents, just as pressing the keyboard Ctrl key while moving the scroll wheel does normally. It takes a little getting used to — and may be a bit quirky in certain applications; our shareware word processor Atlantis interpreted the wheel click as pressing Ctrl twice — but the combination yields a truly handy sort of X/Y/Z-axis maneuvering through vast worksheets or images.

Multimedia Hardware, Multimedia Software
Finally, Logitech bolsters the LX 501's music-playing and video- and picture-folder-browsing with a full-screen software utility dubbed MediaLife, which offers an imitation of Windows XP Media Center Edition's large-type interface for playing music tracks or audio CDs and specifying background music or transition effects for slideshows of digital-camera images. (It's also reminiscent of the Dell Media Experience software recently added to that vendor's PCs — supplied by the same vendor, CyberLink.) While Logitech doesn't provide a TV- or Media Center PC-style remote control, it's a pleasant way to take advantage of the cordless design and sit back with the keyboard in your lap.

We wish the mouse had a side-mounted back button — we had to type carefully for a couple of hours while learning the slightly rearranged cursor-key layout — but we think the Cordless Desktop LX 501 hits the price/performance jackpot at $80. Logitech offers ritzy Bluetooth keyboard/mouse combos for $180 and $250 and promises a fancier Cordless Desktop LX 700 desk set with keyboard-mounted zoom control like Microsoft's new Wireless Optical Desktop 3.0, but frankly we can't imagine liking it better.

If you've been waiting for Logitech to one-up its rival's horizontal-scroll feature, or hoping to clean a cord-cluttered desk while gaining plenty of neat navigation and multimedia shortcuts, wait no more. You just have to decide which color you want.

Adapted from hardwarecentral.com.

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