A Dashboard on the Keyboard

By Eric Grevstad | Posted March 17, 2006

Here's something new: Logitech has paired its fanciest flagship mouse with a keyboard designed to reduce mouse usage. Along the way, it's taken the concept of two-way communication between PC and input device to new heights.

Logitech's Cordless Desktop MX5000 Laser ($150) bundles a Bluetooth wireless keyboard and mouse with a thumb-sized transceiver that plugs into a USB port. The transceiver turns the keyboard into a Bluetooth 2.0 hub for swapping data with compatible devices, whether downloading music files to, or uploading camera-phone photos from, your cell phone or listening to music or having VoIP conversations with a Bluetooth headset.

Even slicker is the Sync button on the keyboard that synchronizes contacts, calendar and notes between your phone and your PC's Microsoft Outlook (or Lotus Notes or Organizer).

The catch, unfortunately, is that the keyboard system supports only some Nokia phones and Nokia's PC Suite Windows software for both sync and data transfer — the feature worked nicely with our Nokia 6230, but owners of other phones and PDAs must check one of Logitech's support pages to see the fine print on device compatibility.

At Least My Keyboard Is Glad To See Me
When not talking to other devices, the MX5000 keyboard listens to your PC and passes on the information to you via a 102-by-42-pixel LCD screen in the top center of the keyboard. Usually the LCD displays the date, time and temperature — although when the PC first boots it greets you by your Windows user name, e.g., "Hi Bob, GOOD MORNING." It can also notify you of incoming e-mail or instant messages.

Four buttons below the LCD let you summon and navigate through a brief menu for choosing among your digital-music play lists or listening to Internet radio (only via the bundled MusicMatch Jukebox software); the screen also lists track, artist (if available) and duration when you're playing a song. Another choice shows the functions assigned to the F9 through F12 keys.

You can customize those keys to launch a program, document or folder by navigating to it and holding down one of the four function keys, as you would to preset a station for your car radio. As with other Logitech and Microsoft keyboards, an F Lock key lets you choose between applications' usual functions for F1 through F12 or Logitech's alternative set, including undo, print and save keys and launch keys for Microsoft Word and Excel.

The LCD has no backlight and its contrast isn't the greatest, but it's more than a fun gadget — well, at least it lands halfway between a fun gadget and a real productivity resource.


Solid Ink Blocks

More keys Than a Wurlitzer
Other buttons continue the MX5000's multimedia theme. Three at top left, near the Sync button, open your PC's My Videos, My Music and My Pictures folders (while others at top right launch your e-mail or instant messaging client).

Next to the LCD, the keyboard's most ballyhooed feature is a vertical touchpad at the left edge that lets you adjust audio volume or graphics-editing zoom up or down by sliding a finger. Touch-sensitive buttons — or rather, small circular areas of the touchpad — serve as a launch button and play/pause, stop, next and previous buttons for your media player; another is an audio mute button.

Dragging zoom or volume up or down — accompanied by a minimum/maximum indicator on the LCD — is easy enough, although anything more than a small increment requires several swipes of the slider instead of just moving your finger between top and bottom.

With a flat, low-profile design like Logitech's other offerings (what the company calls "zero-degree tilt"), the keyboard offers a medium-stiff-instead-of-mushy typing feel. Its final bonus is a calculator key above the numeric keypad that transforms the latter and the LCD into a handy alternative to loading and clicking on Windows' calculator, with results sent to Windows' Clipboard for pasting into an application. Its final drawback is that you must press the calculator key again to return the LCD to normal duty, and the key is so close to the system suspend or sleep-mode key that we accidentally put our PC into hibernation twice.

Park Your Mouse
The mouse half of the MX5000 bundle is the MX1000 Laser Cordless Mouse albeit in conventional 2.4GHz radio rather than Bluetooth wireless form. While the keyboard uses two AA batteries (the LCD warns you when they're low), the mouse must be recharged by returning it to its upright desk stand each night, or at least once or twice a week; this saves money on batteries but is easy to forget to do.

Laser-accurate and 800-dpi-precise on almost any surface (not just a mouse pad), the MX1000 boasts Logitech's excellent, smooth-tilting, smooth-turning wheel mouse for both horizontal and vertical scrolling. The right-handed-only mouse also nudges right up against — without crossing over — the too-many-buttons line that so tempts pointing-device designers.

Above the comfortable thumb scoop, you'll find the usual browser Forward and Back buttons. Between them, however, is a little program-menu button that's an alternative to Windows' Alt-Tab for switching among open applications. And just above and below the scroll wheel are what Logitech calls Cruise Control buttons for high-speed vertical scrolling.

All the buttons work well and are, like most of the special keys on the keyboard, programmable for other functions through Logitech's SetPoint driver software/control panel. One disappointment is that the driver's option for assigning the same button to different functions is limited to assigning the Forward and Back buttons to page up or down through Word documents or move through PowerPoint slides or Outlook messages. As with its other cordless products, Logitech also provides its MediaLife clone of Windows' Media Center Edition for from-the-couch launching of slide shows or videos.

Good Morning — Now Wake Up
Overall, we'd give the Cordless Desktop MX5000 Laser a four- and maybe consider a five-star review — if we didn't have to subtract stars for the set's often-sluggish performance.

The keyboard LCD told us "Please wait" five or six times a day while loading the driver or switching between functions, and the mouse frequently took anywhere from one-to-five seconds to respond or move the pointer after we started moving it across our desk. It took more or less forever to wake up after the PC entered sleep or suspend mode.

Pushing the tiny underside buttons to reconnect or sync the mouse and transceiver usually solved the problem, as did rebooting for more severe cases, but the mouse was the first in a long time that we'd call unacceptably slow. A keyboard designed to reduce your use of the mouse has merit, but in this case reducing mouse usage is a priority.

Adapted from hardwarecentral.com.

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