Review: Logitech Cordless Desktop Wave

The science of ergonomics, as you know, was invented by Goldilocks, whose pioneering research into beds that were too hard, too soft, or just right blazed the way for countless studies of comfort and complaint in humans’ interaction with their environment.

Now Logitech is applying the porridge-eater’s methodology to PC interface design: The keyboard half of the Cordless Desktop Wave bundle ($90) aims to make typing less tiring than a plain-vanilla keyboard does, but without the adjustment or learning curve associated with more radical designs, such as the split ergonomic keyboards of Microsoft’s Natural or Logitech’s own Comfort series.

Besides not being axed down the middle, the new board’s layout forms a curve or smiley-face layout — according to Logitech, a shallower U-shape that’s more comfortable than the steeper V-shape seen in competitors such as Microsoft’s Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000.

The company takes another dig at Brand M by stating that typists like their letter keys to be all the same size, as opposed to the double-wide T, G, H, and N keys found on opposite sides of the 4000’s split.

Combine the above with four instead of the usual two fold-down props on the underside of the keyboard — offering a choice of high, low or zero tilt — and you’ve got what would seem to be a sufficiently ergonomic setup. Well, one more thing: The keyboard undulates.

Highs and Lows
Besides mounting its keys in a curved rather than straight array, the Cordless Desktop Wave mounts them at different heights. Since your fingers aren’t all the same length — they form a sort of arc, with your middle finger being the longest — the keyboard puts the pinky-finger A and Enter keys relatively high, descending to the middle-finger D and K, and then rising again for your index fingers’ G and H.

The sine-wave curve isn’t like the Alps or anything; the change in altitude from lowest to highest is a gentle 4mm or 0.16 inch. But it makes an eye-catching difference when you see the keyboard before you. Even the space bar climbs on one side and descends on the other.

Nor is the design wholly unprecedented — Microsoft’s already made the middle keys (or rather, the split between them) the crest of a hill that slopes down on both sides. But the Logitech is the first keyboard we’ve seen that rises again at either end. (Either side of the main keys, that is; the cursor-control keys and numeric keypad are conventionally separate groups on the right.)

And if you look past its hills and valleys, the Wave combo provides a few other features for your $90. The keyboard has some not-too-fancy but pretty handy extra buttons or desktop controls, and it comes with a perfectly simple mouse. That’s perfectly as in perfect.

The Keyboard’s Sidekick
Logitech doesn’t list model names on the bottoms of its mice the way Microsoft does; only after you install the SetPoint software driver will you learn that the bundled silver-and-black device is called the LX8 Cordless Laser Mouse. It’s a thoroughly up-to-date example of the species, with a precise laser instead of LED optical engine that gives fast response on almost any surface.

It uses the same pack-of-gum-sized, USB-port-plugged, 2.4GHz wireless transceiver as the keyboard. Like the keyboard, it runs on two AA batteries and has a small LED indicator that warns you when power’s running low. Logitech estimates the mouse should provide about six months and the keyboard up to 15 months of use before needing new batteries. 

Ever since Microsoft’s Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer 2.0 went sideways in 2003, all but the humblest mice have offered horizontal as well as vertical scrolling, depending on whether you spin the mouse wheel back and forth or tilt it from side to side. The LX8 is no exception, with firm feedback or detents as you navigate in any of the four directions available.

 Logitech Cordless Desktop Wave
Ergonomics Anyone?: The Logitech Cordless Desktop Wave keyboard and mouse.

Along with plenty of other button-customization options, the SetPoint 4.0a driver supplied on CD lets you assign a left or right tilt to another function, such as Back in your browser or Undo in your word processor (without the snags we encountered with the version 4.1 driver shipped with our Logitech VX Nano Cordless Laser Mouse last month). By default, clicking the scroll wheel brings not automatic scroll but Windows Vista’s Document Flip 3D stack of screens, or a simpler menu to switch among applications under Win XP — the same purpose as a silver button on the left edge of the keyboard, so that’s one mouse setting you may want to reprogram.

The Wave keyboard may flaunt its ergonomic credentials, but the mouse shuns the sculpted sweeps and scoops of fancier ergonomic mice with a simple, symmetrical shape suited for either the left or right hand. Comfortable rubber grips on both sides make the LX8 easy to grasp.

Logitech does provide additional buttons — just two of them rather than some ambitious competitors’ five or six — placed symmetrically on either side. And they are positioned in exactly the right spots.

Neither intrudes on your grip, with the left button perfectly situated for an upward flick of your thumb and the right for a squeeze of your ring finger (if you’re right-handed). We did click the right-side button accidentally a couple of times while learning the best way to hold the mouse, but a little adjustment fixed that, and we were too busy swooning over a left-thumb button that didn’t require a clumsy forward or backward thumb movement to notice.

Extreme Zoom
After ordering a trophy for Best Implementation of Side-Mounted Buttons in a Mouse, we looked deeper into SetPoint and played with its almost as plentiful options for customizing or reassigning the function keys and special keys on the Wave keyboard.

The former perform as the familiar F1 through F12 unless you press one along with a special-function or Fn key to the right of the spacebar (a minor adjustment, since the majority of notebooks and other keyboards put the Fn key on the left). By default, the keys launch applications such as your preferred spreadsheet, e-mail program or instant messaging client. Fn-F10 copies the One-Touch Search shortcut of some Logitech multibutton mice, pulling up a Google, Yahoo, or other search page listing the word or phrase you’ve highlighted on screen.

As for other buttons, multimedia controls hold the top center, with a volume up/down/mute rocker switch between Previous, Next, Play/Pause, and Stop keys. They’re flanked by more reprogrammable buttons that launch Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center (Media Player twice if you don’t have Win XP Media Center Edition or Vista Home Premium).

Another opens your My Pictures folder, while one brings up Vista’s Gadgets control panel (or, for XP users, the Yahoo Widgets site). Logitech’s own site offers a few downloadable gadgets such as a screen-corner Caps Lock/Num Lock/Scroll Lock indicator and a words-per-minute typing speedometer.

Finally, a rocker switch at the left of the keyboard lets you zoom into or out of the image, spreadsheet, Web page or whatever you’re viewing. It’s convenient, but sensitive — if you don’t tap the switch lightly to zoom by just one increment, your work suddenly shrinks to nothing or blows up till one character fills the screen.

So How Do You Feel About That?
Ultimately, though, the main attraction of the Cordless Desktop Wave kit is the keyboard. Is it truly more comfortable than its competitors?

Well, we don’t quite agree with Logitech’s no-adjustment or zero-learning-curve claim: We’re not bad at touch typing, but when we tried to log onto the office network immediately after installing the Wave, we had to call the IT department after we got locked out for misspelling our password three times.

But after three or four hours, we felt up to speed and back to our virtually error-free (Oh, please. — Ed.) productivity. And today, after using the keyboard for two weeks, we’re in no hurry to put it away. Actually, we’ve stashed our previous keyboard in the closet.

That said, we’re not as blown away or enthusiastic as we thought we might be. And here’s the thing: We don’t think Logitech’s designers wanted us to be.

Let’s be clear. The Wave definitely feels above average when cradling our fingers on the home row and our wrists on its rubberized palm rest. Its typing feel is fine, too — a bit plasticky or notebook-PC-like, but that’s true of almost every replacement keyboard on the market nowadays. It encouraged us to sit up straight and align our hands properly.

In use, however, the Logitech doesn’t give the impact of something different or the sense of improvement we’ve experienced with some ergonomic keyboards — the feeling that, after climbing or conquering their learning curves, we’ve joined an elite club of typists who soar above the common herd and their common QWERTY.

Instead, the new keyboard is like a comfortable old shoe: Its learning curve is pretty gentle, and it has no unlearning curve or necessity to change old habits. On your desk, it doesn’t make an in-your-face-look-at-me-I’m-ergonomic statement as many keyboards and mice do. Instead it feels well, nice. It’s a first step into ergonomic design that may be as far as many care to go.

Adapted from

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