The cord-cutting trend has made streaming STBs (set-top boxes) and HTPCs (home theater PCs) popular. Remotes are bundled with all OTT (over-the-top) boxes and Android media streamers, and Media Center remotes are common for HTPCs. However, as media consumption becomes more interactive (for example, consumers explicitly searching for a movie to play on Netflix), the use of remotes with limited functionality becomes cumbersome.

Last  year, we visited some vendors at CES to look at the options on display for interacting with HTPCs. Our criteria for paying attention to a device included the following:

  • The device should be wireless and optimally sized (neither the mini- varieties which make typing with large fingers difficult, nor the full-sized combos which come with separate keyboard and mouse units)
  • The device should come with either an integrated touchpad or a trackball
  • Ergonomics and ease of use with a layout as similar as possible to a traditional keyboard while also allowing for short-term single handed operation common in HTPC scenarios
  • Be adaptable for the occasional prolonged typing / computer interaction task with properly sized keys

Some of the other desirable features include prolongation of battery life by going into sleep mode (either automatically, or through an explicit toggle switch), 5 GHz communication frequency (to avoid the crowded 2.4 GHz spectrum) and an integrated rechargeable battery with a charging dock. It would also be nice to have ease of use with Windows 8.x (in terms of replicating touchscreen functionality on a touchpad). Obviously, features have to be traded off to hit an acceptable price point. So, the options we want to look at might not hit any of the desirable features too.

I have been using a Logitech K400 for more than a year, and it has managed to become the mainstay in my HTPC setup. Frequently available for less than $30, its feature-to-price ratio is simply unparalleled. Unfortunately, the keyboard does have a few drawbacks with respect to ergonomics and key placement, making it challenging to use it for extended typing duties. With a better budget, would it be possible to improve the HTPC interaction experience? That is what we hope to answer with our 'Interacting with HTPCs' series.

In today's piece we will be looking at three different wireless HTPC interaction solutions with MSRPs ranging from $50 to $70:

  1. IOGEAR GKM561R 2.4GHz Multimedia Keyboard with Laser Trackball and Scroll Wheel
  2. SIIG JK-WR0412-S1 Wireless Mini Multimedia Trackball Keyboard
  3. SIIG JK-WR0312-S1 Wireless Multi-Touchpad Mini Keyboard

We will first take a look at the features offered by each of these keyboards in detail along with some usage impressions. This will be followed by the comparison of the pros and cons of each of these units on a single page. Note that most of the aspects presented in keyboard reviews are subjective and dependent on test environment. For example, even the wireless range may vary from one test location to another because the 2.4 GHz channel being used might exhibit interference issues under certain conditions. This could result in improper functioning and range issues. All the three units we are covering today operate in the 2.4 GHz band and have an advertised range of 33 ft (under ideal conditions). We will not be covering the range factor any further in this review.

IOGEAR GKM561R - Features & Usage Impressions
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  • username609 - Tuesday, March 4, 2014 - link

    I had the IOGEAR keyboard for a couple years. The biggest problem was the mechanical trackball attracting and retaining dirt. The keyboard had to be disassembled every so often and the inner wheels cleaned in order to keep it functioning. I finally replaced the board with a K400 when the keys began to delaminate.

    One definite advantage to the IOGEAR: all of the Media Center buttons work out of the box. There's a lot of functionality that has to be programmed into the K400 in order to get it to the same level of user-friendliness.
  • zyk - Sunday, March 2, 2014 - link

    The fact that you have to use keyboard combinations or SetPoint software to access F1-F12 keys keeps me away from most of Logitech's new portable keyboards. I would imagine this is a determining factor for many users and functionality caveats like this ought to be in the comparison chart.
  • Kobaljov - Sunday, March 2, 2014 - link

    Another interesting smaller option can be the Sony Android TV's remote controller with full qwerty keyboard, but unfortunately it had compatibility issues on other OSes
  • Penti - Monday, March 3, 2014 - link

    Do Motorola/Arris still sell their RF-based qwerty remote/keyboard (NYXboard) any more? Pulse-eight discontinued theirs/it. To bad as I have yet to see a replacement.

    Lot's of smaller options around though.
  • andy o - Sunday, March 2, 2014 - link

    I'm using the Rapoo Blade E9180P, after using the Logitech K400 (first edition) frustratingly for years. I'm happy overall. It operates on 5GHz, and has the same kind of "nano" USB dongle that Logitech has. Only gripes: can't triple-click, and the mouse acceleration is not very customizable (basically only the Windows on/off option).

    Pros: can actually DO gestures, even middle click with 3 fingers and pinch to zoom, not like the Logitech K400 which its first edition was multitouch but for some reason Logitech never enabled any other gesture than two finger scroll. Also, full size keys, not reduced like the K400, and shorter but just a bit longer.
  • inkz - Sunday, March 2, 2014 - link

    Ganesh, thank you for the keyboard reviews.
    Would you please identify any idiosyncrasies in the HTPC keyboards reviewed, such as behaviour when falling out of range, battery drain, sync issues, BIOS usage. Some examples I have experienced:
    Old keyboard that looked like Grandtec KEY-3000 - would drain rechargeable batteries monthly, following each battery change - required resync
    SIIG JK-WR0412-S1 clone - whenever the link dropped, the last key press would become stickyyyyyyyy
    MC-7126 from dx - trackball would intermittently drop out, receiver fails on exiting S3 mode
    Logitech K400 - trackpad fails when a damp finger is used (overly sensitive to water droplets)
    Rapoo E2700 - trackpad sensitivity set ridiculously low (problematic when you connect multiple keyboards without keyboard profile support), and trackpad cannot wake from sleep

    One or two of them also didn't work in BIOS, don't remember which.

    I look forward to more HTPC keyboard/trackball reviews & other readers' recommendations. I still haven't found a perfect keyboard (the SIIG JK-WR0412-S1 clone I had would come close, except for the poor behaviour during dropouttttttts).
  • alphaod - Sunday, March 2, 2014 - link

    I use the Logitech KT820.

    It's got good tactile feedback and the trackpad is buttonless. It also looks sleaker than the K400. The only issue is on OS X (connected to my Mac mini), it doesn't support multitouch gestures like three finger swipe and whatnot.

    And it's pricier at $80, but I think it's worth it.
  • meacupla - Sunday, March 2, 2014 - link

    It's not in the same price range at all, if purpose bought, but it would be nice to see the alternatives.
    Wii-mote, PS3 BD remote, nexus 7 or a spare smartphone which have support in remote controlling windows, XBMC remote, powerdvd remote, etc.
  • cjs150 - Monday, March 3, 2014 - link

    Maplin used to do a combined keyboard and trackball that was the size of an Xbox controller. The build quality was a bit dubious, it tends to take a while to wake up but for sofa surfing it is ideal. From memory the cost was about £15 or $22.

    If someone could remake but with better build quality that would be an absolute winner - typing was easy on it as long as it was limited to web addresses, short emails and similar
  • nos024 - Monday, March 3, 2014 - link

    I'm using my tablet + PowerDVD 13 Ultra and it works great.

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