For years I’ve had a computer hooked up to the big screen, and for years I’ve struggled to find a usable mouse and keyboard that worked well from the couch. Nothing seemed to work perfectly, at least until now. IOGEAR has just released the best portable mouse/keyboard combo for us HTPC (home theater PC) users. The IOGEAR GKM571R is a handheld Mini Keyboard with a trackball, scroll wheel, and backlit LED. It uses an RF frequency and has a 33 foot range.
1x Mini Wireless Keyboard
1x USB RF Receiver
1x Cleaning Cloth
2x AA Batteries
1x Quick Start Guide
1x Warranty Card
The IOGEAR GKM571R is a chunky, but attractive, little device. It looks like a remote control from the 70’s. I quickly began to appreciate the chunkiness as looks nice on a table top and doesn’t get lost in the couch. It’s pretty light, weighing under 13 ounces. This small rectangular brick is silver on black and has a translucent black cover, which almost looks like it could be a touch pad. It’s not a touch pad, but as the GKM571R got accustomed to my very busy coffee table, I realized the cover is a nice touch to keep the keyboard clean and safe. You could even use it as a coaster if need be.
The GKM571R has actual plastic keys that spring back, not rubberized buttons. The keys are well spaced where you can easily press one button without accidentally hitting another. Every key is backlit with a blue light; there’s a light sensor on the face that controls the lighting. The backlight can be turned off by the switch on the underside of the device. There is a scroll wheel on the side of the device and a trackball on the top right of the keyboard. Around the trackball is a square that looks like it could be a a series of buttons, but it’s not.
The one thing that IOGEAR got less-than-perfect was button placement. There are a bunch of keyboard commands doubled up on keys, and accessed with the function key; this was expected from a keyboard this size. Every letter and number has its own key, but to my dismay, the arrow buttons (up, down, right, left) and escape button are all secondary buttons. This is not favorable for someone who frequently uses a media center (like XBMC). The right and left click mouse buttons are regular keyboard buttons, and they’re located at the top left of the keyboard. The mouse button placement is comfortable to use, except it eliminates the possibility of one hand use. The remote uses two AA batteries and there’s a battery indicator on the keyboard’s face. The tiny USB adapter is stored inside of the battery compartment.
There really wasn’t much of a setup. Install the included AA batteries in the keyboard and plug the receiver into the computer’s USB port. That’s it. The keyboard will quickly be recognized and ready to use. There’s no on/off switch, the keyboard and mouse are always active. It works on Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Mac OS X 10.3.9 and later, and it’s even supposed to work for PS3 and XBOX 360. The multimedia and special keys do not work consistently across all platforms.
One of the most important aspects of any wireless keyboard is range and accuracy. Most wireless keyboards are designed to be used a few feet away from the receiver and require a straight shot, no obstructions. IOGEAR worked almost perfectly from about 12 feet away, with the receiver plugged into the back of my computer. It has an advertised range of 33 feet. As long as there is not something directly covering the back of the GKM571R, keystrokes were rarely skipped. If a keystroke was skipped it’s because the key was not pressed down all the way.
GKM571R uses a 2.4GHz radio frequency (RF), not an infrared (IR) signal. There is no noticeable delay; keys register as quickly as they would with any keyboard. The keyboard is comfortable to use, but you can’t use it with two hands like a full size keyboard. I found it best to peck at it one thumb at a time, holding it like a gameboy.
The trackball mouse was very comfortable and natural. The trackball sensitivity can be adjusted directly from the keyboard. There are secondary buttons to customize it to 400, 800, or 1200 DPI. You can then fine tune the sensitivity in your computer’s mouse settings. On occasion, there was a delay the instant I began using the trackball, but after that instant there were no problems. I haven’t noticed any mouse skipping or jittering, it has pretty fluid and accurate movement.
There are a number of multimedia and special keys on the keyboard which have mixed functionality across platforms. For instance, there are play, pause, and track controls–on Windows those features work mainly in Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center, on a Mac play and pause work to control iTunes, but not track controls. There are volume controls which work globally on both Mac and Windows. There are also exclusive Windows Media Center buttons on the keyboard that won’t work outside of that application. There are right and left arrows on the keyboard which seem to just work as back and forward in Windows web browsers; they don’t seem to have any functionality on the Mac.
If you have a computer hooked up in the living room, you’re aware a full sized mouse and keyboard do not fit your needs. You need something somewhat portable, with good range, accuracy, and usability. There are not a lot of HTPC mouse/keyboard remotes on the market, and there’s even fewer that work well. The IOGEAR GKM571R is the best we’ve used to date, even if we were impartial to aspects of the button layout, and we had to get used to pushing keys down all the way. It’s a great looking device, it works well, and feels good. I wouldn’t recommend it as a keyboard for someone who needs to write essays, but as an HTPC keyboard it gets the job done quickly and efficiently. It costs $99.95 from IOGear.com–if you spend enough time with a computer hooked up to the big screen, it’s very much worth it. You can purchase similar products for less, but as I have learned, you get what you pay for. IOGEAR includes a three year warranty too.
The Good: Cross Platform, Range and Accuracy, Non-existent Setup, Backlit, Solid Build
The Bad: Soft taps don’t always register, button layout could be better for media centers, shows finger prints, trackball and mouse buttons are on opposite sides of keyboard