The pointing device, as we mentioned, is of the 'nipple' variety. However, it's a little bit more complicated than that. In fact, the nipple / nubbin / protuberance is actually quite difficult to get the hang of. You can't just move it left and right, you see - you have to apply pressure downwards too. This can make it bizarrely difficult to get a good level of accuracy, and I couldn't quite work out whether I was better off using my thumb or my forefinger. Undoubtedly you'll grow accustomed to it, but it's not a 'pick up and work perfectly' device like a trackpad or trackball. The left and right mouse buttons are on the left hand side of the keyboard, so that you can tweak the nipple with your right hand and push the buttons with your left. All sounds rather sordid, doesn't it?
At the top of the keyboard there are a couple of power buttons. One controls the PC, and will put it into a sleep state when pressed. The other, cunningly, can be programmed to turn your TV on and off. With a fairly simple combination of key presses, and some pointing of your existing TV remote, you can program the button to handle the power - and you can also program the volume buttons on the left to control your TV directly, too.
The back side
If we flip the keyboard over, we can spot a couple of things. The first is that there are rubberised grips on the bottom of the keyboard to prevent it from slipping off whatever surface you happen to have it perched on. The second is that the battery compartment is located underneath one side of the keyboard, rather than in the middle (the keyboard takes 4 AA batteries). Fortunately, the keyboard is stable enough that the weight of the batteries doesn't unbalance it.
Build quality and sundries
The retail package doesn't include the USB dongle required to hook up to the computer, since Microsoft assumes you already have one from the MCE system you bought in the first place. Of course, if you're a MCE self-builder, this could mean you have to splash out for the remote and dongle package, as well as the keyboard, just to get the dongle.
The keyboard is sturdy, and is built well, as is generally true of Microsoft kit. We've mentioned the robustness of the remote buttons already, but it's also good that the cover for the battery compartment is incredibly stiff to get off. Know how annoying it is to have a little brother or idle friend pulling at the battery cover on your remote control? Well, without some serious application of fingernail force, that cover isn't going anywhere. Idle hands, you have met your match.
The keyboard is currently retailing for just under £40 at Scan
or just under $70 at Newegg
. If you require the USB dongle, that will set you back an additional £20. There are many cheaper cordless keyboard available - Logitech and of course, Microsoft, have various models, but most are designed for desktop use. There is no doubting you pay a small premium for the shortcut buttons, flashy backlighting and lap-friendly shape, but that premium exists for many of Microsoft's range of peripherals.
This isn't going to be a replacement keyboard for your main system - it really is a specialised device. After a few days using the device with my Media Center system, I can really see how it can make a difference to usage. If I'm sitting in front of the TV and want to do a quick search, rather than grab my laptop, I can just fire up IE and hit Google on my LCD TV. With some practice, I've become pretty good at tweaking the nipple perfectly, and can now perform impressive gesticular movements.
How far you
will use it is really up to you. For instance, if you don't have a coffee table next to your sofa, you might find yourself lacking somewhere to put the keyboard, whereas a simple remote might just languish on the arm of the sofa. You might be incredibly clumsy with your drinks, in which case a remote is probably more robust and / or expendable.
However, if you think you could perhaps use one of these keyboards, the pricing is in the right spot: you wouldn't want to pay any more for it, but the quality is such that you can happily fork out the asking price knowing you've bought a top piece of kit.
All in all, then, a very useful accessory for anybody with a Media Center setup.