capsule review

Microsoft Basic Wireless Optical Desktop

At a Glance
  • Microsoft Basic Wireless Optical Desktop

Microsoft Basic Wireless Optical Desktop
Photograph: Rick Rizner

Despite its name, Microsoft's $65 entry-level Basic Wireless keyboard and mouse combo goes beyond the basics. Slightly bigger and more rounded than a typical keyboard, Microsoft's white and gray model gives you a generous amount of programmable options. The customizable buttons sit along the top of the keyboard and are all within easy reach. In total, 25 buttons are up for grabs, including the 12 function buttons, the multimedia buttons (My Music, My Pictures, and so on), and even the Play/Pause, Stop, and Forward/Back buttons for your music tracks.

All 12 function buttons have double roles; just press the F Lock button for an additional 12 functions, each clearly labeled. For example, if you're in a Microsoft Word document, you can press F6 to close your file, F10 to run a spelling check, or F12 to open the Print dialog box. These commands work in Microsoft Office programs, but only some of them work in non-Microsoft applications. In Lotus Notes, for instance, you can press F4 to open a new e-mail message or F7 to reply to an e-mail, but when you press F8, which is set up to forward an e-mail, nothing happens. (In Microsoft Outlook, the command works with no problem.)

If you don't like the way Microsoft set up the function keys, you can reprogram all of them yourself using the company's simple utility. A word of caution: After you've enabled the function keys' secondary functions, you have to remember to turn off the F Lock to return them to their primary functions. Two testers agreed that it was very easy to forget whether the lock was on or off, because there's no light or indicator on the keyboard, and they ended up having to stop typing and check the screen to see what the keys were doing.

Overall, the keyboard felt comfortable and firm to type on. You don't have to press too hard, the keys are nicely spaced, and the slight clicking sound was never obtrusive. The main complaint? One tester had a hard time with the long and skinny Delete key. The tester, who ditched her beloved split-style keyboard for a couple of weeks, reported that she was constantly pressing the big Delete key instead of the Enter key--and it was a drag to have to go back and restore all the deletions. On the flip side, people with large hands may find that the Ctrl and Alt keys on the left side of the keyboard are a little small.

The no-frills mouse sports a gentle curve, making it comfortable to hold and manipulate. And with the textured scroll wheel, moving around unwieldy documents and Web pages is easy. In addition, the mouse's symmetrical shape is a breeze for left-handers to use.

In general, installing the $65 package was straightforward, though we would have liked a simple wizard to present us with a few customization options during the installation--say, to allow left-handers to modify the right- and left- click functions.

Microsoft estimates that both the mouse and the keyboard, which each require two AA batteries, should last about two months.

This set is a great option for someone who wants a cheap way to go wireless with lots of customization options.

Aoife M. McEvoy

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At a Glance
  • Microsoft Basic Wireless Optical Desktop

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