Top 100 Spotlight: Walk on the Wireless Side

Think for a minute about the keyboard and mouse you use now. Are you happy with them? Perhaps you haven't given your input devices (or your hands) much consideration lately. But if you've been pounding away on your old keyboard and clicking the same mouse for several years, ask yourself if it's time to upgrade.

Wireless devices, which typically use radio frequency technology, are a great way to go for notebook and desktop PC users alike. With fewer cables, your desk gets less cluttered. In particular, not having a cord makes mice easier to maneuver: You don't have to tug on tangled cables. And the newer wireless models offer a great array of customization options.

For this review, several PC World editors got their hands on eight different wireless devices and gave them a workout. At least two editors tested each product to provide a range of opinions; because of the testers' different hand sizes, comfort levels, and individual tastes, reactions to some input devices varied considerably.

With some wireless packages, you get rid of all the cables on your desk: The RF receiver, which connects the keyboard and/or mouse to your PC, is a key chain-size adapter that plugs into your USB port. In other cases you use a wired receiver or base station (for charging the mouse), which sits on your desk. RF keyboards and mice must be no more than a few feet away from the receiver with a relatively clear line of sight to operate.

Why Bluetooth?

A newer way to go wireless is with a keyboard and mouse that use Bluetooth. This technology allows your PC to talk to as many as seven Bluetooth-ready devices up to 30 feet away--and the devices don't need to be in view of the base station or USB adapter to connect. However, Bluetooth keyboards and mice cost more than their RF counterparts. And during most of our tests, unfortunately, Bluetooth devices took longer to install, and some connections were occasionally shaky.

Our verdict? We picked one favorite in each of our three categories: wireless RF mouse, RF mouse-and-keyboard set, and Bluetooth input devices. In general our favorites all felt comfortable to use, and they provided plenty of easy-to-implement programmable options.

Microsoft's $65 Basic Wireless Optical Desktop , our favorite RF set, comes with 25 programmable buttons at a nice price. Our pick for RF mouse is Logitech's $50 Cordless Click Plus Optical Mouse , largely because of its great navigation features.

Our favorite Bluetooth package is Logitech's $250 DiNovo Media Desktop. It comes with a detached numeric keypad, which worked great as a remote control for music files. However, the DiNovo has a steep price, and the keyboard and mouse in our tests took a few seconds to respond every time the PC booted, a common Bluetooth characteristic. Unless you need a Bluetooth hub for other devices, such as a PDA or printer, we recommend RF instead.

Sure, your current keyboard and mouse work just fine, but you may find that a new wireless mouse or input-device duo makes your computing tasks more comfortable--and with all the customization options, they may even save you time.

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