Next-gen input devices for a next-gen OS
While there’s a lot more going on under hood, touch control is the singular Windows 8 feature that fundamentally changes how you interact with your notebook, tablet, or desktop PC.
The change in experience is almost as significant as the transition from relying on keyboard combinations to sliding a mouse around your desk. These days, you can control your device with a finger swipe or gesture as easily as you can by pressing buttons on a mouse or keyboard.
Those familiar devices aren’t necessarily going away, but they are evolving to leverage the new Windows user interface.
Here's our take on 11 new products.
Logitech Bluetooth Illuminated Keyboard K810
Logitech has a strong reputation for manufacturing great keyboards, and the K810 is no exception.
And if you like typing in the dark—either at your desk or on your living-room sofa—you’ll appreciate the backlit keys that automatically brighten or dim in response to ambient light.
The keyboard is extremely thin, with a slightly wedge-shaped profile, but it’s very comfortable to type on.
Logitech expects to fetch $100 for the K810, but the keyboard’s feature set and performance renders it worthy of that premium price tag.
Click here for details from Logitech.
Microsoft Sculpt Comfort Keyboard
Microsoft’s take on ergonomics is that a keyboard should have subtle curves and plenty of padding. We actually dig it, but making the spacebar twice as wide as the other keys, splitting it two, and assigning the left side backspace functionality is a bridge too far. Fortunately, you can easily render the left spacebar a normal spacebar again.
There are dedicated Windows 8 shortcut keys for opening the Search, Share, Devices, and Settings charms, and Undo, Cut, Copy, New, and Open are printed on the Z, X, C, N, and O keys, respectively (in case your muscles haven’t memorized those Ctrl-plus combos). This keyboard doesn’t have a fancy backlight, but it’s priced right at $60.
Microsoft's website has more details.
Microsoft Sculpt Mobile Keyboard
Microsoft packages its ergo concepts in a take-it-with-you model in the form of the Sculpt Mobile Keyboard. This $50 plank offers the same contoured shape of the Sculpt Comfort in a smaller, thinner, and lighter package, losing the padded wrist rest and the numeric keypad in the process.
The keys are full size, but the keyboard is so thin that there’s almost no well for them to travel down into. The Sculpt Mobile’s nearly flat design renders it awkward to use. Typing on this keyboard felt like tapping a 2x4. We’d almost rather use an on-screen keyboard.
You'll find more information at Microsoft.
Microsoft Wedge Mobile Keyboard
The Wedge Mobile’s lightweight, snap-on carrying case can also serve as a robust stand for your tablet, although it can maintain the tablet in only one position.
But this board’s key well is even shallower than the Sculpt Mobile’s. Plus, the keys are packed too tightly together, and they lack any texture. Those problems combined with the weak tactile feedback from the short throw had my fingertips running into each other like they were performing at a poorly choreographed dance recital.
Microsoft thinks the Wedge Mobile’s dual functionality renders the keyboard/stand combo worthy of a premium price tag: $80. We don’t.
More details at Microsoft.
Logitech Touch Mouse T620
Stroking the surface of the touch-sensitive Touch Mouse T260 with your fingertips is supposed to have the same impact as gestures performed on a touchscreen monitor. But it didn’t always work that way.
Gestures include swiping one fingertip in from the left edge to switch between applications, or from the right edge to open the Windows 8 Charms panel. Swiping left and right with one finger activates horizontal scrolling, while performing the same movement with two fingers moves backward and forward in your web browser history.
The surface of the mouse is devoid of texture, and there are no markings or to identify the areas you’re supposed to interact with. Sometimes the gestures worked just fine, but almost as often we just looked like kooks as we tapped and stroked the $70 device anxiously trying to bend it to our will.
You can get more information at Logitech.com.
Logitech Zone Touch Mouse T400
Logitech has replaced the middle button on the $50 Zone Touch T400 with a glass touch strip. Clicking the forward two-thirds of the strip takes you to the Windows 8 Start screen, while tapping the back two-thirds area opens a window that allows you to switch applications. Sliding your fingers left and right across the strip performs a horizontal scroll.
We liked the feel of the matte finish on top of the T400, and its rubber-coated sides render it easy to grip. But the device is too small for anyone with even average-sized hands. We hadn’t been using the mouse for more than an hour before ours curled into a painful claw.
Mice have had tilt wheels between their left and right buttons for years. We spin the wheel constantly for vertical scrolling, but we almost never tilt the wheel to scroll horizontally. We wouldn’t use the T400’s left/right gestures, either.
Read more about it at Logitech.com.
Microsoft Touch Mouse
We were almost ready to give up on the touch mouse concept after auditioning Logitech’s offerings, but Microsoft’s Touch Mouse changed our mind. The $80 price tag, on the other hand, is a little hard to swallow (and that’s apparently a common sentiment, because it’s currently on sale in the Microsoft store for $50).
The Touch Mouse can distinguish between gestures performed with one, two, or three fingers on its top surface, and it can perform other commands in response to thumb gestures on its side. Flick one finger to the left or right to scroll in the corresponding direction. Slide two fingers to the right to switch to your next open application, or slide them left to open the Windows 8 Charms bar.
You can perform other commands, too, and while it takes some time to master the strokes, you won’t want to go back to a conventional mouse once you have.
More details available at Microsoft.com.
Microsoft Sculpt Touch Mouse
In our book, the best peripherals are simple to operate and comfortable to hold. Microsoft’s $50 Sculpt Touch Mouse offers three simple buttons, a comfortable shape, and Bluetooth support.
The four-direction middle mouse touch strip provides tactile feedback, so you know exactly where your fingertip is. Swipe quickly and send the page flying in that direction, which is perfect for scrolling through long documents.
The touch pad can be a little finicky when responding to pressure, but it’s generally a reliable device.
Additional details at Microsoft.com.
Microsoft Wedge Touch Mouse
The first time we grasped Microsoft’s Wedge Touch Mouse, our fingers overshot its buttons by a good inch and a half. The device has only enough room for your thumb and one finger to grasp either side and for your index finger to rest on top.
Touch capabilities are limited to just four-way scrolling: Slide your finger left or right to scroll horizontally, or stroke toward you or down and away to scroll vertically. There’s no pinch to zoom, browser history, or media-player control features, for example.
When the device the Wedge Touch is paired with shuts down or goes into hibernation, the mouse automatically goes into “backpack mode” and essentially turns itself off. Despite the small size and cool technology, we can’t recommend this product at its current $70 price point.
Microsoft.com has more information.
Logitech Wireless Rechargeable Touchpad T650
If you’d like to ditch your mouse altogether, Logitech offers a very capable alternative with the wireless Touchpad T650. The 5.25-by-5.1-inch trackpad recognizes 12 distinct gestures and up to four touch points.
Mastering the Touchpad T650 takes practice, but if you’ve memorized all the Windows 8 gestures that a touch-screen display recognizes, you can use them all with this touchpad. Slide three fingers up the pad to bring up the Windows 8 start screen, or slide three fingers down the pad to show the desktop. You can spread two fingers apart to zoom in, or pinch two fingers together to zoom in.
As we’ve noted with Logitech’s other devices, the company’s SetPoint software doesn’t provide much flexibility when it comes to customizing gestures. And while the T650’s $80 price tag might seem high, it’s a much less-expensive alternative to buying a touch-screen display.
You can find get more information at Logitech.com.
Targus Touch Pen
Months after the operating system’s rollout, Windows 8 notebooks with touchscreens remain few and far between. And if you’ve upgraded your old notebook, it’s even less likely to have a touchscreen. Attach the $100 Targus Touch Pen to your machine and bam! Instant touchscreen!
Installation is a bit of a hassle: You must stick a magnet to the laptop’s s bezel and attach a small receiver, and you need to use the pen stylus to perform touch commands (not your fingertip), but there aren’t any drivers to install, and the system works well. The pen is comfortable to hold and use and you’ll be able to use all of the gesture controls in Windows 8 just like you had a touchscreen.
Targus.com has more information.
The good, bad and ugly history of Microsoft hardware
Now that you've checked out all the modern stuff offered, check out Microsoft's innovative—and less attractive—hardware past.