- Compact size
- Excellent operating range
- Trackball takes some getting used to
It’s not perfect, but this compact keyboard makes a great addition to any couch potato’s entertainment center.
Lenovo’s Mini Wireless Keyboard N5901 crams a keyboard and mouse into a svelte shell, offering a compact way to improve your home theater PC experience.
Priced at $60 (as of June 23, 2010), the N5901 is fairly attractive. The black and orange motif is simple and elegant, though the glossy finish is prone to picking up fingerprints. Despite being lightweight, it feels solid and should hold up well in even the most chaotic of living rooms. Power comes from a pair of AAA batteries; they didn’t run down during my testing, but the lack of a battery indicator means that you should probably keep a few spares handy.
The device communicates with your PC by way of a tiny USB dongle. In my use, it had excellent range: I wandered into other rooms, at distances up to the 32-foot that Lenovo claims, without breaking connectivity.
Plenty of wireless devices tout their plug-and-play functionality, but I was pleasantly surprised at how readily a range of test devices detected the N5901. It connected to desktops running Windows 7, Vista, and XP without a hitch. And after a moment of confusion when I attempted to use the N5901 on a MacBook Pro (OSX isn’t officially supported), I was up and running with it as well.
Most keyboards this small tend to be a bit painful to operate; but even for my oversized mitts, typing on the N5901 wasn’t too much of a chore (physical mobile phone keyboards are smaller). Though touch-typing is impractical on it, the keyboard–with its raised keys of uniform size–was wide enough to keep my hands from cramping, Still, it clearly isn’t intended for chores more involved than search queries and occasional e-mail messages.
The N5901 is equally comfortable to hold with one hand (while scrolling about) or with two (for thumb-typing), but Lenovo’s decision to replicate a full-size keyboard actually works against the device. The Menu key, for instance, or the pair of Control and Shift keys are handy when you’re rattling out prose on a full-size keyboard, but they are a waste of space on something this compact.
The keyboard’s lack of a shortcut to Windows Media Center is a glaring oversight in a device that’s supposed to simplify the user’s living-room PC experience. Instead, it offers a key whose sole function is to fire up the My Computer window. And since the device lacks any sort of software, you’ll have to use a third-party utility to reprogram that button to perform something. The N5901 does offer volume and playback controls, which continued to function properly even when I tested them on OSX.
The N5901’s mousing features are fairly serviceable. The trackball rolls smoothly, though it’s rather noisy–and when you’re planted on the couch in the dead of night, the incessant warble of plastic on metal will quickly start to grate on your nerves. The left and right mouse buttons are flush with the keyboard’s body, and click satisfyingly. Navigating can be a bit of a chore, however. Simple acts such as clicking on a link become a two-step operation: First you scroll with the trackball; then you move your thumb onto the appropriate mouse button. Common tasks like scrolling through a Web page or dragging a window require both hands, diminishing the device’s overall ease of use.
Lenovo’s N5901 is a lesson in compromise. You don’t get the usability of a standard wireless keyboard and mouse–but good luck getting comfortable with that ensemble while you’re splayed out on the couch. The N5901’s keyboard could stand to become a bit more streamlined, and most of my gripes with the mouse would vanish if Lenovo replaced the trackball with a trackpad. Still, for a device whose purpose is to help couch potatoes navigate their media, it does a reasonably good job.