Microsoft’s Ultimate Keyboard, the Wireless Entertainment Desktop 8000

by Mike on September 22, 2008

058My new keyboard and mouse arrived today. It’s Microsoft’s flagship keyboard and mouse set. Microsoft calls it the “Ultimate Keyboard”. My wife just calls it, “The most expensive keyboard and mouse”. This is the “Wireless Entertainment Desktop 8000” or (WED 8000 for short). It’s a Bluetooth, rechargeable, backlit keyboard and mouse set. It’s also expensive with an RRP of $300 USD. Here’s my thoughts after the first six hours.

My requirements and the market

I use my keyboard and mouse a lot every day. I’m not constantly hammering on the keys but I consider my usage to be in the high “extreme” end of the user spectrum. I look for quite a few features when purchasing equipment for my business that I know I’ll be getting a lot of use out of and I read every single review on all the high end keyboards and mice on the internet before settling on the Microsoft flagship set. I’m a software developer by trade, so it’s important that any keyboard is comfortable to type on and any mouse is responsive and tidy.

My old set was the Microsoft Laser Desktop 6000 version 2 (pictures below), which I picked up in PC World after an emergency failure of the Microsoft Elite keyboard that I had previously. I need a keyboard that I can type on comfortably all day (twelve hours a day or more), seven days a week. My last keyboard was the Microsoft Laser Desktop 6000 which I was very impressed with. The keys follow Microsoft’s “Comfort Curve” design, which is a less pronounced version of the “Natural” bent keyboards. It’s an excellent comprise of usability and typing comfort. My Laser Desktop 6000 had the “Comfort Curve” design which is a cross between the usability of a straight flat keyboard and the comfortable ergonomics of a bent “natural” keyboard. It’s a great compromise of comfort and usability and I wanted something similarly ergonomic for my next desktop set. Logitech also make a “Wave” keyboard which has a similar curve but it also goes up and down like the sea and it’s such a big keyboard that I immediately wrote it off. The problem with big keyboards is that they take up far too much desk space and are positioned so that your right mousing hand is unnaturally placed far from the left hand on the keyboard. I needed a small keyboard, preferably without a numeric keypad. There was also no way I am prepared to re-train my brain for the DVORAK keyboard system. QWERTY is here to stay.

The alternatives at the high end of the market are very limited. If you’re into games there are several gaming keyboards which might take your interest. They’re wired so much more responsive for those first person shooters and you can purchase gaming mice which are also wired with super-high laser accuracy. None of these are needed unless you’re a competitive gamer, which I’m not. I also don’t like the sheer size of the gaming keyboards – not good for extended periods of typing or coding. So if you’re not a competitive gamer, you’ve got the Logitech DiNovo keyboard (the stylish one made of a single sheet of laser cut plexi-glass) and the much-loved MX Revolution mouse. I’ll admit now that the Logitech MX Revolution mouse is quite probably a superior usable and comfortable mouse to the one that ships with the WED 8000, the Wireless Laser 8000 Mouse. But the Logitech DiNovo keyboard is too big and the keys simply aren’t as good as the WED 8000. It’s rechargable but needs an awkward dock and isn’t backlit. It has a stronger built in track pad on the keyboard so you don’t need a mouse (the WED 8000 has a trackpad too but it’s smaller) and if I was purchasing a media keyboard for the living room I’d have probably purchased the Logitech DiNovo. I’m also going to say that Logitech’s top end keyboard and top end mouse are 30% cheaper than the combined Microsoft set which I know has a slightly inferior mouse.

Am I crazy?

Perhaps. But I’m a software developer too and I want a keyboard that I can type on all day without getting tired. I could perhaps have gotten another Laser Desktop 7000 but I despise the numeric keypad. It’s too big and gets in the way of comfortable mousing. Still, Logitech have a keyboard which allows you to move the keypad elsewhere but that keyboard isn’t as comfortable to type on and is in itself quite a large piece of plastic.

So I ordered the Wireless Entertainment Desktop 8000, and here it is.

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The “Wireless” desktop set with way more wires than I’ve ever had for any desktop set – ever.

I was surprised at the sheer amount of stuff that came in the box. Five rechargeable batteries, a wealth of advertising material for the keyboard (why advertise to me when I’ve just bought the damn keyboard), a disk of drivers for Windows and Mac OS and a few other bits and pieces. Oh and cables. Lots of cables. For a wireless desktop set this thing was another device I had to find a power socket for. Maybe this should have been renamed, “The hidden-wires windows media desktop 8000 with funky lighting”.

The keys travel a little less than the Desktop 6000 but have the same low-pressure activation and quiet sound; this is a good thing. Notably missing was the option to elevate the keyboard as there are no legs. This means you’re going to be typing on a flat keyboard (it’s inclined by around 1 degree). It’s actually not bad, but it would be nice to have the choice, there is room on the underside of the keyboard to put some collapsible legs. Microsoft decided that their users wouldn’t want them. There is no wrist rest either. The posture is different and only time will tell if this has a positive benefit on productivity. These are disappointing oversights given the attention to detail on other parts of the keyboard, for example the recessed handles on the back of the keyboard the aluminium trim and the “soft touch” plastics below the keys.

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Two over-engineered battery compartments

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Beautiful. (And small).

The Hub

The keyboard has a rather large recharging dock which is basically a big powered USB hub. You don’t have to use it as you can plug the provided USB Bluetooth adaptor directly into your PC and charge the batteries as needed yourself. In which case if you can live without backlighting you may as well purchase the cheaper “Wireless Entertainment Desktop 7000” and save yourself some cash. I like being able to “stow” away my keyboard and mouse for recharging overnight. I also use the extra USB ports, and the backlighting on this automatic backlighting on this keyboard is very useful for working in the dim lighting conditions of an overcast autumn afternoon or during a winter’s night. The market appears to be demanding backlit keyboards and nowadays almost all manufacturers produce keyboards with backlighting. My PDA’s have had backlit keyboards for years, so it’s not a new gimmick. The hub has a magnet which keeps the keyboard docked and the construction of the hub feels hefty and solid.

056The USB charging dock
Note the four USB ports (can you spot the hidden one for the USB Bluetooth receiver?)

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Far Left: Mouse with charging light on
Left: WED8000 with backlight on
Right: Wireless Laser Desktop 6000 V2

This is my first Bluetooth device for my desktop workstation so it also means that my computer is Bluetooth enabled. I can connect my PDA to synchronise with my PC automatically via the Hub’s Bluetooth adaptor. A nice extra benefit.

The Keyboard

The backlighting is by default automatic, switching on when you arrive at your desk and switching off when you leave. The function reminded me of a car interior courtesy light, handy but it’s not going to light your work environment. You can manually set it to always off and always on and adjust the brightness levels.

There is no numeric keypad and the usual arrow keys have been squashed into the main section of the keyboard just under the enter key. Although odd, I’m finding this a far more comfortable arrangement as there is less distance for my fingers to travel in order to move the cursor while I’m typing, for example to press CTRL-Arrow to skip across words in a paragraph or code in Visual Studio. Less movement = Less strain. I use the numeric keypad on my last keyboard a lot but I’d much prefer to use the desktop mouse where the numeric keypad was. It’s a much more natural position for a right hander as it brings your mousing hand much closer to your left hand. Accountants might miss the keypad though.

It doesn’t come as a surprise to me that this keyboard has a lot of media keys, even though I hate them. After all it has the word “Entertainment” in it’s name. I’m completely not interested in the extra keys and I would rather they weren’t there in order to make the keyboard smaller and cheaper or to make way for more friendly custom macro keys like those found on the Logitech gaming keyboards. Windows Media Center users might be impressed with the extra keys for recording and changing channels but the rest of us can rest easy that many of these completely useless keys (such as the “gadgets button”) can be remapped to perform other actions like opening your favourite website or application. Some of the keys like “record” and “channel” cannot be remapped at all. There’s no good reason for this other than Microsoft wanting to dictate user behaviour by design and it blocks out all competition from third parties (like iTunes) to interface with these keys. Sound familiar, Microsoft?

Another ambitious art over science design decision worth mentioning here is the Windows key. It’s a backlit blue Foxes glacier mint Windows logo in blue sitting in the middle on the keyboard, underneath the space bar even though there would be plenty of space in it’s correct position which is to the left of the Alt key. Why the non-standard layout? It’s annoying but since the keyboard is so small it shouldn’t be difficult to use your thumb to activate the Windows key shortcuts. Except that the Windows key is so damn hard to press.  And another thing, there’s a green windows sweet candy button on the right hand side of the keyboard too; this one to launch Windows Media Center. This one can’t be remapped to anything else (for example: to iTunes). Neither can the big red “record” button be changed to something more useful. Who uses a record TV button anyway? I don’t have a TV tuner card anyway, so these buttons are useless, especially when you consider that the Windows Media Center keyboard shortcut to record a movie is simply CTRL+R. Microsoft have decided that you must have a button on your keyboard to press CTRL+R that cannot be commissioned for any other purpose such as opening Outlook for email. This is absolutely dreadful. It’s a blessing that these buttons are so small as I’ll never be pressing them.

The keyboard itself is seems well built. It feels solid but I could flex it a bit so it’s not as strong as it could be. The rubber feet stop it from sliding around your desk which is good – and bad – depending on whether you like to move your keyboard around a lot.

051Top: Wireless Laser Desktop 6000 V2
Bottom: Wireless Entertainment Desktop 8000

I’m still reserving judgement on the touch sensitive function keys. I’ve read a lot of reviews that said they are easy to hit by accident. This is probably true if you use your keyboard in a tray under your desk and have to “feel” for your keys. You can’t “feel” for the right touch sensitive function key for obvious reasons. The keys look good and they are very sensitive, but I’d rather have physical buttons to press. There’s plenty of space for Microsoft to have used proper keys. Seems like an example of complete over-engineering. The escape key and Home and End keys are also touch sensitive. Good news for those who hate the Microsoft “F-Lock” feature – it’s gone for this keyboard. The function keys perform as intended and if you want to use the alternate features for the function keys you have to press the Fn button just as you would on a laptop. This is how you access the shortcuts for My Pictures, My Music, Messenger, Web and your custom shortcuts as well as controlling the backlight, Insert and Scroll lock. There’s no evidence that a touch-sensitive key has been pressed, no on-screen message (like there are for volume adjustments) and no clever light glow to register the touch like there is on my Dell XPS M1330 laptop. Perhaps this will be resolved in a future release, who knows. Perhaps I’m crazy to actually purchase hardware that really could use a service pack from a software supplier known for needing them?

The keyboard has a rather good “hidden” track pad on the upper right hand side. Presumably intended for controlling the pointer from your sofa. I don’t have a sofa in the office so I won’t be using it. Still, it’s unobtrusive and a great feature. On the opposite side of the keyboard there are mouse buttons for left and right clicking. So it’s possible to hold this keyboard on your lap and by using your thumbs, control the mouse or navigate through Windows Media Center very easily. The Logitech DiNovo also has a mouse pad built in, the DiNovo’s pad is larger and more accurate though so don’t consider the keyboard alone to be a complete desktop replacement. For that we need to take a look at the keyboard’s counterpart, the mouse.

The Mouse

Having previously used a Wireless Laser Mouse 6000 and finding that mouse intensive tasks to cause my RSI to flare up I thought Microsoft might have improved on the design of their new Wireless Laser Mouse 8000. Sadly apart from the higher DPI (it’s Microsoft’s most sensitive mouse), it’s a little bit worse than it’s predecessors. The shape of the mouse is symmetrical which is great if you’re a left handed user but not so good for us right hander’s. The symmetry means that no-one will be particularly pleased with the mouse since the usual extra two buttons are positioned in difficult to reach locations. I might be being a little hard on the mouse as it is one of Microsoft’s best mice to date, but for the price I expect forward not backward progress. Bear in mind that for less than a third of the price of this set you can purchase Logitech’s fine “MX Revolution” mouse which is comfortable AND functional. Logitech are currently shipping the MX1100 mouse, the successor to the most popular high end wireless mouse in history (the MX1000) to retailers this month. I hope this has Microsoft worried, since it was Microsoft’s hardware department who were the first to innovate with the whole idea of a scroll wheel and were the first to market laser and wireless mice. The scroll wheel itself is very smooth and more responsive than any other mouse I’ve ever used although it doesn’t have a rachetting (clicky) mechanism. So again, it’s the best Microsoft wireless mouse but it’s not for gamers. The mouse gets very warm just like a warm mug of coffee when it’s taken off the charger too which is either good or bad depending on your preference!

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Left: Microsoft Wireless Laser Mouse 8000
Right: Microsoft Wireless Laser Mouse 6000

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Mouse and keyboard charging on the docking station

This mouse is much improved from the old models. It’s a 1000 dpi mouse. This means that you can move it one inch on your desk and the cursor on your screen moves 1000 dots or pixels. The older Microsoft mice are 800dpi or lower so this is a great benefit for users of larger or multiple monitors and saves some strain on your fingers or wrist. This resolution is also higher than the older MX Revolution mouse too. The Teflon pads on the underside of the mouse are bigger than previous Microsoft mice but much smaller than Logitech’s MX Revolution. This means that it glides across your desk smoother than any other Microsoft mouse, but not quite as well as the Logitech.

As I write this Logitech are shipping the MX1100 wireless mouse which has a dynamic DPI of up to 1600 dpi. It would have been great if Microsoft could have innovated their laser technology better than 200dpi in 5 years. Microsoft being technologically leapfrogged by Logitech should serve as a reminder that sitting on your technological laurels will only speed up your inevitable obsolescence. The MX1100 should be retailing for around £40/$80USD too making it significantly more attractive for those looking to upgrade only a mouse. I haven’t reviewed the MX1100 yet, but the Logitech MX1100 mouse is likely to be the most popular all-round mouse for many years to come.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Small
  • Rechargeable
  • Backlight
  • Extra USB Ports
  • High DPI mouse
  • Ergonomic
  • Bluetooth Connectivity

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Can’t be easily used before or during Windows boot up (requires Bluetooth stack to have started)
  • Stupid Windows key
  • No option to tilt the keyboard
  • Not quite as good as it could have been, or should be, for the ticket price.

I like this desktop set. If it were priced more reasonably then I would not hesitate to recommend it to everyone. I’ve only been using it for six hours and I like it already, despite the niggles. It’s a high end keyboard and mouse that should serve most people well for a long time. It’s quality has been tested to the same standards as other Microsoft hardware so it should survive the course. It’s a beautiful keyboard that should impress and wouldn’t look out of place in any living area or high end office. It’s comfortable to use and responsive. Microsoft hardware have an excellent in-warranty replacement reputation should anything go wrong, but considering the value of this item there are flaws which should have been resolved by now – a bit like Vista then really.

Short term usage score: 8/10 – A truly epic desktop set let down by high RRP and some minor design flaws

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