Wireless mouse-in Keyboards from Enermax and Moneual

Audio|Video|Misc | Short Takes
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TESTING

About the only way that a keyboard can be assessed effectively is by using it, not for an hour or a day, but over a long period of use. This is precisely the approach taken. Both keyboard were plugged into the same home theater PC (running Windows 7 Ultimate) and used alternately for many weeks. No conflict was encountered with both USB radios plugged in and enabled; the keyboards could even be used almost simultaneously. The long assessment period brought out significant differences between the two keyboards, some of which would not have been discernible in a shorter period of use.

A. Keyboard Layout

The ~11.5" width of the actual keyboard of the Enermax is about the same width as a typical desktop keyboard (minus the arrow keys and number keypad on the right). It's slightly wider on the MonCaso, about 11.75". This dimension varies as much as an inch, being only just over 11" on some and nearly 12" on other keyboards in the SPCR lab. On the Enermax, there are not many deviations from standard layout on the main keys. Only on the right side is there some variance, mostly with keys that aren't that often used or repeated on the left side. This is to accommodate the arrow keys.

The FN key at the the left bottom accesses the blue colored tertiary functions of the arrow keys and the Windows MCE function on the ESC to F11 keys on the top row. For ease of use, the MCE keys are not great. The top row of 7 hotkeys are easier to use, but they're a bit of an odd mix. The DEL key is at the top right, reasonably close to where you normally expect it to be. For extended typing, this is a better keyboard than the Moneual, especially with the extended palm rest below the keys, which the Moneual lacks. The scroll wheel/button is a win if you're used to using a center scroll wheel mouse, but it's a bit of a reach for the thumb; just a half cm or so to the left and the entire left mouse buttons would have been more comfortable to use.

The feel of the keys as you type is also quite good, with enough spring or back pressure to make a fast typist comfortable. But long typing is not what this keyboard will be used for; the brief email is likely the longest bit of typing that the typical user will do on a HTPC.

Click for larger image
Click for larger image.



Main portion of standard 101-key desktop keyboard.

Click for larger image
Click for larger image.

The Moneual Moncaso keyboard has many more non-standard key placements. Some of the worst:

  • Left CTRL key being moved one position to the right; this is difficult to get used to, as the CTRL key is almost always at the left corner. If you use the CTRL X,C, and V combinations as much as I do, this is an annoyance.
  • No CTRL key on right.
  • The right bottom corner is a complete mess. All these keys have to be relearned. Why is the DEL key here?

There are many more hotkeys at the top. Eight keys on the right for media/play controls, and a group of 8 more keys on the left mostly for web browsing convenence. The logical grouping makes them fairly easy to use.

The keys feel a bit mushier than on the Enermax, requiring less pressure. While it might not be quite as nice to type a novel on, the practical impact of this seems minimal.

Overall, the main functionality for typing is much better on the Enermax, and the relatively standard layout for the main keys makes it easier to use. The scroll wheel is really nice to have, as well. But hotkeys are better implemented on the Moncaso.

B. General Notes

Both keyboards were easy to start using. To activate, the USB radio dongle is plugged into the PC pressed, its button pressed, then the reset/connect button on the keyboard pressed. Another press on the scroll wheel/button fires up the Enermax; a press/click on the rollerball awakens the MonCaso. Both keyboards have power management features that essentially puts them to sleep when not used for more than ~20 seconds. Normally, a tap on any button awakens the keyboard, although the scroll wheel on the Enermax or the rollerball on the MonCaso are more reliable.

After long periods of inactivity, the Enermax occasionally lost connection, and the keyboard's red low battery light would flash. Most often, a reset procedure would fix the problem, but sometimes, the power switch had to be turned off and back on before it would work again. The manual for the Enermax suggests turning the power off when not being used, but the power switch is so tiny and hard to use, this was rarely done. Still, after a month's use, the batteries seemed perfectly fine.

The MonCaso keyboard never failed to awaken after long periods of inactivity. A press of the rollerball always got it going. The batteries last at least two months with the keyboard in active use perhaps an hour or two a day.

On both keyboards, the left/right mouse button keys and the rollerball worked about the same. It was quite easy to adapt to this mode of use, from a normal optical mouse. The laser roller ball of the Enermax did not provide any significant edge over the optical ball of the MonCaso.

Typical usage on the HTPC consisted of a period of file and web browsing, some organization of media content on the main storage drive, as well as on the NAS box. Such periods were usually fairly short, perhaps 10~20 minutes. An occasional forum post or short email was also written. The 55" TV was positioned about 7' away from the main easy chair, and the keyboard set on a small table next to it. When a video program was watched, once the volume was set, it was normal for the keyboard to be set down, and to reach over occasionally only to access the pause or volume controls. Most of the time, MCE was not engaged; the greater flexibility of working in Windows 7 was preferred.

The FN + key two-step access made the MCE hotkeys on the Enermax a bit awkward; it is a 2-hand operation. Removing either hand from the mouse buttons or the rollerball slows the user interaction; the hands generally have to go back to the top left and right positions in normal use.

The useful range of the Enermax keyboard was at least 30 feet, even with an internal partition wall between it and the USB radio receiver. The MonCaso's range seemed slightly shorter, but both provided more than adequate useful range. It's hard to imagine anyone trying to use either of these keyboards from much more than 20' away; the display screen would have to be enormous.


The MonCaso is lighter, more rounded: Better ergonomics and comfort.


The Enermax feel more solid, but it's heavier, with sharper edges, and ultimately less comfortable in one's lap.

While the Enermax's aluminum construction gave it a more solid feel, its weight was a bit bothersome, as were the sharper edges of the frame. The MonCaso much lighter weight made it more comfortable on one's lap, as did its rounder contours; it's a positive implementation of the cheap and cheerful approach.


CONCLUSIONS

These all-in-one wireless keyboards from Enermax and Moneual are far better suited for use with a HTPC and a large flat-panel TV than the typical keyboard plus mouse wireless combo. Having used MCE remote controls from time to time as well, our preference is for the much greater flexibility of the all-in-one keyboard, because when you're dealing with a computer, there's still no avoiding the occasional need to use a keyboard. A less computer-savvy user might prefer a MCE remote control, but s/he will still need to have a keyboard accessible from time to time.

The Enermax keys have a near-standard layout, which is very good as little adaptation is required of the user. But the extended palm rest is not useful when the keyboard is in your lap as you're sitting in a relaxed position on a couch or easy chair. It's really only useful when the user is in a more upright chair at a desk. This unnecessary feature makes the Enermax bigger and more unwieldy than it has to be.

While both keyboards offer good usability, neither is perfect. The layout of the main keys on the MonCaso is poor, while the hotkeys on the Enermax aren't very useful. The scroll wheel on the Enermax is great to have, but the MonCaso offers better comfort with its lighter weight and more rounded contours. A balanced mix and match of the best features from both keyboards would be ideal.

This is definitely a subjective judgment, and not every user will agree: Either keyboard will probably work fine for most HTPC users, but we're slightly biased for the greater comfort and reliable connectivity of the MonCaso — while still yearning for the better key layout and scroll wheel of the Enermax. Finally, the much lower price of the MonCaso might be a compelling buying factor. YMMV.

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