The Microsoft Entertainment Desktop 8000 costs twice as much as the previous 7000 version, but what does the extra 1000 give you? We get typing to find out.
Well, there’s the keyboard itself which has been slightly tweaked to make it rechargeable via the included all-in-one charging dock which it, and the mouse, plug into; and the space-age backlighting - more of that in a moment - with the application of a quick burst of silver spray paint to the keys. This is, we are reliably informed by Microsoft, the first ever rechargeable mouse and backlit keyboard solution to emerge from the company research dens. As in the first with a specially designed charging hub that enables both keyboard and mouse to be charged in-situ, in the one place.
You get the usual things that are expected of any self-respecting media keyboard these days, which means a total of four integrated USB ports, built-in navigation pad just in case you don’t fancy using the mouse that came with the keyboard (doh!), quiet touch keys and backlighting. OK, perhaps those last two are not the norm.
The quiet touch keys we could have done without in all honesty. Call us old fashioned but we like a bit of feedback when it comes to keyboard use, a reassuring click is handy in this regard whereas a "quiet touch" combined with not the greatest of spring in the key action itself left us feeling a little numb. The keyboard itself didn’t though, thanks to the ultra-thin "comfort curve" design which has been cleverly built with ergonomist approval to place your hands naturally and comfortably so reducing the chances of strain.
The intelligent backlighting is a little bit gimmicky, coming on automatically when you approach the keyboard and then turning off when you move away. Sure it saves battery life, but we would prefer a simple on/off switch to disable it completely which would save even more. The way the light dims according to the brightness of the ambient light in the room is impressive in a big kid in the techno candy store kind of a way though. Oh, and for your £150 you also get lots of dedicated buttons including one to access your Windows Live Messenger contact list, select an online contact and initiate a video conversation – assuming you use Windows Live Messenger that is. Or how about the gadgets button which, er, gives instant access to your Vista sidebar gadgets – assuming you use Vista that is. And then there is the Media Center Start Button which brings one-touch access to Windows Media Center – assuming, well you get the idea by now.
We don’t like the lack of a dedicated numeric keypad, yes, it keeps the keyboard size down, no, it does nothing for the real-world functionality of the thing. Very few people are going to use a keyboard just for media control and nothing else we would argue. If, as intended, this is meant to bridge the divide and be a one-for-all type device for lounge lizards and home office types alike then is has failed miserably because of this one significant omission.
The addition of a battery status indicator is a nice touch, at least you get to know when the unit is about to fail. The mouse itself is pretty slick though, what with the four-way scrolling and tilt wheel technology, superb laser tracking for extra high definition precision, and a rather nifty intelligent power delivery system which adjusts the battery life depending upon the performance needs of the user.
The recharging hub itself seems to be the big selling point here, at least Microsoft is firing all the big marketing guns in that direction. We are not totally convinced though. You connect the recharging dock to a power supply and also to a USB port on your PC, a rather clunky solution upon which you then rest both keyboard and mouse. The dock also forms a USB hub and acts as home to the supplied Bluetooth adaptor. All in all, it becomes something of a wires everywhere, things sticking out mess with very few options for finding somewhere comfortably pleasing to situate it in most living room scenarios.
The wireless Bluetooth connection worked well, managing a respectable 8 metres before the signal failed to hold. To be honest, you’d need pretty darn good eyesight to be able to use either mouse or keyboard at that sort of distance anyway, so we are not too concerned about it. We are concerned about that price tag though, it just sits there banging you on the forehead and saying "I sure hope the wife doesn’t find out how much I paid for this".
It sure looks nice, superficially. But what with the clunky recharging dock and sky-high pricing it is very hard to recommend over much cheaper keyboard and mouse solutions.