Microsoft's Arc Keyboard earns points for style but loses some in terms of usability.
By TAN KIT HOONG
THERE is a very fine line between having something designed to look really good and something that is unusable because of it.
Well, let me present to you exhibit A - the Microsoft Arc keyboard, the company's attempt at keeping a delicate balance between usability and a product that looks good.
Like the Arc Mouse, the Arc Keyboard is all about design in a compact form factor - say what you will about it, you certainly can't deny that the Arc Keyboard is one hot little number.
The question is, is it a matter of form of function? Read on to find out.
In the box, there's very little that comes with the Arc Keyboard - you get a driver disc, two AAA-size batteries, the keyboard itself and attached magnetically on the back, a nano transceiver.
The keyboard itself is very light and compact as it's certainly one of the lightest keybaords I've ever tested.
Design-wise, it's very nice - true to its name, the Arc keyboard has a gentle vertical arc with an apex somewhere near the middle of the keyboard.
The keyboard isn't rectangular either as it tapers on either end while the keys themselves are arranged in an arc.
The overall effect of all this is a very eye-catching design and I really like the look that Microsoft has achieved with this keyboard.
However, some concessions have been made to make the keyboard as compact as possible - for one thing, there's no number pad, so if you use the number pad a lot, this isn't the keyboard for you.
For another, the Delete, Home, End, Page Up and Page Down buttons have been arranged in the same top row as six F-keys - yes only six F-keys as the F7 to F12 are accessed using the same keys but with the FN key as a modifier.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the arrow keys have been replaced with a four-way directional rocker switch.
Having spent a few days working with the Microsoft Arc Keyboard (including typing out this review) I have to say that this keyboard isn't for everyone.
For example, if you use your PC every day for gaming or even word processing, the Arc Keyboard isn't for you. The shallow key travel, lack of number pad and proper arrow keys makes gaming and extended word processing uncomfortable at best.
The problem is also that as you move out towards the keys at the corners, they tend to be squashed closer which means that if you're a touch typist, you might very well miss the keys on the outer edge of the keyboard.
However, as a small, easily portable keyboard that works better than the built in keyboard on your netbook, the Arc Keyboard passes with flying colours - the keys are certainly more comfortable to type on and better spaced than on any of the current 10in netbooks I've tried.
There is also one computing scenario that the Microsoft Arc Keyboard would be great in - as a wireless keyboard for your HTPC (home theatre PC).
In this case, the Arc's design really comes into its own - it's light and fits on the lap, the 2.4GHz wireless technology works very well even when transceiver is placed down and out of the way and the directional pad actually works well for navigating in Windows Media Center.
So is the Microsoft Arc Keyboard a case of form over function? Well, yes and no, depending on what you intend to use it for.
If you're looking for a cool-looking wireless keyboard for the desktop PC you use every day, then I'm afraid the Arc Keyboard just won't do.
However, as a keyboard designed for light use, such as in your HTPC or as a better keyboard for your netbook, then it's actually pretty good.
Pros: Attractive design; lightweight; good wireless reception.
Cons: Missing number pad; directional pad is not for everyone; shallow key travel.
Portable wireless keyboard
Operating system: Windows XP/Vista/7, Mac OSX
Interface: USB (nano transceiver
Review unit courtesy of Microsoft Malaysia, call (03) 2179-6838