Functional improvements but hampered by mice and OS requirements. (August 31st, 2008)
Product Manufacturer: Microsoft
Price: Media Desktop, $50; Laser Desktop, $100
- More compact designs.
- Quiet, comfortable keys and palm rests.
- Useful key presets, particularly in Windows.
- Laser Desktop 6000's mouse is comfortable; Media Desktop 1000 has a good wheel. - Good price for the Media Desktop 1000.
- Mouse wheel on the Laser Desktop 6000 is imprecise and unpleasant.
- Many features are dependent on Windows, sometimes Vista alone; some are trivial.
- Laser Desktop 6000 is expensive for the features difference versus the 1000.
- Media Desktop 1000 has a large USB receiver for no apparent reason.
- Battery life is potentially much shorter than for some competitors, if still reasonable.
Microsoft is almost constantly revising its keyboard and desktop combos to improve their designs and feature sets, even for minor tweaks, and its newest entries -- the Wireless Laser Desktop 6000 and Wireless Media Desktop 1000 -- certainly reflect their positions as revisions rather than completely new inventions. They do bring in important new features, but are their changes what customers have necessarily been asking for?
keyboard design and extra keys
The most conspicuous single change to the lineup over earlier models, from a cursory glance, is the footprint; the version 3 Wireless Laser Desktop 6000 cuts out about an inch of space on the left-hand side compared to version 2, while the Wireless Media Desktop 1000 loses the huge amount of extra (and largely unused) space surrounding the media keys that was present in the Wireless Optical Desktop 1000 it replaces. Either change is appreciated almost by itself and comes without shrinking the keys or making them any less comfortable. The designs themselves are also much more elegant, even if the 6000 clearly shares its roots in the translucent-framed Laser Desktop 7000.
Wireless Laser Desktop 6000
Wireless Media Desktop 1000
What's less than obvious is a change to the main keyboards themselves. Both have thinner and quieter keys that make much less noise than previous keyboards. For some, this may complete the deal. While it's still possible to hear key action in a silent room at the keyboard itself, the new keys are quiet enough that any moderate amount of music masks the noise. Those nearby also report hearing nothing.
The travel has been improved along with the noise, though these still aren't perfect keys. There's still a relatively high level of resistance, which isn't necessarily a fault but may throw off those used to the very short travel of some keyboards, particularly those familiar with the scissor motion of notebook keyboards. The 6000 has a slight edge in long-term comfort with its curved keyboard, though in practice there wasn't much discomfort in using the straight-lined keyboard of the 1000.
Built-in palm rests on both are the same as for earlier desktops and are comfortable, though not so spectacularly that most will notice. Both keyboards have feet to lift the keyboard to a more comfortable angle, although the 1000 is unfortunately a clear cost-cutting measure that uses less stable flip-out stands instead of the textured feet that keep the 6000's keyboard in place.
Media keys on the two keyboards have changed, but primarily for the sake of five My Favorites keys; these let Windows users call up specific websites, folders, or even specific files. These have been convenient in testing and are likely to be used somewhat regularly given a relatively easy programming method: owners just hold the button down when looking at the content they want the keyboard to memorize. The feature is still most likely to be used by power users, but it's a useful touch.
Laser Desktop 6000's side keys
Media Desktop 1000's key design
Other keys are Microsoft's typical array of media and Windows keys, which remain a mixed bag in terms of their actual usefulness. While everyone may want to use shortcuts for pausing music or opening e-mail, some of the keys feel tacked on as marketing vehicles for Windows Vista; the likelihood that a user will specifically want to cue up the somewhat awkward Flip 3D instead of using the standard task switcher is questionable, as is the shortcut for a Windows Live voice chat.
It's in the mice where Microsoft struggles the most, in part because of design choices it has insisted on for many of its recent mice that are curiously inconsistent. The Laser Desktop 6000's mouse is very comfortable for right-hand mouse users and has all five normal mouse buttons within easy reach. However, it also has a completely detent-free mouse wheel that quickly becomes frustrating when trying to move line-by-line or in games, where changing weapons or zooming into a target with the wheel often requires very precise movements. The tilt function for horizontal scrolling is appreciated but still somewhat limited compared to some implementations.
In return, the Media Desktop 1000 ironically seems like the better mouse in comparison. It's less comfortable and less precise than the laser-based mouse of the 6000 set, but it also has a much more accurate (if vertical-only) scroll wheel and is truly ambidextrous. Logitech is able to create mice with wheels that both scroll quickly and move with clear detents for very small movements; it seems odd that Microsoft doesn't follow suit.
Laser Desktop 6000's mouse
Media Desktop 1000's mouse
Cost-cutting also appears to reappear in the way these mice and their keyboards connect to the host computer. Although both have very quick response times and seem interference-free, neither has a toggle to power off the mouse in the event that users have to replace it with another. This can be particularly annoying given that the underside LEDs on the mice flash repeatedly until they're paired up with the keyboard once more; at least the 6000 has a slot to fit the adapter and eliminate the problem while traveling.
The USB adapter is also arbitrarily different. Although the 6000 has a small, subtle stick to attach to the computer, the 1000 has a large, desk-mounted receiver base in its place. There's not much incentive to go wireless when a cabled receiver reintroduces tangles and takes up valuable desk space.
Mac versus Windows features
Understandably, Microsoft is heavily biased towards providing the most functionality for its own hardware in Windows, and it's there that the keyboards fare best. Assuming one makes full use of the bundled software and the built-in features, either set feels at home in the environment. There are shortcuts for virtually every task, and it's entirely likely that long-term users may find themselves rarely touching the mouse.
The same can't quite be said for Mac OS X, however. Both the 6000 and 1000 include IntelliMouse software for Macs and even support basic media key functions out of the box in either environment, but lose a fair amount of their functionality even with drivers installed. Much of this stems from the obvious loss of OS-specific features, but a few keys that do work also lose some of their intended features. The Zoom keys, as an example, are suddenly forced to zoom the entire screen view rather than on a particular document.
Combined with keys that lack Mac-specific labels and it's clear that these desktop combos lose much of their appeal if you're not running Microsoft's own platform; they may be useful on the Mac for those frequently switching back and forth between OS X and Windows, but are no substitutes for even Apple's stock keyboard.
Official estimates peg either controller set at six months or more of real-world battery life. While it's impossible to verify these claims in a review, this is long enough to be reasonable but may face trouble in the long term. Competitors such as the Logitech Cordless Desktop Wave Pro are now touting about three years of battery life and may be more compelling for owners not keen on replacing batteries twice a year.
If there's a fault to the two Desktop pairings, it's that they're overly targeted towards one platform and towards a particular set of users; those that type very frequently, such as at work, may well find these perfect precisely because of their fairly compact, comfortable, and quiet keyboards. They're also good fits for those who actually make use of Windows Vista's more esoteric features and are frustrated with older or more generic keyboards.
For everyone else, however, it's harder to make an immediate recommendation, albeit for different reasons. The 6000 is hampered by a poor mouse wheel and a relatively high cost (estimated at $100) for functionality that can be limited in all but specific situations. The 1000 is more reasonably priced and has a more universally appealing mouse, but isn't quite as comfortable and comes with a self-defeating USB receiver. A significant amount of functionality also goes away immediately with a non-Microsoft OS, and the Flip 3D key is only relevant in Vista.
As such, it's hard to view either set as more than strictly average. Their chief advantages are their prices, which sit below Logitech's generally more expensive offerings for similar components. If anything, the Wireless Media Desktop 1000 is the best deal simply because it represents the best value for the money. Its mouse may be more restricted, but its better controls and cost relative to features make it a suitable replacement for a computer's pack-in keyboard.