For those of us that yearn for a backlit keyboard or a proper number pad, yet are stuck with a notebook with an inferior keyboard, this can also be a serious reason to look to an external solution. The Logitech K800 is a full-size wireless backlit keyboard that's a great accessory for notebooks, netbooks and even for certain tablets.
PROS: Full layout, backlit with proximity sensor, unifying receiver, price, long-life replaceable battery, muted typing noise
CONS: Missing Num Lock LED, symbol key fonts
I've been a stickler for keyboards on notebooks ever since my purchase of my 17" HP zd7000 10 years ago. My decision to go with such a notebook was the fact that I could enjoy the benefits of working with a larger full-size keyboard.
So what exactly are these benefits that users would look for? Namely it's the comfort of working with a full layout with keys sized normally and positioned in the right place. For those of us that type heavily, using a keyboard that cannot live up to the task is not only difficult, but tiring, leads to fatigue and gets in the way of our productivity.
One area in particular that goes back to the days of the early desktop is the cursor key assignment. On every desktop keyboard, these will be spaced in an area all to themselves (isolated) and laid out in an inverted-T arrangement. This allows easy cursor movement without having to look down, so your fingers know exactly where each key is for instant, precise cursor movement.
Another area involves the number pad or 10-key, something that has been an option for about a decade now on larger notebooks. Anybody who does lots of calculations and spreadsheet users in particular will understand how much effort and time a number pad can save as opposed to punching in numbers using the number row above the letters. In my case in particular, I also have flight control keys assigned here for my flight simulator software, meaning that I can take off and fly without requiring the use of a mouse/trackball
Folks who do heavy text editing will likewise be looking for dedicated Home/End/Page Up and Page Down keys to help navigate around their tasks. In the worst case, your notebook may not even have a dedicated Fn key row, or require you to use a Fn+number key combination to do things that should only take a single key press - not the easiest thing to accomplish in the dark when you also wish you had backlit keys to aid you!
Use an external monitor (or two) with your notebook? Depending on your desk space, you may need to have your notebook's lid closed to view that screen, a scenario also true when using certain docking stations. With your notebook's lid down, access to your built-in keyboard is lost.
In the absolute worst case, if you've ever spilled your double-tall sugar-free non-fat soy decaf java-chip frappuccino on your notebook's keyboard, you know that it isn't a cheap or fast repair job. In contrast, taking apart an external keyboard to dry/clean is simple, and replacing it won't cost you the price of a new notebook system board if that too has been fried, an expense that can run anywhere from $140 to well over $600.
Logitech's K800 answers all of the above concerns and provides a typing experience on par with working at the desktop. You get a full-size, fully backlit, standard 107-key layout with a dedicated function key row, isolated inverted-T cursor keys and a four-column number pad. These are the perks we've come to expect from the standard keyboard, so to add to the value Logitech have thrown in a few modern conveniences for us.
|Who doesn't want a backlit keyboard?|
As the keyboard is wireless, this also means that it is powered by two rechargeable AA cells accessible from a back panel. Charging is handled by a USB cable provided that should go for up to a week with normal use, or 15 continuous hours with the backlight on. A full charge takes about 5 hours while using the keyboard, or around three hours with the handy power switch in the off position.
|Easy-access user-replaceable batteries|
|Supplied Ni-MH cells|
It's more than likely though that the rechargeable cells won't wear out anytime soon. Taking a worst case scenario, at 15 hours a day with the backlight on, and a very conservative 100 charge life-cycle, you would need to be pounding away at your keyboard 8 hours a day every day for six months before a replacement would be necessary. The more typical 500 charge life-cycle pushes that figure out to over two years, and more closer to four if you hang 10 on the weekends like I do.
The proximity sensor works incredibly well, turning on the backlight without requiring a key press. This is awesome for those of us who work at night in a dimly lit environment or don't want to keep a nearby light on. The fact that the backlight automatically dims as well when you move your hand away from the keyboard allows the battery to stay charged longer.
Perhaps the best key feature (pun intended) is the calculator key right above the number pad. Hitting this saves me the two mouse clicks necessary to open up Windows calculator on the desktop, and with the num lock on, gives me an instant calculator. In fact, you can hit this key multiple times to bring up multiple calculators - a boon for the number crunchers out there.
|One dongle - multiple input devices|
Last but not least, the K800 works just as well with a desktop system, should you be interested in replacing your notebook with a mini-ITX system or similar.
It takes more than a few days to get a feel for the actual typing experience, and I'm slowly getting used to working with the K800. Obviously, key travel will be deeper compared to a notebook keyboard, even with such a slim device as the K800 is. I understand it's not a mechanical keyboard, but my limited experience with MX reds and browns hasn't impressed me all that well - nether is really geared for the professional writer or hard-core typist. The decision ultimately comes down to what you need your keybaord for primarily. In my case, it wasn't for gaming, since I needed the backlight and wireless capability.
|K800 with my ergoBeads palm rest|
Speaking of comfort, working with a full-size keyboard away from a notebook for the first time is also quite refreshing. I love the luxury of a fully isolated, inverted-T cursor key layout. It really does let me navigate without looking, as my fingers know exactly where to go and what key to press when wanting to move in a certain direction. For the text editing purists out there, Home, End Pg Up and Pg Down keys are also very well placed.
|The way it's meant to be done|
|Choice of tilt|
One thing that I immediately noticed upon first using this keyboard was the absence of a Num Lock LED. While I normally keep Num Lock on for punching in numbers quickly, it's impossible to tell with the K800 if you have it turned on or not without typing in something first. That's not exactly a great solution if hitting Home or a cursor key throws you out of where you happen to be in your software, or creates a mess you didn't want when instinctively punching in a multiple-digit number. Fortunately, it won't deactivate from it's last state when powered off, but it's clear Logitech needs to make an improvement - serious users will be searching for and want that Num Lock LED on their keyboards.
I like the addition of media controls as well, although I'd much prefer a volume dial as opposed to hitting/holding down a volume up/down key. Each key press will lower/increase volume by 2%, so it's not impossible to maintain your volume level at a set figure.
The windows context menu key is also now a Fn+print screen key combination. I admit I rarely use this key, so it doesn't bother me to see it missing from the lower right.
Likewise, it may take time for some to adjust to the Fn key combinations. I like the fact that there is a key to quickly see the charge level of the battery, put the system to sleep and fire up Windows Media Player or your browser. But having the FN key in the lower right instead of the lower left, while common with desktop keyboards, deviates from pretty much every notebook keyboard.
|Looks even better at night|
In my case, if I do decide to upgrade to a desktop system, the K800 will serve double duty, alongside offering a far better typing experience than what I can get from any notebook, netbook or slate. As you will see on lgpOnTheMove shortly, though, I have a much "wider" excuse for obtaining an external keyboard.