By February 1, 2010

Lenovo Multimedia Remote With Keyboard Review

I’ve gone through a bit of an odyssey with my home theater personal computer (HTPC) setups in the house. I originally hoped to use my Microsoft 360 remote to control the Microsoft Media Center, but I wound up using a cheap USB remote instead.

There are many wireless keyboards on the market, but the suffer from at least one of the following problems:

  1. They are very large and not suitable for use in a bedroom environment — they are too big to store on a nightstand or other accessible area.
  2. They are too small and don’t have an integrated touchpad or trackball.
  3. They have a “touch stick” similar to what IBM / Lenovo embeds on their laptop keyboards.
  4. They cost a lot of money, around $80 – $150 depending on the model.

I had resigned myself to using the HDE USB remote for the majority of my needs and then getting up to use a USB keyboard when needed. Then I found a small wireless remote with integrated keyboard from Lenovo. Better yet, I found it on sale at 50% off.

http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/8382-2/IMG_1029.JPG

Installation and performance

Installing the Lenovo multimedia remote is super easy. You plug in the provided 2.4GHz USB dongle into your computer. I run Windows 7 on all of my HTPCs; I am unsure if the Lenovo will work with a non-Windows operating system. Windows 7 immediately recognized the device and I did not have to install any drivers.

The remote is operated by two AAA batteries. Power-saving programming shuts the Lenovo down after a period of inactivity. The power switch is located on the bottom of the remote. This is an odd placement, but putting it on either side of the top of the remote would mess up the ambidextrous nature of the device.

Unlike the IR-based receiver on the HDE USB remote, the Lenovo’s 2.4GHz signal is picked up from any angle and from a greater distance. I have the Lenovo’s receiver dongle in a back USB port on my upstairs HTPC and have never had a signal problem. I am at least eight feet away from the HTPC. I am very happy with the Lenovo multimedia remote’s performance.

Size, design, and usability

The Lenovo remote is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. It is designed to be operated with a single hand, either right or left. The keyboard component is up top and the trackball / mouse portion is on the bottom. This is a smart design, as you will spend the majority of the time mousing around your HTPC.

The left and right mouse buttons feel a little “soft,” and I feel like I have to push down harder on the buttons than I should. However, the trackball precision is very nice, and a vast improvement over the HDE remote I was using previously.

The only drawback with the trackball is that it is rather loose, and if you tilt the keyboard remote up or down too much the trackball will roll. My cursor started sliding around the screen, albeit slowly. This isn’t a big deal, and can be mitigated by turning off the remote when you are done queuing up a TV show or whatever.

The keyboard is small, I would estimate it to be a little bit larger than the keyboard found on the original enV mobile phone. The keys are too small to do serious touch-typing, but I can normally thumb-type with reasonable accuracy without looking at the keys. The multimedia keys are at the top of the remote. Most of the keys are in standard locations. The keyboard is very serviceable when there is a lot of light.

Unfortunately the designers at Lenovo forgot one of the prime usability rules of industrial design: important buttons / keys / doodads should be distinguished not only by sight but also by feel. This is where the Lenovo multimedia keyboard remote falls short. The escape key, for example, is important to me when I run the multimedia frontend Boxee. The Lenovo places the Esc key in the correct position (upper left hand part of the keyboard) but it is so close to other keys that you can’t discern its location by feel.

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Good luck trying to figure out where the escape button is in the dark.

When the lights are out, this is a real problem. Lenovo could have compensated for this with a backlit keyboard. In fact, they should have copied the much cheaper Microsoft Xbox 360 Chat Pad to solve their low-light usability issues.

Conclusion

Lenovo’s multimedia remote with keyboard and trackball satisfied a lot of my requirements for a way to control my HTPC. It is small enough to store easily on my nightstand. The trackball is easy to use. I love the bulletproof, “plug it in and it works” nature of the 2.4GHz receiver.

If I could change only one thing about the remote, it would be adding a keyboard backlight. This would make it a “strongly recommended” item on Gibberish, even at the full $60 price tag. Without the backlight, I think the proper price point is about $40. Perhaps Lenovo will offer an upgraded, backlit model for $60 in the future and offer the current model as a $40 “downgrade.”

I still recommend the Lenovo, even if you can’t find the device on sale like I did.

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4 Comments on "Lenovo Multimedia Remote With Keyboard Review"

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  1. Gremlin says:

    You can’t find anything better to do in the bedroom besides watch TV? Really? :)

  2. Cisco says:

    I hope I like it. I just setup my bedroom with a 27″ LCD TV and a old laptop to stream from my main computer and to watch vids off the net. I really was getting tired of having to get up to pause or turn the volume up. The reviews were good and this price was right. So thanks dude for the code. I ordered mine. One more note this site is addictive. I check it every day for deals. I believe I’ve spent like 500 bucks the past 2 months. But, anyway thanks again dude.

  3. Casey says:

    I got it the other day on sale for around $35 (like $41 after shipping) and appreciate the build quality but kind of dislike the keyboard layout. Also, I keep wanting to push down on the trackball as if it’s a button (not the devices fault). My biggest thing is that I think the device would have been so much better if it were flipped upside down (trackball facing upwards). Try turning it upside down and act as if you were using it. It feels so much better, as if texting on a cell phone, not requiring you to have to reach as far to press keys (I’ve actually felt like I have to use both hands on the remote).

  4. Dave says:

    I just bought one and I’m using it with my MacBook. I wish it had the backlit too!

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