The ultimate Vista gadget: A keyboard?

Chicago (IL) - We can think of a million and one ways how to pamper your new Vista PC, but a keyboard would not have been on the top of our list. Microsoft's wireless Desktop 7000 is a visual stunner that goes along well with the Vista design theme. Here's a first look at what is easily one of the most attractive keyboard/mouse combinations on the market today.

Buying a new PC, especially if it is equipped with that sparkling new operating system, is a bit like buying a new car. Adding those alloy wheels, that DVD entertainment system and other toys is half the fun. So, if you are among those who are in a spending mood anyway, here's an enhancement for your PC that most of our readers may not think of as being a priority.

Granted, I am not really a hardcore gamer and never saw a reason to view a keyboard as something I would spend extra money on for my Office PC. But get yourself into some carpal tunnel or tendonitis trouble and your mind changes quickly and you look a bit more seriously into keyboards that are easier on your hands than a cheapo-device that comes standard with your PC.

Long story short: There are several manufacturers out there, of course, which build keyboards for different purposes for people with different thoughts on how much a keyboard should cost. You can spend $50 for a decent device, but also $300 and more for a high-end keyboard/mouse with all the bells and whistles. Somewhere in the middle, there is brand new solution from Microsoft.

Microsoft's Wireless Entertainment Desktop 7000 I designed to be a keyboard/mouse combination that works with Windows' Media Center functions. It lacks the numeric keypad that you typically find on the right side of a keyboard and adds some multimedia features such as buttons to change TV channels and change the volume; there is also a track-pad to navigate the mouse pointer as well as buttons that duplicate the left and right mouse button. In essence, you could take this keyboard and sit down on the couch and, if you have your Media Center PC hooked up to your TV, use the keyboard as a fully functional input device to not only watch TV but surf the Internet and write emails just as comfortably as you would on your desk.

Wireless connectivity is established via Bluetooth, which works in combination with a Bluetooth USB stick that you plug into your PC. While the setup of the Bluetooth keyboard/mouse was very simple - basic keyboard/mouse functionality did not require the installation of drivers under Windows XP - I encountered a slight hiccup when connecting the keyboard and the mouse for the first time: There was a conflict with a second Bluetooth USB-stick and an 8000-series Bluetooth mouse in my office and both the keyboard and the mouse refused to work initially, which was a reminder it's not the worst idea to have a cable backup (your old keyboard) handy when going wireless.

Response times of data input via the Bluetooth keyboard are smooth, but I noticed sporadic delays in cursor movement with the mouse. The delays aren't significant and won't matter in a regular home office environment, but it is certainly not a solution for gamers.

What is really remarkable about the keyboard and the mouse are their design. The keyboard is only three quarters of an inch thick (including keys) and practically lays flat on your desktop. It has a slight curved and somewhat minimalist design to it that looks stylish and elegant. You could have lost trust in Microsoft's industrial design team with Zune and design is certainly always a matter of taste, but the 7000 keyboard is without doubt one of the most attractive hardware devices in Microsoft's hardware portfolio today.

Thankfully, that applies to quality as well. The notebook like key-implementation feels very solid and did not show any signs of wear after three weeks of punishing testing. An interesting solution are touch-sensitive F-buttons that are integrate into the plastic surface of the keyboard. The take some time to get used to and I could live without that gimmick, but is obvious that they not only look special and expensive but also have a purpose - to save space.

The 7000 desktop comes with the 8000-series mouse - a Bluetooth device that integrates its own battery and a charging dock. The mouse appears to have received a slight redesign since the first version of the mouse, which came out late last year. Instead of a fake aluminum faceplate, Microsoft now goes for a more toned down, but also more plasticky surface. Battery running time of the mouse without recharging appeared to be about a week. Once you get used to always place the device into its charging dock once in a while, you have a convenient wireless mouse that won't ask you for a battery replacement.

There are few things we would change with the keyboard - among them some touch-sensitive buttons that were a bit too sensitive for our taste. Unintentionally hovering about them could change the position of your cursor, which isn't that great when you are writing a text or an email.

I tested the keyboard only under Windows XP and quickly got used to its form, function and look. If you are looking for a way to dress up your desktop with a stylish, compact and functional keyboard/mouse, this is about as good as it gets.