Given its diminutive size, there’s not much in the way of extra keyboard functionality on the Arc. That said, you do at least get dedicated buttons for volume and mute. Here the Apple wireless keyboard has an advantage, with lots of Mac OS functionality, like Exposé, mapped to specific keys. Of course the difference being that the Arc is designed to work with any computer, running any operating system, including Macs, so some compromises have had to be made.
Of course since the Arc is designed to be universally usable, it needs to ship with a USB dongle, rather than just relying on Bluetooth like Apple’s keyboard. That said, Microsoft has made a concerted effort to ensure that employing a dongle hasn’t made using the Arc cumbersome. First up, the dongle is tiny – it’s the same size as the dongles that ship with the latest Microsoft mobile mice. Second, as with the mice, the dongle is stored inside the keyboard when not in use. Actually, the dongle is stored in a magnetic recess in the base of the keyboard, which makes transporting the Arc between PCs simple.
The downside of the new, tiny Microsoft dongles is that you can’t control multiple devices from one. That means that if you want to use a Microsoft mouse and the Arc keyboard, you’re going to need to have two dongles plugged into your PC, and carry both with you when you’re on the move. The Arc also comes with a fabric slip case to keep your keyboard clean and scratch free when you do throw it in a bag and take it with you.
The Arc keyboard is powered by two AAA batteries, and although I’m not generally a fan of anything using AAAs, you should get a decent amount of life out of a pair. The battery life can be enhanced if you remember to power the keyboard off when you’re not using it – pressing the Fn and Esc keys together will power on/off the keyboard.
The recommended retail price for the Arc keyboard is £49.99, which makes it almost exactly the same price as the Apple wireless keyboard. However, whereas you’re unlikely to find Apple’s offering for much leas than £50, the Arc can already be had online for around £31, which makes it something of a bargain.
The Microsoft Arc keyboard is an ideal solution for anyone who wants a small but stylish input device that doesn’t compromise on usability. The travel and feel of each key is staggering considering the Arc’s slim dimensions, and unlike many other reduced size keyboards, I’m happy to use the Arc as my main keyboard every day.
The ability to store the tiny dongle in the back of the keyboard itself just adds to its appeal, making it far more likely to be a travelling companion. Even the price (if you look around a bit) is impressive. The only downside is that you can’t share a dongle with another Microsoft peripheral, but even that can’t spoil the party.