As well as these dedicated keys there are numerous other shortcut keys. Just to the left of the keys is an array of Media Center buttons – Play/Pause and Skip forward and back. The Channel and Volume buttons are up an up and down affair and above these is a button for starting a recording and for mute. The relevant ones also work in Media Player. At the bottom is a Windows Live button that launches Windows Live Messenger, though this has to be installed as an extra on Windows Vista and XP.
Rather than bringing up the standard Messenger contacts list it puts a box on top from where you can type in the name of the contact you want rather than having to use the mouse. If you want to move the cursor, you don’t have to actually use the one bundled. The keyboard actually has a touch sensitive area at the top right, that works like a mini-trackpad, where the cursor responds to the stroke of your thumb. It’s not perfect but once you get used to it, it’s a lot easier to be accurate than it is with the nib on the previous Microsoft Media Center keyboard I looked at. It works best if you pick the keyboard up and control the cursor with your right thumb while there are left and right mouse buttons on the left – easy to do because the keyboard is so thin and light. An ingenious addition is that a slider switch above the mini trackpad converts it into a four-way directional pad, with an OK button the centre for making selections. This does the same job as the arrow keys and Enter button, but makes it easier to control from a distance.
Beneath the mouse button on the far left are a Magnifier, which might be useful for seeing text on a low res screen at a distance, and a Gadgets button, though all this seems to do is launch the Vista Sidebar if it’s not already running, which seems like a perfectly good waste of a button to me.
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the keyboard are the F-keys. Rather than physical buttons these are just touch sensitive bumps. The five in the middle can be assigned to favourites, which is handy.
As for the keyboard itself it took me some time to get used to the curve but once settled I found it very comfortable. The Home and End keys have been morphed into touch sensitive buttons, leaving the delete key all on its own and elongated, which actually makes it pretty easy to get too. One oddity though is the Battery Status Indicator. It’s mentioned on the web site and indeed pictured on the box – except it’s not actually there. Where there should be a row of small lights, there’s nothing. Is this some sort of PS3 type loss of functionality for the European market thing? The keyboard actually takes four AA batteries, and doesn’t have a recharge cradle, so you’ll have to take the batteries out to replace – which is a pain, and means you’ll need replacements on standby.