A while back, I decided that I had enough of the streaming set top boxes I’d been using to watch TV, so using spare PC parts I kept disassembled on a shelf, I built myself a home theater PC (HTPC) with the intention of using it to stream locally stored media files like photos, movies and TV shows as well as music. It would also be able to stream online content from sites such as Netflix, Crackle and Hulu.
The main issue (other than size) most people have with an HTPC is with the interface. Nobody likes to have a full sized keyboard and mouse lying around the living room, hell, I can’t even stand my daughter’s laptop on the couch, imagine a full blown wired keyboard so I’d been using smartphone/tablet solutions that required wi-fi to work, like gMote and XBMC remote.
Then one day, I went to this magnificent place called “Canada Computers” which is an actual store that has lots and lots of computer parts under one roof, and saw it: The Visiontek Candyboard mini wireless keyboard with touchpad.
The unit comes with a tiny and thereby easily misplaced USB dongle (receiver) unit, a rechargeable li-ion battery and a USB/mini-USB cable for charging. Also included is a driver disk and a leaflet with some basic instructions. Installation is beyond straighforwards to the point of being obvious. Under Windows 7, connecting the USB dongle to a USB port triggered the device driver install wizard and within moments the drivers were installed and the keyboard was functional.
Using the keyboard is also quite straighforwards, the layout is similar to my favorite Android keyboard app (Swipe-Key 3) except that instead of the number pad at the center, you have what looks and behaves like a small laptop touchpad. The keys are backlit and the unit has an on/off switch alongside its left edge but it has a power saving mode that switches it off after a few minutes of inactivity.
It’s also supposed to be compatible with PS3, Xbox360, Linux and Mac although I haven’t tested it with anything else than a Windows 7 PC.
The battery came partially charged, at least charged enough to play with for a while before charging fully. It’s a li-ion battery so the usual “please charge fully for 197 hours before using” policy doesn’t apply. The slightly rounded off keys are perfectly sized for thumb-typing and they provide a nice tactile feedback that’s sadly lacking among the touchscreen interfaces like gMote and XBMC Remote for Android.
A nice touch is that it can be turned sideways and switched to use the touchpad with the thumb while holding the unit with one hand, freeing up the other hand for other important tasks involving nostrils and/or pizza. Having said that it lacks the scrolling areas at the edge of the touchpad that allow you to scroll up and down a window without actually grabbing the scrollbar. I presume it’s a software update thing that might be addressed with an eventual patch.
Another quirk is that the cursor keys are directly beneath the touchpad and oddly shaped, making them unobvious to use. To aggravate the situation is a center button labeled with an obscene “e” for Internet Explorer which is supposed to launch “The Internet” but instead launches your default browser. What’s nice is that the glue sniffing Internet Explorer can be uninstalled completely from Windows 7 without too many problems, at which point the button launches everyone’s favorite browser: Anything else than Internet Explorer including an etch-a-sketch.
The keyboard is not blutooth and instead relies on 2.4Ghz technology which on the one hand gives it good range (I’ve tested it to about 40 feet without any problems even though the website states it works up to 30 feet) but on the other hand might cause issues with wireless devices like phones or wi-fi routers. I’ve encountered none but it’s a possibility.
At 45$ it might seem a tiny bit overpriced mostly because of the unknown branding (Who the hell is Visiontek?) and the shady “dealextreme” box it comes in. However after using it for the better part of a month I can assure you that the build quality is not bad at all and in retrospect, 45$ is about what you’d expect to pay for a miniature wireless keyboard with touchpad.
There are alternatives which will also be reviewed, mostly the ones involving a smartphone or tablet, but none come close to the obvious, a keyboard is always best when it has actual keys for buttons.
I’m giving the Visiontek Candyboard Mini Wing 7/10 for usefulness, practicality. It loses points for not having the automatic scrollbar function and for the cursor keys positioning. Also the price could be slightly lower. I’d have been more comfortable paying 30~35$ for it.