“Microsoft had to cut corners somewhere to hit this attractive price point...”
- Programmable hotkeys
- loaded with features
- mouse works on almost any surface
- Mouse buttons require too much fingertip pressure
- glossy black plastic shows smudges and scratches easily
- doesn't come with rechargeable batteries
- Long-term durability
So you need a new mouse and keyboard, but the economy being what it is, you don’t have a lot of green to spare. If you’re willing to accept some compromises, Microsoft has a very good combo package including both with more features than you might expect for $80—and the mouse and keyboard are wireless, to boot.
Compromises made here aren’t ill-advised, but we’ll discuss them first because there’s no point in considering the Wireless Desktop 3000 if you find them to be deal-breakers. Our first observation might seem like a trivial complaint, but the labels on the keys appear to be appliqués, which makes us wonder about their long-term durability. They’re not so poorly done that you’d need to worry about peeling—we scraped across them with several sharp-edged objects without damaging them—but will they stand up to years of daily wear?
Furthermore, while the mouse and keyboard use the 2.4GHz frequency band to communicate with your PC, they’re not Bluetooth, so they don’t establish a Personal Area Network (PAN) that you can connect to other devices. Being wireless, they rely on battery power as well, but if you want to use rechargeable batteries—two AAs each—you’ll have to provide your own. There’s no power switch on the keyboard either, so the only way to turn it off is to remove its batteries. The mouse has one, but the only way to activate is to plug the wireless transceiver dongle into it (presumably so you can stash it in your travel bag without worrying about draining the battery).
LEDs have to be some of the least expensive components used to build computer peripherals—they even show up in cooling fans—so we were surprised to discover that the only one on the keyboard is a low-battery indicator. On most keyboards, LEDs glow when caps-lock or num-lock are engaged. A brief message flashes on your display when you press these keys, but that’s it.
Features and Design
Still interested? Okay, let’s move on to design considerations. First and foremost, the keyboard is a straight as an arrow—the only curves you’ll find are at the corners and the only ergonomic feature is a rubberized wrist rest. The mouse is ambidextrous and its button functions can be easily remapped in software to accommodate southpaws. Our thumb and ring finger naturally grasped the recessed grips on the left and right sides, which are covered with a textured, rubberized material. Buttons immediately above these grips are assigned by default to moving backwards and forwards through your web-browsing history.
The ubiquitous mouse wheel is coated with the same rubberized material as the keyboard, but it’s not indexed and therefore doesn’t provide any tactile feedback when you roll it. It offers a third button (with its default action being to launch Flip 3D, a utility that organizes every open window in a mosaic of tiles) and it can be tilted left and right for horizontal scrolling.
The top of the mouse is curved to follow the shape of your hand, but the left and right buttons are somewhat stiff, an issue that’s compounded by their slope, which robs your fingers of much of their leverage when you push down to click the buttons. Microsoft’s BlueTrack technology lives up to its claim of working on virtually any surface—we tried it on varnished plywood, a magazine cover, a granite countertop, and even pile carpeting—but you definitely would not want to play twitch games with this mouse because its top buttons require too much fingertip pressure.
The keyboard feels much better under our fingers, providing very good tactile feedback with appropriate resistance and the sense that there’s an end to the keys’ travel. Having said that, we don’t like its feel nearly as much as we do that of the Das Keyboard DASK3, which boasts an honest-to-goodness mechanical switch beneath each key. Cheaper keyboards (including this one, we’re willing to bet) use membrane switches and that’s why they feel mushy by comparison. On the other hand, we know plenty of people who can’t abide the loud clicks the Das Keyboard’s switches make.
The Wireless Keyboard 3000 is positively festooned with programmable buttons, but they don’t get in your way unless you make regular use of the function keys, which some of them share space with (there’s an F-lock button for toggling back and forth). There are hot keys for undo and redo, for opening a new document, for opening and closing your My Documents folder, for replying to and forwarding emails, for printing a document, and for launching the calculator—there’s even a button for spell checking.
Buttons in a row above the F keys will launch (or bring its window to the front if it’s already open) your email client, web browser, instant messaging client, or media player. These buttons are programmable too, so the applications they launch don’t have to come from Microsoft. We expected the media player button to launch Windows Media Player, for instance, but we were pleasantly surprised to see J. River’s Media Jukebox—the program we’ve been using to play FLAC and MP3 files from our home server—pop up instead.
Microsoft ill-advisedly fell in with the trend of using glossy black plastic for large areas of the mouse and keyboard surfaces. The material looked sophisticated and pretty for about five minutes before the oil from our fingertips left unsightly smears and smudges. What’s worse is that when we tried scrubbing them with a microfiber cloth—the same material we use to clean our eyeglasses—we scratched the keyboard’s surface.
The compromises we discussed at the beginning of this review are to be expected—Microsoft had to cut corners somewhere to hit this attractive price point—but let’s be realistic. The glossy plastic, the mouse’s severe curve, and the absence of power switches are mistakes that hold us back from giving the Wireless Desktop 3000 a higher rating.
- Lots of programmable hot keys
- Mouse works on nearly any surface
- Keyboard provides good tactile feedback
- Front of mouse slopes severely
- Glossy black plastic too easily scratched
- Can’t recharge batteries
- Long-term durability
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