Reviews are generally pretty stale; much like attending a University night class staring at projected slides on an auditorium wall. Well, most of nV News' loyal readers have come to know me as one of the few reviewers that share opinion and generally write articles that are more witty than factual. If you're looking for straight facts, now is the time to hit your 'back' button on your browser. Otherwise, enjoy the piece - and remember, writing should be fun and creative, not trigonometry.
Logitech iTouch Keyboard
The older you get, the less tolerant you are with annoyances. Hence, the saying "grumpy old men". Well, I am not that old yet, but I've been in 'the business' long enough to really endorse and embrace the latest revolution – wireless technology. With the advent and subsequent consumer acceptance of cellular phones, pagers, cordless phones, and wireless LANs in homes and offices around the world, lately a new breed of consumer devices have been emerging.
In the initial days, most cordless items were based on infrared (IR) transceivers with a very short range. Lately, however, there has been a mass engineering exodus towards radio and digital radio transceivers that offer exceptionally long range and device flexibility.
I don't know about you, but I abhor having 392 kilometers of wiring behind my PC and trailing across my desktop. If I had my way, I'd teflon-coat every wire, instead of the matte gray rubberized wires everyone uses – you know, the ones that seem to be designed with an inherent ability to knot themselves with the slightest of tugs.
Regression or Innovation?
Now that Wireless LANs, using radio frequency (RF), and 900Mhz Phones have proven themselves on the battlefield as longer-range and cost effective to produce on the consumer front, we are seeing a trend where most IR devices are being ported to RF. All of Sony's wireless headphones have gone the RF route as well as many other companies. Logitech is one of those early adopters as most of their wireless products have also shifted to RF technology.
It's interesting to see companies climb the innovation ladder and use new technologies such as infrared, and then re-engineer their products to an older, but proven technology, like radio emissions. Our opinions do matter. The product reviews of the world, along with your feedback on the product, eventually do land in the lap of engineers and production managers. Infrared was fine for a remote control, but anything beyond a few feet, and the 'usefulness curve' dips down dramatically.
I recall buying a set of wireless IR headphones for my PC thinking that it would give me more freedom of movement when thrashing wildly to a game of online Unreal. However, the trade-off was an incessant white noise (hiss), and I would have to really boost the gain to hear anything with them. I too regressed; I broke down when Unreal Tournament came out and bought a pair of high-end wired headphones (gasp!). Now I have this very annoying pig's tail wire catching on everything on my desk.
I turn my head left and spill my espresso. I look right, and I drag a stack of CDs to the floor. Sure, I could have the cable running under my desk between my legs, but then my chair would just end up rolling over the cable, mangling a very expensive cable. My trade-off - the best headphone audio in exchange for a clingy cable. Wires suck!
Before you really know it, everything will be wireless. You thought that '98-'99 was the cusp with DSSS wireless tech such as Lucent's WaveLAN, Apple's AirPort, and the PCS cellular phone network? Well, smack yourself a few times for me – we haven't even seen the flash let alone felt the heat of the explosion. Some big stuff is headed our way, and I'm all arms. If you're skeptical, head over to www.bluetooth.net or do a search for "Blue Tooth" on any search engine. That's just one intiative headed by the biggest names on the planet.
Home computing has become a huge profit industry, and as a result wireless is hitting full-force Wireless mice, keyboards, art tablets, DVD video transmitters, Ethernet, PDAs etc. What better way to improve the gaming and DVD experience then by eliminating a few of the more tiresome wires? A few wireless keyboard solutions have emerged lately, but only Logitech's Cordless iTouch actually gets a passing grade.
A while back, I purchased Logitech's first foray into multi-function keyboards – the Internet Keyboard. It was a traditional wired device, but it yielded an array of generally useless, redundant, and badly placed buttons for facilitating Internet surfing.
Er, yah, okay, if you say so. In fact, after considerable usage, I tossed it with disgust into my computer-bit graveyard Rubbermaid bin. I'm certain that one night I'll wake up to the horror that calls itself "Discarded PC Bits", an evil AI computer devised from really badly designed human-interface components. It will arise from my Rubbermaid bin, spew forth infrared radiation and whip knotted wires at the walls and ceiling. Muuhaha!
iTouch Keyboard - Top View
So, what makes the iTouch a cyber-blessing? Well, for one it has (gasp) useful rubberized buttons that don't rattle when you type. Buttons such as Play, Pause, Stop, Fast Forward, Rewind, Volume Up/Down, and Mute. Now, you're asking, "Why the heck should I want VCR controls on my keyboard when I can buy a Compaq Presario covered in the same useless buttons?". Well, two things. One, you can control just about any kind of media: DVD playback, MP3 audio players, PC sound card output, and Audio CD playback.
Secondly, Compaq has the misguided concept that these buttons should be placed on the monitor or chassis. Now, why the heck should I lean forward to the display or down/across to the PC's case to adjust an often-accessed control? Logitech was wise to place them on a wireless device – imagine that; watching a DVD movie and leaning back in your leather office chair with the Cordless iTouch in your lap. Heck, a late-night chat on ICQ leaning back, with your 21" monitor set to 640x480 so you can type ten feet away.
I must admit, there have been countless other keyboards with similar controls on them, but none have been wireless nor have had less than twelve buttons. My previous keyboard had 21 rattling buttons, and I've seen other keyboards with rotary knobs and flip switches. Sometimes I wish that I had a time machine. I could go back in time and change a very insignificant part of history. I wouldn't kill a tyrant or invest in Red Hat or Microsoft, but would rather find Lead Designers of large corporations and slap them around for being inept.
Another great feature on the Cordless iTouch is the addition of a Suspend button which is located near the upper left corner of the keyboard. Pressing this button puts your system into a 'Supend-to-disk' mode, provided your computer has internal components that are Suspend compatible.
If they are, your PC does a 'pseudo-shutdown', and pressing the button for a second time will revive the PC to exact moment and event when you first pressed it - similar to the Sleep command for notebooks. The advantage of suspending is that it saves you on electrical costs by suspending when you're not using the PC, and reviving it from suspend takes a fraction of the time compared to a cold boot.
There is also a grouping of buttons located at the far right of the iTouch. These buttons are used to facilitate Internet browsing and searching. There are four buttons – Mail, Search, Home, and Launch.
Using the easy to use iTouch software, these buttons can be configured to your liking – either pointing to executables or URLs. As for me, I set the Home button as the nV News URL, the Mail button points to Outlook Express 5, and Search goes directly to InfoSeek's site. I reconfigure the 4th Launch button every other day depending on what game I'm playing or site I watch.
When a button is pressed, green lettering, corresponding to the name of the URL or site, comes up on the bottom of your screen and vanishes after a few seconds. Likewise, hitting the Volume up/down buttons also brings up a vertical bar gauge much like the volume meter on a TV. The iTouch software can be adjusted to not display this information.
As with most Logitech devices, installation is usually quite simple. However, I did have some initial problems getting the keyboard to 'talk' to the RF transmitter – the box that plugs into your Keyboard PS/2 port. The palm rest has a more curved and ergonomic design and can be quickly removed if required.
On the underside of the keyboard is a small compartment for its two 'AA' batteries. Logitech recommends Duracell Ultra batteries, but I've had regular ones in there for 2 months with no problems.
The software installed without a hitch, and it took a mere minutes to get custom button config setup. Logitech updates the iTouch software quite regularly and the iTouch software even comes with its own internet software updater utility. The PS/2 connector even matches the PC97 color-coding of your port connectors. It's a good thing I'm not colorblind, or I'd never be able to know which port to plug it into. Not.
Initially, I couldn't get the keyboard to "talk" to the RF transmitter, but now admit it was a PEBCAK issue – "Problem Exists Between Chair and Keyboard." I forgot to click on the small synchronize button, found on the right side of the keyboard, where the blue plastic meets gray. Once this was done, I haven't had a sync problem since.
An amazing feature about this keyboard is its range. One day, I spilled chocolate milk all over the numeric keypad. I rushed to the washroom with the keyboard in order to soak up the grunge before it could toast it. A few minutes later, my wife ran up to me to say that the PC was beeping madly.
Sure enough, I was pressing keys to clean between them, and it was still transmitting – about 25 feet away and down a corridor! Imagine the amazement, and gears whirring in my brain, when I realized with the use of several well placed mirrors, I could surf on the "can". Hehehe. Well, she didn't think it too ground-breaking.
To some, the Logitech Cordless iTouch keyboard may appear as a total gimmick. But to those whose lives revolve around the home PC for communications, entertainment, and education – the iTouch's wireless ability resounds with clarity.
Those of you who have DVD-ROM drives and/or are converting your Audio CD collections to MP3 format rejoice, you can now buy long composite RCA and S-Video cables and watch DVDs on your TV and MP3s on your stereo system, AND control them from the living room sofa.
To add the extra touch, get Logitech's Cordless iTouch Pro that comes with a wireless wheel mouse as well. The term "Couch Potato" may have renewed meaning in this new Millenium.