Logitech certainly seems to be on a roll with releasing new products as of late. Last year, they released the wildly popular MX700 Cordless Mouse, one of the few cordless mice that was not only rechargeable, but also just as accurate as its corded counterparts. They followed this up with the release of the Cordless MX Duo, which paired this mouse with an exceptional keyboard. Recently, they released the Cordless Desktop Express that aimed to bring an easy-to-use, no hassles cordless setup to the masses, and which I reviewed earlier. It featured a new keyboard layout but had a few minor errors that prevented me from completely liking it. However, a good keyboard and mouse setup has to have much more than just cordless accessibility. Indeed, comfort and ease-of-use should be paramount, and these involve creating an effective layout of keys and a design that is ergonomically sound. The Cordless Desktop Express had some of these elements, but for those wanting more from their keyboard in the way of easy-to-configure hotkeys and additionally functionality, this product was somewhat lacking. For these people, Logitech has released the Cordless Desktop LX 500 and 501. (The 500 is a blackish version of the whitish 501.) With these two new cordless keyboards comes a host of changes. Not only have the function keys been re-designed, but a suite of other small keyboard layout changes have been implemented, all in an attempt to increase typing productivity. The additionally hot keys have also been changed in look, somewhat, in order to emphasize certain features over others; and, the keyboard seems to have taken a direct step towards improving its use withHTPC setups. Not forgetting that little thing called a "Mouse", Logitech has also added a key feature to it - the tilt wheel - in a direct nod towards Microsoft's implementation of the same feature as seen on some of their mice several months ago. Do these changes improve usability and comfort? Or, are they just an attempt to generate hype? Specifications There is no real new technology in use on the LX 501, but it does take the best of what Logitech has to offer and puts it in a decidedly good-looking package. The keyboard uses the same radio technology as previous Logitech keyboards, and includes an encryption mode that secures keystrokes transmitted from the keyboard to the receiver. The mouse, however, uses Logitech's FastRF transmission technology, first seen on their MX700 mouse, which gained accolades due to its accuracy. Thus, one should expect the same kind of performance from this mouse. However, the mouse (and the keyboard as well), do not use rechargeable batteries - something that the MX700 mouse did. It remains to be seen whether or not this will affect battery life, but Logitech's new power management system should improve battery life nonetheless.
The keyboard is of an all-new design. Not only has the layout been changed, but keys like the function keys have had their shape and feel changed, so that their difference from normal keys can be emphasized. The new layout has resulted in a slightly less-wide keyboard, though the presence of some of the hot keys and additional features do take up a little more space. The hotkeys are numerous, but have been decreased in size compared to previous Logitech keyboards, so that they don't attract so much attention. The mouse is based on Logitech's Cordless Click! mouse, but adds in a wheel that can not only be scrolled, but can be "tilted" from side-to-side, so as to scroll sideways through documents or large images. This is obviously a feature added in to make sure that Microsoft doesn't have dominance on "tilt-wheel" mice. Nevertheless, the additional feature is welcomed. The LX 501 comes with, (including the keyboard and mouse), a wrist rest, the receiver, 4 AA batteries, a software CD, and a Quick Install guide on a poster. This is pretty much standard, and the inclusion of batteries for both the keyboard and mouse was expected. Purchasing rechargeable batteries for the keyboard and mouse may be a better idea if you use them heavily. The setup guide is very basic, but clearly explains how to get the products up and running, and was well written.
The first noticeable difference in this keyboard from previous Logitech ones was its weight: The LX 501 was considerably heavier. Upon removal of the keyboard from its packaging, one is likely to feel the difference right away! This is generally a good quality as it usually indicates good build quality and sturdiness; light weight keyboard tend to "feel" flimsy and cheap. The keyboard's layout however, is probably the biggest difference. You'll first notice that the function keys are now circular in shape, blue in colour, and have a convex top surface. This makes them resemble buttons, more than keys, and when first viewed in a picture, they may be mistaken for hot keys of some sort. However, they are just your regular function keys, albeit with the F-keys enhancements seen on so many other keyboards. (This was the first keyboard I've seen with function keys that look like this.) The "Home/End" key grouping has also been changed, and is the same as seen in the Cordless Desktop Express. The Insert key has been removed from this group, and delegated to a secondary/shift function on the Scroll Lock key. The Delete key has been doubled in length, and the Home and End keys are now side by side on the same row, rather than in the same column. The Page Up and Page Down keys are still in a column, directly beside the new Delete key. If you had happened to read my review on the Cordless Desktop Express, you'll note that the unexplained removal of the Scroll Lock key mystified me; some people still have a need for such a key, whether its in a specific program or elsewhere. You'll be happy to note that on the LX 501, the Scroll Lock key remains in position, beside the Print Screen and Pause/Break keys. However, Insert is now this key's shift function, but since the Insert key is used relatively little, this inconvenient location shouldn't affect most users. (The relocation of Insert was to minimize its accidental activation, and subsequent user aggravation, when typing and reaching for the Delete key or other.)
The software included on CD is Logitech's SetPoint and MediaLife software, which will be covered on the next page. SetPoint is Logitech's replacement (at least for this keyboard and mouse) for the iTouch and MouseWare software, and allows for configuration of both the mouse and keyboard, while MediaLife, as one would expect, is a specialized Media Player of sorts. The included wrist rest provides a little more support space for your palms, and is recommended for usage. It quite easily is attached and removed, so one shouldn't have a problem switching between its usage and non-usage, to save on desktop space. As with some other Logitech keyboards, the last row of keys slopes down towards you, so that your fingers (especially your thumb on the space bar) are pressing on a surface instead of an edge. This feature did increase comfort, and generally felt better than a traditional keyboard's design. Common keyboard shortcuts are also printed on the side of key caps, and may aide in improving novice/new users' use of interfaces.
Further layout changes are seen on the right hand side of the keyboard. The Windows key on the right side has been removed, in part to allow for the slightly larger cursor keys to be placed closer to the main key grouping, and also because it's rarely used - I know that I almost never use it. The cursor keys are offset to the left and downwards a little, a trend seen in many newer keyboards, and in fact the whole layout in this section seems to be more and more standard in new keyboards. I had no problem with this closer grouping, and in fact, it was a little bit easier to use because of the slightly larger keys. The numpad remains unchanged, though the Num Lock keys has a "stepped" design similar to the Caps Lock key on many keyboards, including this one. The LX 501 also features a very flat profile design. This supposedly reduces stress, but I've never really had a problem on old-school slanted keyboards. However, the LX 501 was very comfortable anyway; feet on the bottom of the keyboard can raise it somewhat, but I didn't use this feature. The LX 501 also includes a whole slew of hot keys that are arrayed around the edges of the keyboard. Some of these can be used without the installation of the SetPoint software, (such as volume control and e-mail, since Windows XP and perhaps Windows 2000 support these natively), but a lot them cannot. In any event, the SetPoint software allows customization of the keys. The iNav section on the left side of the keyboard has four buttons and a scroll wheel, which cannot be clicked. It can be used to scroll through documents or lists, and serves as complement to the wheel on the mouse. The other four buttons, by default function, are Home Page, Search, Application switcher, and Back. The App. Switcher button pops up a list of running programs, much like Alt-Tab, and allows you to switch betwen them - you can either click a program's entry or scroll using the iNav wheel - a very intuitive approach.
In the left upper side we have the "My Files" section. The largest button opens up your "My Documents" folder, while the three smaller keys open up "My Pictures", "My Videos" and "My Music". Not importantly useful, but still nice. (I doubt I'll use anything but "My Documents".) The Media section of the keyboard, while well-laid out, is probably the most confusing thanks to its liberal use of cryptic icons and lack of descriptions. You'll most likely have to use the configuration of SetPoint so you'll know what each button does. The confusing buttons are on the left side of the Media grouping. One of the icons is a red dot, usually meant to indicate "Record", which it thankfully does. But, another looks like a oval with tapered ends; this one is "Burn", and can be used to launch your favourite burning software. The "Media" key is used to launch your favourite media player, but confusingly, an button with a Remote Control icon can also be used to launch a media player; by default it launches Logitech's MediaLife software. On the other side, there are volume up/down buttons, as well as a mute button and one that can be used to eject/open any optical drives you have. By default it opens your first optical drive, but by holding it down, you can select which one you want open from a list, if you have multiple drives. The thing I liked about this feature (besides its obvious handiness) is that I didn't need to read some obscure help file to find this out; instead, when the hot key is pressed, a small popup just above your systray comes up and unobtrusively informs you of how to do this. This is a good example of contextual help. The play/pause, stop, forward/reverse controls are all integrated into a D-pad like control, which is more intuitive to use than separate keys, since most digital music players use something like this. About the only thing I'd like changed (beyond the cryptic icons) is perhaps a dial or wheel for volume control rather than buttons. I believe that this would be more intuitive than buttons, but there's some debate over that. The keyboard uses 2 of the 4 included AA batteries. To converse battery life, there are no status LEDs on the keyboard, as is the case with cordless Logitech keyboards. However, the SetPoint software will notify you on screen of "Lock" status changes, and the receiver also has the LEDs to indicate the status of, for example, Caps Lock.
The mouse in the LX 501 package is also no slouch. It's based on the Cordless Click! mouse Logitech has had in their lineup for a while, but adds in the "tilt wheel" feature, which is basically a scroll wheel that can not only be scroll up and down, but tilted from side to side to scroll sideways in documents. It's a similar feature to Microsoft's implementation. The mouse also includes an extra button beyond the normal three, one that is designated to be an Application Switcher button, but can be configured to do other things, too. The mouse is of an ambidextrous design, so it'll work equally well for lefties and righties. Its shape is fairly traditional, but the underside tapers to a narrower width right around the midsection of the mouse, making it feel different, yet still basically comfortable during usage. The shape tends to fit your hand quite nicely, though perhaps not as nicely as Logitech's own MX700 or MX900 mice, if you're right-handed. The mouse isn't too bulky, nor is it too flat - it's just about right, and this was expected from a company like Logitech. All of the buttons provided decent tactile feedback, and did not feel too loose. They were all easily accessed during usage, and I had no problems differentiating between them.
The mouse is all plastic on the exterior, and doesn't feature any amenities such as textured grips, or anything like that. However, I won't hold this against it, since it works well, feels well, and looks nice. Beyond this, it also uses the FastRF technology, which improves the accuracy of the mouse by increasing the polling rate from 50Hz to around 125Hz; this results in better point precision. On the bottom, you'll find the battery bay that holds the 2 AA batteries used for powering the mouse. The batteries undoubtedly make the mouse heavier than an average mouse, but not so much that usage is impeded; in practice, I found that the heavier weight didn't affect my pointer accuracy or precision at all. Also on the bottom is the connect button, used to establish a connection with the receiver. There are also four feet upon which the mouse glides.
The receiver looks the same as previous Logitech ones, but adds the FastRF capability for improving the cordless mouse's accuracy. It's roughly a half-ovaloid shape, and has the plugs for connection to your computer's PS/2 ports. The body is made of black translucent plastic, and on it are the connect button and several status LEDs. The receiver's cords are about 1.6m or 63" long, which should be enough to place this receiver within range of the keyboard and mouse. (The mouse and keyboard have a stated range of 6ft, but they may work beyond this to some extent.) The receiver has connections for PS/2 ports, and though the keyboard's connector is a USB one with a PS/2 adapter, the installation guide advises you to use the PS/2 ports when connecting to a desktop computer, but curiously, to only use the USB connector if connecting the whole setup to a notebook. The status LEDs on the receiver are for caps lock, num lock, scroll lock and f-lock. These were placed here in order to remove the LEDs from the keyboard to conserve battery usage.
The receiver isn't too large, so you should be able to find a spot for it. Additionally, you won't have to worry about line of sight, since it uses radio frequency for transmission, not IR. Lastly, you'll note that despite the extra keys on the keyboard, it isn't too large at all - in fact, it's a little bit less wide than many keyboards, thanks to the new layout. It should fit on any desk nicely.
Physical installation is quite easy. After installing the batteries and plugging the receiver into your computer, you'll need to "connect" each device to the receiver. This is done by pressing the "connect" button on the receiver, then the "connect" button on the mouse, and repeating the process for the keyboard. After that, both should have established a connection to your computer and you'll be able to use them as you would a normal keyboard and mouse. Logitech recommends placing the receiver at least 20cm (8") away from electronic devices like a monitor.
After this, you're done - the keyboard and mouse will work fine. However, if you want to be able to use all of the keyboard's hotkeys and customize functions on the mouse and keyboard, you'll need to install the software on the CD, that being Logitech's SetPoint software for mouse and keyboard control. It's not necessary, but in this case, I would recommend it since it does add quite a bit of value to the setup.
After installation, a Quick Tour program launches, giving you access to a guide on the features of the keyboard and mouse. It is very interactive and provides the user with a quick how-to on all of the functions available, and how to configure the keyboard and mouse to do what you want. For example, it shows you how to select what media player you want to launch with the keyboard's hot keys. It also shows you how to customize the use of the mouse's buttons. In short, it is a very helpful app that shows you how to get the most out of the keyboard and mouse, and this was unexpected.
Curiously, the Tour software won't launch the configuration app for you; this was weird since it sets the stage for this by providing useful information on setup. However, it does show you how to easily access it by way of the systray icon.
The new SetPoint software suite offers configuration of both the keyboard and mouse, eliminating the need to download and use iTouch and MouseWare - a nice touch, IMO. It is quite easy to use, and easily illustrates configuration. It's easier to use than either MouseWare or iTouch, since selection of what you're configuring is easier to understand and see with this software, and I believe this will make it easier to setup what you want with the devices. There are no extra configuration windows/dialogs to be launched; everything is done within the window of the SetPoint settings. A nice tabbed interface separates different areas.
Just like the normal scroll wheel, the tilt speed of the mouse wheel can be configured in SetPoint; the default was far too slow for me. You can also monitor the battery life the mouse and keyboard from within the software.
Everything but the iNav wheel on the keyboard is configurable. (The iNav wheel is basically the same as the wheel on the mouse - it allows you to scroll through documents. You can use it in the same way you'd use a mouse wheel.) It also doesn't appear that you can configure the tilt wheel side-to-side functions to do whatever you want, but each of the other four buttons can be configured to do a variety of things, from the default to launching programs or performing keystrokes. The new Application switch button (on the mouse and keyboard) functions like alt-tab, but it is perhaps better since you don't have to use the keyboard. When you press it, a list of programs appears on screen in a small window, allowing you to scroll to or click on the program you want to switch focus to.
Configuration was very easy with this software. Pictures clearly show you what hot key you are configuring, and options are explained. Though you may not need the F-key's functionality, they can be configured. What's more important, however, is that I found that the F-key's "enhanced" functionality was disabled by default - so that when you boot up, your function keys work as normal, and you must press the F-Lock key on the keyboard to explicitly toggle them to the "enhanced" mode, which I doubt I'll use since they remove regular functionality.
I won't cover the MediaLife software in detail, since this not a software review, but as you can see, it has a very distinct "Media Center" feel to it. Clickable elements are displayed very large, for easy navigation, and the file browsing interface is simplified and designed for viewing from a distance. It's clear, both from the default hotkey used to launch this application, and the look and feel of this app., that it was designed to be used with Home Theatre PCs. (HTPCs). If you have such a PC, this software will work well with it, especially if you hook it up to your TV and use the cordless keyboard and mouse in conjunction with the PC. Since this is a natural use of these devices, it was nice to see Logitech include a product that only makes their use in this situation even easier.
I've been using this keyboard and mouse for some time now, and have used it to do a variety of things from gaming, to web browsing, to image editing and of course, general Windows usage. I did notice a wee bit of lag when typing very fast on this keyboard. It was nothing too big, but just a little bit, only noticeable when I wanted to notice it, and only when typing very fast, like when you get a grouping of keys that you can type through very fast. Nevertheless, I found that I could type quite fast on this keyboard because it felt very comfortable and the layout was decent.
The new F-keys and ESC key were initially weird to me - They feel different than the other keys in that they don't have as much play to them, and "click" more when pressed. It took sometime to get used to pressing them when doing, for example, an ALT-F4. It just didn't seem right to press what looked like an "extra hotkey" for what was supposed to be a function key's job. Also, the placement was kind of off, like for f9-f12 since they are in the "programmable" section.
The new key arrangement took some time to get used to. I didn't miss the insert key at all, but the placement of home/end beside each other required some familiarization, with the slightly different location of page up/page down requiring less so time.
The repositioning of the cursor keys was actually nicer as they're now closer to the rest of the keys. I didn't find them to be problem at all. Additionally, the curved keycaps at the bottom of the keyboard felt very nice and more natural to type on than the often flat or convex shapes of standard keyboards' bottom rows. The Windows key on the right hand side has also been removed. I hardly or never used this key, so I can't complain. This was to allow for closer positioning of the arrow keys.
The new hotkeys emphasize My Documents, Media and Email, and other hot keys such as messenger, webcam; my music/pictures are given less prominence by way of smaller keys. This is a good thing, since it allows users to more easily do the common things.
The media area was pretty well designed. Some of the buttons are cryptic due to their small icons and lack of description and have similar/same functions by default. However, the play/stop/forward/back area is nicely designed, with a single D-pad like device controlling them all - this is much more intuitive than having separate physical buttons or keycaps for each - it's more like a digital music player's controls. There's also an eject button that can open any of your optical drives. (Pressing it opens your first one, while holding it down popups a list for you to select which to open.) This key is very handy, and is especially useful if you've stealthed your optical drives.
The calculator button, perhaps first seen on MS keyboards, is located right above the numpad, as you'd expect. It's useful if you find yourself needing access to the calc. a lot, but not wanting to navigate through a hell's gate of submenus just to open a basic application. The Sleep/suspend key has found a place here as well, away from the Escape key as was usual on previous Logitech keyboards. This location ensures that you won't press it by accident when going for the commonly-used Escape key.
The escape key, by the way, has also been re-designed, being part of the f-key row. Instead of being convex like most of the function keys, it is instead the only circular and concave key on the keyboard. This makes it feel quite a bit different, and at first you'll think you're pressing a hot key when you go for it. That took a little while to get used to.
Since there are no LEDs on the keyboard, on-screen notifications of capslock/numlock scrollock, f-lock are enabled by default. The OSD also lets you know when you activate a hotkey or change things like the volume.
The iNav area is useful for web browsing. It contains a back button, an application switcher (same as on the mouse, perhaps redundant unless you're only using the keyboard), a scroll wheel (which cannot be clicked) and search and home buttons. I'd rarely use the home button, but the search *could* be useful - though I almost exclusively use search widgets built into a toolbar of the web browser I'm using. The scroll wheel is used to scroll through long pages (big surprise), but also intuitively allows you scroll through the programs list of the application switcher.
Overall, I very much enjoyed the feel of the keys. They were very responsive and provided nice feedback. My biggest complain would just have to be the re-designed f-keys. Perhaps I'm a little stubborn and resistant to change, but I'd just prefer for them to be the same as always. Logitech claims that the new design will help users to realize that the keys are meant to perform different functions than regular keys, but I'd much prefer the old style. The keyboard felt very sturdy, (partially thanks to its weight), and had quality written on it. Despite the extra space occupied by the wrist rest, I found its use to increase comfort.
The wheel button feels distinctly different from any I've used. It has little play, and clicks very tactically and makes a little more noise that I would've expected. It has a very "hard click" feeling to it, that was quite resounding, and I might add that I didn't mind it at all.
I suppose this new wheel button feeling was to make its activation distinctly different from the tilt wheel from side to side, which produces a sound and feeling like a regular mouse wheel's depression; thus the need for differentiating the two. The application switch button also has a very distinct and hard click. The main two mouse buttons remain the same as Logitech's usual fair, with little place and nice tactile feeling.
The default use for the wheel button is zoom; press it, and then you can use the scroll wheel to set the zoom level in Internet Explorer or Firefox. I didn't find this too useful and instead changed it back to "Middle Button", as with the regular usage, you can just use Ctrl+Wheel to set the zoom level. (Logitech even indicates this as shortcut on their keyboard.)
Lastly, the feature I was most looking forwards to experiencing was the FastRF feature for the mouse. This increasing the update rate from 50Hz to 125Hz, and it definitely shows, as mouse movements were much more fluid and equivalent to a wired mouse's feel. Just for testing, I tested out the LX 501's mouse using Mouse Rate Checker, and you can see the results above. I don't think many will have trouble using this mouse, even if they are die hard wired mouse fans.
I was very impressed with the LX 501. Initially, I was worried that this setup would just be a cosmetic makeover and not one that would increase the effectiveness of the keyboard and mouse, and their ease-of-use. But my fears were quickly allayed when I started using the devices. They were extremely comfortable to use, and despite the layout differences, I didn't have too much of a hard time getting used to them. Both the keyboard and mouse offered good tactile feedback when their keys or buttons were activated, and I believe the layout changes do aid in helping improve usage. I did this entire review using this keyboard and mouse combination and didn't have any major complaints - in fact, I found it very appealing!
The addition of FastRF makes the mouse equal to a wired one. I didn't have any problems using it, even when directly switching to it from a wired mouse. I truly believe that it can replace a wired mouse in terms of performance. The only thing you'll have to think about is batteries. But Logitech has good power consumption-limiting features built in, so the battery life should be pretty good.
In the end, I can wholeheartedly recommend the LX 501 to anyone looking for a keyboard choke-full of useful features, and that feels good to type on; the mouse is also well suited and compliments the keyboard nicely. This is a safe buy.
Thanks go out to Logitech for making this review possible.
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