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Best wireless keyboards for general use

In the past year or so, wireless keyboards have come down in price, and are now more common than corded keyboards. While the prices have fallen, performance, including battery life, has improved. Many of these  keyboards are geared toward users who don't require specialized gaming or ergonomic options, but want a step-up from the no-frills keyboards typically bundled with PCs. Most standard keyboards have function keys that can be mapped to open applications or folders. They may also have dedicated buttons for your email, web browser or calculator as well as a few multimedia buttons.

Wireless keyboards run on batteries and communicate to your computer using a separate radio-frequency (RF) or Bluetooth controller unit that plugs into a USB port. Macs and some PC models come with Bluetooth interfaces built-in, but many PCs require a separate Bluetooth dongle. This is important to note, since many Bluetooth keyboards like the Apple Wireless Keyboard (*Est. $70) , discussed in the Mac Keyboards section of this report, don't come with a Bluetooth controller unit in the box.

In order to operate effectively, RF wireless keyboards should be no more than a few feet away from the receiver, with a clear line of sight. With Bluetooth, a direct line of sight is not needed for the devices to communicate, and you can be up to about 30 feet away. However, Bluetooth keyboards can be trickier to set up, and the connection can sometimes be unstable. Also, reviewers report a variety of conflicts with other Bluetooth devices.

One keyboard stands alone in sheer volume of positive reviews: the Logitech K750 Wireless Solar Keyboard (*Est. $60) , a solar-powered model that reviewers say can run off the dimmest office fluorescent lights (or in complete darkness for three months on a full charge). It is made without PVC, and its packaging is recyclable, but reviews suggest that its environmentally conscious features are not what's most notable about the K750 keyboard.

Reviewers say that in addition to its unique function and sleek, attractive design, it's a strikingly functional keyboard. Many reviews praise its smooth key action, but all admire its cupped-for-the-fingertip, chiclet-style keys, relatively light weight, and smoothly functioning solar power and wireless connection. They also like its "Unifying" receiver, which can act as a wireless receiver for up to five additional compatible Logitech devices.

"Keyboards," writes Gordon Kelly at TrustedReviews.com. "In all honesty, they're not very exciting. Except for this one." He gives the Logitech K750 keyboard the Trusted Reviews Recommended rating; it also collects a CNET Editor's Choice, a CES 2011 Innovations Award in Computer Peripherals, Business-Ready and A+ for School designations from ComputerShopper.com, and a 4-egg rating (out of 5) at Newegg.com. At Amazon.com it earns an overall rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Reviewers note that the Logitech K750 Wireless Solar Keyboard lacks a wrist rest, and its flat design is not for those needing an ergonomic keyboard model. The glossy black finish attracts fingerprints, and some users complain that the batteries refused to charge after a few months, though others say they've been using it for a year without issues. But in general, both users and expert reviews agree that the Logitech K750 is a practical, stylish wireless keyboard for general use.

Among more-standard keyboards, reviewers consider another, slightly pricier Logitech model, the Logitech Wireless Illuminated Keyboard K800 (*Est. $85) , an excellent choice, particularly for users who work in dimly lit or dark settings. The K800 also includes the Unifying receiver that lets users wirelessly connect up to six compatible Logitech products to a single 2.4 GHz USB dongle.

But critics say what places the K800 a step above other illuminated keyboards are smartly integrated features that help maximize battery life. Describing the K800 as a "sound and attractive keyboard in its own right," ComputerShopper.com praises the K800's "smart" power-saving technology, which includes a built-in ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts the keyboard's backlighting to the amount of brightness in the room. The K800 also features motion sensors that switch the backlights to standby mode when users stray away from the keyboard. But if you forget to turn your keyboard off, recharging is easily done via the included USB cable.

Critics are equally impressed with the updated keyboard design. Instead of sharp edges that define the earlier version, the K800 sports rounded keys that produce a smooth tactile response akin to a laptop. Describing the K800's comfort as "second to none," Anthony Garland of EverythingUSB.com says the soft, curved keys require "noticeably less force to accurately and consistently" press. Justin Yu of CNET likes the "uniform tactile feedback," though he cautions that some users may need time to acclimate to the flat key surface.

There are also shortcut keys to access your email, web browser or Word applications, as well as volume and player controls. But some critics find the half-size function keys a bit small. At both Amazon.com and Newegg.com, where the K800 enjoys high ratings from nearly every user, its laser-etched backlit keys are enthusiastically lauded. Others find that while the updated keyboard is quieter than the original version, the space bar is slightly noisy. At DigitalVersus.com, where the K800 is awarded 5 stars out of 5, reviewer Vincent Alzieu considers the omitted num lock indicator light a puzzling design lapse. He also observes that while the backlit feature might appeal to hardcore gamers, the K800's delicate, razor-thin chassis makes it unsuitable for rough use.

Wireless keyboards for gaming

Some wireless keyboards are marketed for gaming and media-center PCs. Media-center wireless keyboards are more specifically oriented to be used with computers that are connected (physically or wirelessly) to stereo, home theater or other media systems. They have keys that give one-touch access to media functions such as skip, play, mute or volume. Most are wireless and relatively compact so they can be held with one hand or used on your lap. In essence, they are sophisticated remote controls.

It doesn't offer the usability of a full-size keyboard, but reviewers consider the Lenovo Mini Wireless Keyboard N5901 (*Est. $40) a great addition to any home theater system. ComputerShopper.com gives this paddle-shaped device an Editors' Choice award, citing its compact size and value, while PCWorld.com lauds its 32-foot wireless range.

With dedicated multimedia controls and trackball mousing, the N5901 wireless keyboard lets users thumb through videos or music from the couch. But some critics point to the need for more streamlined navigation. In addition, Nick Mokey of DigitalTrends.com says that grid-aligned keys make the N5901 impractical for daily use, though it does accommodate standard search queries and occasional email. But the most glaring and perhaps ironic drawback of this media-oriented wireless keyboard is the omission of a Windows Media Center shortcut key.

The Microsoft Arc Wireless Keyboard (*Est. $30) is another small, lightweight device that might appeal to home theater PC enthusiasts, but reviewers say the diminutive footprint comes at the expense of utility. Not only does the Arc lack individual arrow keys, it's also missing a number pad and media buttons, though it does have volume and mute keys. Instead of individual arrow keys, the keyboard features a small four-way directional pad, which makes text selection "a chore," says R. Scott Clark of EverythingUSB.com.

By contrast, Riyad Emeran of TrustedReviews.com praises the wireless keyboard's tactility and highly recommends the Arc as an "ideal solution for anyone who wants a small but stylish input device that doesn't compromise on usability." He also likes the convenient storage of the Arc's tiny 2.4 GHz wireless receiver, which securely attaches underneath the keyboard for portability. More than 200 users at Amazon.com concur, giving the Arc 4 stars out of 5 for its compact, lightweight design and arched typing surface. Reviewers are also attracted to the Arc's glossy black finish, but ultimately consider it a fingerprint magnet, which Roydon Cerejo of TechTree.com says is "a pain to maintain and keep clean." Maximum PC warns that "neat freaks" should be prepared to wipe off smudges on a daily basis.

If daily wipe-downs are too much hassle, the Arc Keyboard Limited Edition (*Est. $34) features the same arched, compact design but in a dual-tone motif: the keybed is white and its underside is lime green. Editors at ComputerShopper.com consider this keyboard (formerly known as the Arc Special Edition) "a very good occasional-use keyboard for home theater," but find the omitted Windows Media Center button "inexplicable" and the four-way arrow pad "flat-out frustrating."

Logitech's Bluetooth-enabled diNovo Edge draws mixed reviews from more than 300 users at Newegg.com who highlight this wireless keyboard's clean look and responsive keys, yet deride its spotty Bluetooth connectivity and faulty touchpad feature. Aside from describing the TouchDisc as "frustrating to navigate," some note that even after they forcefully press the circular pad, the cursor barely moves. Others say that for the lofty Edge price tag, they wish Logitech had focused more on technology rather than design. Still, they give it an overall average of 4 out of 5 eggs.

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Logitech diNovo Edge Keyboard (Black)
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from Amazon.com
New: $179.99   
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Logitech Wireless Illuminated Keyboard K800
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from Amazon.com
New: $99.99   
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Average Customer Review:  
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Lenovo Multimedia Remote with Keyboard N5901
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from Amazon.com
New: $59.99   
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Average Customer Review:  
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Microsoft Arc Wireless Keyboard for PC and Xbox 360 - Black
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from Amazon.com
New: $59.99 $36.99   
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Average Customer Review:  
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Microsoft Arc Wireless Keyboard - White
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from Amazon.com
New: $59.95   
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Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboard K750
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from Amazon.com
New: $59.99   
In Stock.
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