Hands-On with Microsoft's Arc Keyboard

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We weren't too impressed by Microsoft's Arc Mouse , finding its anemic shape a bit awkward. The recently announced Arc Keyboard maintains the same curved aesthetics as its mouse counterpart, but doesn't deviate as much from traditional keyboard designs. We were able to get our hands on one from sister magazine MacLife to try out for an afternoon.

Intended for use on lapboards or on tiny workspaces, the Arc Keyboard is efficiently compact. While its key arrangement is full-sized, the keyboard is just barely one foot wide. It's also very light (weighing less than a pound), making it possible for you to hold it up with one hand while typing with the other (like ubernerds do in movies).

But there are two decisions that Microsoft made that we weren't happy with. The first is its extremely glossy plastic finish. After just minutes of handling it, the Arc Keyboard's shiny plastic finish was covered with smudges and fingerprints. This was most noticeable on the palm rest below the spacebar. Neat freaks--this keyboard's target audience--should be prepared to wipe down the Arc Keyboard on a daily basis.

The second design choice we didn't like was the single directional-pad that replaces the right Ctrl key. While this four-way rocker works, we found it difficult using it to quickly navigate around text files. If you're used to mashing arrow keys while word-processing, this is not the keyboard for you.

Otherwise, this $60 keyboard was just as good as any we've used. They keys aren't exactly chiclet style, and feel soft to the touch -- no clacking here.

It's powered by two AAA batteries (included) and connects to your computer wirelessly with a nano transceiver. We liked that the transceiver fits into a magnetic cubby on the back of the board for when you want to take it on the road. One thing to note: unlike the Arc Mouse, the keyboard's curved design doesn't mean it has a hollow underbelly. So while the keyboard is light, it actually takes up a fair amount of volume. This makes it less than ideal to stow in a laptop bag.

Since we could see ourselves using this as a HTPC keyboard, we would've also liked a small touchpad or pointing stick for cursor control. Maybe in the next version.

The Microsoft Arc Keyboard goes on sale exclusively at Best Buy (in store and online) later this month for an MSRP of $59.99.

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