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4 New Keyboards, Tested

Microsoft Arc Keyboard: Special Edition

Microsoft Arc Keyboard: Special Edition

The Microsoft Arc Keyboard was released in the spring, aimed at people with a home theatre PC in their entertainment centers but don’t want a massive bulky keyboard on their coffee tables. The original Arc came in a glossy black, but Microsoft announced the Arc Special Edition in April and pre-orders for the special edition white and green model of the Arc Keyboard began shipping in June. It’s sleek, curved design is perfect for resting on your lap while calling up a recorded TV show or movie with your feet up on the couch, and its compact  size means it won’t take up tons of space on your coffee table.

As far as design and build quality go, the special edition of the Arc Keyboard has the same shape and form-factor of the original, but features a smooth white surface on top and a pastel green plastic bottom. The white surface is just translucent enough that the green at the bottom is visible through the bottoms of the keys, but not so much that you can see through it. 

The original black version is perfect for people who want a modern look to their home theatre systems, but for the folks who prefer more contemporary or colorful gadgets in their living room, the Arc Special Edition is a perfect way to put a piece of technology on your coffee table or on the other side of the living room couch without it looking terribly out of place.

The Arc is thin and light, and has a magnetic storage slot for the tiny USB receiver on the underside, where you can store it when not in use. You can heft the Arc easily with one hand, and it can slide in small spaces when you need to stow it away, like above a receiver in a crowded entertainment center.

The Arc Keyboard uses 2.4 GHz wireless to communicate with the thumb-sized receiver that plugs right into an available USB port on your computer or HTPC, and is compatible with Mac OS and Windows. Using the Arc keyboard is a little difficult to get used to if you’re not already familiar with other “short” keyboard models like the Apple Wireless Keyboard, but people who use and like keyboards without excess function keys or a number pad will have no trouble with it. Even so, it fits perfectly on your lap when you’re sitting on a couch with your feet up.

Using the Arc Keyboard is best when you don’t have to do a lot of work with it: it makes sense for a second system where you need a wireless keyboard for occasional use, or if you want a keyboard for a media center PC or a PC that’s out of sight. It’s also perfect for people who are used to smaller, lighter keyboards and prefer them, but we don’t think we’ll replace our main keyboard with an Arc Keyboard in the near future.

Even so, the Arc Keyboard was a pleasure to use and performed better than we expected as a keyboard for occasional to regular use. You won’t see many gamers or writers choosing this as their primary keyboard, but it fits in well in the living room and even makes a great portable keyboard if your laptop or netbook has a keyboard you can’t stand using.

With the announcement of services like Google TV and the fact that most HTPC and media center software still rely on text input to help you find movies, files, and programming to watch, keyboards won’t be disappearing from living rooms anytime soon. If you’re not interested in spending hundreds of dollars on a high-end remote that makes searching programs and files easier, and you’re not interested in a bulky, expensive wireless keyboard that will dominate your coffee table, you should definitely spend the $39.99 list to add one to your home theatre setup.

Design: 4/5

Value: 4/5

Features: 3/5

Performance: 4/5

Build Quality: 4/5