Review: Azio Mini Thumb Keyboard

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Azio Mini thumb keyboard

People accustomed to typing with two opposable digits will feel right at home with Azio's Mini Thumb Keyboard, a $60 wireless device that controls Windows systems. With a range of about 30 feet, the wireless keyboard would be as useful in the board room for presentations as in the living room for controlling media.

About the size of a paperback novel and half as thin, the model KB178RT officially supports only Windows XP, Vista and all versions of Windows 7. It also worked well with Mac OS X, including its dedicated multimedia keys. These include volume/mute, stop/play/pause and fast-forward/rewind, all of which work with iTunes or whichever compatible media player is open.

Like its larger cousin, the KB531RT Thumb Keyboard also has a thumb-operated trackball in its upper right corner, and left and right mouse buttons in its left, making it an all-in-one device for controlling any Windows or Mac OS X machine. But unlike the $70 model 531, the 178 bears no "Windows," print screen nor Internet keys, but it does have keys for home and back navigation.

The 178 offers one important difference over its larger relative, and it's a big one. While the 531 does offer a couple more dedicated function keys, it requires a press on the FN key to access them. On the 178, they're truly dedicated; there's no need for a two-key combination.

Both Azio units can operate with AAA rechargeable batteries, but only the 178 includes a pair of NiMH cells along with a USB-charging cable (the 531 comes with alkalines). A blue LED flashes to indicate charging, and lights solid blue when full. Another indicates key presses. To preserve battery life, the keyboard goes into sleep mode after 10 minutes of inactivity; pressing any key wakes it up again. There's also an on-off switch on the underside for extended storage.

Both include a tiny USB dongle that works on the 2.4-GHz RF band, and both worked flawlessly at 30 feet through two walls. Neither QWERTY was much good for everyday typing, and neither offers a storage compartment for the USB dongle. Still, we recommend the Azio KB178RT Mini Thumb Keyboard. It includes a lifetime warranty.

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