The $80 Adesso WKB-3100UB wireless keyboard is a good mini keyboard for surfing the Web from your sofa, but it's a nightmare to use as an everyday keyboard and trackball. The keyboard is usable most of the time, but its inaccurate trackball, poor button press recognition, sticking keys, lack of shortcut keys, and poor ergonomics left us unsatisfied.
The WKB-3100UB is a compact 87-key keyboard with a built-in 800dpi optical trackball. The keyboard is less than 12 inches long and a full 6 inches shorter than a standard 104-key desktop keyboard. To save space, Adesso includes a trackball in the upper-right corner of the keyboard and two mouse buttons in the upper-left corner. The keyboard and mouse are comfortable to use on your lap or in the air; however, when sitting at a desk, it's awkward to scroll the trackball with one hand while clicking mouse buttons with the other. Since there is no space between the keyboard and desk, we found ourselves constantly picking up the keyboard to use the mouse, and then setting it down to type. Adesso also didn't design the keyboard with lefties in mind, since you must use your right hand to control the trackball. The bottom of the keyboard is home to a power switch, a connect button, a magnetic area to store the dongle when not connected to a PC, the battery compartment, and a pair of feet for adjusting the typing angle.
According to Adesso's Web site, the keyboard uses a soft membrane material that keeps key presses silent. In our anecdotal testing, we found that the WKB-3100UB is quieter than typing on most desktop keyboards, but many laptop keyboards, such as the Apple MacBook, muffle the clicks more effectively.
The keyboard works and doesn't make much noise, but that's where our praise ends. At 1.14 pounds, the Adesso is only half the weight of a full-size keyboard, which is a boon for its mobility, but it makes it feel cheap. Adesso also failed to correct for the trackball throwing off the keyboard's weight distribution, which makes balancing the keyboard on one knee while sitting on the sofa an acrobatic act. The trackball also tends to clack around in its slot, adding to the keyboard's fragile feel.
The keyboard performs well for slow- to mid-speed typing (up to 60 words per minute), but faster typists (80 words per minute and higher) might experience a delay in key presses. You also have to press the spacebar nearly dead center for it to register, and, unfortunately, it has a tendency to stick. The trackball is inaccurate and can jump the cursor around at times. Replacing the two AA batteries in the keyboard helped a bit, but we still experienced occasional errors.
According to Adesso, the two batteries should last about three months under normal use. However, if you use the power switch on the bottom of the keyboard to shut it off when not in use, you should be able prolong the battery life.
Connecting the keyboard to a PC is easy. Simply plug in the USB wireless receiver and you're ready to go, with no pairing or software installation required. It's also compatible with all versions of Windows, and even works with Mac OS X.
The keyboard broadcasts on a 2.4GHz frequency and may be affected by Wi-Fi devices, microwaves, cordless phones, and so on. According to Adesso, it has a range of about 30 feet. In our testing, we were able to use it at a range of about 50 feet, but your range may vary depending on RF interference. The wireless connection does not use security encryption, which may leave your key presses exposed to anyone monitoring the same radio frequency. If you're concerned about security and still want a wireless keyboard, we recommend you use a Bluetooth keyboard or one of Logitech's keyboards with its new Unifying USB receiver, such as the K340 or K350, as they both use 128-bit AES encryption. However, for the average person, its lack of encryption may not be a concern.
At $79.99 from Adesso, this is one of the more expensive compact keyboards we've seen, especially compared with Logitech's $50 to $60 price range for its wireless keyboards, which have encryption and a much longer battery life at three years. For home theater use, we recommend Logitech's K series of keyboards. You'll have to buy a separate mouse to get the same functionality as with the Adesso keyboard, but you should get a better experience and ergonomic design. However, we found several online retailers selling the WKB-3100UB for about $55.