IOGEAR GKM581R Wireless HTPC Keyboard

Jul 18 2011

Often a good wireless keyboard/mouse all-in-one separates a good home theater PC (HTPC) experience from frustration.  Unsung when functioning properly and abused otherwise, it is critical to select a device with good range and a feature set that matches the expected use--which if it includes anything more than casual typing a larger keyboard is the way to go.  With up to 33’ of wireless range in a mid-size form factor the IOGEAR GKM581R promises to deliver on each of these requirements.

Specifications

Wireless Frequency:2.4GHz (2.400-2.483GHZ) – Eight possible channels
Connector:USB RF Receiver
Range:Up to 33’ (10m)
OS Support:Windows XP, Vista, 7, Mac OS X v10.5.9+
Trackball Resolution:1000 DPI
Battery Requirement:2x AA (2x rechargeable NiMH included)
Dimensions (W x H x D):15.875” (40.32cm) x 8” (20.32cm) x 2” (5.08cm)

The mid-sized IOGEAR GKM581R keyboard is laid out more for multi-purpose use than strictly as a device targeted at the HTPC so dedicated Windows Media Center keys are not provided.  Personally, I did not miss them however as basic multimedia (play, pause, stop, etc.), web navigation (homepage – launches default browser, back, forward) and a “close application” button are available.  The keys function very well with a satisfying amount of feedback and the slight “click-clack” that often accompanies a solid keyboard.  I was not immediately smitten by the football-shaped form factor but was quickly won over by the rewarding tactile experience provided by the surface material, side grips and “triggers” (scroll + middle-click on the left and left-click on the right) on the front of the keyboard; more importantly my wife found it easy to use, even commenting after the first day that she was happy with the switch.  The trackball is functional but exhibits more friction in operation than is typically found in similar devices.  Pointer movement was not inhibited by the behavior and besides the lack of smoothness no tangible negatives were noted – so mostly a nitpick. 

Unlike the IOGEAR GKM561R reviewed earlier, the GKM581R does not have an on/off switch which was also off-putting at first until discovering its standby feature, which along with battery savings keeps most unwanted input caused by external environmental factors (i.e. kids/dog/heavy subwoofer action) from translating into “random” mouse pointer appearances during playback.  It does add a little bit of user training to the experience however as an extra click is required to wake the device from standby before input is sent to the PC.  Also, because only the first click is “eaten” I did find it necessary to configure Windows to not allow the keyboard to wake the PC after it served time as a staging point for my son’s LEGO invasion (really my fault because I forgot to put it back in the A/V cabinet).

The GKM581R relies on the crowded 2.4GHz wireless frequency to provide a functional range up to 33’.   But unlike every other keyboard I have tested, including the GKM561R, it actually met this claim without the use of an extension cable to locate the USB RF (radio frequency) receiver away from the HTPC.

Battery life from the included NiMH rechargeable AAs was decent at around 1.5 months of moderate use before requiring a recharge--which is indicated by the battery light on the top of the keyboard blinking red.  Conveniently the keyboard can be charged via micro USB (cable included) from the HTPC; the light is solid red while charging, and turns green when complete.

Compared in the gallery above to an IOGEAR GKM561R and Lenovo N5901 in one series, and VidaBox ACC-BT-KBLTB and Logitech diNovo Mini in another, we can see that the IOGEAR GKM581R is on the larger side of keyboards in its class, but just by a tad.  Obviously it is much larger than the mini keyboards shown but does not require the compromises demanded by the smaller form factor as it can be comfortably used for extended typing sessions like web browsing, email or even programming.

Conclusion

Offering excellent range, plug in and go installation, rechargeable batteries and a convenient, rewarding user experience the IOGEAR GKM581R is a perfect choice for driving the HTPC.  The $74.95 MSRP is a little higher than expected given the competitive landscape for keyboards of this type, but with a street price of ~$55 at both Amazon and Newegg the GKM581R provides outstanding value for a full featured device.

Pro

  • Excellent wireless range
  • Easy installation
  • Convenient layout
  • Rewarding tactile experience
  • Has a trackball
  • Rechargeable batteries and USB charging cable included

Con

  • Trackball could be smoother
  • No on/off switch

Thanks to IOGEAR for the review sample

Comments

Looks good, I like the round design!!

Good review. Only suggestion would be to add the fact that it does not have a button to turn off/on the TV set as a con, something that I find should be crucial to a good HTPC remote even though little to none exist. 

 

If you get a chance can you review the Logitech Revue keyboard with a HTPC?

albundles wrote:

Good review. Only suggestion would be to add the fact that it does not have a button to turn off/on the TV set as a con, something that I find should be crucial to a good HTPC remote even though little to none exist.

You make an interesting point and it's one which I was debating on a review i'm writing of a different HTPC keyboard. On the one hand, I totally get what you're saying (i actually list the lack of On/off button in my review)...however, can you name me a single keyboard that has any sort of universal button functionality? I'm not saying there shouldn't be, but it's difficult to knock any company (even Logitech's fame Dinovo Mini doesn't do it) for a feature which to date has never been implemented.

From a technology standpoint I understand (and mention) why I think this hasn't been done--for Power On/Off you need IR, but most of these keyboards are either bluetooth or RF-based, so they would have to add an additional transmitter in the keyboard for a very limited number of utilities, not to mention the fact that most of us will use the keyboard as an Add-On, not a replacement to our full-time HTPC remote control units.

Well it's nice to see that a wireless keyboard (or whatever) actually lives up to its usable range claims.

This is certainly a product to consider if my old Gyration KB and mouse ever give up the ghost.

 

Thanks for the review...

I wasn't big on the oval design, but the range may very well make me pick this one up.  I hope the comfort and usability is comparable to nmedia's.

Thanks Andy based on this I bought the keyboard and used it for the first time last night. I personally love it. It sits well in the lap and the mouse is easy enough to use without being akward!

Andrew, I think you really covered all the pros and cons spot-on. I have been using this keyboard for a few days now and I like it quite a bit. I do believe it is a better product overall than the GKM561R which I also have. For $40, it is a great deal. The lack of a power switch means I have to be careful if I place the PC in standby and then set the keyboard down because the slight tackball movement can cause the PC to wake again. This isn't a problem after some timeout period though.

I also find that the ergonomics are great. It sits on the lap well and feels secure. Holding the keyboard gives access to a mouse trigger and scroll wheel which is also a nice touch. 

Aaron Ledger wrote:

The lack of a power switch means I have to be careful if I place the PC in standby and then set the keyboard down because the slight tackball movement can cause the PC to wake again. This isn't a problem after some timeout period though.

I generally disable the keyboard/mouse's ability to wake the PC from standby to avoid that issue.

That's a good tip for this keyboard, though I do enjoy the convenience of mouse/keyboard wake at times.

Yeah, it's certainly a trade-off.  Before I had kids running around the house I didn't see the need - now, it's a necessity Smile

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