Keyboard Challenge: Find the best HTPC Keyboard

Your living room setup is probably closer to a computer than a simple television. So why are you still using a remote control to operate it when you should be looking for the best HTPC keyboard instead?

I’ve said a lot about air-mice before. When they first came out, I admit to being swayed by how cool the technology was. I mean, moving your mouse with a flick of the wrist…through the air? But the more I used an airmouse, the more I found myself avoiding using that feature. I’d use voice search, or the d-pad whenever possible, or a even a separate touchpad.

I found myself gravitating back toward a familiar keyboard with trackpad. I thought I could get by with a mini-keyboard, but that was an absolute failure – they just weren’t designed for adults to use.

So, I took a look at five of the best large sized HTPC keyboards and tested them against each other. I wanted to see how they performed in real life, on both the Android and official Android TV interfaces. Which keyboard do I think is the best HTPC keyboard? Read on to find out.

Quick Look: Top 3 Picks

Logitech K830 living room keyboard
1
Logitech K830
Logitech K400 Plus media keyboard
2

Logitech K400

Microsoft wireless media keyboard
3

Microsoft N9Z-00001

How this list is organized

This roundup has basically the same rules as my Best Air mouse Roundup. For each keyboard on the list, I looked at how it looks and feels, how it performed on both the NVIDIA Shield TV and the MINIX NEO U1 with no drivers or special software installed on either device. The reason is, lots of HTPC keyboards work well with Windows, but their Android compatibility may be a bit spotty.

Let me be clear: I’m looking at how each HTPC keyboard performs straight out of the box.

The challengers: I’ve got two keyboards from Logitech, two from RiiTek and one from Microsoft. I look at the Logitech K830 “Living Room” keyboard, the Logitech K400 Plus, the Microsoft Wireless Media Keyboard, the Rii Mini K12 Wireless Keyboard and the Rii K18 Wireless Keyboard.

Best HTPC keyboard roundup

You’ve probably already got an idea of what kind of keyboard you want. But check out the entire list so you can decide what the best HTPC keyboard is for you. If you have any questions, feedback or need more help picking the right device for you, don’t hesitate to contact me or leave a comment at the end of the article.

HTPC Keyboard roundup

1. Logitech K830 “Living Room” keyboard

I know it wasn’t really fair, but the Logitech K830 was the first HTPC keyboard I tested in this roundup.

Talk about setting the bar high.

Shocker. The most expensive keyboard in the roundup won. It that really any surprise?

No? But what I found surprising was just how good this keyboard is for your living room.

The Logitech K830’s keyboard is slightly smaller than my usual desktop keyboard which also happens to be made by Logitech – the K250. One of the big challenges for me when typing is that my hands often run into each other as I’m trying to type. It’s very difficult for me to type on anything that’s less than full size, or on a keyboard that doesn’t have enough spacing in between the keys. You don’t find that with the K830. Everything is spaced out nicely and feels comfortable while you’re typing…

…for about the first five seconds. The typing experience isn’t all good. Unlike my K250, the K830’s keys are completely flat. Come to think of it, the entire keyboard is completely flat. There’s no natural slope to make it easier for longer typing sessions. There’s no rounding to the keys so they don’t “cup” your fingers as you hit the keys. There’s no satisfying click of the keys as you type, but a noiseless, somewhat squishy feeling as the key is pressed. This makes it a bit difficult to try to type anything more than an email address or a password. I tried to type out a few sentences as my normal typing test and it was slower and more error filled than usual. I definitely couldn’t live with this keyboard as my primary PC keyboard. It’s not built for speed.

Keep in mind though, Logitech makes it very clear that this is a “living room HTPC keyboard for your connected TV.” Silent keys won’t disturb your friends during the movie.

What this keyboard is VERY good at is giving you everything that you need to run your HTPC while not looking out of place sitting next to your living room couch. The Logitech K830’s case is made of a soft textured black plastic with a brushed aluminum inlet on the sides. It’s classy, stylish and, dare I say, a little bit edgy. The surface is a fingerprint magnet, so definitely keep a couple of microfiber cloths close by to wipe away the fingerprints.

The trackpad has a good feel to it. The texture is smooth and glossy which makes it easy to tell where the keyboard ends and the trackpad begins – even in complete darkness. That thankfully won’t happen too often since the K830 is a backlit keyboard – the only one tested that has that feature. One last item to note about the trackpad: there are separate left and right click buttons below the trackpad. I’m not a fan of having the buttons integrated into the trackpad’s surface because I think it makes it feel flimsy and lower quality.

Above the trackpad there’s volume up and down buttons as well as a mute option. On the upper left hand corner of the front (i.e. not on the typing surface itself) there’s a separate “left click” button, so you can select an item with a click of your left finger while you’re operating the trackpad with your right hand. On the opposite corner is the power switch, which is a sliding switch with just the right amount of resistance. It will be next to impossible to “accidentally” turn off the keyboard. Finally, there’s a micro-USB port on the top to charge the internal rechargeable battery.

On the bottom of the K830 are four rectangular rubber feet to give it a little extra traction on smooth surfaces.

The price of the Logitech K830 is a bit steep compared to the other keyboards in this roundup. You can usually find it on sale for around $60, but that’s still double or even triple the price of every other keyboard on this list. But, for that extra money, you’re getting a product that looks the part and feels much more polished and refined.

I’ll say it again, the Logitech K830 isn’t designed to be your desktop PC’s keyboard. It’s your HTPC keyboard, so you have to look at it through that lens. Would I use it as my everyday keyboard? Absolutely not. Is it easily the best HTPC keyboard I’ve tested?

2. Logitech K400 Plus

The original Logitech K400 was one of my favorite keyboards when I reviewed it a while back. After some extended use, there were a couple of minor things that started to become annoying.

I think Logitech read my mind because literally every single one of them was fixed in it’s replacement the K400 Plus.

That’s not to say the original K400 is a bad keyboard. It’s really not. But it was starting to show its age, which is why it needed a refresh.

The Logitech K400 Plus freshens up the touchpad, getting rid of those silly looking lines which always reminded me of Eddie Van Halen’s 5150 guitar. After that obvious omission, you’ll find that the new touchpad is wider and shorter than its predecessor, with a bright yellow border splitting the touchpad from the two buttons. The buttons themselves are also shorter than on the original K400.

What did they do with all of that newfound space? They moved the volume up, volume down and mute buttons from the upper left hand corner of the keyboard to just above the trackpad, similar to its big brother the K830. Overall, I think this gives the Logitech K400 Plus a cleaner look than the K400. It is less “busy” and easier to look at.

k400plus touchpad

The only thing remaining on the upper left hand corner of the keyboard is the left mouse click button. To emphasize this button, Logitech highlighted it bright yellow coloring, one of the only two splashes of colour on the K400 Plus.

The keyboard is almost identical, except for the placement of the directional pad and the right shift button. One of the biggest things I look for when buying a keyboard is how the directional pad cuts into the right Shift key. Let me explain what I mean. I predominantly hit the Shift key with my right pinky-finger, ignoring the left Shift key. That’s just the way I type. If a keyboard uses a half-width shift key, I immediately pass and move on to the next one because I know that anything I type will be error ridden. Thankfully, the Logitech K400 Plus has the full-width Shift key.

The keyboard itself continues the flat-is-the-new-black style. There’s no gentle curve to the keyboard, or any rounding of the keys to make it more comfortable to type. And when I say “more comfortable”, I really can’t emphasize that enough. Pressing a key on the Logitech K400 Plus seems so much more satisfying than on the original K400. There’s just something “more” there. It’s not easy to quantify and even harder to describe. Let’s just say that it’s a definite improvement to keyboard feel.

One thing that immediately strikes me about this keyboard is how light it is, especially compared to its closest rival the Microsoft Wireless Media Keyboard. Even adding the extra weight of the two AA batteries, the Logitech K400 Plus is much easier to pick with one hand, which is handy if your other hand has snacks or a drink in it.

The Logitech K400 Plus is my favourite low-cost option for an HTPC keyboard. With the improvements they’ve made in the overall design, it’s a great alternative to the Logitech K830 if you feel you don’t need the rechargeable battery and the slick-looking design.

3. Microsoft Wireless Media Keyboard

Nobody ever accused Microsoft of being original, but they build solid stuff.

In fact, If the Microsoft N9Z-00001 wireless media keyboard didn’t have the word “Microsoft” on it, you’d think you’re still holding one of the Logitech keyboards.

Seriously.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. though. The Logitech K400 is a great budget keyboard and so is the Microsoft wireless media keyboard.

I’m disappointed that it doesn’t offer anything substantially different except that it is SO much heavier than the Logitech!

I need to start there because it’s such a striking comparison when you go from one keyboard to the other. The Microsoft Media Keyboard weighs in at 1.39 lbs, which is over half a pound heavier than the  Logitech K400 Plus! It’s closer in weight to the backlit, premium Logitech K830 at 1.75 lbs – without offering any of those premium features or textures. Seriously, what are they putting in this keyboard to make it that heavy?

That’s not to say that it’s a bad keyboard – it really isn’t. I like that Microsoft chose to put the volume controls vertically along the left side of the keyboard. It’s more intuitive and right where your thumb would naturally land as you hold it. The trackpad has a nice texture to it, and a nice large size. It makes better use of the space on the right hand side of the keyboard without looking too busy. Since the keyboard color and the trackpad color are so close in shade, my eye perceived it to be empty space, even though it was basically all trackpad. Good job on that visual design!

That design choice leads to my one complaint, which is further proof that I can always find a flaw in something. 🙂

The trackpad buttons aren’t separate from the trackpad itself, so whenever I click either the left or right button, I’m actually clicking the entire trackpad down in that direction. To me, this just felt really cheap, and it sounds more like water dripping from a faucet than a mouse-click.

4. Rii K18 Wireless Keyboard

The last of the large size keyboards on the list is the Rii K18 Wireless Keyboard. For the sake of comparison, I’ve shown it here with it’s little brother, the K12 mini keyboard.

Be careful when you’re looking at the specs of this keyboard. I’m not sure how Amazon decided to measure this keyboard, but they list it at a third of an inch wider than the Logitech K400 Plus, when it’s actually about an inch narrower. This equates to about a full key’s width narrower.

That may not sound like a lot, but if you’ve got anything other than “little kid hands”, you’ll probably have difficulty typing without errors. In my normal typing test, I had rattled off three typos before I even finished the first sentence. The extra space on the K400 Plus comes in handy and I don’t think Rii gained anything by making the keyboard slightly smaller than it’s competition.

If that was the only challenge with this keyboard, I could probably live with it.

Typing on the Rii K18 is…disappointing. I’ll start with my biggest gripe and it’s the same one I mentioned earlier about the original Logitech K400 – the half-width right Shift key. I know this supposedly makes it easier for gamers who want to use the arrow keys, but I see that as a pretty narrow use-case for HTPC users. If you’re a serious gamer, you’re going to go for a serious gaming keyboard instead.

Even if you’re not a serious gamer, typing on this keyboard is horrible. “Hunt and peck” typists will likely be fine, but anytime that I tried to type with any speed, the sound of my fingers hitting the keys echoed loudly. The vibration seemed to reverberate through the keyboard and turn the entire thing into an echo chamber. An HTPC keyboard should be fairly silent since you’re probably going to be using it while watching TV.

In addition to the bad keyboard quality, there aren’t any buttons for the trackpad. As with the Microsoft wireless media keyboard, this makes you press down on the lower half of the trackpad whenever you want to click the button. As with the keys themselves, the trackpad clicks loudly when pressed.

Sitting next to somebody using the Rii K18 is worse than sitting next to someone chewing their gum with their mouth open. Instinctively you know that what they’re doing should be quieter, but somehow they didn’t get the message.

If you can get past the sound from the keyboard, you’ll find that there’s no way to control sound from your TV box. Sure, there are media controls letting you fast forward and rewind, but there’s no volume control. You’ll be forced to use the function keys, which can have spotty compatibility within certain apps.

All in all, I was not impressed by the Rii K18 keyboard. It is the thinnest HTPC keyboard that I’ve tested, but that’s its only redeeming quality. For the price, I would look someplace else.

5. Rii Mini K12 Wireless Keyboard

I’m not a fan of mini-keyboards.

Maybe it’s because my hands are larger than a ten year old’s. Maybe it’s because I see them as an “in between” size device between the keyboard on your airmouse and a rull-size keyboard. Maybe I just don’t see the point of a keyboard that you still have to use one finger to type on.  Personally, I think they’re too small and bothersome to use more than occasionally.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about the second keyboard from RiiTek, the Rii Mini K12 wireless keyboard.

In terms of holding the keyboard, the Rii R12 actually has a really good feel. It’s just heavy enough to feel solid, but light enough to not be cumbersome.

Speaking of solid, the Rii R12 has a metal case which gives this keyboard almost no flex – even if you really try to bend it. I think that’s my favourite feature. I’ve seen far too many tech accessories are cheaply built, so this really makes me happy. Its a quality statement that Rii made about their product. Kudos.

The trackpad is a raised piece of solid plastic with no separate buttons for the left and right click. Unlike all of the other keyboards I’ve tested with an internal trackpad, there is no movement whatsoever with this trackpad because there’s no actual clicking that you need to do. The “buttons” are just touch-points on the keyboard. Again, this gives the keyboard a very solid feel.

The challenge I had with the raised trackpad highlights what I hate most about mini-keyboards though. My fingertips are wider than any of the keys, so any typing movement has to be very deliberate. When I was using the arrow keys to move about the NVIDIA Shield’s interface, I was constantly hitting a key I didn’t mean to, or the edge of the trackpad itself.

The wireless reception was challenging to say the least. Even sitting about five feet away from the sensor, the touchpad kept couldn’t seem to keep up with my gestures and the keys would sometimes need multiple presses in order to register. Occasionally, they would register in a flurry, so one intended key-press turned into three or four presses.

Finally, there are no volume controls, or any other special frills on this keyboard. I get it – this was a design choice to make the device as small as possible. But it’s still nice for an HTPC keyboard to have some sort of volume and media controls without having to use a special function key.

I’ll say again, I’m biased against mini-keyboards, so using the Rii R12 mini keyboard was more frustrating than anything else. BUT…if you like them and you know what you’re getting yourself into, then this is a solid device that is built very well. Consider this a personal preference choice.

The Best HTPC Keyboard: The Verdict

Really for me, this choice comes down to your price point.

If you’re looking for the best HTPC keyboard, and your budget is around $30, then I’d go for the Logitech K400 Plus. It’s a great mix of feel and features. Its lightweight, fairly silent and has multimedia controls right above the trackpad. You can find the Logitech K400 Plus at Amazon for around $30.

But, if you can afford to go a little bit higher, the Logitech K830 is the HTPC keyboard to beat. It’s the only keyboard I tested that is backlit, which is incredibly handy when you’re watching a movie in a dark living room. The feel is even better than the K400 Plus, but it still has all of the media controls that you’ve come to expect. If you’re looking for a keyboard that won’t look out of place in your living room, then this is it. The price can be a little high, ranging anywhere from $60 to $99. I bought my Logitech K830 on sale at Amazon for $60, and you definitely can’t go wrong at that price.

Do you have a favorite HTPC keyboard? Let us know in the comments below. And if you liked this article. share it with a friend!

20 Comments

  1. Love my old Dinovo Edge keyboards but they’re getting old now. For me they were perfect medicentre keyboards. I’ll give the K830 a try and see if it measures up 🙂

  2. Hey Tim, I couldn’t agree with you more. Hands down the k830 is the best of the best for media keyboards. And the K400 aka the original is a close 2nd. I will offer this advice for anyone who does not like them. I’m positive it has to do with The TouchPad functionality. Take some time in the Logitech Setpoint, go through and adjust all the Settings. It makes a world of difference and will change your outlook on these keyboards instantly.

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