Like all wireless devices, when cordless mice work, they work great. But when they don’t, they can become major pests! Columnist Ken Colburn explains why. B2 Q: What should I look for when buying a wireless keyboard and mouse? — Brian
A: Wireless phones, wireless networks, wireless monitors; the whole world is going wireless, and your keyboard and mouse are no exception.
As with every other wireless device on the market, you have many different technology choices. Like other wireless devices, when they work, they are great. But when they don’t, it’s a big headache!
I have worked with just about every brand of wireless keyboard/mouse and all of the major transmission methods, and I have quickly learned a few key points.
The first point is that they are all potentially more problematic than a wired keyboard and mouse, so if you really don’t need it, don’t spend the money. Just like in networking, wired is always better than wireless from a reliability standpoint. Our wireless phones (cellular and otherwise) are generally worth the aggravation because the convenience and additional functionality outweigh the grief, but in computing the same may not hold true.
The second point is that because all wireless devices are subject to interference, the transmission method that you choose is very important.
The main transmission types that I have used are IR (Infra-Red), RF (Radio Frequency) and Bluetooth.
IR-based systems are generally older and require line of sight between the devices and the base station, much like your television remote control. My advice is to stay clear of these devices if you can even find them nowadays.
The most common type you will find on today’s store shelves is the RF-based system. The general range of RFbased systems can go from 3 to 100 feet. The most popular brands, Logitech (www.logitech.com) and Microsoft (www.microsoft.com/ hardware), claim a range of up to 6 feet for their products Steer clear of cheap, generic brands, as they are troublesome.
A relative newcomer to the consumer market is Gyration (www.gyration.com), which has been involved in commercial grade devices for many years The Gyration products use several unique technologies in wireless keyboards and mice.
The RF frequency they use is much higher than both Logitech and Microsoft, so their consumer products are rated at up to 30 feet. The line claims a range of up to 100 feet.
Another unique aspect to the Gyration mouse is the gyro-based mechanism that allows it to be used like a regular optical mouse on virtually any surface or held in the air and moved around to guide the cursor on the screen.
The third and newest technology, Bluetooth, has a lower chance of interference from other devices but requires the installation of special drivers and is only fully supported in Windows XP. I don’t like having to install drivers for devices unless absolutely necessary, and I have experienced various driver-related issues that caused the Bluetooth keyboard and mouse to stop working.
At this point, I would stick with an RF-based system because it does not require any special software to be recognized and has been around for a while.
Finally, the slight response "lag" on wireless pointing devices can be a problem for hard-core gamers, and remember to keep fresh batteries in the units for the best performance. But most of all, if you really don’t need it, don’t buy it!
Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the "Computer Corner" radio show at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KTAR (620 AM) and the "Tech No Phobia" television show at 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays on COX9. Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.