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Wireless Keyboard Tech Guide
How do wireless keyboards operate with no wires attached? Before you go shopping, here is a quick lowdown on the three major technologies that power wireless keyboards.
Infrared keyboards are kin to television remote controls. A signal is transmitted within the infrared portion of the spectrum, which is just below the color red. Since this light is outside of the visible spectrum, we aren't bothered by the constant flashing of infrared light. To operate an infrared keyboard, a line-of-sight must be maintained between the keyboard and the infrared receiver. While infrared keyboards are usually cheaper than radio frequency and Bluetooth options, the signals are less susceptible to interference.
Radio frequency, or RF, keyboards use radio signals to transmit keystrokes to the computer. Using the radio spectrum means RF keyboards do not need a line-of-sight; in fact, you can use an RF keyboard in a completely different room. However, RF keyboards usually operate alongside many other electronic devices within the radio spectrum. Therefore, RF keyboards are susceptible to interference.
Bluetooth is the third and, arguably, most advanced wireless keyboard technology. Bluetooth has become a common technology to link headsets and other devices to cars, MP3 players, cell phones, and computers. While Bluetooth does operate within the radio spectrum, it is able to shift frequencies when necessary to avoid interference. Bluetooth devices are usually paired, meaning that the signals sent from a Bluetooth device can usually only be read and understood by the intended receiving device. This makes Bluetooth a more secure alternative to infrared and RF keyboards.
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Apple Wireless Keyboard
Apple's latest wireless keyboard offering is one of the smaller keyboards on the market. While the Apple Wireless Keyboard is most useful on a Mac OS X machine, it will pair on the most recent versions of Windows. Since Apple's Wireless Keyboard uses Bluetooth, your computer or laptop must have Bluetooth capability, or you must use a Bluetooth dongle.
The Apple Wireless Keyboard has 78 keys in an arrangement identical to the built-in keyboard on the latest MacBook and MacBook Pro models. There are 12 function keys which control things like screen brightness, Dashboard, music controls, and volume on Mac OS X. Since the keyboard has a compact layout, there is no number pad.
The keys are housed in an anodized aluminum frame that is light, easy-to-clean, and very durable, making it an attractive option within small wireless keyboards. The Apple Wireless Keyboard accepts 2 AA batteries, and retails for $69.99. You can find the Apple Wireless Keyboard on Amazon.
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Rii Portable Handheld Keyboard
The Rii Portable 2.4GHz handheld keyboard is a cross between a remote control and a respectable cell phone keyboard. Arguably the king of small wireless keyboards, the Rii has one more added bonus, though: it includes a touchpad. The Rii is especially appealing to users of home theater PCs, giving the portability of a television remote control with the power of a QWERTY keyboard.
This compact keyboard weighs 100 grams and can communicate with the included RF receiver at up to 30 meters. The Rii Portable keyboard is compatible with Windows 2000 through Windows 7, as well as many distributions of Linux.
The Rii Portable 2.4GHz handheld keyboard sells for around $50, and can be found on Amazon.