By Scott Beach – Digital Strategy Executive, Card-Carrying Gadget Nerd and Lenovo Insider
MSRP: $59.99 Available on Lenovo.com and from major electronics retailers
I like to think of myself as a pretty well-rounded person, with a normal life, a good job and a great family. But I have a weakness… a weakness for gadgets and especially for innovative products. So when Lenovo sent me a box from R&D in China with instructions to try it out and share my thoughts, my curiosity was peaked. After a “spirited” unwrapping, I uncovered a white and orange box that appeared to contain a shrunken keyboard titled simply “Lenovo 500 Multimedia Controller”.
Lenovo markets this diminutive device as a great solution for managing Windows 10 media devices from your couch (they had me at Windows 10 and couch). Let’s give it a try.
The Lenovo 500 Multimedia Controller packs all of the features of a full-sized keyboard into a device the size of a smart phone. The keyboard layout is reminiscent of a Blackberry, with good spacing, dual shift keys, a full number row and dedicated hotkeys along the top for common media tasks. I say that as a strong compliment (and also as a recovering BB addict). The device is light but sturdy, sheathed in a uniform matte black exterior. The unit comes with the usual USB Bluetooth receiver standard for pointing devices. Plug it in, turn it on and setup is complete in seconds. Here’s where things get interesting:
THE ENTIRE KEYBOARD IS A TOUCHPAD. #mindblown
Yes, you heard correctly, the 500 Multimedia Controller’s 5”x2.5” keypad doubles as a pointing device. It even supports Windows multi-finger gesture control. When skimming the keys, the controller interprets the action as mouse behavior but reverts to a keyboard upon receiving key input. In addition to the keyboard and touchpad, the Lenovo 500 Multimedia Controller also has dedicated left and right mouse click buttons on the palm rest, or rather in this case “thumb rest”. Key feel is crisp and precise, which helps greatly with typing speed. While you’re not going to get 80 words per minute on this keyboard, I was able to exceed the speed of any virtual keyboard from Windows, Android or Apple. As a point of fact, I typed this review on the 500 Multimedia Controller into MS Word 365 running on a Lenovo Ideastick 300 (which is even smaller than the controller).
Potential Use Cases
I can see a number of interesting use cases for this device, such as an input device for Home Media Servers running on Windows (such as Plex), or for doing some light couch-surfing (of the internet kind) with a connected PC. But in my opinion, the BEST use case for this product is not in the home at all. The Lenovo 500 Multimedia Controller belongs in the workplace, more specifically, in the conference room.
Conference room displays and PC connections are the worst! And I say that as an expert who visits dozens of corporate conference rooms each year in my day job. Wires everywhere, missing adapters, computers in cabinets, unknown local passwords, you name it, I’ve seen it. With cloud apps, cloud storage and Office365, conference rooms could be simplified with a compact PC and the Lenovo 500 Media Controller for ultimate efficiency. But I didn’t just dream it, I put my idea to the test and traveled for a week with only 3 items: a Lenovo YogaBook (for notetaking), an Ideastick 300 (an HDMI computer the size of a stick of gum) and the Lenovo 500 Multimedia Controller. I attended multiple client meetings, built a swanky presentation and delivered a major sales pitch with a technology stack that would fit in a fanny pack. And in between, I used the controller to turn my hotel TV into a makeshift work PC. When I wasn’t streaming cat videos… LOLZ!
If I were an IT administrator, I’d have no hesitation about putting one of these controllers wherever I needed to manage a large-format display, be that in lobbies, conference rooms, break rooms or out on a show floor. And I’d definitely plan some for events teams who need to manage content at tradeshows and conferences.
Things I’d Like to See Improved
Lenovo is a company that believes in incremental innovation, so here are a few of my suggestions to turn this already capable device into something even greater:
- Lose the USB receiver in favor of direct Bluetooth pairing technology, which is already present in other Lenovo accessories. Even though the controller has a little storage compartment for the USB Bluetooth adapter, it is inconveniently hard to access under the rear panel. Many an accessory have died a premature death because the owner lost the USB adapter and could no longer communicate with the PC. Plus, USB ports are an endangered species in this era of shrinking form factors; it is not uncommon to only have 1 USB port on many modern devices.
- Add a backlight. One of the common failings of multimedia keyboards in the industry is the lack of backlight technology. Multimedia is OFTEN displayed in the dark, especially for home use in theater settings. The ability to toggle on/off a backlight would certainly extend the usefulness of this controller.
- Additional configuration settings. It would be nice to be able to perform some additional configuration on the behavior of the controller, customizing sensitivity and features. Some settings can be adjusted via Windows 10 mouse properties, but not nearly to the extent and breadth of the Lenovo 500 Multimedia Controller’s capabilities
The Lenovo 500 Multimedia Controller is a useful and innovative input device for the modern workplace. It offers a compelling set of features, a reasonable price and in my experience brought a smile to those who got a chance to demo it. Another great product from the Accessories team at Lenovo.
Disclosure: Lenovo provided a demo unit for this review. All thoughts, opinions and editorial content are solely my own.