Not to be left out of the coming Windows 8, tablet-focused excitement, Microsoft's hardware group has an assortment of new mobile input devices to show off this morning.
The four new devices, all Bluetooth-driven, are aimed squarely at mobile Windows 8 tablets and laptops. Microsoft says they will also work with iOS and Android tablets, which helps explain why it made sense to release them before Windows 8's debut on October 26.
Wedge Mobile Keyboard
Of the three new products, the Wedge Mobile Keyboard is the most interesting. The thick rubber sleeve helps protect the keyboard in transit. Once you take the keyboard out, the sleeve then folds in half to create an adjustable tablet stand.
I had a brief hands-on with the keyboard, and found that the thick rubber sleeve is sturdy enough that you can feel confident that it will support your tablet. The keyboard itself also has a stable feel to it, thanks to a rubber-coated wedge on the bottom of the device that holds the keyboard in place while you type on it. A snappy key response also makes it easy to type on.
The keyboard is indeed designed for Windows 8, with four specialized hot keys and a "Windows" key featuring the new Windows logo. The only complaint you might have about the Wedge Mobile Keyboard is its $79.95 price tag, although that's less than a keyboard/iPad dock combo for the iPad, which will run you $98. Although, being just a rubber sleeve, the Microsoft accessory doesn't offer the same connectivity and charging capabilities as the Apple iPad Dock.
Wedge Touch Mouse
The Wedge Touch Mouse is also eye-catching. Its angular design and shallow depth will make it an ostentatious travel companion, but it's not without a few welcome features.
A BlueTrack sensor will let you use the mouse on essentially any surface, useful for when work space is limited and you need to mouse on a pant leg. And instead of a scroll wheel, the Wedge Touch Mouse has four-way touch-based scrolling that works at any point across the surface of the mouse.
I wished the Wedge Touch Mouse were a little bit longer when I tried it out, but at least its sensor was responsive on a variety of surfaces (paper, denim, linoleum counter). The four-way scrolling was also a natural match of Windows 8's Metro interface.
I wouldn't use the Wedge Touch Mouse for extended, serious work because of its small size, but it seemed to work well for basic tablet navigation. I also liked that the battery cover snaps to the side, but remains connected to the device, eliminating the risk that it will pop off and get lost.
Microsoft wants $69.95 for the Wedge Touch Mouse when it launches later this year. That stings. Wait for the price to drop under $50.
Sculpt Touch Mouse
If you don't want to wait for the Wedge Touch Mouse to become more affordable, you can always look into the $49.95 Sculpt Touch Mouse.
The Sculpt has a BlueTrack sensor like the Wedge Touch Mouse, but it has only a four-way scroll strip, rather than the Wedge's surface-spanning touch input. While the Sculpt is most definitely a travel mouse, it also seemed a touch larger than the Wedge. That and its familiar shape might make the Sculpt a better fit if you want a mobile mouse for more serious work.
Sculpt Travel Keyboard
Finally, Microsoft will have a tablet-friendly version of its Comfort Curve keyboard available in the coming weeks.
At $49.95, the keyboard is a simple, Windows 8-hot-keyed wireless typing device. It also completes the Sculpt line as the more affordable companion brand to the higher-end Wedge products.
Update, 10:08 a.m.: Added hands-on gallery.