Logitech's diNovo Mini does for home theater PC keyboards what Apple's iPod did to the MP3 player. Granted, there are many more digital music listeners than HTPC owners out there, but if you are a member of the latter category, you'll love the diNovo Mini because it solves one of the main dilemmas of HTPC ownership: how to take full control of your PC and its media functions without relying on multiple or clunky input devices. The price of the diNovo Mini is $150, which admittedly is steep for what's essentially a BlackBerry keyboard with a control pad and a Bluetooth connection. We'd pay it, though, when the diNovo Mini comes out at the end of February, because the tiny keyboard so effectively addresses what's been a nagging issue for an entire product category.
Like the iPod, the Logitech diNovo Mini boasts a pleasing visual aesthetic that seems inseparable from its functionality. The clamshell design feels right in your hand, and it would look as at home on your coffee table as any remote control. It weighs only 0.4 pound and is roughly three-quarters of an inch high and six inches long. Open it up and you're treated to a small-scale, 61-key keyboard, backlit in either orange or green, depending on the mode of the control pad.
The control pad itself lets you change from analog, touch-pad-style control, to directional up-down-left-right controls by sliding a small switch. The idea is that you'd want it in touch pad mode for navigating a Web page or the Windows desktop, but that the directional controls are better for working your way through a set of linear menus, such as those in Windows Media Center. The middle of the pad acts like your main mouse button, and you hold down one of the function buttons and a menu button on the keyboard for right-clicking. It's more intuitive than it sounds, and our only complaint is that the d-pad mode was sometimes not as responsive as we'd like. The analog mode is fine though, and consistent with the quality of Logitech's MX Air mouse, itself a major improvement over the touch pad on the old diNovo Edge keyboard.
Typing on the diNovo Mini is fully in the BlackBerry school. Especially since the width is about that of your average game controller, you're encouraged to use your thumbs for typing. The keys are large enough so that thumb-typing isn't a problem, and you might be surprised at how well basic touch typing familiarity translates from your 10 fingers to only your thumbs. We wouldn't use the diNovo Mini to type a dissertation, but for password entry, instant messaging, keyword searches, and typing in the occasional Web address, it's perfect. In other words, it's designed to serve the most common needs of a home theater PC owner.
That brings us to the comparisons. We've seen several products over the years purporting to be ideal for controlling your Media Center PC. Your typical wireless keyboard often claims some kind of multimedia functionality, but most of them, such as the diNovo Edge and Microsoft's Wireless Entertainment Desktop 7000 and 8000, are full size and geared toward a traditional desktop. We can't ever see putting one of them in your living room with a true home theater PC such as the Alienware Hangar18. The alternative has been the small-scale keyboard, such as the Gyration model or the Vidabox trackball keyboard. And as much as we liked the trackball on the Vidabox keyboard, neither of those scaled-down keyboards can compete with the versatility or the visual elegance of the diNovo Mini.
Setting up the diNovo Mini is a breeze. It uses a Bluetooth connection and a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, and it went from the box to up and running on a Vista-equipped PC in less than two minutes. You can install the Logitech SetPoint software if you want to customize the hot key assignments and tweak the mouse cursor speed. It can also work with a PlayStation 3. We can certainly think of tweaks we'd like to see to the design, such as Apple and Xbox 360 support. The diNovo Mini also has dedicated play, volume, and channel hot keys, which work fine for driving Windows-based media, but we'd also like to see some options for controlling your other home theater hardware. We realize that Logitech has its Harmony universal remote controls to sell as well, but we don't think it's too much to ask to let you use the diNovo Mini to at least let you turn off your television.