Windows 8 is just a few months away, and while the touch-centric OS would suggest we'd be abandoning our keyboards and mice for finger-friendly tablets, Microsoft's hardware division has other plans in store. The company has announced a handful of wireless keyboards and mice that are designed to play nice with mobile hardware (including Windows 8 tablets). We had a chance to check them out in person a few days ago; the peripherals will connect to PCs and tablets via Bluetooth, and operate without dongles — handy, if you're using a device with limited USB ports (or none).
First up is the Wedge Mobile keyboard, which will cost $79.95. We caught a glimpse of it when leaked images surfaced a few weeks ago, and it makes a strong impression in the proverbial flesh. It's thin and light, powered by a pair of AAA batteries that slide into a tear-shaped compartment underneath the keyboard. The function row is dominated by media keys, and buttons that offer quick access to Windows 8's Charms - Search, Share, Settings and Devices. The classic Function keys (F1 - F12) are still present; you'll just need to hold down the Fn when you run into an application that needs them.
The keyboard's cover is especially clever. It's made of a grippy rubber, soft to the touch and design to sit flush against a tablet's screen without marring it. It serves as a faux-power switch: magnets in the cover trigger the keyboard, waking it up from standby mode when the cover is removed. It also doubles as a stand: the joint in the middle of the cover bends freely, easily supporting a tablet in portrait or landscape mode at a wide range of angles.
The Wedge Touch mouse ($69.95) also fell victim to leaks a few weeks ago, and while the odd design is still a bit bemusing it isn't as uncomfortable as it looks. It's Microsoft's lightest and smallest mouse yet, and will reportedly run on a single AA battery for four months. The mouse's sloping face is actually a four way touch strip; it'll recognize horizontal and vertical scrolling gestures, and worked flawlessly when paired with a tablet running the Windows 8 Release Preview. The mouse also includes Microsoft's BlueTrack laser technology, which the company claims will improving tracking across any surface. If you've got large hands you'll likely still want to steer clear, but Microsoft is hoping the compact design should will appeal to folks who need to work in small spaces.
Rounding out Microsoft's new hardware offerings are the Sculpt Touch Mouse and Sculpt Mobile Keyboard. These are little more than Windows 8-themed updates to the Explorer Touch Mouse and and Bluetooth Mobile Keyboard 5000, updating the Windows logo and adding Windows 8 charms to the function row. There's nothing especially exciting here, but they could be a fine budget complement to a Windows 8 tablet (or a desktop) - they'll both be $49.95.
There's no firm release date for any of these peripherals, but we were told that the products will all be on sale by the time Windows 8 is generally available on October 26th.