The solar keyboard is one of those little computer UFOs, the kind of product that only exists with one or two manufacturers. A niche in a niche in which the French number 1 in IT sales, LDLC, invites itself.
With its SWL10, the Lyon-based brand is tackling a market where the only credible competitor is Logitech. With a first strong argument: the price. At fifty euros, it is without a doubt the cheapest solar keyboard ever launched.
Plug the small dongle into a USB A socket on your Windows 10 PC … and that’s it, it works instantly. The SWL10 embodies the pinnacle of plug and play with zero configuration, zero software to install. The power users, Fans of custom settings and other freaks might be disappointed, but the average person (including us) will appreciate having nothing to do to make it work.
On the compatibility side, although the key markings correspond to an AZERTY Fr for Windows, it works smoothly on a Mac (tested on a Macbook Air 2019 under macOS Catalina 10.15.3 via a VAVA brand USB-C adapter). You have to know the key mappings by heart (the Mac atrium is the superscript 2 on the PC keyboard), but other than that, it’s 100% functional, including the numeric keypad.
We haven’t tested for compatibility with a PC running a GNU / Linux distribution because … it’s like that – yes, we just lost 10 points in our power user street cred. But we will live with it, have no fear. Excellent ergonomic point: the small dongle USB has a magnetic storage location under the keyboard.
No applications, luxury parameters like Logitech, here we are in the purest “plug and it works”. Windows settings remain obviously.
Good typing comfort
Without equaling Logitech’s latest high-end Craft keyboard, the SWL10 offers good typing comfort, overall at the level of Logitech’s K750. The plastic used isn’t quite as “sleek” as those used on more expensive Logitech models but, hey, it’s a $ 50 solar wireless keyboard!
Key stroke is similar to that of mid-range laptop chiclet keyboards, noise is well contained, and the key markings seem to hold up – although long-term commitment is impossible unless use it for a year … Only small complaint, the slight lack of rigidity of the plastic of the shell. Far from curling or being limp, it just, very subjectively, lacks a little hold.
Dedicated to intensive office work, the SWL10 is not a gamer keyboard. But it obviously allows you to play without worries – we tested it on Doom (2016) and Starcraft II – as long as responsiveness is not a key element. We forget about PUBG and other ultra aggressive games in competition mode, but for the rest, “it does”.
As for the appearance of the keys – not everyone hits with their eyes closed – the lettering is slightly too “discreet”. We would have subjectively appreciated letters / icons a little larger and bigger. But at least the keys are less messy than some of the keyboard Logitech MX Keys – otherwise excellent.
Battery life …
If you read 01net.com on a regular basis, you might recall the Logitech K750 “saga”. A solar keyboard that we had a bit of trouble (understatement) getting a spare battery for (in short: the keyboard was considered disposable once the battery died (episode 1), But Logitech became aware of the problem (episode 2) and took all measures to allow its replacement (episode 3).
With such a precedent, it was logical that we pay special attention to this SWL10: if we are demanding with Logitech, we owe it to ourselves to do the same with the other players. And we will not hide from you that the first elements of answers to our fundamental questions – ” where is the battery? How do you change it? What is its lifespan? – were, at first glance, rather worrying. Because the battery is integrated into the keyboard and there is no access door.
There is also no way to open the keyboard: the upper and lower parts are heat-sealed with a laser. So, we are faced with a product with a battery that can only be changed by forcibly opening the two covers at the risk (obviously) of damaging them. Scandal? Never mind: LDLC was aware of the Logitech / 01net.com “scandal” (yes, yes) and above all seems to have succeeded in having found a good solution.
Adapt to industrial limits
” We are not Logitech and cannot afford », We are told to the technical department of LDLC products. ” For this keyboard, we recovered a mold (plastics, ndr) keyboard and we rebuilt the upper part which cost us several tens of thousands of euros. Redo the upper part to put a hatch, add a USB socket, etc. would have increased the bill by at least 20,000 euros », We were told.
Faced with the giant Logitech, a global brand which therefore benefits from an effect of scale that is incomparable with a company whose marketing sphere is limited to the French-speaking European zone, LDLC must be less expensive. And therefore has to deal with certain limits.
” From the communication protocol point of view, we have chosen HF technology and not Bluetooth, because it is much more energy efficient », Continues in Lyon, headquarters of LDLC. Then comes the choice of this energy source. ” Lithium-ion batteries pose several problems. On the one hand, storage: if we do not manage to keep the stock running in 18 months, they risk dying from landfill in the dark, which would amount to throwing everything away. And when they die after years of use, they need to be replaced to get the product working again. What we saw with the K750, which could no longer function when the battery really died.
NiMH technology less restrictive than Li-Ion
The solution came from a simpler battery, but more robust over time. ” We have therefore integrated NiMH batteries because they are accumulators whose capacity decreases linearly. », LDLC continues. And according to the business models ” even if the uses are very variable according to the users, the actuators of keys should last 10 years. This corresponds to the life of the built-in accumulator “.
Better yet, unlike the Logitech K750 which stops working when the battery is empty, the same is not true for the NiMH. “MEven once the battery is completely dead, since we are in HF and not in Bluetooth, the slightest light source will supply enough power to the keyboard circuit for it to function. Except for typing in the total darkness of a cellar, the keyboard will then hold as long as the keys last “. Touch.
In addition to the fact that we appreciate the transparency of LDLC, the technical solution found by the company’s technical teams makes sense to us, even without taking into account the industrial context. Logitech certainly offers a more sophisticated technical solution (the brand’s proprietary Unifying Bluetooth is much richer in functions), but also more energy-intensive. The energy efficiency of the SWL10 and the choice of a battery that does not short-circuit the product when it is at the end of its life is a good solution. Which allows LDLC to offer a solar keyboard ”, wireless and comfortable“ chiclet ”keys for less than 50 euros.