I bought a brand new Toshiba Satellite A-105 laptop in late September 2006, and by the time my new Fujitsu T4215 had arrived in mid-January, I had already managed to start wearing the left leg off of the Toshiba keyboard’s silk-screened “A” button. I have no idea what my problem is, but I am really hard on keyboards; I have commented before that I must just bang on the keys or something, because it is common for the regularly used keys to eventually lose their label.
While this might not be a huge issue on the typical desktop keyboard (“Hey, it’s looking pretty worn – time for a new one! Yay!”), it can be a rather costly problem on a not-as-easily-replaced laptop’s keyboard. The best option, for me at least, is to try to hook the laptop up to a separate keyboard. so that I can bang away. This has worked well in the past, more noticeably when the new keyboard was paired with some sort of docking system that also raised the laptop’s screen, added USB ports on the back, and managed to keep the laptop cool at the same time.
While I was still using the Toshiba, I saw an announcement for the upcoming Logitech Alto notebook stand, which would not only raise the laptop screen to a more ergonomic height, it also had the distinction of being the first portable or stationary notebook stand that I could remember ever seeing with a built-in keyboard. Intrigued, I knew I would have to give this thing a try; at the end of January, I received a review sample.
Included in the box was the Alto stand, a user’s guide, the five year warranty paperwork, and in a separate box was an AC charger to use when there were power hungry USB peripherals attached. The Alto has an odd appearance at first, it presents itself as a 16.75″ wide x 9.5″ deep x 1.25″ thick black rubber and plastic affair, which looks like it might unfold to make a laptop desk or…something. Being almost 17″ wide and collapsible, this stand could be considered portable, but not easily and certainly not in the average laptop bag. It is however very easily stored which is a good thing if you do not always keep your laptop on display.
The Alto’s exterior is composed of glossy black plastic edges, a textured black plastic center, and a thick black rubber spine. The entire affair weighs 4 pounds 5 ounces.
The two halves easily swing open from each other, revealing this crazy looking terrain of glossy black plastic coupled with a full-size keyboard with a built-in black rubber textured wrist rest. When opened, the Alto measures 16.75″ wide x 19″ deep x 0.6″ tall on the keyboard side, or 24″ across when measured diagonally. We are talking about a surface area of 318.25 square inches, so there needs to be a pretty substantial bit of open table top available for the contraption to sit upon.
Side note: It was depressing to so see how fingerprints and dust immediately congregated to every available surface, but that’s the price paid when dealing with black accessories. So even though I kept a can of compressed air and a microfiber cloth at the ready for all of these pictures, I still managed to get prints & smudges that would make any CSI guy do a happy dance. 😛
In order to open the notebook stand, the clasp in the center needs to be pressed forward, in the direction shown by the arrow.
This raises the glossy black fingerprint magnet…err, I mean Laptop stand! Notice that at the bottom are two 0.5″ long x 3″ wide rubber ledges which will hold the laptop’s bottom edge.
Once the stand has been raised, this rear compartment will be revealed. In it there is a 25″ long USB cable which will be plugged directly into the laptop to couple the stand and any attached laptop peripherals. The USB cable fits neatly inside the accompanying channels and slots when not in use.
There is a black plastic easel which must be locked into the correct slot, which is incidentally also released by the same pull lever which opened this compartment.
At the rear of the stand are two USB ports and the power plug port; a third USB port is just around the corner to the left.
The keyboard is full-sized and full-featured; be sure to click these photos to see the much larger versions.
The F keys each have alternative functions programmed, including search, email, home, default music player, music controls, page back, page forward, full browser page, refresh…
…and something I had never seen in a keyboard before – a print screen button…which didn’t work on my laptop. I should mention that there are no drivers included with the board, it uses the USB drivers already present in the Windows 2000, XP and Vista operating systems.
The keys on this board are dampened, meaning that they don’t clack as they are struck. Speaking of striking keys: when pressed they travel almost 0.25, and it can feel pretty deep if one is used to less travel from their laptop keyboard.
On the rear right side of the Alto is an indicator panel that glows with green LEDs from behind the glossy black panel to indicate when up to three USB plugs are installed, whether the AC adapter is being used, and whether the keyboard is locked or unlocked.
This scan of the user manual shows that there are also LED indicators for caps and numbers locks.
I have four laptops at my disposal, but since the Fujitsu P2110 has an extended battery on it which protrudes from the base of the keyboard, I opted not to test it with the stand. Instead, I will show the fit results of using the Alto with the Toshiba Satellite A-105, a Dell Inspiron B130, and the Fujitsu T4215.
The first test subject, the Toshiba, fit perfectly upon the rubber base…
The screen was easily adjustable to a comfortable height, and the setup worked well.
The Dell Inspiron, because of its built-in cooling feet (0.25″ tall), would not correctly perch upon the 0.5″ ledges. Instead, I rested its bottom edge upon the rubber portion that makes up the Alto’s spine when it’s closed, which worked very well.
Once again, the screen was adjustable to a perfect level and the end result was very satisfactory.
Since I had just received the Fujitsu when the Alto appeared, I was already thinking about how cool it would be if I could put the T4215 in tablet mode, plug it into the Alto, and then begin working immediately; but I would soon learn that that would not be practical. In laptop mode, because of its odd slant design on the front edge, the Fujitsu didn’t want to securely perch upon the 0.5″ rubber ledges. This wasn’t a huge problem because I could once again rest it upon the rubber center area. I actually wound up positioning the laptop’s bottom edge against the back side of the keyboard, which works perfectly and allows more cooling airflow between the laptop’s bottom and the plastic easel.
In laptop mode, the screen was easily adjusted and perfectly viewable…and by using the Fuji in this manner when I am home, its keyboard can remain pristine – which is a good thing: objective met.
But in tablet mode, it was a whole different story. Although the Fujitsu perched nicely upon the rubber ledges, because there is only one possible position when the easel is locked in its slot, the screen was not really viewable. Ah well…just a minor setback, and it isn’t as if “view it in tablet mode” was a selling feature. 😉
If there had been a way to adjust the tablet viewing angle forward, I would have felt like I had really discovered something cool…but alas. 🙁
Even though I couldn’t make the Alto perform tablet tricks, it did solve my main problems – which were saving my laptop’s keyboard and raising my screen so that it would be more ergonomic and easily visible. My only real reservation against the Alto is that it is huge when opened; it barely fits upon my desktop. However, the convenience of being able to insert my Fuji, connect one USB cable, and then have a desktop computer experience is pretty darn cool; I’ll definitely keep using the Alto.
The Logitech Alto is available directly from the manufacturer, as well as other retailers.
What I Like: Saves the laptop’s keyboard from daily wear; replaces laptop’s mini-keyboard with a full size and full featured keyboard; holds laptop at an easier to view angle; adds three USB ports and hot keys; allows air to circulate behind laptop’s base when laptop is inserted at an angle
What Needs Improvement: Has a huge footprint so it may not fit on all desktops; the black surfaces act as a dust and fingerprint magnet