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Logitech's K480: A Keyboard for the Crazed Multitasker

Does the K480 solve your multi-device problem -- or just introduce another device to the mix?

My typical day in front of the computer screen goes something like this: Browse Web. Check email. Check Twitter. Ping! Pick up phone. Check message. Respond. Put down phone.

Oh, remember that thing — did I ever pick up that thing? Pick up phone. Write it down in Notes. Or Evernote. Or OneNote. Any of the note apps. Check for more messages while on phone. Might as well check Instagram …. No! Focus! Phone down. Back to computer screen. Pop. It’s a Facebook message. One quick answer before turning back to … what was it? That email. The work one. Yes, more important. Be productive. Now. Whoooop! (iMessage).

Can a keyboard help this? I doubt it. This is your brain on some serious multitasking.

That won’t stop Logitech from trying. The electronics maker’s new wireless Multi-Device Keyboard K480 pairs with up to three different devices at the same time, so you can keep your fingers flying on the keyboard even as your attention shifts from screen to screen. Unlike Logitech’s previous “easy-switch” keyboard for iOS devices, this one works with Mac, Windows, iOS, Android and Chrome OS.

Sooo, if you’re typing on a Mac laptop and a message pops up on your Android phone? Turn the dial on the K480 keyboard, switch devices and keep on typing. Or you’re using a Windows machine at work but want to jot down something on your iPad? Again, turn that keyboard dial from your Windows setting to your iOS one.

After using the $50 K480 for a week, two things became clear. The first is that the K480 works as promised, with a lot of thought put into the functionality of the keys for multiple operating systems. The second is that the K480 might be suitable for a very specific kind of tech user, like someone who has both an iPhone and an Android phone, or someone who is tied to a Windows PC at work but wants to occasionally switch to another device.

Otherwise, this is exactly the kind of keyboard you might buy because you think it’s going to help you switch between all of your devices more easily, and then rarely, if ever, use those functions of the keyboard.

And then you just have a keyboard. A decent wireless, but not especially portable, keyboard.

Speaking of portability, when I first took the K480 out of the box, I was surprised by its size and weight. I was expecting a build that might fall between the company’s Ultrathin portable keyboard and Apple’s popular wireless keyboard. The K480 is a thick plastic keyboard that is nearly the size of the full keyboard chassis on a 13-inch laptop. It weighs just under two pounds. (On the flip side, it’s smaller than most of Logitech’s non-portable wireless keyboards, including the Harmony Smart keyboard, and it doesn’t come close to bulky ergonomic boards.). It has a long key travel and is not backlit. All signs point toward a $50 keyboard, not a $100 one.

It comes in either black or white. There’s a neon-colored tray running the length of the keyboard above the keys. This tray is deep, but not magnetic, and doesn’t charge your phone or tablet. Also, most phones and tablets sink just enough into the tray so that the home buttons are difficult to access.

Just below the keyboard tray to the left is a round dial with three numbered options. Below the tray to the right are the Bluetooth pairing buttons.

To pair a device, you set the dial on the left of the keyboard to 1, 2 or 3, and then press and hold down either the PC/Android or “i”-Device button on the right. Then you go into Bluetooth settings on your laptop, tablet or mobile-phone, and select the Logitech keyboard from the list of available options. It took me just a couple of minutes to pair my Mac laptop, an iPhone and an Android phone.

“Forgetting” a paired device, and adding another one to the mix, was super simple as well.

Turning the dial not only lets you jump from device to device, it also tells the keyboard which modifiers to activate. So the Alt/Cmd key will work as the Alt key on Windows, Android and Chrome devices, and as the Command key on Mac and iOS products.

The shortcut keys adapt to your OS, too. For example, the home shortcut activates Launchpad on Mac OS and brings you to the browser homepage in Windows 7 or 8. The search shortcut cues search in browser on Windows and works as a Spotlight shortcut on Macs; the insert shortcut works as an insert key on Windows and Android, and lets you switch between languages in iOS.

There’s also an optional piece of Logitech keyboard software that users can download for PCs, Mac and Android if they want to really optimize the shortcuts or change the keyboard so that it defaults to function keys.

But I still questioned the appeal of the keyboard, based on the devices I used with it.

One of the benefits of the K480 is having the option to respond to mobile messages or notifications as they come through, while you’re working on a desktop or laptop. With something like iMessage, which comes through on both my laptop and iPhone, I could already respond to mobile messages from the desktop (assuming iMessage is working properly).

So I switched to an Android phone. When a new message came in, I’d crank the dial on the keyboard to “3” and type my response into the smartphone using the K480.

But there is no enter-to-send option with many devices and apps, a limitation beyond Logitech’s control. So I’d still have to stop and pick up the phone — or, if the phone was resting in the tray, squeeze my finger in there — and tap the send key.

At that point, it’s almost faster to just pick up the phone and type using the virtual keyboard, unless you’re writing at length.

The good news is, if you do buy this keyboard, you’ll likely only have to change the two AAA batteries once every two years. So there’s at least one less distraction.

Ping! (New message). Let me just respond to this quickly …

Okay, where was I? Oh yes: The Logitech K480. It’s an okay keyboard. Just don’t expect it to solve all of your multitasking problems.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.