The standard keyboard goes virtual
- By Carlos A. Soto
- Nov 18, 2011
In a lot of technology visions of the future, physical keyboards and mice have been replaced with their virtual counterparts. Well, that future is now, and it can be yours for a mere $169, about the cost of a standard wireless keyboard. Yes, it may be time for the humble keyboard and mouse to go virtual.
Unlike most wireless keyboards and mice, the Celluon Virtual Laser Keyboard with Magic Cube uses a central optical sensor that works with an invisible laser to determine the exact 3-D positions of your fingers while you type on a laser-projected, full-size QWERTY keyboard.
The Magic Cube projects the laser keyboard image on any flat surface and follows a keystroke recognition pattern of up to 350 characters per minute, the equivalent of about a 70-word-per-minute typing speed.
Celluon Virtual Laser Keyboard With Magic Cube
Ease of Use: A
Pros: No software installation; small form factor; nice click sound when you hit virtual key.
Cons: Typing learning curve; long battery recharge time.
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This tiny external cube measures only 1.5 by 3.0 by 1.1 inches and weighs a mere 2.8 ounces, making it ideal for any road warrior, especially since the Cube connects to most Bluetooth-enabled devices such as PC and Mac notebooks, plus Android and iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad.
I used the Magic Cube on a flight to Cleveland to not only write part of this review on my Microsoft Windows notebook but also to type notes and meeting reminders on my iPad 2 and iPhone 4. With any of these devices, the setup was a cinch. Just make sure your Bluetooth is enabled and the Cube is powered. Your computer will pick up the external device and then prompt you to pair with the device. Once pairing is complete, you’re ready to start typing on a keyboard that is roughly 9.5 by 3.5 inches in size and that doubles as a virtual mouse.
The Magic Cube projects this full-size laser keyboard onto any flat surface allowing the convenience of full-size typing in a tiny form factor. The projected image is bright enough to be visible in light conditions typical of the standard office or airplane. Also when you “touch” a virtual key, the cube can emit a clicking sound, which gives some feedback and makes using the device a bit easier to learn.
Although the keyboard should come to most people more or less easily, the mouse mode, which allows you to use your finger as a mouse, was a little cumbersome. It took me awhile to get used to using the virtual mouse because there is nothing there for your hand to feel, and no audio clues that you are scrolling around with it.
The rechargeable battery power is decent, lasting for about the advertised 150 minutes of near-continuous typing. However, a minor drawback is the long recharge time on the built-in lithium polymer battery. It takes a good three to four hours for the Magic Cube to fully charge from a total drain, so be sure to have it connected to your computer via USB cable to keep the Magic Cube fully charged if you’re using it on a long trip. That way the battery on the Cube won’t drain, though this puts an extra burden on your laptop battery.
Although it’s not too difficult, some people may have an issue learning how to use the laser-projected keyboard. At first, it’s a little bit awkward because you don’t notice any key resistance. Most people start by hunting and pecking, a technique that the company recommends on its website. However, you've mastered this, your typing speed should improve, as there are no physical keys to slow you down.
To better determine the learning curve of the Magic Cube, I introduced four other people to a series of tests to determine whether they became acclimated to the keyboard faster than I did.
It took about two sessions of two hours of continuous use for most people in my test group to get to about 30 to 50 words per minute, which is about average typing speed. I held these tests at a large table with plenty of space and allowed participants to get warmed up by typing a series of words on a traditional keyboard before moving to the Magic Cube.
I held the first day of tests in a darker room than on the second day in order to give the participants the ability to see the keyboard better and also to determine whether the lighting made a significant difference on the second day. I also used two different texts for the participants to type each day.
The results were interesting. It seemed that the faster a person typed on a traditional keyboard, the longer it took to get proficient on the Magic Cube. I assume it’s because those people are less used to the hunting and pecking stage. The lighting also didn’t make that much of a difference, and by the fourth hour all participants seemed comfortable with the Magic Cube keyboard.
Although this tiny sample size is not enough to make a statistical significance, it does say a lot about how addictive the Magic Cube is once you get used to it. All of the participants found the typing sounds that the device simulates very useful, and at the end of the study all the participants showed interest in buying the Magic Cube, particularly for use with mobile devices.
With the continued proliferation of mobile devices, and the holidays around the corner, you may want to consider the Celluon Virtual Laser Keyboard with Magic Cube as a perfect stocking stuffer.
ISL Trading ltd, www.virtual-laser-devices.com
Carlos A. Soto is a former GCN Lab technology analyst.