Hands-on with the Optimus mini three

So we just got our hands on the underground gadget hit of the fall, then spring, then summer, then fall again -- the Art Lebedev Optimus mini three. Considered the trial run of the true Optimus keyboard, this little sucker features three "interactive" OLED keys, which act not only as animated informational widgets but also as contextual keys depending on which application you're in. It definitely worked as advertised, but we're afraid the mini three's not quite all it's cracked up to be. Read on, and we'll tell ya why, with plenty of eye candy in between.

Nothing like the feeling of a fresh unboxing.

So the first thing is that USB cable. Man, it's just one of those clear, cheap-o looking cables that really offsets the aesthetics of the very well designed unit. Kind of a bummer, but hey, it's just a cable, right? (We still kind of wish this were battery powered an used Bluetooth, but gadget nerds can dream, can they not?)

Looks like our unit came fresh from the factory because it had dust and gunk all over it. Still, can't deny the sexiness, can you?

Ok, so, it didn't have Mac drivers (that we were able to find), which was kind of a bummer. We installed the Windows drivers on one of our PCs; it was fast and painless.

Unfortunately, this thing isn't a native USB device. No, buried deep within that husk resides a USB to serial converter. While this shouldn't make a lick of difference to the average user, approving the driver was one extra step, and knowing our 2006 machine once again had some serial going on made it a little less enchanting.

As you can probably tell by now, the screen isn't easy to photograph. We're not sure if this is because of that serial conversion or what, but the OLEDs appeared to be refreshed with regular scanlines, like a CRT monitor (hence that visual effect). Since you can't see the image in its entirety, we can tell you that the above Outlook icons were crisp and fresh, although the screens weren't really as bright as we might have hoped.

Another shot, yay scanlines.

So now we're in IE, huzzah. Looks like you can set your own icon sets and animations for the mini three, so once these things make it into the hands of fans, we're sure to see tons of widget sets pop up. Which is a good thing, surely, since you're not paying $160 to get some contextual keys just for IE and Outlook and a couple clock widgets. Unfortunately, our biggest complaint with the mini three was the tactility of the keys -- or the lack thereof. Those beautiful acrylic tops, they look so clikkity clakkity; sorry, no, they're mushier than we'd expected and a bit wobbly on the stroke, making them a lot less satisfying to touch than they are to look at. Still, we've got high hopes that future mini threes will have nicer keys, Mac drivers, and the tactility needed to really set the Optimus up for world domination, from Russia with love.