United Keys OLED Display Keyboard and Keypad hands-on

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Paul Miller
December 12, 2008 6:55 PM
United Keys OLED Display Keyboard and Keypad hands-on

Well, any doubts of legitimacy have certainly been quelled: United Keys rushed us over an OLED keyboard and keypad today, and they're certainly the real deal. We're naturally utterly un-blown-away by the product -- you get what you pay for -- but it's still a relatively unique and interesting product, and wears the mantle of "the poor man's Optimus" quite well. Read on for our full impressions.

Set-up and software

Unwrapping them couldn't be simpler, since there's no pesky installation disks or anything to get in the way. The keyboard (and keypad, they're identical in operation) installs its own software over USB, and if that doesn't work -- like it didn't on our slightly-dated prototype -- it's no problem to grab the software from the United Keys website. That brings us to our first and largest complaint about these things: no Mac support. United Keys promises Mac and Linux software by the second half of 2009, but it would've obviously been nice to have it out of the gate.

On the PC side of things there are some rough edges, and a showstopper bug that we were promised will be ironed out before launch, but the software has pretty deep functionality, with "nested" command trees and application / activity-specific key sets -- this is certainly more than nine pretty shortcut keys.


Or not so pretty. The 64 x 64 monochrome keys harbor default icons that look like they were ripped from an early 90s HyperCard stack -- which is actually pretty great, if you ask us -- but once we configured the grid with a few of our own bitmaps, the limitations of the displays really became evident. Still, it's OLED, so they're bright, viewable from all angles and always ready to party. The key action is pretty horrible, feeling mushy and difficult all at once, but it's not going to ruin our day or anything. More inexcusable is the cheap QWERTY keyboard next to the keypad -- if you're even moderately content with your current keyboard, we say keep it and spring for the United Keys Keypad alone, there's no need to put yourself through the pain of a full keyboard of mush.


Overall, we're pretty much completely and utterly unsurprised by what United Keys has for itself here. The design is unimpressive, the software is slightly undercooked, and monochrome keys could never begin to look as impressive as color ones. On the other hand, everything works as promised, and it's hard to complain about the price. Still, we're more looking forward to the future of the product than its current incarnation: United Keys CEO Ronald Brown says that the software will be improved on an ongoing basis, and that they'll even consider open sourcing that effort if they feel like the demand is there (hint, hint). As for folks who simply cannot handle the monochrome, United Keys is naturally looking into color, with the main limitation being price, since they hope to launch a color product at a similar or slightly higher pricepoint to this one.
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