Fingers-on with Synaptics' ThinTouch keyboard for Ultrabooks (video)

If you recall, Synaptics is looking to branch out from touchscreens and touchpads and break into a another kind of navigation device: keyboards. The company announced several months ago that it was working on the so-called ThinTouch keyboard, whose slim profile might make it an ideal fit for Ultrabooks and other lightweight laptops. Back when it was first announced, we got to play with small wooden tiles, each of which had a single key affixed to it.

More than anything, the idea was to demonstrate the unique key design, in which the buttons move diagonally, as opposed to up and down. That was an interesting exercise, but it obviously wasn't the same as typing away on a full QWERTY layout. Here at CES, though, we finally got our chance to do just that: the company is demoing a full-sized keyboard, which has been retrofitted into an older Lenovo laptop. Follow past the break for some impressions, a demo video and a quick recap of the various features it'll have once it's actually ready for prime time.

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The keyboard we saw today is far from final; in fact, certain gestures, such as hovering over buttons, wasn't even functional. In future versions, too, the keyboard will automatically disable the touchpad when it senses your fingers are typing, and the keys themselves will be pressure-sensitive, so that they respond differently depending on how hard you press.

Even so, it was interesting to type on a full set of keys, and compare that to how it felt playing with those button samples last summer. What we found tonight was that the keys felt exceptionally loose and flappy. We could just chalk that up to the fact that the keyboard is a work in progress, but we do wonder if that diagonal key travel has anything to do with it. That might well explain why the keys felt less like springboards, and more like trap doors.

Happily, though, Synaptics says that's something it's able to fine-tune, depending on whether a PC maker wants a firmer keyboard or something a bit softer. (We say the market has enough flat, lifeless Ultrabook keyboards, but that's just us.) In any case, we hope to test a more polished keyboard sometime later -- one that has all those additional touch-sensitive features enabled. For now, check out our hands-on video and follow along as yours truly attempts to master a learning curve (and some very gummy keys).

Steve Dent contributed to this report.