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Art Lebedev Optimus Maximus review



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Art Lebedev Optimus Maximus
  • Art Lebedev Optimus Maximus
  • Art Lebedev Optimus Maximus
  • Art Lebedev Optimus Maximus
  • Art Lebedev Optimus Maximus
  • Art Lebedev Optimus Maximus
  • Art Lebedev Optimus Maximus
  • Art Lebedev Optimus Maximus
  • Art Lebedev Optimus Maximus
  • Art Lebedev Optimus Maximus


Our Score:


What seems like aeons ago, news spread of a company called Art Lebedev intending to produce a keyboard where each and every key would have a full colour OLED display embedded in it, allowing it to display whatever you want. You could flip between different languages, show the shortcuts for your favourite games, or just display a picture of your own face on every key.

For what seemed like an eternity, Art Lebedev slowly developed the product giving us sneak peeks along the way until finally it put the product into production. Oh how we did rejoice until two things became clear:

1.They were going to be rarer and more difficult to get hold of in the UK than hen's teeth.

2. It was jaw droppingly expensive. £1,499 to be exact

So it is that it's taken us a somewhat embarrassingly long time to get hold of one to review. Finally, though, we can pass judgement on possibly the coolest, geekiest, most pointless yet desirable, and bizarre gadget of the last few years. Or maybe that crown goes to the original MacBook Air? But I digress.

Such anticipation was almost always going to lead to a certain level of disappointment but nonetheless we were particularly miffed to find the wonderfully named Optimus Maximus is rather drab in its appearance. The white plastic of the chassis just looks entirely bland when for this sort of money we'd expect styling and build quality to at least rival the likes of Apple's peripherals. We haven't seen the black version so can't vouch for whether it looks a bit better, but we suspect it might.

More pressing than the general sense of ambivalence we have towards the colour scheme and chassis construction material is our concern over how messy the keys look.

In order to see the screen embedded within each key Art Lebedev has had to of course make the keys themselves from clear plastic, meaning they catch the light. As the keys are by their very nature arranged in a non-uniform pattern the resultant reflected light just looks a mess. It's somewhat like our dislike of flexible plastic screens on phones – the wobbly nature of the surface looks uneven and poor quality compared to the pure flatness of most glass screens. Moreover, if you have overhead lights, you may find, as we did in our office, that the light reflects directly off the surface of the keys meaning you can't actually see what you're typing.

Exacerbating this is the need for all the displays to be the same size leaving the screens in the larger keys like Return, Backspace and most noticeably Space, looking rather lost.

There's one major caveat to all these complaints, though. While using the Optimus Maximus in a well lit office environment really highlights all the above problems, use it in a more dimly lit room – your typical gamers home office/gaming den – and the keyboard really comes to life.

The lack of strong light keeps reflections to a minimum while the rest of the chassis simply becomes a backdrop to allow the OLED displays to shine. We still think there's room for improvement but in this environment the Optimus Maximus really makes an impact.

To power that impact the Optimus Maximus requires an extra power supply over and above what it gets over USB. This is your typical laptop-style affair that plugs into a coaxial socket on the back of the keyboard, alongside the USB input, and an all important Kensington lock slot. The keyboard also incorporates a USB hub so there are two further USB ports on the back next to an SD card reader. This comes loaded with a card that stores the keyboard's key images so they can be quickly accessed for instant response. The reader doesn't allow you to access the card when plugged in, though.

Arctic Fox

October 23, 2010, 4:07 pm

When a piece of kit is that mediocre on the performance front and that bad when it comes to value for money its a mot point whether it is worth your time and effort giving it a full review! Indeed it must be a bit depressing having to expend that much on something that does not deserve your attention or ours.




October 23, 2010, 8:11 pm

I have complained time and time again about your judgement system for reviews and I seriously seriously have to say this now. What is the point in having a 1-10 score on value if you give a £1500 keyboard that isn't even that good a 2. ARE YOU JOKING? 2? 20% value? I'd say there was a 0 or a 1 for value here, since my awesome Logitech Wave keyboard (bought on your recommendation) costed me £30 and has more macro keys and functions better. Why do you need OLED screen keys when you can just remember that r reloads your gun in CS:S. Jesus Christ I can't believe you would even review this nonsense!


October 24, 2010, 1:25 am

If it was £500, I would buy it


October 24, 2010, 10:18 am

Touch type?

Ionut Borcoman

October 24, 2010, 12:59 pm

Why not use a touch enabled tablet instead of this? It'll cost you probably something like 200-400 EUR. If color's not a problem, use some e-Ink display instead of OLED or LCD to get really good visibility. So why spend 1500 pounds?

Ala Miah

October 24, 2010, 4:14 pm

If I had a million pounds, I should be shot If I spent 1499 on a keyboard.


October 24, 2010, 7:30 pm

@Artic Fox: On the contrary, it was a product I really enjoyed using and writing about. It's a shame that ultimately it doesn't deserve more credit but that doesn't mean it's not worthy of attention.

@Kaiser202: You seem to be forgetting that you're actually getting quite a lot of stuff for your money. All the engineering that goes into this keyboard doesn't come cheap. You certainly can't compare it to that Logitech keyboard because that keyboard can't do what this keyboard can. Whether that extra functionality is useful to you or not doesn't change the fact that it is there.

@ionut Borcoman: You can't actually touchtype on a tablet. Of course, touchtyping rather negates the advantage of having different things displayed on your keys but that's another argument.

@Ala Miah: Why? It's a bit of fun.

You guys really need to lighten up. So it's not for you. So it's a rich man's toy. Don't get so angry about it. People spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on stripped out sports cars that actually do less than the cheaper standard equivalents, all because it makes them faster for the few times they actually drive them in anger. Spending a fraction of that on something you can always get the benefit from is eminently sensible.


October 24, 2010, 7:44 pm

@ed - But do you envy the man with the £1500 keyboard, or do you pity him?


October 24, 2010, 10:29 pm


I envy the man for having the choice!

Martin Daler

October 25, 2010, 12:18 am

@Ed yeah, I take your point about lightening up, and maybe this is a one off kind of thing. But given the paucity of meat-and-two-veg reviews recently you risk frittering away your readership with this tosh. It certainly has no interest or relevance for me - I can speak only for myself, but I wonder who else was waiting eagerly for this review?


October 25, 2010, 2:00 am

@darkspark88: A fool and his money . . . .


October 25, 2010, 2:09 am

I thought Top Gear was bad.

Even for a rich man's toy, it's a pretty poor effort. There are lot of desoirable expensive frivolous toys I'd like but will never get (Unless i win the lottery...) but this looks like a cheap 10 pound keyboard that has slapped some oled screens to make it look good but it doesn't at any price.

Ed will think he's been as edgy as Jezza driving a Aerocar, but it won't work here Ed, stubborn as you still are over this. :)

Sorry man but: EPIC FAIL!!


October 25, 2010, 3:15 am

@Martin Daler: Fair cop but I've got to review something while waiting for all those Windows Phone 7 handsets to arrive ;)

@speedy2012: It really doesn't look like a £10 keyboard. It may not be the most stylish thing in the world but it still looks and feels well made.

Not sure what you're on about with the Top Gear analogy. At least, I don't recall blowing any caravans up during my review.


October 25, 2010, 3:46 am


Who deals with suggestions these days...as I think exploding caravans should be 2nd on the list right after a new website design!


October 25, 2010, 7:59 am

A keyboard with small and recessed keys and no big enter? It's just another piece of everyday crap. The price should be 5-10 euro to be competitive.

Pfff...it's not funny anymore.

Martin Daler

October 25, 2010, 2:02 pm

@Ed "Fair cop but I've got to review something while waiting for all those Windows Phone 7 handsets to arrive ;)"

and get your hands on a Nikon D7000 asap, please!


October 25, 2010, 2:45 pm

Did they take their inspiration from an MZ-80K keyboard? ;)

evan fotis

October 25, 2010, 2:53 pm

I would agree with above comments on using instead a tablet UI or e-ink one..

What I found irritating with this keyboard is that I noticed the keys are flickering.

Is this just a result that occurs from the camcorder recording or is it something noticeable with bare eyes?

Also, the glossy plastic buttons could have been replaced with matte acrylic ones that do not reflect light.

And a last comment on usability, especially the photoshop layout..

any half seasoned photoshop user is so conditioned with finding the hotkeys, that having the icon on the buttons will distract rather than help..

Yet I do knowledge the ability to map anything anywhere, it' be very useful for learning purposes, education on various tasks..


October 25, 2010, 3:03 pm

@evan fotis: Yeah, sorry, forgot to mention that the flickering in the video is just down to the video camera. You don't notice it at all in normal use. Indeed the displays are very good quality.


October 25, 2010, 7:28 pm

About the touchscreen/tablet comments: it seems Art Lebedev are actually designing such a keyboard as well:


It may end up costing less than the Maximus if (IF) they ever produce it...


October 25, 2010, 10:30 pm

No idea what this company is trying to do... smells to me like they just wanna be bought by some big tech company for a fat sum.

Anyway, can you guys review the ASUS 1215N please? And ask them why there's no USB3 on the models being sold in the UK. Thx

Arctic Fox

October 26, 2010, 9:23 am


I have say, respectfully, Ed that when the producer of a piece of kit sells something at that kind of price that attracts a performance mark of no more than 6/10 at a respected site like TU one is imo entitled to feel, shall we say, a trifle irritated. Performance is by definition a key criterion and one expects a certain minimum standard for that kind of money. When I see a really fine piece of kit (like for example HTC's Desire) with, at least, good marks that costs accordingly I think "wouldn't it be nice if etc..." even if I can't afford it! However when I see a producer asking that kind of money for something that falls down in that fundamental area I feel that they are extracting the urine - and yes, that does annoy me!

Look forward to reading more of your reviews btw even if the product _itself_ this time did get up yours truly's schnozz!



October 27, 2010, 3:39 am

@Ed nice one there dodging the actual point that there shouldn't be a 10 point scale for value if a £1500 keyboard doesn't get a 1 or a 0. Maybe just make it a 2-10 scale, with 2 being abysmal and 10 being great!

Terry 10

October 29, 2010, 8:52 pm

Words utterly fail me.

Markus Birth

December 8, 2014, 9:30 am

I just found this thing in our storage room and played around with it. If you are used to a quiet keyboard, like those notebook-like Cherrys or even the OEM HP keyboards, you will be very disappointed by the loud clicks of the Optimus Maximus. Also, I noticed that the displays are prone to burn-in. I was told the keyboard was only used for a short time (in our control room) but turned out to be unreliable (keybouncing) and then went to storage. This short time seemed to be sufficient for the letters to burn into the displays. See the attached photo. The zero shouldn't be visible. The labels of the other keys are also burnt in.

Also, as I'm in Europe, the keyboard is missing a key for me. Here you can see the differences between German, US and US Int'l. Notice the key right of the left Shift key.

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