News of the Asus EeeKeyboard first popped up a few months ago but today at Computex was the first chance we'd had to have play with one and despite initially being perplexed by the concept we came away generally impressed.
What it actual consists of is an entire PC built into the chassis of a keyboard but we're not talking a big bulky, ugly, slab of a keyboard, though. No, this thing is as elegant and sleek a keyboard as you'll ever see, weighing only 950grams and with dimensions of 145mm x 425mm x 19mm. Obviously if you're a big fan of old full-height keyboards, rather than modern low profile ones, then this very fact may put you off but we rather like it.
The entire top surface is cut from a nice thick slice of brushed aluminium while the keys, which are of the isolated type, are finished in matt white plastic and are also backlit - something we've come to really appreciate again while out here in Computex as sitting in dark press conferences trying to see what you're typing is next to impossible without backlit keys. The only complaint we'd have about the keyboard as a whole is the lack of a number pad and the squashing together of the cursor, PgUp, PgDn, Home, and End keys. That and the layout is American-style on this sample.
In place of the number pad is what will prove to either be the EeeKeyboard's best or most pointless feature, it's fullcolour 5inch touch screen display. This is used to provide quick access to your favourite programs and adjust your devices settings - a task it acheives very well. Shortcuts are arranged into neat tabs, icons are nice and large, and the layout is nice an intuitive. So why might it be the EeeKeyboard's achilles heel?
Well, with a resolution of 800x480 its resolution certainly isn't going to be a problem, and with capacitive touch technology enabling the surface to be super tough and yet sensitive, it's not the touch aspect either. No, what may ultimately make us dislike this feature is that despite it being very nicely implemented, it did strike us as largely pointless. Fair enough, having Sideshow on a notebook where it lets you play music. say, without opening up your notebook or having multimedia shortcuts because using a touchpad can be a bit slow and cumbersome but on a desktop machine where you're going to be using a mouse, such shortcuts are only going to be slower than just using your mouse. It would be different were the buttons physical because you can then learn their position and feel for them without looking down from your screen but being on a touch screen means you'll always have to look away.
What might convince many is that the EeeKeyboard actually has an inbuilt battery (good for up to 1.5Hrs) so you could use the touch screen controls to control music playback while on the move, say. Still we're not so sure this will really come in useful. We'll reserve full judgement until we get to play with one for a decent length of time, though.
What will no doubt appeal to all is the inclusion of an HDMI output on the back - for a device that's powered by an Atom CPU, this is a very rare thing to see. The rest of the EeeKeyboard's connections are more typical for an Eee device, with a VGA video connection also on offer as well as three USB ports, an Ethernet socket, and headphone and microphones jacks.
Internal hardware, meanwhile, consists of an Intel Atom N270 CPU, 2GB DDR2 RAM, a 16GB or 32GB SSD, Draft-N wireless, Bluetooth V2.0, and there are some measly speakers and a microphone tucked away in the chassis as well.
All in all, then the EeeKeyboard is an intriguing concept that's been very well implemented but we need a bit longer with it to say just how useful it's going to be.