Once the Optimus Maximus is plugged in you can start tapping away, gleefully watching the letters on its keys change from lower to upper case when you press down the Shift button or show alternative characters when pressing Alt. Even the animated clock on the Spacebar and the way in which the keys power up individually in a zigzag pattern when turned on brings a smile. And the Optimus Maximus’ abilities don’t end there.
Download the keyboard configuration tool from the Art Lebedev website and you can add different languages or profiles for apps like iTunes, Word, Excel, and Photoshop. In Word, for instance, you generally just see a normal keyboard layout but press the Ctrl key and all of a sudden you’re presented with the vast array of keyboard shortcuts available; X becomes a pair of scissors, P a printer, and F a little pair of binoculars. Likewise when you open Photoshop all the keys turn to a wonderful array of bizarre looking symbols representing all the myriad things you can do in that program.
It’s undeniably cool and will wow even the biggest sceptic. Also, it’s completely customisable so you can tweak the layouts to your preference or simply create new ones for your favourite programs. The software and key design process is fairly involved but a bit of patience will see you through.
For such an expensive piece of equipment you would expect there to be a decent selection of games and apps with profiles already available to download. Sadly, though, this isn’t the case. For instance, I mentioned iTunes earlier but that’s only available for the Mac, conversely Word and Excel are only for PCs. We appreciate Art Lebedev is a small company but surely it could spare a little cash to hire someone to create a decent selection of Layers, as the layouts are called, for most major programs. Incidentally, Linux is not yet supported.
Moreover, though most are excellent, some of the Layers are aren’t as good as they could be. In particular, while it’s great to have all the shortcuts and custom keys of an application show up when you’re in that application, it’s also the case that sometimes you just need to type normally. This is most noticeable when gaming. Playing Counter-Strike: Source for instance (this and World Of Warcraft are two of only a handful of games that have a Layer) you’re presented with a nice set of keys showing the buttons for movement, weapon selection, team talk, etc.
However, tap the talk button to say something to your comrades and the keys remain the same, leaving you to decipher which key is what letter while typing your message. For a touch-typist like myself this is only a minor inconvenience but for some it will put an end to in-game messaging (and I’m complaining about this, why?). All it would take to ease this situation is for each key to show a small version of the letter it represents in the top corner. It’s a small thing, but again, when you’re spending £1,500 you expect a pretty slick experience.