Typing performance of the Optimus Maximus is okay. Passing it round the office, everyone’s initial reaction was to think it was horrible as its shiny keys are slightly slippery and due to them being quite wide, to accommodate the displays below, they have only small gaps between each key – the US layout didn’t help either. With time, though, you do get the hang of it and although this is certainly not a performance keyboard such as the Filco MajesTouch it is comparable with most standard keyboards that use a rubber membrane for the key action.
Not that the Optimus Maximus uses anything quite so cheap as a rubber membrane. Instead its keys are properly sprung. Indeed, in case you were wondering, the 48×48 pixel displays themselves don’t move, to save on wear, but instead the clear plastic cap moves around them. Each key module (the cap, the display and a microchip) can also be removed for cleaning or replacement. It’s this extra engineering along with the cost of the displays that is the reason for this keyboard’s extortionate price.
Given this is such a customisable keyboard you’ll be glad to know that there are two columns of five shortcut keys on the left side, along with the full selection of normal keyboard keys. This means that at the very least you can have access to your favourite shortcuts and programs while keeping the main keyboard ready for normal typing.
It’s impossible to compare the Optimus Maximus to anything else on the market. Microsoft has recently sponsored a project to create a similar prototype but for the most part, if you want a keyboard where every key can show whatever you want, this is your only option. Art Lebedev used to offer a three button version called the Optimus mini three, which used three larger display/keys and the company is also working on a 3×5 button pad to sit alongside a normal keyboard. However the former has sold out and the latter is still a prototype.
So we come to the question of value and you won’t be surprised to learn we think the Optimus Maximus is horribly overpriced. We appreciate all the arguments for its cost; the low production volumes, the engineering involved, and the sheer cost of 109 OLED displays, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’d have to have more money than sense to spend £1,499 on a keyboard. While it clearly has its potential uses, we feel most people would be better off simply learning the keyboard shortcuts for whatever program they’re using. It’ll be both quicker and cheaper in the long run. If you do have a spare wodge of money and do use many different programs and play many games, which you can’t always remember the shortcuts for, it could be a useful addition but even then the lack of Layer development means you may have to do all the donkey work yourself.
The Optimus Maximus is a brilliant concept. Putting a screen in every single key of a keyboard and allowing it to display whatever you like is a trick that looks really cool and has the potential to be useful. As such we have to applaud Art Lebedev for bringing the product to market. Unfortunately, simply creating a product isn’t where the story ends, it also has to be worth buying and here is where the Optimus Maximus falls down. It’s astronomical price means it’s really only a toy for the very rich.
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