Ten Things You Need to Know About the Optimus Maximus Keyboard Hardware

It's been three months since we first got a true hands on with the Optimus Maximus OLED keyboard at CES, and we've had plenty of time to experience this innovative gadget by blogging with it full time over the course of three weeks. And by logging hours and hours with the keyboard—much like you would if you purchased one—we've come up with ten things you need to know about the Optimus Maximus keyboard's hardware.

1. It's not meant for a lot of typing. There's no way you're buying this US$1500 keyboard for typing. If you wanted the best typing experience, there's plenty of boards from Microsoft or Logitech or Apple that are better suited (and protect your wrists better). No, you want this because of the shortcuts it'll let you see and the customisation it'll let you perform. The individual keys are loud and clacky, which is not great for people who prefer scissor switch or membrane type keyboards. There is a decent amount of feedback when you press a key, however, and it springs back nicely. It's just not a keyboard you'd pick out to type 100+ WPM with.

No, if you do a lot of typing, you want to have two keyboards. One for typing, and the Optimus off to the side for button presses and shortcuts and gaming and the stuff that the Maximus was made for.

2. It works. Each key has a display on it, each display is bright like you'd expect, and each display is customisable. Not only can you pick what's displayed on each key (the whole point of this thing), you can customise what each key does when you press it. As of now, you can execute an AppleScript, Shell Command, trigger Expose, and open a file.

3. You can make the keys display ANYTHING. As long as you have an image, you can customise the display to show anything you want. Static images are fine, but if you wanted to, the keyboard can even support GIFs or MOVs. Play back a movie on your keyboard!

4. It's heavy and big and wide. This is not a small keyboard. This is probably the heaviest, biggest, and sturdiest keyboard we have ever used. If you heard an intruder in your house and you wanted to decide between a bat and the Maximus, it'd be a tough decision. Then again, unless that was a signed commemorative bat, you should probably leave your $1500 keyboard be.

5. It's not wireless. Sorry folks, this thing is wired. Not only is it wired to your computer, there's an AC adaptor wire as well. Double wired, you might say.

6. The OLED display doesn't fill up the entire key. Those early renders of the Optimus keyboard aren't accurate. There's a small display embedded in every key, but they're all the same size. It takes up a good 85% of a normal key, but when you get to Shift, Enter, or Space, it's noticeably smaller. Not a huge deal, but if you were hoping to get a huge stat readout of your computer on the Space key, you're out of luck.

7. It comes in four models. Because the keys are interchangeable, you can actually buy them one at a time, or only have some of the keys be OLED display enabled. There's four versions now, one with only the space bar active (US$462), one with the 10 side function keys active (US$599), one with the 47 regular QWERTY keys active (US$999), and one with all 113 keys active (US$1564). It's up to you which one you like, but you should at the very least get the 10 active key set.

8. It's not plug and play. When you plug in the Maximus, all you get is a standard keyboard. To get fancy actions, images, or animations going, you're going to have to program them in yourself. Not a huge deal for the hardcore users, but be aware that you'll have to spend a few hours getting used to the system, setting things up, and digging up images to go with whatever actions you want to perform.

9. It's heavily customisable—or at least it will be. Despite the previous target date of April for the final version of the software, it's only at version 0.591 now. There are instances of announced features on their Optimus Blog that haven't made it into the beta versions yet. This means a lot of features—like being able to simulate any series of keys when you hit a button—are still missing. Not to mention that the software currently has a memory leak and balloons up if left alone for more than a day. Quitting and restarting fixes it.

10. You probably shouldn't buy it yet. Even though Art Lebedev is currently taking orders for the keyboard, you should wait until the final release of the software is out. At the very least, wait for them to reach 1.0 and add in all the basic functionality they've been promising. This shouldn't take more than a few months. After that, if you're worried about how expensive the Maximus is, you can wait for the price to drop. Chances are that it won't drop too dramatically, but US$1564 is a high price to pay for a normal user.

However, if you're in production or art and really need this for your work, you can go ahead and grab it now. US$1500 is easily expensable, and if it helps your productivity by even a small percent, it's totally worth it. [Optimus]

Note: When the software version hits 1.0, we'll do another software oriented look at this keyboard.