If Art Lebedev’s Optimus Maximus keyboard has your wallet crying uncle and Saitek’s Cyborg is a little loud for your tastes, Logitech’s new, ultra-slim Illuminated Keyboard might be just the ticket to bring some flavor to your desk. We found it to be tasteful, comfortable to type on, and well built, making it one of the best style-minded keyboards to float through our offices.
Unlike the aforementioned Saitek Cyborg , Logitech’s Illuminated Keyboard manages to avoid the limited appeal of the gaudy gamer-chic look, and light up in a more refined way that everyone can appreciate. It’s a fashion keyboard that will probably manage to draw compliments from the occasional passersby, but won’t look completely out of place at the office, either.
Although LEDs are usually an invitation for all sorts of garish red, green and blue lighting effects, Logitech’s designers kept it classy by backlighting the keys with white LEDs. In the dark, each key has a soft glow which lights up the print on it, and in daylight, you can’t even really tell the keys are anything but ordinary. Depending on what you’re looking for, this approach might actually be a little too low key – the gamer crowd might not think it’s radioactive-looking enough – but we found it perfect.
The print on the keys foregoes the more traditional print of most conventional keyboards and goes for slightly techier look with a squarish, digital-looking characters. It looks a bit like the font they might use in the console for a game like Quake 4. While unusual, it’s nothing over the top, and we liked how legible and uniform it looked.
Giving the keyboard a (literal) low profile, Logitech has reduced the keyboard’s thickness to just 9.3mm. While this makes it quite stunning to remove from the box and marvel over, the thickness doesn’t call quite as much attention to itself after you lay it down on a desk, and prop up the rear with its folding legs. As one final touch, the entire keyboard has been trimmed with a thin band of clear acrylic that runs around its edge almost like a frame.
Given its complete lack of depth, the keys on the Illuminated Keyboard feel quite a bit different from most desktop keyboards. In fact, the shallow key presses make it feel more akin to a notebook keyboard. That may be the kiss-of-death for those who prefer the click-clack of tall desktop keyboard keys booming up and down with every stroke, but for typists who favor the quiet, soft feel of a laptop keyboard, it might actually come as a welcome change. We might even suggest that Logitech has taken cues from the ThinkPad’s consistently praised line keyboards and brought them to the desktop. The keys have an uncannily similar look and feel, and Logitech has done an admirable job duplicating the crisp key-press that makes the ThinkPad’s keyboard so well liked.
To help give the almost perfectly flat keys some character, the first row of keys (including the space bar, ALT, CTRL and function keys) have been given a pronounced bulge, making them easier to identify by feel. Given how often these keys are used in normal typing or in conjunction with keyboard shortcuts, this turns out to be a profoundly helpful feature that we hope other keyboard manufacturers will pick up on and replicate in the future.
If we have one complaint in the comfort department, it would be the rather low angle this keyboard takes when sitting on a desk. It can either lie completely flat, or, with its rear legs propped up, gain half a sliver of a slope. Being accustomed to taller keyboards that build in more of a lean, we found this a little uncomfortable and wished Logitech had included some taller legs. If you’re a fan of DIY solutions, though, it won’t be hard to cook up a set of shims to bring the keyboard to the proper height.
Image Courtesy of Logitech
Besides looking pretty, the backlighting on the keyboard made it substantially easier for us to type in the dark. Granted, perfect touch typists would probably scoff at the idea of needing anything but the glow of a monitor to operate, but for less finely tuned typing machines, a glowing white array of keys never hurts.
To tailor the level of light to what you need, Logitech offers a dedicated lighting button that scrolls through several different levels of intensity. However, since even the brightest isn’t all that bright, we didn’t find much need to fiddle with it, and just left the LEDs on full all the time. The option might, however, be useful for gaming or watching movies in the dark when you don’t want the glow of the keyboard distracting you from the screen.
Image Courtesy of Logitech
Hot Keys and Software
Rather than giving the Illuminated keyboard its own set of dedicated hot keys across the top as many keyboard manufacturers have done in the past, Logitech kept the Illuminated Keyboard clean by tacking the hot key functions onto the F keys as orange icons, and adding an orange function key between ALT and CTRL to activate them. You’ll find standards like media controls and e-mail, along with a few oddballs like document flip and gadgets. While we appreciated the uncluttered look, requiring a button-combo to access the shortcuts definitely deterred us from using them – until we figured out that Logitech actually accommodates for this in its software. Checking a button in SetPoint allows the F keys to function as hot keys first, and revert to F keys by holding the FN key. Now that’s some intelligent software.
Like most Logitech input devices, the Illuminated Keyboard will work perfectly fine without any installed software, but we found the optional SetPoint software to offer a range of useful features like this. The depth of customizability leaves a lot of room to play. For instance, not only could we set a hot key to perform a specific function we assigned to it, we could even tell it to pull up a customized menu, then build that menu ourselves. Don’t want the browser key to merely open your default browser? In under a minute we programmed it to instead display a menu where we could choose from Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Chrome. This kind of customizability extends the usefulness of the keyboard above and beyond what its designers may have originally intended and gives it a personal touch.
True to our experience with most other Logitech products, the Illuminated keyboard felt rock solid, even despite its more fashionable aspirations. While spilling a drink into this keyboard might have some extra implications above and beyond your average keyboard, we don’t think the durability has in any other way been compromised by the addition of LEDs. If anything, the low-profile design seems to make the keyboard feel even less creaky than full-size boards. We especially appreciated the solidly attached wrist-rest portion, which some other keyboards add on as a flimsy detachable piece.
Nobody really needs a back-lit keyboard, but if you’re looking to compliment a sleek black monitor, mouse and speakers with a keyboard that adds a little flair to your desk without turning it into a carnival, this is it. The $80 price tag also seems quite appropriate for the keyboard’s extra functionality and overall quality, making it a sound buy.
• Crisp, quiet keystrokes
• Subtle LED lights add style, light in dark situations
• Hot keys coupled with useful software
• Quality materials and feel
• Needs more height adjustment