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Hands-on with Magic Cube Bluetooth portable laser keyboard

The tech in laser-based keyboards has been around for a while, and when we first saw them we thought, "the future is here!" because what could be cooler than having a laser keyboard on any flat surface? I'll suggest something cooler: a keyboard that works. I spotted the Magic Cube from Celluon at CES and gave it a spin.

The Magic Cube connects to your Mac or iOS-powered device using Bluetooth and features a battery inside to power the laser and optical recognition systems. According to Celluon, you'll get 150 minutes of use from a charge. The device is somewhat large, occupying as much volume as two 1st-generation iPods, only slightly narrower. This gives it stability, but it also means you'll have to have the keyboard projector offset from your iPad or iPhone (why you would use it with your Mac is beyond me). The laser-projected keyboard is about the size of a MacBook's keyboard, complete with rounded keys. Unfortunately, it is a PC-centric keyboard complete with Menu and Insert keys, but that's not a big deal. The big deal is accuracy.

I type pretty fast considering I started typing on a computer when I was six (on an Apple II, thank you very much). If you type fast, you're going to have to slow down to use the Magic Cube. While their literature states it can detect up to 400 characters per minute, you'd have to be some sort of robotic ninja octopus to achieve such precision using this thing.

I found multiple attempts to track my speedy typing thwarted by two things: a lack of tactile feedback and the need to look at the keys while typing. In other words, your fingers will drift and the keyboard will cease to track all your key "presses" accurately. In some cases, the "press" didn't register at all. Others at the booth had similar issues. Check the gallery to see what came out when I tried to type "hi there my name is victor." Perhaps there's a learning curve?

While the Magic Cube is a nifty novelty, I wouldn't expect it to replace the dozens of physical keyboards we saw at CES. You can connect it via USB (PC-only it seems) or Bluetooth, and it comes in a variety of colors, but as a keyboard it just doesn't cut it. In the end, it felt about as useful as those old membrane keyboards (like the ones on the TIMEX Sinclair) with a resulting slowdown in typing and loss of accuracy. Here's hoping some day our magical tech dreams come true -- but until then, save your US$199.99 and spend it on a real keyboard.

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