Sounding like one of those luxury gadget customisations that cost more than the devices themselves, the Xebec Tech iTouchpad Diamond keyboard's name conjures images of glittery, magpie-attracting surfaces and Apple-esque design flourishes.
Keyboard meets Commodore 64
The actual product is a more modest affair, with the only hint of Apple influence found in the fact that its reflective plastic shell attracts fingerprints like bees attract honey badgers. It bears a closer resemblance to a laptop keyboard that's been merged with a Commodore 64 -- a Marmite look that, for better or worse, sets it apart from other keyboards on offer.
We found that its shape did present a few irks. While typing, your wrists are permanently resting on the keyboard's curved lower edge, which isn't an issue if it's resting on your lap, but can make for an uncomfortable typing experience after long periods when it's sat on a hard surface. Whether or not it will be the 'arch'-itect (geddit?) of its own downfall will depend on your preference for hard wrist supports.
Pencil-sized fingers only
Xebec Tech's attempt at squeezing in all of the buttons that you would usually find on a full-size keyboard has resulted in some vital keys being frustratingly small. Unless you
possess digits the width of pencils, you'll find yourself repeatedly
mashing the keys to the left and right of the space and enter keys. The
worst offender is the diminutive backspace key -- something you'll want
to rip out after typing up a long document.
The keys themselves possess relatively short travel similar to that of a laptop keyboard and are fairly responsive, though typing at fast speed resulted in the occasional key press not being detected if our touch became too light.
Above the keyboard are three LEDs -- the left indicates when the keyboard is pairing, the middle when battery is low and the right when it's recharging. Flipping the keyboard over reveals a small pocket to store the wireless receiver and a button to pair the keyboard to other devices.
What the keyboard lacks in pure typing prowess it goes some way to making up in pure, full-fat convenience.
It comes with a discrete USB wireless receiver that could quite easily end up in your dog's stomach if you don't keep an eye on it. Installing the keyboard was painless, with it being detected within moments of inserting the receiver on both Windows 7 and OS X Lion. As it's designed for Windows, our MacBook Air didn't know what type of keyboard it was, but it worked a charm after we told it to adpot a European layout. Don't expect any Lion gestures to work on the track pad either -- not that it would be big enough to execute them with any finesse.
Handily, two rechargeable batteries are provided. These can be juiced back up again simply by plugging in the supplied USB cable, leading to an absence of that frustrating situation you find yourself in with other wireless keyboards when the batteries are on death's door.
Compatible and usable
While it's not a direct replacement for a mouse due to its size and fairly cheap feeling buttons, the built-in touchpad served its basic functions and would do the trick on any cursor-driven interface.
Being compatible with a range of devices -- including the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Apple TV and even Android 2.2, the keyboard would be perfect for typing quick messages to in-game opponents or navigating digital TV menus.
Operating on a 2.4GHz radio-frequency gives it a solid ten-metre range, and we could just about still see tiny letters race across the screen when we wandered to the other end of the office to test it. Combined with a decent battery life of around five to six hours, this would make it a handy keyboard for giving presentations.
While it goes without saying that it doesn't have the ghosting abilities of, say, a Razer Lycosa, it wouldn't be unreasonable to use the Xebec Tech iTouchpad Diamond as an emergency gaming keyboard due to its quick and painless plug-and-play abilties.
With no media buttons, several teeth-gnashingly small keys and a slightly odd wrist support, some may see the Xebec Tech iTouchpad Diamond keyboard's appearance as nothing other than a design for strife.
Conversely, while not being a direct replacement for a permanent desktop keyboard, it does emit a certain practical charm with its unique charging abiltiies and pairs well with other devices. Being lightweight, it would also make for a decent travel companion for anybody who wants an alternative to their laptop keyboard.
If the iTouchpad Diamond keyboard's not your bag, you may be better off deciding whether you would benefit more from an exclusively wireless or wired keyboard and plumping either for Microsoft's Arc Keyboard or their Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 -- both residing in the same price bracket.