As a review website, we have quite a bit of hardware go through our hands for examination. Motherboards are common, as are graphics cards. Cases and Cooling are usual items as well. But one item that rarely shows up is the keyboard.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of reviewing the Flexiglow FX GamePad which I found to be of high quality, so I instantly jumped at the chance to check out another Flexiglow product in that hopes that this quality would follow their entire lineup. Like their FX GamePad, the brings illumination to the original design premise but this will be for naught if the keyboard itself can't function in its primary purpose.
Electro-Luminescent lighting panel that illuminates the translucent keyboard keys.
Key numbers 105/106
18 Multimedia keys
Soft tactile feedback
Luminescence power switch: On/Off
Compatible with all Windows operating systems
Input power - 5V +/- 5% 250mA.
Keyboard cable - 180cm long.
Keyboard Weight - 570 grams
Keyboard dimensions - 150(L) x 390(W) x 30(H) mm
EL life span - 60 000 hours
Fully compatible with Windows 98/Me/2000/XP/NT.
FCC and CE compliant.
The box for the FlexiGlow Illuminated Keyboard is a simple and to the point, photo quality image affair. On the front you have the company logo, the item name and of course a picture of what you are getting. Speaking of what you are getting, I received the black version but a white version is available if you prefer. The rear of the box shows off the specifications and other pertinent information.
Inside the box you instantly see the keyboard inside its clear plastic bag. Below the keyboard itself you find the only extras included; a driver disk for the multimedia buttons and a single sided instruction sheet. If we were the kind of site to use a points based system to judge items, I'd have to knock this keyboard down a few for supplying the drivers on a floppy. I personally don't use a floppy drive, and infact it's been almost a year since I bothered installing one.
These days a CD-ROM, whilst perhaps a waste of digital space, wouldn't have cost much more and would be a better option. The other thing that bothered me was that I had to use the floppy as I couldn't find an online download location. Easily corrected and not so much a flaw as a personal irritation I know others will share.
The keyboard itself gives a nice quality feel to its construction, which is always a good first impression. The keys of the FlexiGlow Illuminated Multimedia Keyboard are translucent to allow the blue EL mat below them to provide a pastel blue glow to the keyboard.
Keyboard layout is for the most part standard, and although reminiscent of a laptop keyboard there are a few differences. To the right of the main keys we find keys such as the PGUP and HOME, which are usually found in a separate group just before the keypad. Having these keys as part of the main key interface obviously saves room, but I personally found it very difficult to get to grips with touch typing (yes call me a woman but I touch type).
The main problems for me personally were the backspace key and the enter key. On a standard keyboard one expects the backspace key to be in the top right but on this keyboard it's the WAKE UP key. The Enter key is usually a large L shaped key and again at the edge of the interface, but on this keyboard I often found myself hitting PGUP or PGDN. I have to admit that is a probably a subjective thing, some folks will get used to it and others won't, but I can't help but feel that if the keyboard layout was standard I would have had a better time with it. Perhaps those extra keys could be migrated to around the less often used keypad?
The multimedia functions are found across the top of the keyboard and are split into 2 groups. On the left we have (from left to right) - Internet Home, Email, Back, Forward, Search, Refresh, Favorites, Stop, Webcam/Mediaplayer.
On the right we find - Vol Up, Vol Down, Mute, Stop, Rewind, Play, Fast forward, My Computer, Sleep. One thing you expect to be missing on light up items is of course the On/Off button for the light, but just right of the previous multimedia keys is a push button switch.
With its black plastic surround base, white translucent keys and EL Blue light mat for that pastel blue glow, I was surprised to see simple green LED's for the Lock indicators (Num Lock, Scroll Lock, Caps Lock). The rear of the keyboard is shaped with a curving lift to the rear to elevate the back of the keyboard in the same manner as a regular keyboard would use the pull out feet. I personally don't know anyone who types on a keyboard without the feet being used, but I guess that since they are still included on so many keyboards some folks must use them flat. The FlexiGlow keyboard removes this choice and gives you the elevated feel only.
The feel of the keys is very nice. It's almost the same as using a laptop keyboard (which this is obviously designed from) but I thought the keys were a little larger. Not having a laptop to compare I can't say that for sure and it could be just an impression, but either way I found the key spacing and layout to be just right in comparison with standard keyboards. Key travel is minimal and the overall effect in use is a keyboard that is pleasant to the touch and extremely quiet. The only true downside is the adjustment period due to the nonstandard key layout for the non-alphanumeric keys.
To say that the is perfect would be a lie as it isn't without its issues, many subjective. It is however of a very high quality and very pleasing to hold and look upon. In use the standard layout only extends to the alphanumeric keys; the extras you would normally find grouped separately are integrated as part of the main key interface which can be very confusing. Subjective as that may be it is certainly something to be well aware of before buying. Key travel is minimal and very much akin with a laptop
The Multimedia functions work as stated, with each performing as it should for standard windows programs although I had no luck with Mozilla over Internet Explorer.
The blue EL glow is a very pleasant pastel blue that doesn't "get in your eyes" but lights up in the dark just enough to be able to type or game easily from without distraction. You can also turn the EL Glow on and off which is an obvious must but something I've come to expect manufacturers to overlook; didn't.
I think the most surprising thing and one I really didn't expect is the fact that this keyboard is a PS/2 keyboard. I really thought, and would have personally preferred it to be, a USB keyboard. I'm also not a fan of floppy disks for supplying drivers. These are all minor gripes really, but they do however all add up. Its not to say that this is a bad keyboard, because that would be far from the truth, there are just differences from standard you should be aware and accept before buying.
Knowing that are quick to improve their products, it wouldn't surprise me to find that this keyboard has already been updated, but as it stands as long as you are aware of the differences and are looking for a blue EL keyboard this one should do you fine. What I would like to see from FlexiGlow is a natural shaped EL keyboard. With their construction quality and the fact they update their products in response to feedback, I think they could do a good job of it.
Pros: Lovely pastel blue EL glow, Light feel to the keys, Multimedia functions, On/off for EL light, Quality construction, All keys accounted for - No missing keys to cut corners, Not USB?
Cons: Non standard key layout for non-alphanumeric keys, Touch typists will need an adjustment period, No retractable feet, Floppy disk for drivers and no online download location, Not USB?
Bottom Line: As long as you understand the keyboard layout differences and are prepared for a slight adjustment period, this EL keyboard should serve you well.
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