Computers

Review: Celluon Epic projection keyboard

Review: Celluon Epic projectio...
Gizmag review the Celluon Epic, a projection keyboard for your smartphone, tablet, or PC
Gizmag review the Celluon Epic, a projection keyboard for your smartphone, tablet, or PC
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The Celluon Epic has an attractive, tightly-constructed design
1/7
The Celluon Epic has an attractive, tightly-constructed design
At just under 60 g, the Epic is light and portable
2/7
At just under 60 g, the Epic is light and portable
The Epic will project a QWERTY keyboard onto any flat, opaque surface
3/7
The Epic will project a QWERTY keyboard onto any flat, opaque surface
Typing, unfortunately, is a chore
4/7
Typing, unfortunately, is a chore
The Epic projects the keyboard from the top of the device, and senses keystrokes via infrared at the bottom of the device
5/7
The Epic projects the keyboard from the top of the device, and senses keystrokes via infrared at the bottom of the device
Gizmag review the Celluon Epic, a projection keyboard for your smartphone, tablet, or PC
6/7
Gizmag review the Celluon Epic, a projection keyboard for your smartphone, tablet, or PC
My attempt at Mary Had a Little lamb was a jumbled mess
7/7
My attempt at Mary Had a Little lamb was a jumbled mess

Today more and more people use smartphones and tablets as their main computing devices. But these devices typically don't have physical keyboards, and that leaves the door open for innovation and creative alternatives. Take, for example, the Celluon Epic projection keyboard. Read on, as Gizmag goes hands-on with a device that will turn any flat surface into a full QWERTY keyboard.

What is it?

The Celluon Epic has an attractive, tightly-constructed design
The Celluon Epic has an attractive, tightly-constructed design

The first thing to know about the Celluon Epic is that, yes, it does work. Prop the tiny (70 x 35 x 20 mm) gizmo on a desk or other flat and opaque surface, near your PC or mobile device. Pair it via Bluetooth with your computer, and you can start typing. Tap your fingers on the projected red laser keys, and the letters pop up on your screen. It can even serve as a mouse or touchpad for your Windows PC or Mac.

If you've never seen a projection keyboard before, it makes for quite the "whoa" moment. Sometimes you have to shake your head and marvel at what technology is capable of, and using your kitchen countertop as an iPad keyboard is one of those times.

Of course, like any magic trick, there's actually something very specific happening behind the scenes that creates the illusion. Here we're looking at infrared light that's emitted from the lower end of the Epic. When your finger (or any other object) passes through a key's projected area, the sensor detects the infrared light reflecting off of it, and computes it as a keystroke.

The Epic projects the keyboard from the top of the device, and senses keystrokes via infrared at the bottom of the device
The Epic projects the keyboard from the top of the device, and senses keystrokes via infrared at the bottom of the device

The device itself is tightly constructed, with a compact, attractive design. It doesn't look remotely cheap. It's small enough to drop in a pocket, and can easily sit next to the device you're typing on without drawing attention to itself.

The Epic is compatible with all the major mobile and desktop operating systems, including iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac OS X. Windows Phone isn't yet supported.

Typing with Celluon Epic

Typing, unfortunately, is a chore
Typing, unfortunately, is a chore

So, with the Celluon Epic, we have something that is sure to grab any gadget- or technology-lover's attention. But is it something you'll actually want to use on a regular basis? Is this worth considering instead of a physical keyboard?

Unfortunately, unless you have a lot of patience, I'd say probably not. The Epic is about as accurate as you'd expect it to be, considering the technology behind it, but it's a far cry from using a physical keyboard. In fact, it's even a far cry from an iOS or Android multitouch software keyboard.

My attempt at Mary Had a Little lamb was a jumbled mess
My attempt at Mary Had a Little lamb was a jumbled mess

The image above is the result of my attempt to type out Mary Had a Little Lamb without looking at the screen. Spaces often ended up as n's, other letters were mistyped, and it ended up a jumbled mess. When typing while looking at the screen, I eventually typed what I was trying to say, but spent about three times as long correcting mistakes as I did typing.

To Celluon's credit, the company recommends beginning by typing with a hunt-and-peck style, and gradually building up to standard two-handed typing after you're comfortable with that.

But there's one problem with that. Why? Why should customers have to go through a grueling learning process to use a new product? Why should we trust that it will yield rewards and become more comfortable in time? Why not just buy a much cheaper Bluetooth keyboard and call it a day?

There's a fine line with innovation. On one hand, there's the jaw-dropping, "holy crap" factor that comes from new technology you've never seen before. Epic has that. But a truly innovative product also needs to solve a problem, make things easier, or do something better than products before it did. This is where Epic is sorely lacking. It doesn't solve any problem, it actually makes typing harder, and it doesn't do anything better than physical or even on-screen keyboards do.

Who is it for?

At just under 60 g, the Epic is light and portable
At just under 60 g, the Epic is light and portable

Here at Gizmag, we keep a close eye on exciting and interesting new technologies and technology products. So we do have a certain appreciation for products like the Epic that swing for the fence and try to do something new and exciting. But apart from gadget lovers who want a cool party trick, the US$170 (discounted for $150 on Amazon) Celluon laser keyboard probably isn't worth it. Perhaps future versions will offer infrared typing that works to perfection, and provides a legitimate alternative to the keyboards you already have. But in its current form, it's hard to recommend.

Product page: Celluon

16 comments
yrag
This concept/product has been floating around under one name/company or another for at least 5 years. In all that time, it doesn't seemed to have generated any real interest, gee-whiz factor not withstanding.
Joel Detrow
This may come as a shock to you, but touchscreen keyboards are very different from normal keyboards, and have their own learning period. My typing speed on real keyboards is very fast, while my touchscreen typing speed is dismal even compared to people who don't use their devices much. This, being a third kind of keyboard, will naturally have its own learning curve. It isn't a negative.
Slowburn
Assuming that it works well with a little practice it would make a great keyboard for a tablet or phone. especially if you can get it to produce an oversized keyboard and ten key.
Frank Bredow
I remember reading about it in 2004. I thought how cool it would be to connect it to my ipaq (with a "Q") Any way just let it die already.
Alastair Carnegie
Yup! I had one of these over five years ago. Desk clutter!
Gregg Eshelman
Isn't this at least 5 years old? The housing looks different but the keyboard layout is the same. I've seen earlier versions on closeout and clearance sales.
James Galan
I can see how this can be helpful.
Slowburn
Maybe the more money than brains I mean early adopters didn't put forth the effort to master the previous device, or the earlier device did not work well but it does not sound like the reviewer put in enough time to find out if it just takes practice. I would have to use a pad of some type for the keyboard because I learned to type on a manual typewriter and hit the keys harder than necessary on electric keyboards.
machinephilosophy
It would work far better by projecting a piano keyboard with polyphonic equivalents in terms of chords. That way, you could type several times faster with one hand via the chords/macros, and the light scan would have hardly any errors, since the piano is solely binary from a linear perspective, notwithstanding the partial-length black keys. Also, light projection and scanning could be from almost the exact same location on the projector/scanner mechanism and make possible a far smaller unit.
Slowburn
re; machinephilosophy So not only would you have to get use to the quirks of how the keyboard works you would have to learn a new layout. This is not making it easier.