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Light-up, animated keys are cool, but we want to do more.
We like the idea of tiny OLED displays embedded in keyboard keys, but until we tried one of these futuristic keyboards, it seemed like nothing more than a way to show off. After all, don’t your fingers usually cover those buttons? But after trying the Art Lebedev Optimus Mini Three 2.0, a three-key version that’s not intended to replace a full-size keyboard, we’re highly supportive of the concept. Customizable, animated keys can show instant feedback. Still, the Mini Three has many shortcomings, and as much as we grew attached to it, its problems keep it in a league with other nerdy, showy tech toys. After we installed the software, which shows up as a pane in System Preferences, the three keys blinked to life. The Mini Three is about the size of a candy-bar mobile phone, and the software let us choose to orient it horizontally or vertically. We activated the built-in macros in a flash, so that one key showed the current time and weather, one displayed the current iTunes song and album art, and one gave the most recent headline on MacLife.com in a scrolling readout. Keys can even be animated, although at 3 frames per second, the “picture” looks much better when it’s gradually shifting weather scenes than when it’s scrolling choppily through album names.
More than just giving these immediate details, the keys activate unique functions. The weather key toggles between an analog and digital clock, for example. The iTunes button pauses the current track. And the Web-headline key opens the article of choice in your default Web browser.
These macros are the best—and worst—features of the device. Art Lebedev includes about a dozen, some of which work marvelously well. An email macro, for example, shows when you have a new message, and switches the running app to Mail. The System Monitor macros display the CPU strain or memory usage. And a Wikipedia button launches a random article. You can also program the device to show a different set of macros when you hold down Shift or another modifier key. And the keys can even change function when your Mac is idle, giving you immediate access to certain functions when the main display is dimmed.
However, we have many other applications and ideas for macros that the device can’t handle. Where’s the iChat—or Adium—button to show who’s sending a new message? We also wanted to be able to create simple AppleScript commands that control the device. As is, the software can launch a program or execute a key command, but further customization takes a technical approach. Art Lebedev offers only its included plug-ins, and many of those have bugs; our weather animation regularly froze in the transition from sunset to dark, and the iTunes module couldn’t name Internet radio tracks. (The company says it’s working on those issues.) And we found nearly no third-party options online to make up for these limitations.
The bottom line. The Mini Three is a cool toy, but wait for updates or check out competitors before you buy it and expect it to radically change how you interact with your Mac.
COMPANY: Art Lebedev
REQUIREMENTS: Mac OS 10.4.8 or later, USB
Customizable keys with animated displays.
Limited options make it seem gimmicky.