Does your Bluetooth-enabled portable keyboard seem a bit old and bulky? Maybe you should take a look at futuristic ideas such as virtual projection keyboards. Sounds awesome, but how long do you have to wait? What if I told you it’s here, now, and ready for you to buy? Then take a look at the $150 Celluon EPIC Virtual Keyboard.
We thought it might be an interesting investment, but we weren’t totally sure. So we decided to buy it and review it, and then you have a chance to win it for yourself!
About the Celluon EPIC
The Celluon EPIC is a virtual keyboard by means of projection, meaning that it can use laser light to project an image of a keyboard onto a flat surface in front of it. It can then detect whenever you “press a key” on the flat surface and translate that into a keystroke that the computer actually understands. Long story short, it’s a fancy keyboard that looks futuristic and can theoretically provide some benefits (primarily space and weight when compared to a regular Bluetooth keyboard). You can get it off of Amazon for $149.99, which isn’t exactly a cheap steal.
Surprisingly, there doesn’t seem to be any competitors to the Celluon EPIC. Celluon makes the claim that it’s the world’s only virtual projection keyboard, and that claim appears to be true. The only other product that can be found is the Celluon Magic Cube ($150), which just seems to be the EPIC’s predecessor — but it could be seen as the only competitor since it’s still being sold. This is pretty rare, however, since the Celluon EPIC is already a few years old. But, if any other alternatives do exist somewhere, then they aren’t major enough to really be found by any consumer for purchase.
The Celluon EPIC Virtual Keyboard comes with the follow specifications:
- 19mm key pitch
- Overall keyboard dimensions: 100mm height, 240mm width
- Device dimensions: 70mm x 35mm x 20mm
- Available as English QWERTY and German QWERTZ
- Recognition rate: 350 characters per minute (or 70 words per minute)
- Light source: red laser diode (IEC Class 1 Laser)
- 660 mAh battery
- 2 hours of use on battery, 3 hours to charge the battery
- Connect via Bluetooth
- Compatible operating systems: iOS 4+, Android 4.0+, Windows XP+, Mac OS X, Blackberry 10. Linux is also compatible according to my own testing.
There’s really not a whole lot that comes in the box. There’s the projection device, a USB charging cable (but no power supply, so you can just plug it into a computer or any other USB power supply you have lying around), and a few informational papers. There’s just a separator between the projection device and everything else, so it’s packed pretty simply. This was already a preview of how easy it will be to set up.
The Celluon EPIC is certainly small and can easily fit in any small pocket. It’s also pretty lightweight, so I’d say it’s about 100-150 grams. On the front of the projection device, you’ll find the laser emitter at the top, a camera-like sensor in the middle (meaning that if this is covered, the device won’t recognize any of your input), and a flash light for illumination at the bottom. On the back, you’ll find the on/off switch and the microUSB port for charging.
Setting up the Celluon EPIC is dead simple. All you need to do is turn the projection device on, and it’ll automatically enable its Bluetooth signal as well. Then, with your other device (smartphone, tablet, or computer), go into your Bluetooth settings and pair to the device. It’s so simple that you don’t even need to enter in a four-digit PIN as some other devices may require. Just choose the device, and you should be connected within a few seconds. It’ll be functional from there.
Using the Celluon EPIC is a very interesting experience. The keyboard that is emitted onto the surface in front of it is decently sized, and includes all of the keys you’ll care about — it’s nearly the same to a full-sized keyboard, but not quite. You’ll find a few buttons such as apostrophes, quotation marks, and more along the very top where you’d find the F1-F12 keys on a normal keyboard. The keyboard projection is a bit faint in well-lit areas, but darker areas will provide a well-defined keyboard.
To get the keyboard to function correctly, you have to make absolutely sure that you’re using a flat, opaque surface. I tried using it once on a table that had a layer of glass on top of the wood, and it didn’t function exactly as it should — it thought I was pressing a neighboring key instead. However, once the conditions are right, the keyboard is actually pretty usable. The keys are recognized, and the maximum typing speed is acceptable (it’s still quite a bit lower than my normal typing speed, but it’s tolerable).
According to the manufacturer, keystrokes are recognized and then relayed via an invisible infrared layer combined with an optical sensor. The recognition process works as follows: When the user presses a key on the projected keyboard, the infrared layer is interrupted. This produces UV reflections that are recognized by the sensor in three dimensions, allowing the system to assign a coordinate (keyboard character). Whenever I cover the optical sensor, the device doesn’t detect any keystrokes, so this seems to be correct.
Feedback Solution (And A New Problem)
One of my biggest concerns about this virtual keyboard was the fact that I wouldn’t actually have any tactile feedback, which is a criticism of most keyboards that don’t have traditional physical keys that depress. However, I was very surprised — the Celluon EPIC accommodates for this by beeping every time it recognizes a key press. Since this is still sensory feedback, it isn’t quite as awkward as no feedback at all.
The beeps do lead to another problem though — it can get annoying for anyone else around you. If you were to say use this in a classroom setting where quietness is a must, this is an absolute deal-breaker. You’d quickly annoy everyone in that class as well as the teacher. Even worse, there’s no way to turn the beeping off — there’s no settings page that you can access, and there’s only the on/off switch for the entire device. There’s nothing that would control the beeping. Sadly, while I think this solution is pretty clever, it creates another problem that in some ways may even be worse than the original issue.
Like I mentioned above, the keyboard is surprisingly accurate in the keystrokes it detects, but that detection comes at the price of typing speed. Typing at 70 words per minute may sound like a lot, but most people don’t type at a consistent speed for an entire minute. They have bursts of quicker and slower typing, and once you have one of your faster bursts, the projection device will start to miss some of those keystrokes. To give a rough approximation, it cannot detect anything faster than someone who’s become fairly proficient at typing on their smartphone or tablet’s on-screen keyboard.
Satisfying the Flat, Opaque Surface Requirement
Do you always have a large, flat, opaque surface available wherever you go? Chances are the answer to this is no. In school, a lot of desks I sit at are quite small, so there wouldn’t be any room for a projected keyboard — or if there was, then there wouldn’t be enough room to also have a tablet standing on the same desk.
Also, a lot of times you’ll probably be using a tablet or computer on your lap, while you’re sitting down, not in front of any sort of table. In scenarios like this, you won’t be able to use the EPIC. Having a flat, opaque surface is a hard requirement, or else it simply won’t function. While it works well in the conditions required by the device, I don’t often come across those conditions while I’m on the go — if I’m at home, I’d rather be using a regular full-sized keyboard rather than the EPIC.
Lastly, there’s the price consideration. You can get this for $150, which isn’t exactly something anyone can spend in an instant. For a comparison, you can get a decent tablet-aimed (meaning not full-sized) Bluetooth keyboard starting at less than $20. Sure, the Celluon EPIC may save you some space and it looks awesome and futuristic, but it costs multiple times more than a “traditional” Bluetooth keyboard that will most likely allow you to type faster and enjoy much longer battery life. Plus, when you think about it, those smaller keyboards aren’t really that big, are they? Do you really not have enough room for a little keyboard like that in addition to your tablet?
So, is the Celluon EPIC an awesome piece of technology? It sure is! Is it something you should put on your shopping list? I don’t think it is. While it’s a really neat concept and it actually works surprisingly well, it’s still far from being a product that makes it an obviously better option to a regular Bluetooth keyboard. Simply put, it’s too expensive, the beeping can’t be turned off, and the flat, opaque surface requirement may be quite difficult to satisfy for some users. I really think that the drawbacks outweigh the benefits.
How do I win the Celluon EPIC Virtual Keyboard?
You may enter by submitting your name and email address. You’ll receive one entry simply by doing so.
After that, you’ll also be offered various methods to earn additional entries. They range from sharing a link to this giveaway on social networks; to commenting or visiting a specific page. The more you participate, the higher your chances of winning! You will receive 5 additional entries into the giveaway for every successful referral via your shared links.
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This giveaway begins now and ends Friday, February 28. The winner will be selected at random and informed via email. View the list of winners here.
Congratulations, Cara Daymude! You would have received an email from firstname.lastname@example.org. Please respond before March 16 to claim your prize. Enquires beyond this date will not be entertained.
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