Hammacher Schlemer’s Virtual Keyboard for iPhone and iPad: A spookily clever device!

How would you feel sat at your desk typing away on a projected laser-generated ‘virtual’ keyboard, pretty surreal I bet? Surreal and futuristic visions of typing away on what fundamentally equates to ‘thin air’ are beginning to surface as a reality, with the long-serving provider of ‘unique’ products, Hammacher Schlemer, introducing The Virtual Keyboard.

Virtual-Keyboard

This Bluetooth Class II laser device projects a cybernetic keyboard onto any flat and opaque surface, thus giving iPhone, iPad or Android users instant access to a keyboard. And far from being tiny, fiddly and awkward – does the Blackberry’s keyboard ring any bells, the virtual keyboard projected is 9 ¾ inches wide and 4 inches deep, with ¾ inch keys.

But how could a keyboard, without ‘actual’ keys, recognise keystrokes you may be asking? According to The Virtual Keyboard press release, an optical sensor recognises keystrokes in three dimensions and is so sensitive to finger placement that it distinguishes between a finger hovering over or pressing a “key”. An invisible infrared horizontal plane is also projected just millimetres above the surface, which detects ‘actual’ contact with the ‘key’. When a finger then breaks the plane, the projector then allocates a character on the keyboard and transfers it to the device it is hooked up to – spookily clever hey?

If you are a speedo typist and worried that The Virtual Keyboard will not be able to keep up with your ultra-fast typing skills or produce the 100% accuracy you expect it to, then fear not, as this simulated keyboard can apparently keep up with typing speeds of up to 400 characters-per-minute, and, Hammacher Schlemmer’s general manager informs, that it transmits “100% accurate keystrokes to a smartphone or iPad.”

This three inch tall projector sits inconspicuously on a desk and, given its unobtrusive size, is easily transportable, whilst its rechargeable battery provides up to 2 ½ hours of typing after a 1 ½ hour charge.

Since 1848 this long-running American company has prided itself on offering only ‘the Best, the Only and the Unexpected.’ And in providing iPhone and iPad users with an alternative method to type on other than a tiny touchscreen, which is bracingly bigger than the minute keyboard of the Blackberry, Hammacher Schlemmer really is living up to its self-implemented reputation of offering ‘the Best, the Only and the Unexpected’. Bring on 2012 if gadgets this year are going to be as thrilling as The Virtual Keyboard!

The Virtual Keyboard retails at $199.95.

Gear 4 Unity remote for iPhone review

Part of the magic of smartphones, those tiny touchscreen computers that we carry around in our pockets, is their ability to extend so many experiences – be it running, cooking or selling old CDs. The smartphone-app landscape has brought simplicity where there once was chaos to many areas of modern life (although admittedly they are guilty of doing the reverse as well). And obviously one area of modern life that could do with some streamlining is the living room. As you would expect for a tech journalist and nerd, I have many many boxes in my living room all with new and exciting ways of piping season two of Louie to my TV. As you might not expect, I have at least 4 universal remote controls – none of which I actually use. As someone with a very low tolerance for fiddly remote control set ups (who will bizarrely however, happily spend hours tweaking sickbeard, plex and sabnzb to get everything *just* right) will the Gear4 Unity Remote for the iPhone be fiddle free enough to work its way into my everyday life?

Gear4-Unity-Remote

Set up is remarkably simple. Jam some batteries (provided) into the tiny puck-shaped unit, press the one button on the device and you should be able to pair with you iPhone or iPad. There’s a lovely little set up slideshow with a bowtie-wearing assistant if you need help with this. From here you need to fire up the app (bonus points for having an app configured for iPhone and iPad screens) select your remote and then add devices. This is another straightforward process where you place the Unity next to your device of choice and run through a few short tests. It’s a little bit of work, but little enough that I’m not overly annoyed by the process (my universal wand remote control will never be used due to how annoying the set up process is).

The best thing about the Unity Remote is the ability to configure actions. I have Blu-Ray player, AV Receiver and TV, all of which need to on and set to a certain channel before I can do a simple action such as watch a movie. With Unity you can configure actions such as these so they become one-button tasks – Watch a Movie would have all the steps needed configured – like a macro or AppleScript for real life – which is pretty cool and great incentive to actually use the device.

For more information head to Gear 4.

Remote control battle: Logitech Harmony 300i vs Kymera Wand

Anniversaries with lovers are fraught with danger- forget them when you’ve been with someone for a long time and you get accused of not caring anymore. Make too much out of them with someone new and you’re accused of being too ‘serious’ (whatever that means). Fortunately, here at Latest Gadgets we are simpler beasts and know a good anniversary when we see one, which is why the news that it was the mighty remote controls 60th birthday led us to reflect on just how far these little arbiters of happiness have come, and in doing so offer up a little remote face-off between two high profile entrants new to the market

Logitech Harmony 300i

Logitech-300i

A very popular choice, it kicks against the traditional opinion that universal remotes are little more than a faff not worth having with the consumer having to manually program each appliance. The Harmony 300i kicks against this by requiring you to simply plug the remote into the compute, log onto www.harmony.com and input these into the site. Logitech has a list of 225,000 devices from over 5,000 brands, so even that knock-off Blu Ray you bought in Tenerife is likely to be on there. Much stock has been put by its constructers in its ease of set-up as their previous Harmony efforts were accused of being fiddly and stacked with frustrating software; the biggest indicator of this is the simple Watch TV button at the top of the remote. This being the most used function they have then clubbed DVD/CD player etc together so you scroll through them when necessary which is fine unless you have a helluva lot of machines. Reviews have been near universally positive, so we’re going to give it a…

8/10- For the Mums and Dads that want an easy ride.

Kymera Wand

Kymera-Magic-Wand

Recently shot to prominence when its inventor secured a record £200,000 investment from notorious Scottish grump Duncan Bannatyne on Dragons Den, the jury is out on whether this is a gimmick or genuine solution to all the worlds remote control issues. In a nutshell, it can memorise 13 separate flicking and twisting wand-like movements from you to change channels, turn up the volume etc, and like the i300 can do so for all your home gizmos’s. Its stylised look (as in it looks like a wand and comes in a fancy box) certainly make it different from anything else out there and at £49.99 its (just) cheap enough to be (relatively) mass market, though we can’t help but think the joy of turning up the sound whilst shouting ‘voluminous uppipus’ will get pretty dull after a while and we’ll want to just press a handily placed button. Reviews, whilst being appreciative, haven’t been gushing and have criticised the long and frustrating process of programming the moves and actions. So…

6/10- Bit of a flash (or a flick) in the pan

Thus the winner is the Logitech 300i. It might not impress the kids so much but it will do what its supposed to do with the minimum of fuss and will appeal to techies and non-techies alike.