Top gear: Optimus Popularis

Features Feb 4, 2013

A £1,200 keyboard, asks David Hayward? Surely not?

A keyboard is a keyboard is a keyboard, right? Apparently not. Russian design studio, Art Lebedev have spent the last few years coming up with novel and very futuristic keyboard designs that will shock the senses and consequently the wallet.

Just a few years ago they announced the release of their then-flagship keyboard, the Optimus Tactus, an extravagance reflected in the asking price of over $2,000. It did look awesome, admittedly, what with the fact that it didn’t actually have any physical keys (instead it used a programmable touch screen, you could even play movies on it!). These days though, they appear to have settled down to a more affordable, ahem, $1,000 model, the Optimus Popularis.

This is a mini, compact keyboard, with plastic see-through keys which are backed onto a kind of LED display setup. This means that, in conjunction with the supplied software, you can program the keyboard layout to represent any language, complete with the accompanying symbols. In addition, you can also program the keys to display any number of shortcut icons, and they can be swapped to and from your custom layout to a traditional language layout at the touch of a button.

If that wasn’t enough to make you reach for your wallet, then check out the strip just under the F keys. Yes, it’s a crystal clear LCD display, that again can be programmed to display anything from a graphic equaliser, to the latest stocks and shares, to dynamic, live icons that update according to the information you have provided. Icons such as a Gmail update will display the number of unread emails, temperature and weather icons will update accordingly, even system information such as fan speeds, CPU speeds and so on can be monitored all from this wonderful little keyboard.

It’s quite impressive and incredibly small. According to Art Lebedev, measuring in at 293 x 186 x 19mm and can display an astonishing 262,144 colours within any of the 12.5 x 12.5mm keys and the LCD. The software that allows you to program and control the various functions of the Optimus Popularis is available for Windows XP up and Mac OSX 10.5.1 onward.

Apparently, the Optimus Popularis is a much coveted item over in mother Russia. It is based on a promise that Art Lebedev made when they launched the more expensive Tactus, a promise that the next Optimus model will be much more affordable and will be designed more for the common user. I don’t know about you, but I never realised the ‘common’ Russian computer user could afford a $1,086, (£673) keyboard. Just think how much their base units must be, eh!

Moreover, as well as the cost of the keyboard itself, you can also purchase a couple of accessories, the Mini Six and the Aux, which act as extra six and fifteen key add-ons to the main Popularis. They will, however, set you back $376 for the Mini Six and $534 for the Aux.
It’s a crazy world we live in when a keyboard (accessories included) costs over $2000 (roughly £1,241). I mean, you could by an iPad and use a keyboard app to better effect for less than half that price! Still, where would be without creative designers, who stretch the boundaries of the obvious and (apparently) all common sense?

Alternatively…

Of course you could just nip down to the local supermarket and pick up a keyboard for a few quid, but then it’ll be of the bland and horribly-designed sort. If you fancy having programmable keys (of a sort) and a nice back-light effect, another option would be something along the lines of one of the many gaming keyboards that are dotted around these days. Keyboards such as the Saitek Cyborg V5, which offers 12 programmable keys, a touch sensitive backlit dashboard control panel and promises gamer-standard toughness for a measly £50.