UnitedKeys OLED keyboard review

The nice guys at UnitedKeys sent me one of their OLED keyboards for a review. So first of all, Let's start with a quick video showing the keyboard and seeing how keys can be customized:

The first thing you notice when you unpack is that it's rather large - obviously with the nine OLED keys at the left. The keyboard itself is rather well built. Usually I'm picky with keyboards, but I like this one (although some keys are weird for me, like the home/end/delete block above the arrow keys). It takes a bit of time to get used to... but in any case UnitedKeys also sell just the keypad, which might be a better choice if you have a keyboard you already like.

The PMOLED displays are monochrome (yellow) color, 64x64 each. There's no color depth - each pixel is either on or off.

the OLED keyboard unpackedthe OLED keyboard unpacked

The first thing you have to do is install the drivers - just plug the keyboard in and install. It worked great for me on my windows XP (although Jin from the DisplayBlog reports that it doesn't work on his Vista Ultimate 64-bit. Unitedkeys are working on a solution for that).

United keys OLED keyboardCloseup from the left side

One of my biggest problems was to find good icons. I tried to make my own using some free icons on the web, but the OLEDs have only 1-bit depth, which makes it rather challenging - and as you can see these icons are rather lame...

That blue-strip is nice, and UnitedKeys says it's there so when you work in the dark you'll still see the regular keys. I have to say that the OLED keys look great in the dark, but you can't really the regular ones, here's how it looks:

An OLED in the dark...An OLED in the dark...

The software that comes with the keyboard is not the most intuitive, and it takes a few minutes to grasp. One example - the OLED keys only work when the software is closed (minimized). That was strange. Also, they do not provide any icon examples, although they did send me some by mail later, which you can see in the following photo:

Better looking icons, sent to me by UnitedKeys

You can do some pretty cool things with the software. You can have several layers (key arrangements). You can have the layers automatically change when you switch to a different process - so for example you can have one layer for firefox, another for explorer, and yet another for Photoshop. You can even setup a layer to show when a certain dialog is used in a certain application. All this means that the setup of the keyboard is not easy, but once you get it working, it can really make you work faster.

The OLED keys customized for firefoxThe OLED keys customized for firefox

Each key has an action, which can be to emulate a key (or a maco), to launch an application, to change layers, etc. One thing missing for me is the option to *change* to a process rather then launch a new one.

Interestingly in the software there's an option for a 'color' key, but it's disabled - so I'm guessing a keyboard with color OLED keys is on the way!


UnitedKeys sell this keyboard as a 'productivity tool' and I think they got it right - this keyboard can be a real time saver, especially if you have several applications that you use regularly (for example I use a browser, a word processor, a photo editor, a few programming IDEs, etc.).

The OLEDs look great - bright and easy on the eye, even though I'd really like to have color (or at least gray-scale!). The keyboard itself is okay, although perhaps it's best to get the keypad and stick with your old and trusty keyboard.

The software is a bit clunky, and I could sure use more features - but this can be fixed I'm sure, and UnitedKeys assured us that they will roll out more features. Making good looking icons is not easy, and hopefully people will start sharing their layers with the rest of us.

You can get the keyboard from Amazon for 179$ (the keypad costs the same). The same keyboard, under the OCZ Sabre name costs only $89.99.

Posted: Dec 24,2008 by Ron Mertens