Hardware for Gmail: The 'Gboard' keyboard

Gmail's got desktop hardware now, though not from Google. The Gboard is a new Gmail-centric keyboard with colored shortcut keys that let you zip around your in-box.

Gmail has long had keyboard shortcuts, though learning them can be difficult. Enter the Gboard, a specialized mini-keyboard for Google's e-mail service. It debuts this Friday at an asking price of $19.99.

The Gboard consists of 19 colored keys set in a standard size numpad-only keyboard. Clicking on any one of these performs that particular keyboard shortcut. Included are Gmail-specific features such as starring messages, starting a search, and jumping between message threads. Outside of Gmail they simply act as normal keyboard buttons, and will type in whatever letter or number corresponds with that shortcut.

The device is powered by USB and requires no special software or drivers, however users need to first enable keyboard shortcuts within Gmail's settings before using it. Also worth noting is that it was created not by Google, but by Charlie Mason, a film producer from Venice, Calif. This is his first foray into the computer hardware business.


The Gboard consists of 19 keys, all of which act as shortcuts within Google's Gmail Web mail service. James Martin / CNET

This really is a product that users will either love or hate. Those who have mastered Gmail's shortcuts will see little need to buy special hardware and find a spare USB port to plug it into. Meanwhile, newbie users may be unwilling to take the plunge on such a specific peripheral for a program that works only within another program (the browser). The Gboard runs the risk of being an unappealing prospect to both parties.

It's also not the first attempt at easing the process of learning and remembering shortcuts. This time last year Google offered users a free pack of color-coded shortcut stickers that could be tacked onto any keyboard. There have also long been specialized keyboards for video and audio editing as well as graphical design--all of which provide similar, color-coded keys. Users who don't want to commit, or tack stickers on their keyboard, also have the option of buying a silicone keyboard mat, though no such thing has been created for Gmail.

Considering there are a total of 69 Gmail shortcuts (with more on the way if Google graduates some of its experimental features from its labs section) the Gboard could just be the first step toward creating a full-size (100 plus key) version. In the meantime, its early December release and low price tag make for a good stocking stuffer if you've got a Gmail lover in your family.

The good:
• No setup required
• Color coding is logical and makes it easy to learn the keys
• Good build quality and feel; keys are flat like on a laptop
• At $19.99 it's not that expensive. Most numeric-only keyboards cost about the same.

The bad:
• Does not come close to including all of Gmail's shortcuts
• Could be rendered less useful if Gmail's shortcuts change
• Only comes in one color (black)

 

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