The Atongm Laser Keyboard projects a virtual laser keyboard on to a flat surface, supposedly letting you type like you normally would. Projection keyboards aren't exactly new -- there have been similar devices on the market since 2002 -- but you would figure that in the intervening 12 years, technology would have been improved to the point where such virtual keyboards are the norm. Unfortunately, this isn't the case with Atongm's device.
The gadget retails for a pricey $67.11 (AU$72.07, £40.52) at GearBest, a e-commerce site from China with free shipping. But before you plunk down the cash, you may want to finish reading our hands-on to see what you're getting into.
The rectangular Atongm Laser Keyboard easily fits into your pocket or bag -- it's 13cm high by 9cm wide, making it eminently portable. It has a built-in rechargeable 700mAh battery that's expected to last for around 3 hours.
The device uses a red laser diode to project a keyboard around 24cm by 10cm -- about the same as most physical keyboards -- and uses Bluetooth to pair with your device, be it a notebook or a smartphone.
To use the Laser Keyboard, one simply needs to turn on the switch, place it on a flat surface and activate the Bluetooth scan function by tapping Fn+B. When typing, the Atongm makes a beeping sound to simulate your keystrokes.
It's certainly a well-designed piece of kit, but the design isn't the problem.
In theory, any flat surface should be enough for you to peck away with your fingers, but the laser display just isn't very bright. It's hard to make out under standard office lighting, and it's worse still if you're brave enough to try using it outdoors.
Furthermore, the keyboard layout is not what you'd expect, with the period key tucked all the way at the top (and you have no way to change it). The accuracy leaves much to be desired -- take a look at the sample text below of me trying to touch-type my way through "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog".
If you type with any speed at all, the keyboard will be hard-pressed to keep up with you. It might be more accurate if you type slowly and with just your index fingers, however. I wasn't very impressed with the device, and neither was a friend who tried it.
Factor in the Atongm Laser Keyboard's expensive price and poor functionality, this is one gadget -- however cool the concept is -- that I find hard to recommend. You will likely encounter the same issues I did unless you're a very slow typist and do most of your work in dark places.
It's a little disheartening to see that laser keyboard technology still isn't there yet, plagued by low visibility displays and poor processing. And with over a decade to get it right, it's worth questioning just what it will take to develop a virtual keyboard good enough to rival its physical counterparts.