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4 New Keyboards, Tested

Eclipse Litetouch Wired/Wireless Keyboard

Eclipse Litetouch Wired/Wireless Keyboard

If you have a bit more money to spend and you’re looking for something high-tech and fun to spice up your desktop this summer, the new Eclipse LiteTouch Wired and Wireless Keyboards may be up your alley. The LiteTouch Keyboard was showcased at CES in January and scheduled for release at the end of March, but since then MadCatz has been rushing to get the keyboard onto store shelves. It’s available now, but just barely: pre-orders opened in June, and the keyboard only became available to purchase this month.

The obvious feature that makes the LiteTouch special is the touch-sensitive panel on the right side of the keyboard. The touch panel is a capacitive LCD with pre-defined “buttons” that change function depending on how you program it. By default, there are three configurations: The first is a number pad, with the number keys in the standard places you would expect. The second configuration is for media and applications, with buttons to launch your calculator, control playback of your music or video player, open your documents or music folder, and search your computer. The last configuration is called “My Eclipse,” a series of five programmable configurations that lets you change the function of the bottom 12 keys on the keypad to do whatever you like. You can program the My Eclipse button using the included software that ships with the keyboard.

The LCD panel also has indicators and touch-sensitive controls for volume and LCD brightness. When you touch a button on the panel, you’ll hear an audible click, which is good because the keyboard gives you no other feedback that you’ve pressed a button. The LCD panel is difficult to touch-type on; since the panel is perfectly smooth, you have to eye your fingers to make sure you’re pressing the right buttons. Also, the panel only accepts feedback at a certain rate, so don’t expect to speedily enter numbers into your calculator: you’ll have to slow down a little until you hear the click of each key-press, and make sure you don’t press the same button too many times.

Even so, the panel on the LiteTouch keyboard is more than a gimmick. The ability to program 5 different 12-key presets makes it useful for office dwellers and gamers alike. We had the LCD panel crash on us once, but turning the keyboard off and on again resolved the issue quickly.

Under the LCD panel  on the wireless version, you’ll find a small trackball and left-and-right mouse buttons. This means you can use it as a pointing device, making the LiteTouch perfect for home theater setups or guest PCs where it’s useful to have a keyboard and a mouse integrated into the same device. We found the trackball a little too small, which made it a little annoying to use on a regular basis. The buttons on either side however were useful, and using a separate mouse with the LiteTouch connected wasn’t an issue, so it’s a great feature to have on the wireless model, even if you’re not planning to use it often.

The wireless model also has a rechargeable battery that can be charged using a standard mini-USB charger either by plugging it in to your computer or by using the included charger. The receiver for the wireless model is small and unobtrusive, and while it’s no competition for Logitech’s incredibly tiny Unifying Receiver, it’s safe to leave it in while you tote your laptop around.

The wired version of the LiteTouch is an all-black model with a glossy black bevel around the keys, while the wireless model has a silver bevel around the body of the keyboard and glossy black plastic between the keypad and the bevel itself. The keypad itself is backlit with a soft white glow that, while it doesn’t shine through the keys themselves, does shine through between the keys and makes the LiteTouch more fun to use in the dark.

The keys on the LiteTouch are laptop-style scissor-switches, so they’re small, thin, and quiet when pressed. It also means that the keypad itself is rather small. The LiteTouch is small enough for a backpack and it doesn’t take up a lot of space on your desk. Depending on how you feel about scissor keys, you may love or hate using the LiteTouch on a regular basis. We had no problems typing long documents on it, and found both the physical and touch-sensitive keys fun to type on even during heavy use.

The LiteTouch Keyboard follows on the heels of the new Eclipse Bluetooth TouchMouse, which features a sleek, brushed aluminum surface on a durable black plastic body ad a touch-sensitive bar in between the left and right mouse-buttons. We were able to review the TouchMouse along with the LiteTouch Keyboard, and aesthetically they pair well together. The panel acts as a scroll-wheel, and responds to how quickly you move your finger over it. If you swipe your finger down quickly, your document scrolls down faster, for example, and you can rock your finger left and right to scroll in either direction. The mouse is precise and sensitive, and we had no problems with its tracking and accuracy. The TouchMouse has sharp looks and a long life on a single battery (especially using Bluetooth) but doesn’t include a Bluetooth adapter, so make sure your Mac or PC (it supports both) has one before shelling out the $59.99 list to buy it.

We found that while the TouchMouse looks great and the brushed aluminum feels great in causal use, heavy or prolonged use revealed quirks in the touch-panel. Sometimes documents simply wouldn’t scroll at all, and we had to figure out how to touch it just right to make it scroll at the speed we wanted. Additionally, after heavy use, the angular design that looks so good sitting on your desk becomes a bit uncomfortable to use, as the body of the mouse is just a little too small to rest perfectly in your palm.

Both keyboards support Windows and Mac OS, but the My Eclipse customization software is unfortunately Windows-only. The LCD still works in Mac OS though, as do the trackball and mouse buttons on the wireless model. The downside though is that you don’t get the programmable My Eclipse features or the number pad. You only get the volume control and media keys.

At $99.99 for the wired model and $129.99 for the wireless model, The Eclipse LiteTouch Keyboard is definitely no small chunk of change, but if you’re a gadget fiend and you want probably the most touch-sensitive LCD keyboard this side of the fabled Optimus Maximus  , it’s a must-have. The Eclipse LiteTouch keyboards are priced in the “enthusiast” range, so it’s only a value when compared against other new high-end gaming keyboards and media keyboards with customizable buttons. For everyone else though, the LCD panel alone may not be enough to make it worth buying, but if you like the feel of laptop-style scissor keys, dig the high-tech look of the LCD and the backlit keys, and would actually program the keys, it’s worth picking up.

Design: 4/5

Value: 3/5

Features: 4/5

Performance: 3/5

Build Quality: 4/5