Now here's a neat trick. The Magic Cube ($199) from Celluon is a box the size of a shot glass that connects to your PC, tablet or smartphone and projects a QWERTY keyboard made of light. It's a fascinating concept, but there's a difference between novelty and utility.
Click to EnlargeMeasuring 1.1 x 1.5 x 2.9 inches and weighing 3.4 ounces, the Magic Cube won't take up much room in your messenger bag. Banded in silver (and available in red or white), the front of the Cube has several sensors: a pattern projector at the top beams out the keyboard; below that is a sensor, an LED and an infrared light. The back has a power switch and a miniUSB port.
While the Magic Cube is compatible with most devices--iOS 4, Mac OS 10, Android 2.2, Windows XP/Vista/7 and any device with Bluetooth HID support--it's complicated to set up and use. The instructions cover 32 pages in the manual. Fortunately, you can also connect the Magic Cube to a device via its USB port.
There are six different performance modes--battery, HID, SPP, USB, keyboard and mouse--with corresponding LED indicators to track. You are instructed about Bluetooth "HID" and "SPP" modes, something we'd never heard of.
Once set up, Magic Cube projects a full-size red laser-outlined QWERTY on a flat surface, which can't be reflective - in most cases, you'll want to lay a blank 8.5 x 11 piece of white paper on the tabletop. The manual also notes Magic Cube may not operate under incandescent or halogen lights, which leaves few optimum lighting options other than fluorescent.
Once the keyboard is projected, you can type like you would on any physical keyboard, and keys even make a clicking sound when pressed. Ultimately, the process feels even more disconcerting than a touch-screen QWERTY, especially since a piece of paper with the keyboard projected on it will move around as you type.
Click to EnlargeWorse, the keyboard itself has some keys in the wrong place - the period, comma and quotation marks, for instance, are mysteriously located above the number row. There's no getting used to this.
There also is no Caps Lock mode indicator, and neither the Delete nor Back keys accelerate when held down. Other annoyances include spacebar double-tap doesn't produce a period (which would alleviate the bizarre period key placement), and you don't get an auto cap first letter with a new sentence.
When we picked up the Magic Cube to turn it off, characters and spaces inserted themselves in our text.
The Magic Cube also has a multitouch mouse mode, but it only works with Windows devices, making it less useful for tablets and smartphones.
The Magic Cube's 700 mAh battery will last about 2 and a half hours, but takes about 4 hours to fully charge.
There are dozens of Bluetooth keyboards on the market intended to turn the iPad and other tablets into content creation devices. The $199 Cellulon Magic Cube is also working toward that end, in an even more portable design. Unfortunately, a complicated setup and misplaced keys make this innovative accessory a tough sell.