Today more and more people use smartphones and tablets as their main computing devices. But these devices typically don't have physical keyboards, and that leaves the door open for innovation and creative alternatives. Take, for example, the Celluon Epic projection keyboard. Read on, as Gizmag goes hands-on with a device that will turn any flat surface into a full QWERTY keyboard.

What is it?

The first thing to know about the Celluon Epic is that, yes, it does work. Prop the tiny (70 x 35 x 20 mm) gizmo on a desk or other flat and opaque surface, near your PC or mobile device. Pair it via Bluetooth with your computer, and you can start typing. Tap your fingers on the projected red laser keys, and the letters pop up on your screen. It can even serve as a mouse or touchpad for your Windows PC or Mac.

If you've never seen a projection keyboard before, it makes for quite the "whoa" moment. Sometimes you have to shake your head and marvel at what technology is capable of, and using your kitchen countertop as an iPad keyboard is one of those times.

Of course, like any magic trick, there's actually something very specific happening behind the scenes that creates the illusion. Here we're looking at infrared light that's emitted from the lower end of the Epic. When your finger (or any other object) passes through a key's projected area, the sensor detects the infrared light reflecting off of it, and computes it as a keystroke.

The device itself is tightly constructed, with a compact, attractive design. It doesn't look remotely cheap. It's small enough to drop in a pocket, and can easily sit next to the device you're typing on without drawing attention to itself.

The Epic is compatible with all the major mobile and desktop operating systems, including iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac OS X. Windows Phone isn't yet supported.

Typing with Celluon Epic

So, with the Celluon Epic, we have something that is sure to grab any gadget- or technology-lover's attention. But is it something you'll actually want to use on a regular basis? Is this worth considering instead of a physical keyboard?

Unfortunately, unless you have a lot of patience, I'd say probably not. The Epic is about as accurate as you'd expect it to be, considering the technology behind it, but it's a far cry from using a physical keyboard. In fact, it's even a far cry from an iOS or Android multitouch software keyboard.

The image above is the result of my attempt to type out Mary Had a Little Lamb without looking at the screen. Spaces often ended up as n's, other letters were mistyped, and it ended up a jumbled mess. When typing while looking at the screen, I eventually typed what I was trying to say, but spent about three times as long correcting mistakes as I did typing.

To Celluon's credit, the company recommends beginning by typing with a hunt-and-peck style, and gradually building up to standard two-handed typing after you're comfortable with that.

But there's one problem with that. Why? Why should customers have to go through a grueling learning process to use a new product? Why should we trust that it will yield rewards and become more comfortable in time? Why not just buy a much cheaper Bluetooth keyboard and call it a day?

There's a fine line with innovation. On one hand, there's the jaw-dropping, "holy crap" factor that comes from new technology you've never seen before. Epic has that. But a truly innovative product also needs to solve a problem, make things easier, or do something better than products before it did. This is where Epic is sorely lacking. It doesn't solve any problem, it actually makes typing harder, and it doesn't do anything better than physical or even on-screen keyboards do.

Who is it for?

Here at Gizmag, we keep a close eye on exciting and interesting new technologies and technology products. So we do have a certain appreciation for products like the Epic that swing for the fence and try to do something new and exciting. But apart from gadget lovers who want a cool party trick, the US$170 (discounted for $150 on Amazon) Celluon laser keyboard probably isn't worth it. Perhaps future versions will offer infrared typing that works to perfection, and provides a legitimate alternative to the keyboards you already have. But in its current form, it's hard to recommend.

Product page: Celluon