New Das keyboards, Outi earphones

The scoop: Das Keyboard Professional and Ultimate keyboards, by Metadot, about US$130.

What they are: The original Das Keyboard was a very cool wired keyboard with the distinction of being all black, including the lack of any labels indicating what keys were what letters or characters. Aimed at professional touch-typists and other geeks who thought this idea was cool (yours truly included), beyond this “gimmick” the keyboard had a really nice feel and touch. The company has updated the keyboards, providing two new models to the line. The new keyboards are smaller in surface area, and have a new “click” feel thanks to new gold-plated mechanical key switches (on the inside of the keyboard, there’s no gold that you can see). For those who were annoyed by the lack of key labels, the Professional version includes key labels; for those who want to continue the all-black look and feel without labels, go with the Ultimate.

Why it’s cool: While the new clickier keys take some getting used to (I used my original Das Keyboard for a few years), after a while I did feel that I could type even faster with these keys. The additional sound certainly made the office a bit noisier, and of course noisy keyboards in a newsroom implies additional productivity. I also liked the inclusion of two USB 2.0 ports on the side of the keyboard, although the company warned that while both ports can be active at the same time, one of the ports could temporarily shut down if too much power consumption was occurring. If you’re plugging the keyboard into a non-powered USB hub, you might experience this problem.

Some caveats: I preferred the larger base of the original Das Keyboard, as I didn’t need one of those ergonomic gel-based wrist rests. With the smaller design (the new ones don’t angle up as much), I had to go digging around for a new wrist rest.

Grade: Professional, 3 stars; Ultimate, 4 stars.

The scoop: Outi earphones, by Zelco, about US$110.

What it is: Outi earphones are worn on the “outside” of your ear, not the inside. The headphones are designed to clip comfortably and securely on the outer ear, transmitting vibrations from your music through your ear’s skin and cartilage. The company claims that this lets you feel the music in addition to hearing it, while also avoiding ear damage through headphones that get inserted inside your ear. A button on the device allows for three levels of vibration settings. The headphones come with a power charger / USB charger, so you can recharge the headphones’ battery through a USB port or wall outlet.

Why it’s cool: If you’re concerned about hearing loss from listening to your iPod, these seem like a good idea, to be able to listen to music without jamming stuff into your ears. In addition, when wearing these, you avoid the, “What?” response when someone comes into your office and asks you a question.

Some caveats: The idea of “feeling” the music was odd — even with the vibration setting at its lowest level (I couldn’t turn that feature off), my ears would buzz. Turning up the volume on the iPod only made it worse, and I’d have to turn the device to a low setting, barely able to hear the music. Also, after a while, the cartilage on my ears started to ache. At US$110, these are way overpriced.

Grade: 1 star.

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