updated 03:15 pm EST, Fri December 19, 2008
FL: Verbatim TuneBoard
Many people use whatever keyboard happens to come with their computer. Apple's standard keyboard may be acceptable, for instance, but you may want a more versatile keyboard -- say, one that lets you play and control your favorite songs through built-in speakers. An example of this comes from Verbatim, and is dubbed the TuneBoard.
At first glance, the gear looks like an ordinary 101-style keyboard with a separate numeric keypad, T-shaped cursor keys, 15 function keys on the top and regular Control, Alt/Option and Command keys near the spacebar. However, to make the Command key easy to find, the keyboard omits the usual cloverleaf symbol and replaces it with the word Command instead.
A more substantial difference is backlighting, which makes typing easier in dim conditions. To toggle lighting, users press a button above the center of the keyboard; the brightness of the illumination cannot be graduated, however, if you only need a faint light in the darkness.
The most noticeable aspect of the the keyboard is, of course, its twin speakers embedded up top, just above the function keys. You'll need to open the System Preferences window to direct output to the keyboard, but after this simple step, you'll be rewarded with a surprisingly rich sound.
The speakers are angled towards listeners for better quality, and aside from the backlighting toggle, the surrounding area also contains controls for muting, volume adjustment and a bass boost.
Above the numeric keypad are four additional buttons, used for controlling playback: previous, forward, play/pause and eject. While the eject button only works with audio CDs, the other three buttons work with both audio CDs and tracks in an iTunes playlist.
The back of the keyboard contains a port for plugging in headphones, and another for plugging in a microphone. The ports are useful mainly in avoiding direct connections with Macs, which some owners may place on the floor or on the other side of a desk.
Casual typists might not care, but touch typists may be slightly disappointed at the softness of the keys. Although it's no different than the mushiness found on most other keyboards, a more solid feel could have elevated the TuneBoard from ordinary to extraordinary.
The lack of wireless may be disappointing to some, but this insures consistent audio quality. Plug the keyboard into your Mac's USB port, and you should be ready to start listening to your favorite music.
If you like the idea of eliminating external speakers -- needed on a Mac mini or Mac Pro -- or just want the convenience of speakers and controls on your keyboard, then you'll find the TuneBoard (approximately $80, depending on where you shop) a unique keyboard/speaker combination that can save space and give you more control over entertainment.