Review: Visikey Wired Enhanced Visibility Internet Keyboard
VisiKey’s Wired Enhanced Visibility Internet Keyboard is unique among keyboards we’ve tested in that it’s designed for increased visibility. It also has a number of useful multimedia features and programmable buttons. However, a few key-related issues hamper an otherwise solid offering.
The Wired Enhanced Visibility Internet Keyboard—the WEVIK, for short—is for the most part your typical inexpensive desktop keyboard, with a standard USB connection and a body made of lightweight plastic. On the bottom, near the rear, are two flip-out legs for raising the back of the keyboard slightly. However, these legs detach from the keyboard easily; we lost one during a photo shoot. The WEVIK doesn’t provide any downstream USB ports for connecting a mouse or other input device.
What makes the WEVIK unique are its keys—or, more precisely, its key labels. Each letter or number is nearly three-eighths of an inch tall, and the white-on-black color scheme further enhances visibility; VisiKey says the keyboard’s keys are rated at 20/300 on the Snellen Visual Acuity Scale, as compared to 20/70 for most standard keyboards. Even keys with word labels—for example, the control (Ctrl), delete (Del), and home (Hm) keys, as well as the special-feature buttons (covered below)—are easy to read. The WEVIK should appeal not only to those with vision impairments, but also to those who work in dimly lit environments.
As for the keys themselves, like many desktop keyboards, the WEVIK uses dome-style key switches, which traditionally require more travel—the distance you have to press a key for it to register—than the scissor-style switches used on laptop keyboards. Unfortunately, the WEVIK’s keys fall at the mushy end of the dome-key spectrum. Although the keys aren’t difficult to press initially, there’s little tactile feedback, so you end up pressing each key harder and farther than you need to. Overall, of the nine keyboards I recently tested, the VisiKey was the worst in terms of typing feel and tactile response, although it’s fair to point out that it still fared better on these metrics than some of Apple’s Pro Keyboards of recent years.
Learning the layout
The WEVIK features a full complement of keys, including a numeric keypad, in a traditional arrangement. No standard computer keys are missing or misplaced—a surprisingly rare thing, if my recent experiences reviewing keyboards are representative. The 12 function keys (F-keys) are properly placed apart from the main QWERTY area and arranged in pods of four for easier touch-typing.
On the other hand, like many keyboards designed to work with both Macs and Windows PCs, the WEVIK includes several additional keys that are mostly useless when the keyboard is connected to a Mac. To the right of the F12 key, just above the home/end/page up/page down/delete group, are three Windows-only keys: print screen, scroll lock, and pause break. (Oddly, the scroll lock and pause break keys adjust screen brightness when the keyboard is used with Mac laptops and some Macs with an Apple Cinema Display.) And in that home/end group, the key that’s usually a help key on a Mac keyboard is a Windows-only insert key. Finally, there’s a useless Windows menu key in between the right-hand command and control keys; I regularly hit this key by accident when trying to press the right-hand control key.
On a related note, as with most cross-platform keyboards, the functions of the option and command keys—the former bearing both alt and option labels, the latter with both a Windows icon and an Apple icon—are reversed when the keyboard is used with a Mac. You’ll need to use Mac OS X’s Keyboard & Mouse preferences to configure these keys so they work as expected. This is true even if you install VisiKey’s Mac drivers (see below).
The WEVIK provides 12 special-feature keys along the top edge of the keyboard: play/pause, volume down, volume up, mute, previous, next, stop, Internet, e-mail, search, backward, and forward. Unlike many cross-platform keyboards with special-feature keys that work only with Windows, the WEVIK’s keys do work with the Mac, thanks to Mac OS X drivers provided by VisiKey. By default, the media keys control playback and volume; the Internet, e-mail, and search keys launch your Web browser (to the VisiKey Web site), Mail, and Spotlight, respectively; and the backward and forward keys mimic the back and forward buttons in your Web browser. (A minor beef: I found the arrangement of the media keys puzzling. The playback controls—play/pause, previous, next, and stop—are separated by the volume and mute controls.) The keyboard provides no dedicated eject key, although holding down the F12 key on any keyboard sends an eject command to the computer; this feature is built into Mac OS X.
VisiKey’s software lets you customize the behavior of each of these keys via a VisiKey pane in System Preferences. You can configure each to open a URL or program; to type a keystroke; or to use one of 19 predefined actions, which include the default functions for these keys as well as actions such as launching Front Row and executing a Force Quit command. You can also disable any of these special keys.
The keyboard also provides three power-related keys just above the directional-arrow keys: sleep, wake, and power. If you use the keyboard without installing its software, all three of these keys act as a standard Mac power key; in other words, when you press any of these buttons, you’ll see the familiar Mac Restart/Sleep/Shut Down onscreen dialog. With VisiKey’s drivers installed, the wake and power buttons both act as Mac power keys, but the sleep button immediately puts your Mac to sleep.
Once VisiKey’s drivers were installed properly, I had no problem with the software or the keyboard’s special keys. However, I did run into one hitch: The VisiKey software includes a background application, VisiKeyEngine, but the software installer didn’t add this application to my list of Login Items. Because the application wasn’t running, none of the special keys functioned. Once VisiKey’s tech support had me manually add the application to my Login Items in System Preferences, the special keys worked as expected.
Macworld’s buying advice
VisiKey’s Wired Enhanced Visibility Internet Keyboard is a good option for those with poor eyesight or who work in dimly lit environments; it’s the only keyboard of this type I’ve seen (although there are companies that make silicone keyboard covers with large type). I also found its customizable multimedia keys to be useful. Unfortunately, The WEVIK’s Windows-centric keys and mushy key mechanisms make the keyboard less appealing that it could be.
[Dan Frakes is a Macworld senior editor.]