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Highlighting

There’s nothing new about the idea of highlighted keys. It lies on the surface and has already been implemented by several keyboard makers. Alas, most of the implementations cannot provoke much enthusiasm.

This is BTC 6300CL, a keyboard of the notebook variety (its low keys have a small movement range) with blue highlighting. The technical solution is simple: the keys are made of translucent plastic and there is a highlight module under them and under the transparent sheets with interconnects.

Alas, this doesn’t look good in practice. First, the highlight area is large so despite the low brightness of highlighting the keyboard acts like a night-lamp illuminating the whole room in darkness. This bright spot becomes rather annoying at work, distracting your eyes from the monitor.

Second, the 6300CL doesn’t serve its primary purpose well, which is to make the keyboard symbols visible even in darkness. The thinner a layer of plastic is, the less resistance to light it provides, making the highlighting look brighter. As a result, it’s not the keys but the spaces between them that are the brightest of all with this keyboard. The edges of the keys are bright, too, whereas the center of each key – where the symbol is painted – is the dimmest spot.

It’s quite different with the G15:

As you see, the keys are black and it’s only the letters that shine with a blue light here. This keyboard doesn’t look like a solid bright field. It doesn’t distract your eyes with its light, but the symbols on the keys are perfectly visible at any lighting, from daylight (they do not look highlighted then, but seem to be painted in blue; but if you disable the highlighting altogether, you can see that the symbols are actually dark silver) to full darkness.

What’s the funniest thing, the implementation of highlighting is actually the same in the G15 and in the BTC 6300CL notwithstanding the opposite impressions from these two keyboards. You might think there is a LED inside each key of the G15, but this is not so. This solution would be too expensive, complex and unreliable – just imagine a good hundred LEDs, each on its own flexible wire!

Removing one of the keys we can see that the highlight module is in fact located under the keyboard, just as it is in the 6300CL, but the case of the G15 is made of opaque plastic, so the spaces between the keys do not shine. Thus, it’s only the hole the stalk of the key is inserted in that is shining.

The photograph above shows one of the keyboard’s keys (by the way, taking a key off is as easy as taking hold of its cap and pushing it a little; this may come in handy when you need to take out a crumble or a paper clip or something that has fallen in between the keys). As you can see, the key is made of translucent plastic covered with an opaque black paint from above. Besides its main function, the stalk of the key performs the one of a light pipe.

This solution has two drawbacks, one actual and one potential. The actual drawback is that not the entire area of a key is highlighted, but only its part that is right above the light-conducting stalk. As a result, only some letters of a caption are highlighted even on the English-language version of the keyboard (e.g. the last letter doesn’t shine in the “Prt Scr” caption). On localized versions of the keyboard it’s only the Latin alphabet that is highlighted as can be seen in the photographs above.

The potential drawback is that the paint cannot last infinitely. Take any keyboard that has been exploited heavily for a few years – its most frequently used buttons are going to be wiped out. No one knows how the keys of the G15 will look after a few years’ use.

By the way, the first batch of keyboards that hit the shops had an unstable paint. The symbols would get wiped out after a few weeks of active use. Logitech acknowledged the defect and replaced the paint with a more durable one. The owners of defective samples could have their keyboard replaced by the warranty. Users report that Logitech sent them new keyboards even without asking to return the defective sample.

I personally haven’t yet noticed the paint getting wiped out on my G15 during the two months of my using it (the photographs above show my sample of the keyboard, so you can check it out by yourself). Of course, two months is not a long time for a keyboard, yet I am sure that the unstable paint was only a defect of the first production batches. This drawback is potential, and may not show up at all in the foreseeable future.

As I wrote above, the keyboard has a special button to adjust the highlight brightness. The button doesn’t depend on the G15 driver and allows switching between three levels: disabled, half brightness and full brightness. I have personally used the full brightness setting for work and half brightness for games and for watching movies.

 
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