Razer was keen to show off its Blade gaming laptop at the Consumer Electronics Show this year, but the system is a little large—and pricey—for our tastes. One of the most interesting elements of the notebook is its keyboard, which eschews a traditional numpad in favor of a configurable touchscreen with programmable keys. Otherwise known as the Switchblade UI, this novel user interface has now made its way into a standalone keyboard.
The 10 programmable buttons that line the top of the Switchblade panel are backed by an LCD, allowing the look of each key to be changed to suit its purpose. These keys can be programmed to launch applications, toggle functions like the Windows key, and execute macros. Below them lies a decent-sized touchscreen that can masquerade as a touchpad, a numpad, a directional pad optimized for gaming, or even a secondary display.
Razer says it's planning to release an SDK that allows developers to write their own applications for the Switchblade UI. There's already a YouTube app and a web browser, and you know a Facebook client can't be far away. Switchblade also supports on-the-fly macro recording, allowing users to quickly automate combos without having to exit a game. All user preferences and macros are stored in the cloud, as well.
At the moment, the only keyboard to have received the Switchblade treatment is a special edition designed for Star Wars: The Old Republic. Razer says the keyboard is coming soon, but brace yourself, because the thing is set to cost $250. Even with fancy backlighting and a claimed one-millisecond response time, that seems a little steep. The keyboard doesn't use mechanical key switches, instead relying on membrane-style switches that didn't feel all that impressive under my fingertips.
While the Star Wars keyboard's lofty price is hard to swallow, I do like the direction Razer is moving with its Switchblade UI. I use my numpad constantly, but I wouldn't mind having it replaced by a programmable touchpad that served the same function while also being flexible enough for other duties.