First Look: The Phantom Lapboard

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If you've followed the PC gaming scene for a while, you'll no doubt remember the vaporous Phantom console. It promised to bring PC gaming to the living room, but the only thing we were excited about was the killer lap-friendly keyboard-and-mouse controller that they'd rigged up--the Lapboard.

The Lapboard is basically a keyboard that you place on your lap; then you incline the top part of the keyboard (including the key surface) to reveal a space underneath suitable for mousing. It's designed for use anywhere you don't have access to the flat surfaces that are typically required to play first-person shooters with a mouse and keyboard. When we first gave it a test spin at E3 2004, we were much more excited by the awesome potential of the controller than we were by the underpowered "console."

We've spent a few days playing multiplayer shooters using the Lapboard, and we can say that the keyboard rocks. The tilting/pivoting design is comfortable to use during extended gaming sessions, works fine on your lap, and is even OK in its standard position on a desktop. With the board pivoted up, there's plenty of room underneath for mouse movement, and the hard, black surface is similar to a high-end mousepad. The board uses a laptop keyboard similar to one you'd find on a high-end desktop replacement notebook, with good key action and a standard keyboard layout. When you're ready to flatten the board, push a button on the side and it collapses back to a normal state.

Because the keyboard rotates a full 360 degrees, it works the same for both right- and left-handed mousers, and hands down destroys the typical wireless gamepad for playing PC games on the couch--when paired with the right mouse. Unfortunately, the mouse that Phantom ships with the Lapboard leaves much to be desired. While a bit smaller than we prefer, it isn't uncomfortable. The problem is worse than a lack of comfort; we experienced signal dropouts at a distance of about 24 inches from the sensor, not acceptable. The mouse and keyboard would both be working fine, then the mouse would drop out while the keyboard continued to operate. We tested several other wireless mice with the same configuration, and had no problems with them. A wireless mouse that drops connections is an unforgivable sin, in our eyes.

The other thing that left us deeply concerned is the wimpy click on the left mouse button. The left button didn't rebound sufficiently from a click to make it easily clickable again, a problem which didn't occur with the right mouse button. We think this is a manufacturing defect, but it's definitely a concern.

So where does that leave the Phantom? We're waiting on the drivers to do a full review, but even without fancy drivers, the keyboard is extremely promising. The mouse is another story though, even if it worked perfectly, we'd still prefer a mouse with more buttons and adjustable sensitivity. The Phantom Lapboard is scheduled to be available in June for $130 in limited quantities. The Lapboard would be virtually guaranteed a Kick Ass award if it were sold by itself, but the included mouse will almost certainly bring down the final verdict.

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