Taiwanese outfit Ta Horng produce a range of flexible rubber MIDI keyboards, including the three-octave iSmart under review here. Portability is the main selling point; wrapping the keyboard around its plastic control panel produces something about the size of an early-'90s mobile phone.
The USB/mains socket is the sole one, and using the iSmart on an iMac running Mac OS 10.3.3 required nothing other than plugging in the USB cable. The three-octave keyboard can be transposed using the Octave keys to access the full range of MIDI note numbers, but there is no velocity sensitivity. Above are two buttons which are used with 11 of the white keys to set the MIDI channel, send Program Change messages, or change the fixed-output velocity value (99 by default).
As a MIDI data-entry device, the iSmart works fine, triggering notes reliably when the keyboard is on a hard surface. The sensors extend the length of each key, although the 'playing experience' offers much of the touch and expression of my old Renault 5's floor mats. Also, because the black notes are at the same level as the white notes, it's much more difficult to play accurately. That said, you can hardly expect a decent playing action from a sub-£70 bunch of long-chain polymers...
All in all, this is an odd product which has rather divided opinions in the SOS office. Some consider a rubber keyboard about as useful as a rubber violin, no matter how portable. Others think the iSmart could be useful for data entry where budget and space restrictions are at their tightest. Hopefully you should know which camp you belong to by now, and will use your wallet accordingly!
- Small, portable, and, at £70, affordable.
- Fine for MIDI data entry.
- I've played more expressive rubber chickens!
'The most flexible MIDI controller on the market' is perhaps not the accolade it once was. However, if you need a basic data-entry device small enough to tuck behind your ear, the iSmart will do the job for under 70 quid.
£69.99 including VAT.
BCK +44 (0)1992 524442.