Date: May 12th, 2003
When you saw the title of this review, you may have thought “What the hell is a USB Notebook Light (USBNBL) and why would I need one”? When I saw this item in a catalog somewhere, I asked myself the same question. It attracted my curiosity, however, and Coolerguys recently gave me the chance to check it out by sending me one for review.
The USBNBL consists of a flexible 16″ arm with a bright white LED light in a metal housing on one end, and a USB connector that fits into any USB port on the other end. While the arm is very flexible and can be bent any which way from Sunday, it is made of a sturdy lightweight metal and feels very solid. Its length allows you to position the light anywhere you want no matter where the USB port is located on the laptop. Even if the USB port is in the middle on the back, for most laptops the arm is long enough to either bend it around the side of the screen and illuminate the keyboard from the side, or bend it up and over the top of the screen.
The LED is impressively bright and emits a white light. It sits in a metal housing and is protected from accidental damage at the end by a thick clear plastic cap. The front part of the metal housing can be twisted and functions as an on/off switch, allowing you to turn the light off without having to unplug it.
The picture was taken in a completely dark room with the laptop screen set to a dark blank screen. As you can see, the light is almost a foot away from the keyboard and still illuminates it nicely. Unfortuntately the picture doesn’t really do it justice, it is hard to capture the exact effect, but you get the idea.
One of the features of USB is that devices with low power requirements connected via a USB port can obtain power through the USB port and do not require a separate external power source. The USBNBL takes advantage of that and draws its power from the USB port. The question that pops up immediately is whether this additional power draw will have a noticeable impact on battery life, which of course is crucial in a notebook. According to the manufacturer, the power consumption is minimal due to the use of a low-power LED, and equals about 90 seconds of battery life per one hour operating time.
Now the main question: why would you need a USBNLB? There are a number of applications that come to mind. Imagine you’re on an air plane, and the crew has turned off the cabin light because it’s nap time or time for a movie. Instead of annoying the people around you by turning on the overhead light, or annoying yourself by trying to type in the dark, you plug in your USBNBL and light up just your keyboard.
Another scenario: You’re sitting in a dark conference room during a presentation and need to take notes, or are bored out of your gourd and want to put the time to good use and catch up on your email. Instead of typing in the dark and ending up writing email with so many typos that the spellchecker ends up bluescreening your laptop, you plug in your USBNBL and light up just your keyboard.
Use of the USBNBL is not limited to a laptop, though. Many people have USB ports on their desktop as well, e.g. in the back of their keyboard, in the front of their monitor, in a soundcard breakout box, or in a USB hub. In a dark environment, e.g. a LAN party, the USBNBL can come in very handy here as well to illuminate the desktop keyboard.
While a keyboard illuminating light seems like a somewhat novel idea, there is enough demand for it that manufacturers are taking it seriously. Keyboard lights are showing up not only as an after-market accessory like this one, but also built into the frame of the notebook screen in some IBM Thinkpad models, as well as back-lit keys in Toshiba and Apple models.
If you could use some light on your keyboard while working in the dark, and your laptop did not come equipped with this feature, the USBNBL is the perfect accessory for you. It fits any laptop, does its job well, and is affordable.
Submitted by: Alex “crazygerman” Byron