Price: $15 (list); $12 (street)
Requirements: any laptop with side-mounted USB ports or a USB keyboard with a free port
From the guy who brought keyboard illumination to the PowerBook G4 with icKeys comes the similarly designed iLite, a USB-powered LED that serves to illuminate the keyboard on portable Macs without built-in keyboard illumination, or on desktop USB keyboards with an available USB port in an appropriate location.
The iLite was conceived out of a need to do something with the excess inventory of white LEDs in Mike’s stock from poor icKeys sales. Apple had yet to add keyboard backlighting to any portable model, and the iLite was—and still is, for owners of portable Macs lacking a backlit keyboard, or for desktop users seeking keyboard illumination—a good solution to the problem. As the iBook was the first Mac to feature side-mounted ports, early iLite models were designed in matching white plastic. The current model is Dell-black, which is a stylistic step backwards made up for by other features. More on that in a minute.
The primary advantage of the iLite over the competition is its compact size, as the entire device is roughly the same size as the plug on a typical USB cable. This is both a blessing and a curse, however; the iLite is useless on any laptop with USB ports behind the screen. Illumination is nowhere near as good as the backlighting offered by the current PowerBook line, but it’s not much worse than that of a FlyLight or similar gooseneck device. The illumination is enough to type by, and is in general superior to that offered by an icKeys installed in a TiBook. Its utility on an Apple Pro Keyboard is limited, though an iLite is better than nothing and is considerably more attractive than a gooseneck light. Laptop users who have multiple USB ports should install the iLite in the port closest to the screen for best illumination.
An older white model was used for this review, and the current crop of black iLites offers some advantages over the older models. The LED is mounted so as to direct less glare into the eyes of the user, and the LED boom is slightly longer and flexible, allowing for superior positioning of the light and marginally improving its compatibility with external keyboards, a feature often requested by desktop users. Finally, the new iLites are more solidly constructed, which should offer increased durability in the long term.
Portable users will be glad to know that, like most such devices, the iLite drains the battery very little. LEDs are highly energy-efficient, and the iLite should have no noticeable impact on battery life. Of interest to the niche market of astronomers is the availability of the iLite with a red LED in place of the stock white LED. The red light preserves the eyes’ adaptation to the dark when stargazing. Coupled with Stephen Hutson’s excellent DarkAdapted and a good astronomy software package, a red iLite makes a PowerBook or iBook a valuable companion for field astronomy.
Until Apple deigns to offer a backlit keyboard on the iBook line, the iLite remains a good option for iBook users. Power Mac and iMac users are faced with a series of mediocre choices: the iLite is too inflexible for the vertical USB ports in Apple’s offerings; its gooseneck competitors are ugly and awkward; and third-party backlit keyboards have inferior actions, over-bright lighting, and poor styling. The market on the desktop is still wide open.