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Friday, December 23, 2011

Truly Ergonomic Keyboard

Way, way, way back in 2010, I put in a pre-order for a Truly Ergonomic Keyboard. The company promised a keyboard shortly after I ordered it, but repeated delays carried the actual first production run to this fall, and I finally received my keyboard only this week. I love it. It is the keyboard I have always wanted, and exactly the keyboard they promised to deliver.

Previously, I owned a FingerWorks Touchstream LP keyboard. That was a very different kind of input device, combining typing with dozens of multi-touch gestures on dual touch-pads which completely change the interaction pattern with a desktop computer. The gestures were the key feature of the Touchstream, but the thing which I loved the most was the columnar key layout: each column of keys, which are all hit by the same finger, were laid out in straight columns, whereas typical keyboards stagger the columns. The result is that your wrists don't have to twitch back and forth while typing, and thus experience less exposure to repetitive stress movements. Yet, even though the Touchstream had a columnar layout, the lack of physical keys, their feedback and their sound, made it otherwise somewhat difficult to type quickly.


Ever since then, a decade ago, I have wondered why nobody ever made a split-key keyboard with columnar layouts. Although it can be difficult to learn completely new layouts or completely new ways of entering text to a computer, the switch to a columnar layout is a very minor adjustment, easy to make, with immediate and substantial benefits.

Finally, somebody has made that keyboard: the Truly Ergonomic. Not only does it have a columnar layout, they also changed the position of some of the rest of the keys: they moved Enter, backward Delete, Tab, and forward Delete to the center of the keyboard. This is because in a typical keyboard, all those special keys are hit by our pinky fingers, the weakest and least dextrous of all the digits. On the Truly Ergonomic, those keys are hit by the thumb or forefinger, which are the strongest and most dextrous of the digits.

They didn't go too far, though: the weak pinky fingers are still responsible for Shift, Ctrl/Command, Alt, and many assorted symbols. The only character key which actually moved from one side of the keyboard to the other is the question-mark key. The apostrophe moved down to the bottom row. All in all, they changed as little as possible to meet the design goals of the keyboard,
and I think they did a good job with that.

The quality of the keyboard is first-rate. They promised some sort of "famous Cherry MX" clacky-style keyswitches, and they are indeed pretty good keyswitches. It takes a low amount of pressure to depress them, yet they respond with a satisfying percussive clack sound and bounce up immediately under my fingertips.

Is this keyboard perfect? Not quite. There is one other thing I always wondered: why isn't there a Symbol Shift key on our keyboards? That key would turn on all the special symbols on a keyboard, such as numbers, parentheses, brackets, braces, slashes, bars, dashes, and all the symbols currently found on the number keys. Altogether, the count of those symbols is probably close to the number of letters-plus-punctuation. Imagine a Symbol Shift key to turn all those on, so that each key on the keyboard stood for a lower-case letter, an upper-case letter, and a symbol. As a bonus side-effect, the Symbol Shift key would turn the right side of the keyboard effectively into a numeric keypad, thus eliminating the need for one. Perhaps this mechanism could be a generalization of the Num Lock feature, and all we would need to do is rename that to Symbol Lock, and add a Symbol Shift key. This would also be a huge boon for programmers, who use symbols when coding, and must strain to reach the symbol keys on traditional keyboards.

5 comments:

  1. There is almost already the "Symbol Shift" key on the 105 or 109 Truly Ergonomic's versions. That's called [AltGr]...

    ReplyDelete
  2. The Truly Ergonomic’s DIP switch gives you the ability to set your keyboard as a 105 one. Then, your right [Alt] will become a [AltGr]...

    ReplyDelete
  3. You and your ergo input devices and UI. I think you missed your calling, Nick

    ReplyDelete
  4. I really like the build. I am desperate for remapping software beyond AutoHotKey, & the shift & control key really should be swapped, especially for Kinesis Advantage Users that are switching, like me. There are 6 keys available for remapping on my 109 model, and AutoHotKey also can re-assign all the media keys except Eject.

    The real problem here for keyboard enthusiasts is that:
    NUM LOCK CAN NOT BE SET TO ON BY DEFAULT
    or you lose any letters that comprise the built-in keypad because you are forced to use them.

    Every other keyboard with an embedded numpad AT LEAST has the courtesy to implement their own Fn-type numpad that doesn't rely on such a basic keyboard setting.

    Anyone using AutoHotKey like me uses the num lock ON mode to remap Numpad0-9 & is SOL if they want to use the TE in tandem with numpads or other keyboards

    Hopefully the software (when it arrives, late) will allow me to map over the embedded numpad layer
    which IS ALWAYS triggered by the system NumLock state and not shifted internally by the TE Deck keyboard.

    Right now its a great KBD in the default configuration,
    but anyone doing even a bit of keyboard remapping will want to avoid it until capable internal-remapping is possible.

    ReplyDelete
  5. You can upgrade the Firmware and change the functionality of the Embedded Numeric Keypad as non-synchronized.

    You can also upgrade Models 207-209 using an alternate Firmware upgrade that reverses the location of the Ctrl and Shift keys.

    Learn more at Support » Firmware Upgrade:
    http://www.trulyergonomic.com/store/index.php?route=product/category&path=79_90

    ReplyDelete