Easy-touch keyboard and mouse
July 3, 2009 9:19 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for an extremely easy-touch keyboard, and also a mouse with easy-touch buttons.

I have a joint condition such that typing (and even using a ratchety scrollwheel) can get quite painful quite quickly. I'm looking for products that require a minimum of pressure to use.

For a keyboard I have been looking at this product and its variants for a while: http://www.virtual-laser-keyboard.com/. I've read/watched some reviews and it seems perfect (it's literally no-touch) except for the fact that it's battery-powered and the battery only lasts a couple hours at most, so it's not perfect as a daily-use appliance. I'll probably still get one anyway though, so I'm wondering if anyone knows of any other problems with it or its clones?

Otherwise, I'm looking for suggestions for extremely easy-touch keyboards.

For a mouse, the main issue is getting one whose scrollwheel scrolls really easily. I currently have a Microsoft (63A-00006) Wireless Laser Mouse 5000 for my desktop, and its wheel is great; I'm buying for a laptop now though and I don't want its huge USB plug-in thing. One more requirement for a mouse is left-right symmetry, because I use my left hand most of the time but not always.

Any suggestions appreciated.

Thanks very much.
posted by skwt to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I looked at your mouse, looks pretty good. I currently use a Microsoft Wireless Notebook 7000 Mouse (or whatever order the words go in), and it fulfills every single one of your requirements. Scrollwheel is smooth and easy, buttons are very easy (I had to get used to not pressing them by accident through normal use) and battery life is long. Also, it is symmetrical. It is wireless, but has a fairly small USB plug-in thing.
posted by Precision at 9:27 AM on July 3, 2009

Thanks Precision that looks great. That reminds me, one more requirement, I definitely need at least 5 buttons on a mouse.
posted by skwt at 9:34 AM on July 3, 2009

I have one of these. You definitely want a Fingerworks keyboard. They're literally zero pressure, and the mouse is the same surface as the keyboard.

Tragically, Apple bought the company (they do the multitouch for the iPhone now), and the keyboard is no longer produced. But, you can still find them on eBay occasionally.

Unfortunately, they can be quite expensive. I bought mine new for $350 when Fingerworks wasn't just an office at Apple. I saw a Croatian-layout Touchstream on eBay a few months ago for something like $1500 bucks.
posted by Netzapper at 9:42 AM on July 3, 2009

Well, that mouse has forward, back, middle (scroll wheel), left, and right. So it kinda fulfills that, too?
posted by Precision at 9:48 AM on July 3, 2009

Oh, yeah sorry bad wording, yours did fulfill that. I was just saying.
posted by skwt at 9:49 AM on July 3, 2009

Thanks Netzapper. I've looked at those (online) before but I think I was discouraged by their inavailability/price. But it does sound good, maybe I'll try to get one anyway. How does the mouse interface work? Is it annoying to switch back and forth?
posted by skwt at 9:55 AM on July 3, 2009

Its not fancy, but the regular, current "flat metal" Apple Keyboard has a very very small key travel distance and is very easy to use. When I switch back to a "normal" keyboard, I can't believe how much pressing I have to do.
posted by rokusan at 11:10 AM on July 3, 2009

can that be used w/ a pc?
posted by skwt at 11:15 AM on July 3, 2009

posted by skwt at 1:18 PM on July 3, 2009

Thanks Netzapper. I've looked at those (online) before but I think I was discouraged by their inavailability/price. But it does sound good, maybe I'll try to get one anyway. How does the mouse interface work? Is it annoying to switch back and forth?

So, the keyboard is two flat plastic planes separated by a ribbon cable (design defect, but it's fairly robust). The planes are screenprinted with a pretty good, but relatively unique, keyboard layout. If you touch and then lift a single finger in the rough vicinity of a printed key, it will register a keytouch. It takes some getting used to, and my error rate with it is much higher than with a mechanical keyboard. But, the mouse makes up for that.

The same exact surface functions, at the same time, as the mouse. If, instead of touching and lifting a single finger, you touch and hold two fingers (together, like the boyscout salute) to the surface, you take control of the mouse pointer. Touching and lifting two fingers is a click. Touching and dragging three fingers is click+drag (e.g. select text, resize a box, etc.). Tapping three fingers is a shortcut for double click.

So, you type for a while, then you use the mouse, back and forth, totally automatically and your hands never leave their position. None of this is pressure based. You don't press down, mind you--the harder you touch, the worse it works actually. You simply touch. You can even use it wearing gloves and it'll work pretty well.

If you choose to enable it, there's some typo-correction software running on the keyboard's processor--I'm a programmer who types all sorts of non-nonsensical gibberish, so I turned that shit off immediately. But, the keyboard recognizes dozens of gestures. These gestures map to keyboard emissions--you swipe three fingers in a downward gesture, the keyboard spits out Ctrl+A+r, or "ls -a \n". You can also enable "invisible" buttons--sections of keyboard designated for non-English keymaps, and so unprinted on QWERTY keyboards, bit still available in software.

All of these features (and like two hundred more) are programmable with a Java-based utility.. It's kind of obsolete, and so can be challenging to get running on some systems. But, it does allow you to customize everything.

One neat feature is that those customizations are on the keyboard. They're not driver configuration changes. You can set it up to run perfectly at home, and then take it to work, and plug it in. The work computer will recognize it as a completely standards-compliant USB hub with a USB keyboard and USB mouse plugged in. The keyboard will perform nearly identically to how it did at home, even though you haven't installed one tiny iota of software--mouse speed/acceleration is the only real variant, other than the context-sensitive meaning of keybindings. You can take it to the locked down computer at the library and it'll work perfectly. As far as a computer is concerned, it's the $7 keyboard and mouse that came in the box with it.

This keyboard is quite literally the keyboard of the future. The one that really wins will have better tactile feedback (this one is like typing on a tabletop) and will probably put a display behind the keyboard so that the keymap can be changed on the fly.

The only failing of this keyboard is that it SUCKS for first-person video games. There's no way to hold down a letter key: either you tap and release, sending the letter; or you hold down the key, which waits (an adjustable) amount of time before handling autorepeat on the keyboard.

Good luck finding one. When you do, scour the interwebs for the manual and all that jazz. It's like the keyboard from Star Trek... and you need the documentation.
posted by Netzapper at 3:44 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Netzapper, that sounds absolutely awesome. I wonder why this received no publicity while something like the Optimus Maximus keyboard has had lots of hype (and, besides the coolness of the micro-lcd display under every key, is reported to be quite chunky and clunky, not to mention the price tag)
posted by _dario at 8:26 PM on July 3, 2009

I wonder why this received no publicity while something like the Optimus Maximus keyboard has had lots of hype (and, besides the coolness of the micro-lcd display under every key, is reported to be quite chunky and clunky, not to mention the price tag)

It did get publicity, actually. ThinkGeek even sold it. It was reviewed in a number of publications. The problem was multifold. And, at least the main problem might not be considered a problem.

First, the keyboards were expensive: $350. This was one of the first "smart" keyboards. There was no Optimus with a price of $1200 to legitimize the Touchstream price. So, everybody who wanted a keyboard and mouse was left with the decision between $100 for top-quality conventional gear or three times that for really weird gear.

Second, the learning curve is very steep on the Touchstream. My wife won't touch it. Most people who sit down at my machine and ignore me as I instruct them in using the keyboard wind up minizing, opening, closing a zillion windows and typing huge strings of gibberish. You have to learn how to use it. It goes against all of your instincts from using mechanical keyboards.

Third, it's fucking terrible for gaming. So, there goes the largest market for silly-ass input devices. The keyboard has no reasonable way of holding down a key. Even if the game has a debounce setting to interpret autorepeat as a hold, the time spent before the keyboard starts autorepeat is either too long for gaming or too short for typing--yyyoou ttypee lllike thhiiss iff itt wwworkks forrr ggammmiingg. The keyboard has a "game mode", where the entire way you control the mouse changes, and the lefthand pane becomes entirely directional. This works kind of okay for FPS games (although it was a handicap at every LAN party), but terribly for every other genre and for using the mouse for more standard tasks.

But they were working on all that. Each firmware update was (mostly) better than the last. The real thing that ended Fingerworks was Apple. Apple very quietly bought them. For years, one of the things Fingerworks did was convert Mac notebooks to use the Fingerworks keyboards. You ship them your Mac, they rip put the old keyboard and mouse and install a Touchstream. For years there were rumors that Apple wanted to, in some way, get this technology introduced as a factory feature.

Then one day Fingerworks' website said, "We're not making keyboards anymore. Buy 'em while we've got them." Then a few weeks later it said, "We don't exist as a separate entity anymore. Here's our support page; we'll leave the forums up too." A couple weeks later, rumors of Apple having new touchsensitive technology started coming out.

Then, maybe a year or two later, there was the iPhone. And every one of those gestures on an iPhone is on my keyboard. Thing is, they were patented by Fingerworks. The entire interface design was heavily encumbered by patents. I don't think they're using the same optical sensor as the Fingerworks stuff (I believe it's capacitive on modern Apple products), but the software is the important part here.

[On review, the wikipedia page says Apple bought Fingerworks... so, my suspicions must at least be shared by others.]
posted by Netzapper at 3:49 PM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

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