After some repeated wrist pain, I figured I had to attempt a change of habits. The most likely culprit seemed to me my constant yet ergonomically unconsidered keyboard use. The first thing to change is sideways typing at irregular heights, such as in bed. Anyone who knows me will realize two things; I won’t manage to just stop, and this is another opportunity for my gadget mania to strike.
So I set about googling for ergonomic keyboards. I found a few options, not all of which are traditional.
From memory I looked up Twiddler, but I think the heavy reliance on chording would take a bit much to learn. It is one-handed and compact, so it could be the best option for other circumstances.
Another from the vague recollections category is the Datahand keyboard. It is marvellously geeky, adaptable and efficient, but also bulky and prohibitively expensive. I had to keep looking.
Given the large number of keyboards loudly heralded as ergonomic which are just slight tweaks to the common layouts, most of them slightly bent, I felt an image search was a reasonable next step. I really wanted something that did not involve a hill like the popular kind, and that did not collide as muscle memory is concerned, since I frequently move between machines. That point alone disqualified layouts like Dvorak. Compactness was also a priority, so I can bring it along.
Looking at the odd ones out first, orbiTouch actually had no keys, but rather two directional controls. As I retain full motion in all my fingers, I gave this a pass.
A well tested and constructed type came from Maltron, but again the price was out of reach. On the plus side, they do have Swedish layouts.
The Safetype vertical keyboard reinforced one idea, that it was time to move away from the horizontal surface. I could easily imagine trouble keeping my hands at the typing positions for this variant, however; it is at its core a split qwerty, so I would trade horizontal movement for vertical, where I can’t easily add any support.
I looked quickly at many others, of which only one more deserves mention before I move on to the one I got. This honor falls to the “Truly Ergonomic Keyboard“, for being one of the few to take into account the simple fact that our fingers are of varying lengths. It also has rearranged keys in a more usable manner, such as more reachable Ctrl keys. Sadly, the pricing is unclear, it cannot yet be ordered, and I did still have the idea to avoid flatness.
A little further down the image list was a real oddball. The AlphaGrip had shown up via a blog article appropriately named “The World’s Weirdest Keyboards Ever Made“. It struck a chord as the first in the list designed with keys on the back, like an accordion. It had a very dubious press reception, ranging from immediate rejection through a vaporware award (from early trouble getting production up?) to long term tests that were cautiously optimistic. Closer examination showed the quick dismissals were, by and large, based on a quick look at a picture, frequently mistaking the labels for more buttons and missing the point. I was not deterred, even by the dubious marketing name “iGrip”.
At an asking price of $100, it is not cheap, but quite reasonable for a small series product and far below most of the other models I had considered. In addition, there was a money back guarantee and my emloyer agreed to cover the cost. As the icing on the cake, the founder chose to send me a second unit when I mentioned plans for a wireless conversion to him. I have now had it for about two and a half weeks, although I often switch back to common keyboards for speed. I still have to watch the layout (not the keys, mind; many of which I can’t see while I use it) and I do make typos. At a guess, using the AlphaGrip to write this article made it take at least twice as long, but I did finish.
I will eventually post about the Bluetooth hack here too. For now, some notes are in the google alphagrip group, which sadly seems to require registration. I’ll also have to withhold any verdict regarding the actual ergonomics; while I can be sure it doesn’t work for everyone, since hand size plays a part, I cannot yet be sure it actually helps much for me. It’s a change, which is a start, either way.