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Part 1: The parts

Click to enlarge. Hello everybody, and thanks for being patient with me while I wrote this review of the Stenovations DigiTouch?. This is the first part of my review, and it concerns the parts themselves. A second part will be published when I have assembled it and collected some user experience to share.

The DigiTouch? is actually the would-be product for steno typists in court and similar places. What Stenovations is offering us is the DigiTouch? minus the stenography customizations, so itís simply a FingerWorks? MacNTouch? board in the DigiTouch? enclosure. I am going to refer to this as the DigiTouch? anyway in order to have a different name than the FingerWorks? MacNTouch?. Think of a DigiTouch? as a stand-alone version of the MacNTouch?. As there are no movable or bendable parts and the USB cable can be easily detached, this is a very suitable product to transport between home and work, unlike the FingerWorks? TouchStream? keyboard. This transportability is a great feature in itself!

I have collected many questions you posted in the forum and I will answer them here as best I can, but first let me give you my immediate impressions. Because most users consider the DigiTouch? a replacement for a TouchStream? I am primarily comparing the DigiTouch? to that, but I also keep the general interest in mind. I have provided lots of photos because it is much easier for me to describe and for you to understand when there is a picture next to the text. Let me apologize right away if the pictures arenít studio quality. On some shots you can see a ďbarrel effectĒ; this is the fault of the camera lens and the product is not bent in any way. I provide metric measurements and ask my US readers to convert as needed. All the photos are stored in my Photo gallery.

Click to enlarge. This is the complete set that I received from Eric Jackson, General Manager of Stenovations. The set was very well packaged in a DHL box and packing foam. There is one MacNTouch? board in an anti-static bag, one FingerWorks? software CD, one USB cable, one Qwerty and one Dvorak layout, one white DigiTouch? enclosure with nine screws, one adhesive foam rubber pad to act an non-slip mat under the DigiTouch?, and one very classy black fleece pouch for storage and transportation. The only thing that one might miss is some sort of assembly manual, but weíll get to that soon.

Click to enlarge. First, letís take a look at the MacNTouch? board. For the photos, I removed it from the bag after grounding myself and working carefully to avoid any kind of static. Itís safely back in the bag now until I get to assemble the DigiTouch?. Here is the reverse or bottom side, and it really is just any plain electronics board. There is nothing noteworthy to say about it except that it is a complete, original, uncut FingerWorks? MacNTouch?. In these photos, the USB cable is still wrapped around the board for transportation. The strip of tape covers the internal USB plug that is used to connect the MacNTouch? to a Mac laptop, but Stenovations has come up with a good and simple way to turn into a stand-alone USB product. Youíll see that later.

Click to enlarge. Here is the electrostatic sensor surface of the board; the heart and secret of any FingerWorks? product. It has a fine metal pattern that is consistent throughout the surface area. It is noteworthy that the sensor surface seems to be entirely separate from the layout sticker. The two stickers that I got are thin but stiff and have the same good surface texture that we know from other FingerWorks? products. This makes me wonder if perhaps all products have these stickers. Only by dismantling one could we know for sure. As these stickers are stiff it may not even be necessary to stick them onto the board but just lay them in place between the board and the DigiTouch? frame. On the other hand they might flap around a little loosely so it might be best to stick them on properly after all. Iíll know after assembly Ė I will simply try it first without sticking it on the board and see if itís any good.

Click to enlarge. You can clearly see the ingenious pattern on this close-up, and those special shapes make it possible to determine exactly where a fingertip is by reading the strength of the signal from each part, because a fingertip is much too big to touch only a single part. Take a look and see if you can figure out the idea. The board is in fact two electronics boards with all the components in between. I didnít investigate how they are held together because I have no intention of taking them apart! Here are some more shots of the board:

Click to enlarge. Click to enlarge. Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge. The DigiTouch? was meant to be used for stenography which is entirely different from a keyboard in the sense that we expect. Luckily, Stenovations has layout surfaces that will turn the DigiTouch? into more or less normal MacNTouch? keyboards instead. Though it was not meant to be a portable MacNTouch? pretend it to be. So, looking at this as a portable MacNTouch? keyboard, what can you expect? If you havenít seen a MacNTouch?, let me compare it to a TouchStream?.

The MacNTouch? surface is smaller than the sum of a TouchStream?ís two halves; otherwise the MacNTouch? would not have fitted into the keyboard space of the Macs. The TouchStream? surface measures 12,5cm in height and 2 x 16,5cm in width while the MacNTouch? measures 10,5cm in height (2cm less) and 27cm in width (6cm less!). This means that some keys like Shift are placed different than on a TouchStream?. The MacNTouch? is also missing the pop-up (right-click) key as well as others like Insert, Delete, Home, End, Caps Lock and Scroll Lock. There are gestures for some of these, but you would have to map them somewhere if you need the actual keys. Like on the TouchStream? and iGesture NumPad?, there are unmarked areas like the blue hand logo that also can be mapped as keys. Also, since itís essentially a normal FingerWorks? product, you can use all the normal gestures and customizations as you are used to.

The available layouts are US QWERTY and US Dvorak. Both layouts also feature the Programmerís Pad (see the normal FingerWorks? documentation) as well as a blue number pad and special Mac function keys for volume, player and monitor control.

My wife complained that the straight layout is not as ergonomic as the split TouchStream?, and it looks smaller than a regular keyboard. This would apply to the normal MacNTouch? as well, of course, but the key size and spacing is identical to a regular keyboard, and further the hands do have a slight angle to each other, you still have a bigger gap between your hands, and the keys are not staggered but straight over each other like we have come to love. So while it is slightly less ergonomic that a TouchStream? it is still more ergonomic that a plain keyboard, except of course that it doesnít have tactile feedback!

Click to enlarge. The stickers have ten dimples in the right places and it would appear that they are made by stamping the sticker from below. The dimples seem to be just like those on normal FingerWorks? products, so thatís another hint that their surfaces may also be stickers.

Click to enlarge. Click to enlarge. These two pictures are meant to show you how little of the surface is hidden by the overlap of the DigiTouch?; itís 2-3 millimeters on each edge. This overlap is necessary to keep the MacNTouch? from falling out, but Stenovations have been careful to make it as small as possible. In effect, only the extreme edges are hidden and it shouldnít bother you at all unless you often hit the edges of your TouchStream? as well. The opening is 26,7cm wide and 10,0cm high.

Click to enlarge. Now letís take a look at the DigiTouch? enclosure. This is what makes it possible to use the MacNTouch? internal boards as separate keyboards, so itís an important piece of the total product! Available colors are black, white, and red. Though the photos may not fully show it, my sample is a pure glossy white and it probably goes excellently with a Mac. The material is about 2 millimeters thick so it appears sturdy but also lightweight. There are two shallow indentations (1,3x7,1cm) that were meant to hold Stenovations company and product logos but these will be missing on the units that we can buy.

Click to enlarge. The opening for the MacNTouch? is about 5cm from the front and rear edges, and this might become my only real gripe about the DigiTouch? because the front area is a little too short for a palm rest but a little too long to ignore. It might be comfy though, as it provides some point of reference so your hands donít drift as you type. Time will tell if this is a problem or not. The rear part holds the internal USB cable and the USB plug adaptor but I canít help but wonder why the front was needed. Maybe itís just aesthetically pleasing that itís symmetrical.

Click to enlarge. The enclosure is shaped a little like a wedge, the height being 1,8cm in the front and 2,3cm in the rear. Overall width is 30,6cm and depth is 20,3cm. There is a standard full-size USB socket on the rear end of the right-hand side of the DigiTouch?, and a cable is provided that has a standard full-size USB plug in both ends.

Click to enlarge. Click to enlarge. The underside has a big shallow indentation where the rubber pad goes. There is no margin for error, so you will have to be very careful when you stick this on. In particular, make sure that you donít stretch the pad while you pull off the paper, because the pad might become too long. If you donít get a perfect fit, the DigiTouch? might not rest flat on the table! This would be less trouble if the pad were 2mm smaller on both sides, but Iím not sure you want to cut the pad in advance just to be sure. Otherwise, just buy four soft rubber pads and put one in each corner.

Click to enlarge. On this shot you can see the USB plug adapter for the internal USB cable.

Click to enlarge. The nine screws are TORX size 8, and the two that currently hold the empty enclosure closed are the reason why all the photos show that I havenít assembled it yet. Size 8 is unusually small and not your standard household fare Ė the smallest bit in an ordinary set is size 10. But Stenovations didnít expect or even want their DigiTouch? customers to go under the hood, so this choice is perfectly natural. You might want to either get a TORX 8 bit today or find different screws to use instead (but you still need to remove the two TORX screws present in the empty enclosure). I ran out of alternative tools to try, and I donít want to damage the screws so I wonít be able to open the enclosure. My local hardware store is fresh out of size 8 (really!), so I need some time to go hunting for it elsewhere so I can assemble the unit and finish my review!

Click to enlarge. Finally, thereís also a very exclusive black fleece pouch with silver embroidery. (It is black, never mind the photo color.) I think that gives an indication about how serious Stenovations were about putting a high-quality product on the market. Yes, itís just a pouch ... but just look at it!

This has answered many of your questions about the hardware, but you posted other questions as well. Here are the facts I have:

  • There is no price fixed yet. Eric mentioned about USD 300 but that is not official, and you should add freight and taxes, especially to Europe.
  • The DigiTouch? works with Windows, Mac, and Linux, just like regular FingerWorks? products.
  • You can plug 2 of these babies into 1 computer and do left-handed gestures on one and right-handed gestures on the other. Two-handed gestures have to be done on either one of them.

This was the first part of my review, concerning the parts. A second part will be published when I have it assembled and collected some user experience to share.

Yours truly,
Torben Gundtofte-Bruun 27. Feb. 2007

Part 2: First impressions

Here is the second part of my review! These are my first impressions of typing on the DigiTouch?:

Some comments to start off with: The surface does seem rather small at first, but then again that's because it is. In the first part of my review, I measured that the MacNTouch? is 6cm narrower than the TSLP. I keep touching the borders of the enclosure. It probably takes a little getting used to, but then if you had a MacNTouch? installed in a laptop (the way it was meant) then you would probably experience the same thing.

I'm typing this text on the DigiTouch? of course. One thing that it notice is that I often type "b" or "m" instead of the Space key, probably because the Space key is so terribly close to the frame. Sometimes I don't get a character at all. Same goes for "x" instead of the Backspace key.

I'm glad I just taught myself the Dvorak layout, because more keys are on home row and that helps me drift less. Drifting away from the home row keys is the number one reason why zero-touch typing is so dang hard. I have not been using my TSLP for a while (because it's easier to learn Dvorak on a real keyboard, for one thing) so I have to take a moment to get used to zero-force typing again. Am I drifting from the home row keys?

It quickly becomes apparent that the hand rests on the TSLP are absolutely necessary. To keep from drifting, I have to rest my palms on the front edge of the enclosure. Though that edge is somewhat rounded, it may become an edge that will make my hands sore. The surface of the DigiTouch? in front of the MacNTouch? is either too short or too long. It might have been nice to make it 5cm longer so you could stick a flat gel pad on there a la the TSLP. on the other hand, perhaps I'm just being a little too touchy about it. I'm sure I can get used to it and it's certainly nothing to dump the DigiTouch? for!

The mouse speed seems to be on the slow side. Is that an effect of using essentially a Mac mouse on a Windows computer? I have maxed out the mouse speed in the FW software. I hesitate to change the mouse speed of Windows itself because it would mess me up when I use the real mouse that I still have attached.

Gosh it's good to be writing on a non-staggered layout again! Like on TSLP, the MacNTouch? has the keys arranged straight over each other, not each row shifted slightly to a side. That is one thing that really annoys me on a regular keyboard.

Okay so by now I've written a couple of hundred words. What is my immediate verdict? This absolutely works! The MacNTouch? does seem a little cramped compared to a TSLP, but note that I said MacNTouch? and not DigiTouch?. Stenovations have done an excellent job with the DigiTouch? enclosure, that's for sure. The material is good, the finish immaculate. If you want a super-transportable TouchStream?, then get a DigiTouch?. It gives you all the benefits of a TSLP at the slight expense of the smaller size. If you can live with that, you'll be all happy with a DigiTouch?.

Yours truly,
Torben Gundtofte-Bruun 2. Mar. 2007

Part 3: Assembly

The sensor array fits snugly in the bottom half of the plastic shell, and just putting the upper half on top and screwing them together holds the sensor array in place.

Click to enlarge. The internal ribbon cable is more than long enough to reach from the MacNTouch? to the USB-to-USB connector in the corner of the DigiTouch?, but because you can't fold such a ribbon cable like a strip of paper, this slack is very useful. I did some careful experimentation and found this way of wrapping the cable (see photo) to be best. There is ample room in the enclosure for the cable to loop like this. (A side benefit is that the "USB" logo faces upward on the external cable you're going to attach. Almost all USB cables are black and one often tries to insert the plug upside down. I always paint the "USB" logo white-on-black so it becomes easy to see what way is right.)

There was a Post-It on the sensor array labeled "top" with an arrow pointing up. This was supposed to help me assemble it the right way round. But by mistake this helpful Post-It was in fact upside-down... on the test assembly the board didn't seem to work right until I discovered the mistake: "Esc" was in the lower-right corner! So let it be known that the proper orientation of the board is with the cable on the right half. Don't make this mistake when you stick the sticker onto the sensor array!

Click to enlarge. I tried to see if I could fit the sticker in place without actually sticking it on the sensor surface, but I found that it really has to be "stickered" on for real. I think it is a sticker because it has to be a sticker - if there were another solution then FingerWorks? and DigiTouch? would have done that instead. But here's what I tried: First I just laid the sticker in place, but there is nothing to hold it in place so that didn't work at all (see photo). Then I tried taping it to the top half of the enclosure from the inside, but the sticker's back side is a kind of paper that tape just doesn't stick to. Tape will stick to the front of the sticker though: tape on sticker front, wraps around edge of sensor array and sticks to reverse side of sensor array. That actually works - sort of. The sticker stays in place and it looks just fine because the tape is invisible. But I often get strange behavior from the MacNTouch? as I type and gesture, and I can't determine if this is caused by the sticker not being firmly attached to the sensor surface, or caused by something else. I haven't yet stickered it onto the surface for real because I hesitate to do something so final just yet, but I don't think that there's any way around this. It has to be stickered on.

UPDATED (Eventually I did really stick the sticker onto the sensor surface, and that got rid of the erratic behaviour I mentioned.)

The two halves of the enclosure are a perfect fit, so they need to be carefully aligned and pressed against each other before screwing, otherwise there might be some gaps along the seam.

The non-slip pad on the underside doesn't stick too well to my desk, so I got four small non-slip stickers and put one in each corner. Now the DigiTouch? stays put.

Assembly complete. Stick the surface on the sensor, plug and loop the cable, and screw the screws. That's it, it really is that simple.

Now let's take another look at what Windows (or Mac or Linux) sees: Remember that the DigiTouch? just lets us use a MacNTouch? on any computer, so of course the FingerWorks? utilities report that a MacNTouch? is connected. In the first part of the review, I described some of the differences between a MacNTouch? and a TouchStream?, most notably the smaller size and resulting missing keys.

One thing that confused me was that when setting the MacNTouch? in the Dvorak mode, the result was utterly garbled, but it's my mistake: I have a Dvorak keyboard driver installed, and a normal keyboard on which I have manually moved the keytops around. Using a Dvorak layout and also using the MacNTouch? Dvorak setting effectively rearranges the keys twice - no wonder the result was totally garbled! So I installed the normal "US English" layout in Windows, and now the MacNTouch? works properly with whatever layout you select in the FW utility.

The lesson here is that you must use the "US English" layout in Windows, not Dvorak. And Windows is known for being extremely bad at handling multiple layouts at the same time: it will often switch to the other layout and confuse you. If Windows were better at handling multiple layouts, this might not be an issue. I am told that multiple layouts work well on Mac. I don't know on Linux but I'd assume it is also better there than on Windows.

So I must limit myself to the "US English" layout. If you're using "US English" anyway (as practically all Americans are) then there's no problem. But Europeans with international characters, and people with Dvorak keyboards, might find themselves in trouble because of this. At least for me, it means I can't use both the MacNTouch? and my Dvorak keyboard on the same computer without replacing the keyboard driver all the time.

That means that for some people, in particular Europeans and Dvorak typists using Windows, the DigiTouch? may not be as portable as we have thought. Of course the product as such is still superportable: If you have one DigiTouch? and you carry it between home and work - and you don't have other keyboards connected - then everything is fine! Your troubles only start if you use Windows and run more than one layout.

International users will have some minor challenges anyway: mapping their international characters onto the US English surface. But again this is nothing new, it's just a little harder because the MacNTouch? has fewer keys than the TouchStream? does, so it might be harder to find a spot for each extra character. (My challenge is double because living in Austria but being Danish, I need two sets of extra characters; the German umlauts šŲŁ and the Nordic śÝŚ ones, plus uppercase versions.) As long as I only need to write in English, all is well.

I'm now going to try to use the DigiTouch? in Dvorak mode, with a "US English" Windows driver, and see how I can map my international characters on top.

Yours truly,
Torben Gundtofte-Bruun 10. Mar. 2007


ken gray 11.mar.2007: i was wondering if only tearing off the sticker "paper" on the sides would be enough to hold it on the board.

Yes, that would certainly hold it in place, but it's essentially the same as using tape as I have done. I think the strange behavior comes from the tiny space (air) between the sticker and the sensor array. To remove that, you need to stick it on the entire area.

nomaded 11.mar.2007: You can fold the usb cable with a crease, like paper. That's how the cable is installed on my PowerBook?.
Folding this type of cable with a hard crease is generally not recommended because the crease might break the metal on the ribbon. It might be safer just to loop it anyway.

nomaded 11.mar.2007: You can leave the MacNTouch? in Qwerty/Sholes and have Windows use the Dvorak layout, so you can use your other Qwerty keyboards with a Dvorak layout. I don't typically do this because of Window's inconsistant application of the software Dvorak layout. Also, many Windows games have the Qwerty/Sholes layout hardcoded.

What a simple idea, and yet I didn't think of it. Thanks for that tip!

deklund 23.mar.2007: I didn't see on your review whether or not the Digitouch worked immediately when you plugged it in to your windows box. I received mine today and it did not work when I plugged in the USB (on three separate machines). I called up Eric and he said that I have to install software. I just want to know if you had to install software.

It did indeed work immediataly -- but I had the FW software installed already! At my old workplace my TSLP worked without software, pure USB plug-and-play. But I am not sure of the details anymore.

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