My review of an alternative -- the TypeMatrix 2030.

Comments specifically about the keyboard devices.

Moderator: The00Dustin

Postby ivanw » 11 Sep 2006, 14:20

This is a good addition to the effective way to look at the issues behind the scene. Staggering and jamming are two historical issues that make sense about QWERTY layout. These are facts. It's always good to start from facts because these are what supports any argumentation.

As a result, this makes “no justification for staggered keys layout" even more obvious. Both underlying issues addressed by the current layout are out of the way... What remains is not something that concerns TS users. Those are known to be ready to part from common usage. They are not concerned by marketing justification as manufacturers are. An obsolete "standard" has no merit for a significant technological step introduced by FingerWorks or AlphaGrip.
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Postby Cerin » 11 Sep 2006, 14:42

You've all raised good points, and I'd probably concede the point that there's no modern justification for the staggered layout. However, we've not established the lack of a staggered layout holds any advantages of its own. The only rationale I've seen for buying the Touchmatrix is asthetics (it does look cool) and elitism (few other people are using it). That's not enough for me.

If we're looking for better alternatives, we should look for products that implement one of the Touchstream's best features, zero-force typing. To that end, I'm going to give Celluon's Laserkey a try.
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Postby TorbenGB » 11 Sep 2006, 16:26

Cerin wrote:I'm going to give Celluon's Laserkey a try.

I've had doubts about the practicality of such a "virtual keyboard" since they were first mentioned in 2002. Please do give us a review of it when you've got it! We're curious and always hungry to learn about alternatives.

For others, here is a photo of the Laserkey Cerin is mentioning: http://ivory.vnunet.com/images/hardware ... /large.gif
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Postby Cerin » 11 Sep 2006, 17:10

TorbenGB wrote:I've had doubts about the practicality of such a "virtual keyboard" since they were first mentioned in 2002. Please do give us a review of it when you've got it! We're curious and always hungry to learn about alternatives.


Yeah, I have my reservations as well, but my RSI has forced my hand (no pun intended). I almost exclusively use Linux, so driver support will probably be my biggest problem. What doubts have you had about the technology? Even though it doesn't have gesture recognition, I don't see it being any harder to learn basic typing than with the Touchstream.

TorbenGB wrote:For others, here is a photo of the Laserkey Cerin is mentioning: http://ivory.vnunet.com/images/hardware ... /large.gif

Actually, I'm going with Celluon, not i.Tech: http://www.celluon.com/products/laserkey.htm?sm=2_1
They both use the same technology, but Celluon is allegedly of higher quality. The only problem is they're a Korean company so their availability in the U.S. is limited.
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Postby TorbenGB » 11 Sep 2006, 18:41

Cerin wrote:What doubts have you had about the technology?

Since you ask: It seems to me that the device essentially "films" your fingers, so in order to type, it must be able to see each finger touch the surface, and do so quickly enough to keep up with your typing speed. I can only imagine that it works by not actually looking at your fingers but rather at what part of the projected keyboard image is being blocked by your fingers.

Obviously, there must be a lot more to it than just that, but for simplicity's sake, let's just assume that is all. I think such technology is easy to make, if it's only required to follow a single finger typing one key at a time, at maybe up to two characters per second.

If you would like to use a two-finger combo like Ctrl-C (copy) only using your left hand, chances are the camera wouldn't even see you pressing Ctrl because your hand and other fingers are in the way.
To compare: at least the TS can feel the touch on the surface. Granted, the TS also has trouble with such two-finger combos unless you do it a lot slower than on a regular keyboard.

It's a fact for most of us that the typing speed on a TS is less than 80% of our speed on a normal keyboard, and the error rate is higher due to lack of touch feedback. I can't imagine that the typing speed of a virtual keyboard can reach anywhere near the values of a TS, not to mention the speed on a normal keyboard.

Okay, the reason for using a not-normal keyboard is often RSI, so there's no real use in comparing with a normal keyboard. But still, there are other factors like how annoying it is when it doesn't recognize or misinterprets your entries, as well as simply whether your general writing speed is enough to satisfy your needs. -- These things are a very real reason why I love my TS but some/much of the time I actually use a normal keyboard after all! It's just faster and I'm too impatient, though at the same time I sorely miss the gestures of the FW devices.

I'd be rightly impressed if you can tell me that a virtual keyboard can match the TS (leaving aside the gestures, of course). So if or when you're able to write us a review, please do!
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Postby Cerin » 11 Sep 2006, 21:57

TorbenGB wrote:Since you ask: It seems to me that the device essentially "films" your fingers, so in order to type, it must be able to see each finger touch the surface, and do so quickly enough to keep up with your typing speed. I can only imagine that it works by not actually looking at your fingers but rather at what part of the projected keyboard image is being blocked by your fingers.

[snip]


You've got the right idea. However, let me clarify a few points. It uses a camera employing something called electronic perception technology. Where a normal camera just records 2D data (pixels), EPT records 3D data by also measuring depth. Canesta has a good illustration of this on their website (http://www.canesta.com/). I'm fairly certain the device can detect multiple keypresses (I don't see how it couldn't and call itself a keyboard).

Like you mentioned, I suppose there might be a problem if one finger obscured another, but I have a feeling such cases are extremely rare, if not physically impossible. For example, if you pressed 't' with one finger, and then 'g' with another, it might not see the 'g' press, but then you'd be using two fingers for two keys which would normally be handled by a single finger. In other words, that's a contrived example that would never happen during real-world usage.

Another potential problem might be in how fast it can process images, but Celluon claims it can handle up to 400 characters per minute. That's roughly equivalent to someone typing 60 wpm with an average word length of 7 (i.e. 5 is more the norm), so I don't think it's recognition rate will be a problem. As you mentioned, the difficulty touch-typing will probably be the biggest limiting factor, but again, that's not too dissimilar from using a Touchstream.
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Postby The00Dustin » 13 Sep 2006, 23:51

Cerin,
I don't disagree with you on either of your points (1: lacking physical feedback, typing is more difficult 2: the typematrix certainly looks like the two sides are painfully close together), however, I thought you should know that the benefit of non-staggerd keys on the TouchStream keyboards is that they are in line with your fingers moving forward and back, whereas on a regular keyboard (not ergonomic), they certainly aren't staggered enough to simplify your finger movement. I have also seen it argued that ergonomic keyboards would be more ergonomic if they weren't staggered because the staggering makes them too angled. I don't know about how true either of those arguments are, but I can say that I am definietly touch-typing faster on my non-staggered Dvorak TS than I was on a std qwerty with physical feedback, and the physical feedback didn't really lessen the number of errors I made either, hehe, which isn't to say that I don't make a lot, blc I do. Anyway, I just thought you might want to know a few more arguments from the past (back when these were still in production, actually). Since they aren't in production and the prices are sometimes insane, you may be all the wiser to try the laser thing out. Regardless, if you go that route, I definitely want to hear feedback from you after you've used it for a while.
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Postby Cerin » 23 Sep 2006, 21:49

I ended up evaluating both the <a href="http://celluon.com/products/laserkey.htm?sm=2_1">Celluon Laserkey CL800BT</a> and the <a href="http://www.itechdynamic.com/en/products_spec.asp?cid=7&pid=07010">I-Tech Virtual Keyboard</a>. My overall impression is that unless you're desperately in need of zero-force typing, neither projection keyboard is an adequate substitute for a "normal" PC keyboard. However, the I-Tech ends up being the more functional device.

Basics

Both keyboards use the same technology. The keyboard image is projected onto a flat surface using a laser mounted at the top of the device. An infrared light source is emitted from the middle of the device. At the very bottom is a sensor that detects the infrared light reflected off your fingers as you type, allowing it to determine what key you pressed. Both devices allow you adjust sensitivity, or how close your finger gets to the surface before the device registers a key press. Both devices can detect simultaneous key presses as long as the fingers pressing both keys are visible to the sensor, which are the vast majority of combinations. The brightness of the projected image can be adjusted on both devices. However, neither device allows you to change the projected image itself.

Size

At 11.5", the width of I-Tech's projected image is about the same as a normal full-sized keyboard. At only 9.5", the width of Celluon's is almost too small and cramped to use. The heights are both about 4", although Celluon squeezes in a sixth row for application keys, making the remaining rows even smaller.

Layout

Despite its small size, Celluon's layout is closer to that of a normal keyboard, and is therefore a little easier to get used to than the I-Tech. However, a huge caveat is that the Celluon device has no ALT key! I was so confused by this, especially since the left-hand side has plenty of room for an extra couple keys, that I emailed Celluon, asking where the ALT key was. They confirmed that the CL800BT has no ALT key, but the CL850BT coming out in a few months might have one. I'm not holding my breath.

The I-Tech takes more liberties with re-arraigning keys to fit in the trapezoidal projection area, especially with the punctuation keys, half of which are on the opposite side from their original positions. The SHIFT keys are also resized and placed so far to the sides that they're very hard to reach without moving your fingers from the home row.

I would have posted a picture, to help illustrate their layouts, but the brightness of the laser light made the image come out far too blurry to be useful.

Drivers

Even though both devices require special drivers for configuring on-board settings like key sensitivity and projection brightness, the I-Tech supports the Bluetooth HID interface, allowing basically any platform that supports Bluetooth to use it as a keyboard (including Linux). The CL800BT only supports SPP, requiring a custom driver for each platform.

Sound

The I-Tech has a built-in beeper to simulate a key press "click". The Celluon uses the host's speakers to produce a click sound by playing a wav file. This also gives you the freedom to use a custom sound effect. However, depending on your typing speed and the performance of your system, the sound effect may not be in sync with the actual key press.

Mousing

One of the few advantages the Celluon device has over I-Tech is the mouse feature. By pressing a special mouse key, the entire board acts like a mouse pad, allowing you to move your mouse just by moving a finger around the projection area. Pressing the mouse key again toggles the device back into keyboard mode.

Conclusion

The basic problem with both devices is that they're geared more towards small mobile devices like cell phones and PDAs, where the only competition are mini-keyboards where the user typically doesn't require all the normal PC keyboard functionality.

Furthermore, a problem with the Celluon Laserkey is that they seemed to have spent most of their effort on marketing and product display, and less on making a useful, functioning keyboard. The look and feel of the Celluon device oozes quality, but the actual features fall short in comparison to the I-Tech.
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Postby ivanw » 23 Sep 2006, 23:52

Thanks so much Cerin, for this clean and wide sighted review! It makes a nicely tuned appreciation as opposed to descriptions of these devices as some more of those many gadgets.

These will remain gadgets for who don't know one can effectively type on a FingerWorks keyboard and we know better. This makes available reviews meaningless short of coming from a FW-aware author.

These are not for whom ever had to do with a TouchStream keyboard... We have become accustomed to a higher level, both for purpose and quality... not mentioning gestures, customization and so much more...!
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