I made a short post in another thread about this keyboard recently, but I've finished my formal review and wanted to share it here.
I have long held the opinion that the aspect of computing which is most in need of improvement is input devices. The keyboard which is the current standard is a perfect example of something which would never exist if it weren't for inertia. The evolution of the keyboard has been basically unchanged for over 80 years, since the days of the mechanical typewriter. Various attempts have been made to correct this, but all have fallen by the wayside, doomed to be a marginal player at best due to low adoption rates. These rates are most likely due to the high cost of these keyboards, owing to the high cost of production for small companies with a vision. Most keyboards praised by geeks and those suffering from RSI injuries cost in the hundreds of dollars.
The TypeMatrix EZ-Reach 2030 caught my attention because of the non-staggered keys and small size. I decided to try it out in my continuing quest for a keyboard which is actually designed for the human hands and wrists. Over the past three weeks I've used the 2030 for writing, coding, and generic keyboarding tasks. I'm sharing my findings in the hopes that I might help others who are looking for a replacement for the dinosaur droppings on their desks.
At first glance, the EZ-Reach 2030 is a sleek, nice-looking board. Its small form factor leaves more room on the desk for your pointing device, and fits well in a lap. The keys are full-sized, but there are fewer of them than on standard keyboards. This is partially due to the fact that the dedicated number pad is accessed by using the Num Lock and the gray number section of the keyboard. However, dedicated Home, End, and arrow keys are available full-time. The color-scheme of the board is attention-getting, with some gray keys, one red key (Delete), and blue labels for the dual-labeled keys, such as the number pad and special functions. However, the colorful board isn't distracting once you start typing, because it's so easy to use that you don't have to look at it.
TypeMatrix has introduced a unique feature among keyboards -- the centrally-located Enter and Backspace keys. Suprisingly, within a day it felt natural to reach for them instead of extending my smallest finger and I kept reaching for them after I took my unplugged laptop into another room. The idea is simple -- use the stronger fingers to reach for commonly used keys rather than the weaker ones. It is one of the central ideas used by August Dvorak when he developed the Simplified Keyboard Layout in the 1930s, and I think it's a good one.
Now my favorite feature -- the non-staggered keys. The earliest typewriters were designed with the keys staggered to make room for the mechanics underneath. For some reason, in 2005 most people still reach at angles to hit the keys outside the home row. With the 2030, the hands basically stay in one place without twisting around reaching, while the fingers travel straight up and down in a straight line. I am especially excited about this because, for the first time in over 14 years of touch-typing, I am touch-typing numbers! I can't say enough about the non-staggered layout, and I hope that all keyboard manufacturers will eventually adopt this as a standard.
Of course, the non-staggered keys and central Enter and Backspace keys took some getting used to. But not much. In my case, it was about a half-day of normal cubicle dwelling before I wasn't thinking about it anymore. In fact, after using the squared-off grid of keys, I now have trouble finding the bottom two keys at each end of a "normal" keyboard -- they're in such weird positions!
Now for the stuff I didn't love. The Alt key is no longer immediately to the side of the space bar. I use the Alt+Space combination all the time for a great app called AppRocket, which finds files, folders, and programs with a couple of keystrokes, so I never have to use desktop icons or the Windows "Start" menu. I use a similar application for the Mac, called LaunchBar. The Ctrl key is on the lower left of the board, with the Alt next, then a small Shift key. There are also double-height Shift keys on each end of the keyboard, just outside the letter keys. The odd position of the Alt key also makes Alt+Tab less convenient, causing me to pick up my hand to use it. TypeMatrix added a "Shuffle" key to the left of the Space bar which is the equivalent of Alt+Tab. This may make up for the inconvenience for people using PS/2 connections, but with a USB adapter (which comes free with the keyboard), the scrolling through applications is too fast to be usable. I've tested with another PS/2 to USB adapter I had lying around, and it's definitely related to using a USB adapter.
The keyboard comes with a PS/2 cable attached, and there is no USB-only model. However, a high-quality PS/2 to USB adapter is included which includes two PS/2 inputs so both the keyboard and a mouse can be attached. While I would prefer a USB model, especially because it's 2005 and I'm also a Mac user, I can understand that the need to be compatible with 100% of people outweighed being on the cutting edge of hardware. And the free adapter (which is probably worth about 20 bucks), shows that TypeMatrix is aware of the situation and doing everything they can to make their product a good choice for people other than geeks.
The Caps Lock key is at the top center of the keyboard. The Ins key is to the far right. I love this, because I never hit those keys intentionally, and the further away from my hands they are (preferably off of the keyboard entirely) the better. Despite the center Backspace key, there is a second Backspace key right about where you expect it with your right little-finger. I still hit it maybe once or twice a day, and it's nice to have it. However, I expect to stop using it entirely sooner or later.
The keys surrounding the central Enter and Backspace keys have a very tiny ridge along the edge of the key closest to the center, presumably to help your fingers avoid reaching too far for a letter and hitting one of the center keys. Personally, I didn't find this too useful, because I type either too quickly or too lightly to notice them. But they don't bother me either, so I think it's probably a nice touch that some people will find very helpful.
The Fn key allows special features to be used, including shortcuts for Cut, Copy, and Paste. Also, an additional Home, End, and set of arrow keys are available within the normal letter-typing area. However, I didn't find either Fn key to be in a convenient spot which would allow me to take advantage of the special editing keys while touch-typing. If this key were moved or maybe programmable, then this keyboard could rival the Happy Hacking Keyboard in terms of keeping the fingers over the home keys instead of lifting them to another position or a pointing device.
My 2030 is the Dvorak model, which is labeled in Dvorak but switchable by the function key to be able to be used in either the Simplified Keyboard Layout (Dvorak) or QWERTY. Oddly, the keyboard is QWERTY by default. Even more oddly, I like it that way. The reason is that the two machines I use most often are laptops. So I have the OS set to Dvorak, allowing me to use the built-in keyboards if I have to. And the ability to take advantage of the hard-wired layout change helps when it comes to typing my password to log into a Windows machine, or when using a DOS utility or a simple command-line Linux interface to fix a problem on another machine.
My overall impression of this keyboard is that it's small, nice-looking, and I love typing on it. There are a few things I'm not in love with, such as the odd placement of the Alt and Fn keys, and the fact that -- for the Mac -- the Cmd (Apple) key is in a weird place. But the non-staggered layout really has me held fast. I'm hoping they'll come out with a Mac version or -- even better -- a version with jumpers to allow re-mapping of a handful of important keys, like the Happy Hacking keyboard had. At the moment, this keyboard is entirely plug & play -- there are no special drivers required, nor does the company even produce any.
I recommend this keyboard to anyone who isn't happy with the norm, and with a $110 pricetag, it's pretty cheap compared to the other "alternative" keyboards out there. The manufacturer's website is TypeMatrix.com.