incise.org: typematrix review

My experiences with the TypeMatrix keyboard

[http://typematrix.com]

A few pictures of my own (The things on the sides are the rubber feet; I took them off the bottom so it didn't wobble when it was half hanging off the edge of the desk)

Initial Overview

I've been casually using the keyboard for a few hours now, and here are my thoughts thus far:

The good

  • All of the features touted on their site. If you're reading this page, then you've probably already been to the typematrix site and are familiar with the keyboard. If not, read up!
  • The keyboard is a lot thinner than I thought; it's probably less than a half inch thick.
  • Very solid feel. It's essentially a laptop keyboard, and I like the feel of laptop keyboards. It's also structurally strong, and doesn't flex much, unlike many keyboards.
  • The keys and typematrix logo are aesthetically pleasing.
  • Their staff seems very friendly. I emailed them with a question before ordering, and received a quick response.

The weird or interesting

  • What's up with the bright red delete key?
  • The alt-tab key is kinda spiffy. I'm not sure if I'll end up actually using it or not. (update: actually I hate the thing)
  • The "00" (double zero) key on the numpad just types a zero. Inspection with xev shows that it's seemingly identical to the numpad zero key, keycode and all. I'm not sure if it types two zeroes in windows, or if it's even supposed to.

What could be improved

This list is disproportionately larger than the good, because they already tell you most of the good things. You have to figure out the bad things by using it. I decided to call these "what could be improved" instead of "the bad," because none of them are really *that* bad.

  • It's not very sexy. The area above where the keys are is the ugliest,
  • with the little plastic ridges in the middle, and the area with the LEDs is ugly too. The keyboard isn't outright ugly, but it could be improved a bit.
  • Along the same lines, it would be cool if they had a black version.
  • It's ps/2 only, and the USB adapter is fifteen bucks! That's obscene, especially when the keyboard is already $100. Not a problem for most people though (including myself).
  • The home, end, pgup, and pgdn keys are on the F9 through F12 keys, and you have to hold the function key to use them. And to compound the issue, the function key is on the other end of the keyboard, requring both hands on the keyboard to access these keys. You can fix this pretty easily with xmodmap, though.
  • The cluster of 6 keys at bottom left could be better arranged. Ideally, the Alt and Application keys would be swapped. This might be specific to my hands.
  • The key layout could be further optimized. The left backspace seems like a total waste to me; I definitely don't imagine that I will be using it. I also wonder whether they could get away with only one of the space keys. I personally only use my right thumb for the space key, but I'm guessing some people use their left, or even both. But maybe forcing people to only use one would be a good thing, since they could relocate some keys to where the other space key was, and the other thumb could actually become useful instead of just sitting there.
  • I got the dual-labeled dvorak version, but the dvorak labels are really hard to see! They're this wimpy bright orange color, and on whitish keys, it's just hard to see. It's even worse on the darker grey keys to the right. Something like dark green or dark red would probably work well (the dark blue for function keys is very legible).
  • I'm used to the arrow keys being easy to identify, but they somewhat get lost in the other grey keys. It would be cool if they were a different color. In fact, I think more colors in general would be a good thing. The F-keys could get their own color, numbers could get a color, letters could get a color, punctuation a color, modifiers a color, etc etc. Locating things by color is much, much faster than reading symbols. But selling a fruit rollup keyboard might be more difficult. Locating keys will also probably get a lot faster as I get used to the keyboard.
  • Price - $100. Probably a necessary evil, considering this is a bit of a niche product.
  • Getting used to the layout

    I haven't done a ton of typing on the keyboard yet, but I have typed this page on it, and overall, it's not very hard to get used to. I do make mistakes fairly often, like hitting tab instead of "b", or confusing the x, c, and v keys, but I can't imagine that it will take very long to get back to normal.

    The HardwareCentral review reported to have a hard time adjusting to the center backspace and enter keys. I expected that to be the case, and I have reached for the old spots a few times, but it was actually pretty easy to get used to the new locations. They also reported having a problem with putting their hand in the wrong place on home row for 3 days - wow! I can't say I ever had that problem, as I tend to never look at the keyboard, and I use the little bumps on the f and k keys to position my hands. From the comments they make, it seems like they might not be touch typists, which I imagine would slow the learning process.

    Overall

    The keyboard is pretty much what I was expecting, which means that it's worth $100 to me. I probably would have even paid more for it. Hopefully the typematrix people are selling enough of these things to stay around, and hopefully they can make even cooler keyboards in the future!

    My rating: 9 out of 10


    Hacking

    Physical hacking

    Do this at your own risk! You're probably voiding the warranty.

    (Forgive my lack of a digicam)

    I wanted to swap some key caps, but you can't see under the keys, and it felt too risky to just blindly pry them off without seeing exactly how they attach to the keyboard. So I took the thing apart, which was pretty straightforward. There are 8 philips head screws on the bottom holding the keyboard together, and two smaller ones in the middle holding the middle strip in place. Unscrew them all, and the top half of the casing pulls off. The electronics are screwed into the bottom piece of the casing, and the keypad is attached to that via two ribbon cables. The keypad is metal on the bottom and plastic on top (you can't really take them apart), with the circuitry sandwiched in between.

    The key mechanisms are kind of interesting; they're definitely different from your average keyboard. They call them "double scissor" keys (">image), and I assume they are what's used on laptops, since the typematrix basically feels like a rearranged laptop keyboard. The keypad didn't appear to have a rubber membrane, it seemed to have individual little rubber nipples under each key.

    Anyways, to get the caps off, you basically just tug at the top and the bottom, and the two little clips on each will pop off. I did the bottoms and then the tops, but I doubt the order matters. The larger keys have the metal stabilizer bars too, so you need to make sure and get those back into their grooves.

    Swapping F9-F12 with Home/End/PgUp/PgDn

    Having Home/End/PgUp/PgDn relegated to Fn-keys is unacceptable, but thankfully, I don't use the F9-F12 keys at all, so swapping them fixes the problem. The following xmodmap code will swap them around:

    keycode 75 = Home
    keycode 76 = End
    keycode 95 = Prior
    keycode 96 = Next
    keycode 97 = F9
    keycode 103 = F10
    keycode 99 = F11
    keycode 105 = F12

    Exploiting all of those keys at bottom left

    You have Shift, Control, Alt, Super ("start" on the keyboard), Menu ("application"), and caps lock -- imagine what ridiculous key bindings you can come up with, now that you have all of these available! (Ok, maybe I'm the only one imagining it)

    The "Application" key

    I'm pretty sure this is supposed to be the "menu" key, but who cares about the menu key; we can make it another modifier! I decided to make it Hyper_L and mod3. You need this xmodmap code:

    keycode 117 = Hyper_L
    add mod3 = Hyper_L

    You also need to execute this to turn off repeating on the key:

    xset -r 117

    comments


    Nick Welch <nick@incise.org> · github · twitter