Chording Keyers

I’m considering buying a chording keyer. A keyer is a 1-handed text input device. Chording means that you can hit more than 1 key at a time. I’ve been interested in these for a long time actually. They’ve been popular in the wearable computing (“cyborg”) field, but never caught on anywhere else. I’ve always thought that 1-handed chording keyer would be a great input device to use with a cell phone. It’d be even better with a heads-up display like the Google Glass.

There are quite a few chording keyers available. It doesn’t appear that any will meet exactly what I’m really looking for, but I might take the leap anyway. It should be a hand-held device. I really want a Bluetooth device, so I can use it with a computer, phone, or tablet. Below are the ones I’m considering.

Twiddler

The Twiddler has been around quite a while, as probably the main commercially available keyer for wearable computing. There was a time that it was unavailable, but there’s a new version available from HandyKey now. It’s $200 ($220 Canadian), and comes in only USB.

The Twiddler looks like a small TV remote. The current version (2.1) has 4 thumb keys, a thumb joystick (for mouse), and 12 small finger keys. It has good community support, including an alternate chord layout.

In10did Decatxt

In10did has been trying to bring out a few variations of their devices. The Decatxt looks like a pack of cigarettes, with 8 keys on the front and 2 thumb keys. It can be used with 1 or 2 hands. All letters can be typed with 1 finger or 1 thumb and 1 finger.

The Decatxt has USB and Bluetooth models, but I’m unable to find pricing or a way to buy one. It looks like there have been no updates for over a year, so I’m concerned that this is going to be vaporware.

CyKey

The CyKey is based on the Microwriter, which goes back to the early 1980s. The Microwriter was a desktop-based device, but it looks like the CyKey might be able to be used as a hand-held device. It has 9 buttons on the face, arranged in 3 groups of 3 buttons.

The CyKey is $125 (£75) and works over InfraRed connected to USB. A Bluetooth model is supposedly in the works.

EkaPad

The EkaPad is like a cross between the Decatxt and the Twiddler. It has 12 buttons on the face, but no thumb keys. It’s got a nice well-thought-out design that looks quite ergonomic.

The EkaPad is $150, available in USB only. A desktop holder is available to hold it upright, or it can be used hand-held.

FrogPad

The FrogPad is meant to be used on a flat surface only. It looks kind of like a third of a laptop keyboard. It’s got 15 regular keys and 5 modifier keys. Only 1 key and 1 modifier can be chorded. Right-handed and left-handed models are available, with USB connectivity.

The FrogPad2 was recently announced, replacing the original FrogPad. It switches to standard desktop-style keys, and adds some more keys along the top. It supports USB On-the-Go and Bluetooth. I’m not really interested in this model with its regular keys, but it doesn’t appear that the original version is being made any longer. The new models are priced at $200. I believe the old models were $150.

Chordite

The Chordite looks the most promising, but it’s only a concept with some DIY prototypes. It’s a hand-held device, with 2 buttons on each of the 4 fingers — one activated by the distal phalanx and the other by the middle phalanx. This initially sounds like it would be difficult to press 2 different buttons with 1 finger, but I think the way they’re positioned would make it actually work really well.

Septambic Keyer

The septambic keyer is another DIY concept, hand-built and used by wearable computing folks. It’s fitted to your palm, and you squeeze your fingers toward a fist to activate the buttons. There’s one button for each of the 4 fingers, and 3 for the thumb.

Clove 2

The Clove 2 is a Bluetooth-enabled glove with 5 buttons — 1 for each finger. It’s another do-it-yourself project.

Software Options

I found an interesting project called ASETNIOP that allows chording on a standard Qwerty keyboard. (Assuming the keyboard supports multi-key roll-over well enough. Most keyboards should work.) It’s got a really nice online interactive tutorial. You basically chord with the 8 home-row keys, plus the spacebar.

For Android, a program called GKOS for Android uses multi-touch with 1 or 2 button presses. The buttons are different sizes, depending on their frequency. I like this concept, but I don’t think the implementation is quite ready for production.

I also found an app for iOS called Nintype that is a combination between Swype and a chording keyer.

Conclusion

I think I’m going to try the Twiddler. If I find the concept to be a good one, hopefully I’ll build myself a Chordite (or have someone build one for me).

I’m also going to play with implementing some of the ideas from ASETNIOP, using KeyRemap4MacBook.