TypeMatrix, a year or so on

It’s almost exactly a year since I bought a TypeMatrix keyboard, and I think it’s time for a review.

The good? The key travel is good (if ending with a jarring feeling and, especially with the latex skin, a little stiff). The keyboard layout is very good (not quite optimal, but a massive improvement on the usual typewriter-derived layout). And it has built-in Colemak support, which has saved me a few times when using a computer without the Colemak layout set up.

The bad: captive cable. Oh, and it recently broke. I was cleaning some keycaps with a slightly damp cloth, and a very small amount of water (and cif) got onto one of the traces, resulting in several non-working keys. The TypeMatrix support people offered me a half-price replacement, but no repair or free replacement since I’m responsible for the water damage.

Dismantling the keyboard, the damage on the electrical traces was obvious, but repairing them hasn’t turned out easy (I may buy a circuit pen off ebay; aluminium foil is conductive but doesn’t make a good contact with the traces). What I can see, having dismantled the thing, is why TypeMatrix don’t offer to repair keyboards: to get the thing apart I had to break off a lot of plastic lugs, and if I ever get the circuit traces repaired I’m still going to have a job putting the keyboard back together properly.

Hence, I’m in two minds about the TypeMatrix. It’s a lot nicer to use than a standard keyboard, but it’s not well constructed (if you ever have to take it apart).

As a quick comparison, I’m typing now on a Logitech G11 keyboard (fairly standard full-size layout except for an extra block of keys on the left, with cheap membrane keys with a lot of travel and cushy/squashy feel). The keys themselves are a little worse; if anything I think the force required to press them is less, but they have long travel and more friction if you don’t press them exactly square (which is common for me). In terms of layout, though, my first thoughts were “wow, I can’t remember ever having used such a *bad* layout”! (To tell the truth, I have been using my ThinkPad’s keyboard too recently, and that doesn’t seem so bad, perhaps because the key tops are larger and travel shorter.) The row one up from the home row is better oriented for the right hand at the cost of being worse oriented for the left; nothing serious. The number row above are almost one whole key to the left of where I’m used to them being. Wierd. But worst, the bottom row is positioned such that I often can’t work out which finger is the best one to use (especially for ‘z’ and ‘x’).

Now, I get the feeling most people aren’t nearly as bothered by bad keyboards as I am, but, if you frequently use a computer at a desk and ever find typing uncomfortable, I’d recommend trying a keyboard with keys arranged in straight vertical columns.

As to what, though, finding recommendations is unfortunately rather hard. Jarred Walton at AnandTech has recently reviewed a few, most recently the ErgoDox. All three he reviewed look quite good to use, but all three cost close to $300 (by the time you include shipping to Europe at least), and the last one requires some DIY (at least, to get the most out of it). Besides those and the TypeMatrix keyboards, the only others I’m aware of are ones intended for point-of-sale (i.e. cashiers). Why aren’t there more options? Seriously?


About dhardy

A software developer who landed in Switzerland, I love conjecturing over a few things computer-related, open collaboration, and quietly promoting linux/KDE as a desktop OS.
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