On a lark, I decided to give the TypeMatrix keyboard a try, having passed it up earlier in lieu of the Totally Ergonomic Keyboard. At a hundred bucks, it was a low-risk gamble, and I am ever-more curious about interesting, innovative, or just curious keyboards. Someday we'll look back on the age of keyboards as a novelty that betrays our technological unsophistication, but that age isn't here yet, and for the moment we are still largely glued to our keyboards, so why not experiment?
Off the bat, a few observations:
The thing costs less so it is no surprise to see it is not as well made as either the Totally Ergonomic Keyboard (TEK) or the Kinesis Ergo. But it's not a piece of junk, either: the keys are about the quality of a 2000-2003 era laptop, each slightly sculpted, with dimples on their surface to help your fingers find their way to important locations, like the home position. I typed on similar keys very happily on the Compaq Presario I used from 2000 to 2008, and while there are better alternatives now, the new fad with totally smooth, featureless, almost-slippery chiclet keyboards makes this a superior experience. That said, these are scissor-mechanism keys, not fully mechanical keys, and there's no question it doesn't feel quite as nice as a real mechanical keyboard like the TEK or anything sporting something like Cherry switches. On the other thing, this is my quietest keyboard, nice for when the kids are sleeping just behind me. Using either of the other two keyboards at night with sleeping kids nearby is a non-starter because of their clickiness, and this thing is silent by comparison – moreso with one of the skins in place!
I very much like the grid (non-staggered) layout, and the more I use my three fancy keyboards, the more I find it an improvement over the classic layout. However, where the Kinesis spaces out the two hands into separate wells spaced at approximately shoulder width, and the TEK angles the keys inward, this does neither so you have to twist your wrists a bit, and you find your elbows sort of glued to your sides. I think if you're looking for true ergonomics, you are better suited by the other keyboards: the Kinesis is absolutely the most comfortable keyboard to use long-term, and the TEK is almost just as good. The TypeMatrix tires me out after a while, mostly because the twisted position you find yourself using for extended periods. However, this thing has some innovations I like quite a bit that almost redeem the ergonomics:
The first is dedicated keys for a couple of common keystrokes. There's the equivalent of Alt-Tab at the lower left, and dedicated cut, copy, and paste keys you activate in combination with the Function key. If you're in a heavy cut-copy-paste session, this is extraordinarily useful and faster still when you use the adjacent Shuffle (Alt-Tab) button to switch back and forth from where you are cutting and where you are pasting. I also love that you can go between regular (QWERTY) and Dvorak with a keystroke, as I like to do so several times in the course of the day. It's far easier to do so on this keyboard than any other, as the Kinesis requires a somewhat awkward key combo and the TEK requires setting a dipswitch. I also like it that you can put skins over the top of the keyboard to show alternate layouts (they offer protection from spilled cups of coffee, as well).
It works perfectly with no drivers, and even the fancy keys work just fine on Linux, unless you have remapped your keyboard shortcuts to something different. If you're using a FOSS operating system though, note that the control key is tiny and out of the way, making this keyboard not-great for emacs users. The escape key is pretty close, so Vim users shouldn't have many complaints whatsoever. Neither this keyboard nor the TEK offer a USB slot in the back (the Kinesis has two), which is a bit too bad. I quite like plugging the mouse or trackball into the keyboard instead of having a second wire snaking across my desk. Only the Kinesis and my Happy Hacker's Keyboard offer USB slots.
After two months of use, I've concluded I don't like their rubber skins that offer a way to change the keyboard layout, or just protect it from your coffee. I found adding the rubber skin added just enough additional stress when pressing keys to make it uncomfortable, and it wasn't so easy putting the skin on and taking it off, as you have to unplug it and fish the USB plug out through one little hole. Instead, I bought a set of keyboard labels (dvorak, of course) from Fentek Industries, and put the labels on the keys. That has been perfect, and I love it that I can go from Dvorak to Qwerty on a whim. As for the feel of the keys, I've found if I start my day with the TypeMatrix, the keystroke quality doesn't give me any concern at all. But if I start with a better quality, mechanical keyboard like the Kinesis or the Totally Ergonomic keyboard, moving to the Typematrix makes obvious the poorer build quality and mushier keys.
Lastly, it is small and flat enough to pack up pretty easily, and I've found a heavy-duty plastic envelope you'd otherwise use for carrying important documents into which the TypeMatrix fits very well. That makes it an easy thing to carry around with you back and forth to work, or something like that.
In sum: some useful features and still better than your classic QWERTY, with easy access to Dvorak at a keystroke. Quieter than, but not as nice as, mechanical keyboards. For build quality and comfort, the TEK remains the champion, and for true ergonomics, the Kinesis Ergo is, without a doubt, my absolute favorite and the most comfortable.
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