Learning the one-handed Twiddler3 keyboard a challenge worth taking
The Twiddler3 is a combination keyboard and mouse held in just one hand and relying on chorded movements similar to holding and playing a guitar. Receiving one for review, I was initially impressed by its natural feel in my hand and was curious how it would fit into work and play, and as a peripheral for both my laptop and Android phone.
Now that phones, phablets, tablets, watches, bracelets, and glasses pack more power, the challenge is still data entry and navigation. Twiddler says that they were approached by Google Glass to redesign the original Twiddler as a wireless device with certain specs in mind and the end result is the Twiddler3.
Instead of miniaturizing or folding up a traditional keyboard, the Twiddler feels similar in size and shape to holding a joystick. It allows access to a full keyboard and mouse in one hand (the company suggests your non-dominant hand), allowing the other hand to do other things (eat, control a mouse, fiddle with your phone, use your imagination). It arrived charged and I have yet to need to charge it again after using its wireless Bluetooth capabilities for several days in a row. It can use USB to connect to a device.
The Twiddler3's one-handed operation could allow more multi-tasking, but probably not to the extent that I dreamed of here
The user's thumb controls the "special" keys (num, alt, ctrl, shift) and a mouse similar in feel to a laptop nipple, and also stabilizes the controller when one is primarily typing. The other four fingers control three mouse buttons and an array of 12 buttons that are the main focus of the Twiddler3. The mouse only moves in 8 directions and is "sticky", but does the job in a pinch.
The Twiddler3 is preconfigured with an alphanumeric set relying on three special color-coded buttons to step into different keyboard combinations. Letters, punctuation, and special functions like space and enter are printed on the primary set of 12 buttons, with the default pattern to progress down each column, stepping into the next color when the previous one is finished.
While chording starts with "A" and thus A is a single button press, Z is precoded to require holding the blue button while pressing the furthest left button that the pinky has access to, or O MOOL in Twiddler's chord parlance. In this fashion the complete alphabet and some punctuation is accessed, giving about 1000+ key combinations.
However, every button on the Twiddler is reconfigurable, accessible via the company's "Tuner" website and settings downloaded to the Twiddler. You could even create a macro for commonly entered text entries, such as your email or address, which is especially convenient on a small gadget. If you need to switch configurations while offline, however, you're out of luck.
In practice, while some characters are marked on the buttons, it will also require looking up how other keys including numbers are configured. Additionally I use the word "button" because these most definitely don't have the feel of keys and aren't meant to. While the buttons trigger smoothly without sticking, typing does have the feel of poking at a remote control.
My current micro keyboard for my media server really is a scaled down keyboard with a tiny trackpad and alphabet keys that also feel like buttons. The only advantage that a keyboard like that serves is familiarity and on such a device I hardly type with the same speed and comfort.
However, this is where the design of the Twiddler stands out. Though requiring remapping of my brain and muscle memory in the short-term, I could see myself enjoying the convenience of having a free hand once I learned the system.
The company's website has an effective tutor program that uses illustrations of the target buttons to help mentally link button combos to QWERTY keyboard lettering. Half an hour of practice was enough to map the first set of letters onto my fingers and by then I was comfortable with the grip.
The true merit of a device like the Twiddler may be more specialized, however, than using it as a replacement keyboard. While I could use the default character entry to access my media server, and enjoy having a small controller that can do anything a full keyboard and mouse could, every person in my household would also have to learn the system, a dubious feat at best.
No, the real draw would be in an infinite amount of reconfigurable macros in a single hand. I created a config file for playing my favorite real-time strategy game, allocating all the keyboard commands to my left hand, leaving mouse control to my right. Once I remapped my memory to this new set of inputs, I could theoretically increase my game actions per minute by removing what practically is a poor gaming device.
Similarly, I could create files containing the shortcuts for my favorite software programs or whole snippets of code for programming, so that something quick like O LOLO (my index finger and ring finger each hitting the button furthest from them) replaces 30 seconds of pressing keys.
The online Twiddler3 tuner allows the user to create multiple configurations, changing up its use for different users or programs
While the Twiddler is small in stature, so are my hands. Despite this, I only had trouble reaching combinations that involved my pinky finger extended as far as possible. The fastening system using an adjustable Velcro strap held the device in place better than expected and allows quick switching from right- to left-handed use.
While I had initial hesitation about the learning curve of the Twiddler, my small amount of time in practice was rewarded and I can see myself replacing other peripherals with several useful Twiddler config files. But I don't see myself enjoying long stretches of text entry, especially since I chose my laptop primarily for a good keyboard.
Previous novel solutions to the mobile keyboard dilemma have included projected keyboards, a phone dock with rear-facing keys, and an extreme 4-key take on the chording keyboard. While none of these will replace the full-sized QWERTY keyboard for most people, devices like the Twiddler3 fill a convenient niche and are easier to get up to speed with than you might expect.
The Twiddler3 is currently for sale for US$199 from Tek Gear's website and you can see the it demonstrated in the video below.
Source: Tek Gear