Mobile Technology

Learning the one-handed Twiddler3 keyboard a challenge worth taking

The one-handed Twiddler3 is a keyboard, mouse, and macro manager in a compact package
The one-handed Twiddler3 is a keyboard, mouse, and macro manager in a compact package
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The online Twiddler3 tuner allows the user to create multiple configurations, changing up its use for different users or programs
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The online Twiddler3 tuner allows the user to create multiple configurations, changing up its use for different users or programs
The Twiddler3 tutor is Mavis Beacon for the next generation, stepping a user through learning all the preconfigured key combinations.
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The Twiddler3 tutor is Mavis Beacon for the next generation, stepping a user through learning all the preconfigured key combinations.
The back view of the Twiddler3 where a user wraps their palm around, stretching fingers to the front to play various buttons, similar in feel to fingering chords on a guitar
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The back view of the Twiddler3 where a user wraps their palm around, stretching fingers to the front to play various buttons, similar in feel to fingering chords on a guitar
The Twiddler3's one-handed operation could allow more multi-tasking, but probably not to the extent that I dreamed of here
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The Twiddler3's one-handed operation could allow more multi-tasking, but probably not to the extent that I dreamed of here
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The main face of the Twiddler3 has 3 mouse buttons and twelve primary keyboarding buttons, all configurable
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The main face of the Twiddler3 has 3 mouse buttons and twelve primary keyboarding buttons, all configurable
The top side of the Twiddler3 is manipulated using the thumb and includes special keys like shift and control
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The top side of the Twiddler3 is manipulated using the thumb and includes special keys like shift and control
The one-handed Twiddler3 is a keyboard, mouse, and macro manager in a compact package
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The one-handed Twiddler3 is a keyboard, mouse, and macro manager in a compact package

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 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 top side of the Twiddler3 is manipulated using the thumb and includes special keys like shift and control
The top side of the Twiddler3 is manipulated using the thumb and includes special keys like shift and control

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 Twiddler3 tutor is Mavis Beacon for the next generation, stepping a user through learning all the preconfigured key combinations.
The Twiddler3 tutor is Mavis Beacon for the next generation, stepping a user through learning all the preconfigured key combinations.

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
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

Twiddler 3

4 comments
Forest Fab
Looks awesome for people with an amputated arm/hand!
DHarmon
This looks like a nice toy...but, can everyone say with me: "Carpal Tunnel"?
Jan Stepka
I had the second and still have the third generation Twiddler. Using the buttons is very like playing a guitar. If you play guitar a little, you should have no problem with one. I was able to walk on my treadmill at 3.5 MPH while surfing the internet or even writing emails. The Twiddler is also very nice for kicking back in your chair or in a recliner. The alphabet key combinations are a logical progression. It helps to have a cheat sheet handy for non-alphabetic characters -- especially ones you may rarely use (~!@#$%^&*_+). I'm looking forward to buying the new model.
Daishi
For people with an amputated arm it seems like controlling the prosthetic is a struggle but I never understood why people never looked to something like this, the razer orbweaver, or even a nintendo power glove for the opposing human hand to control the robotic hand with keys and sensors attached to their opposing (good) arm. I'm not saying the robotic arm should mirror when the human one is doing but there are a lot of ways to use 'alt' keys and combinations of button presses to control the robot arm while still allowing regular use of the human one similar to how people map the same keys to multiple things in MMO's. The benefit to doing prosthetics this way through the intact human arm/hand is that the same controlling interface could be used for everyone with a prosthetic instead of having to create a custom interface per individual based on how much of the injured arm is in tact. It should also significantly reduce the costs. Users could remap sensors to different motor functions of the arm as easily as people can re-assign keybinds in an MMO. I should be able to just hit a switch/sensor that maps the movement of my right prosthetic arm to the movement of my left pinky. If I want to use my left pinky to push a pressure sensitive sensor that closes my right prosthetic hand I should be able to just program it with a $200 tablet and be done with it. I feel bad for people that the technology to do this for people cheaply exists but we aren't doing it :(
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