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TechnologyTell Review: TekGear Twiddler 3 keyboard

Sections: Gadgets / Other, Lifestyle, Mice / Keyboards, Peripherals, Reviews

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Every so often, some manufacturer announces their latest attempt at “revolutionizing” or improving upon the standard input device. I’m talking about mice and keyboards. It can be a very bold and complicated gamble. In the end, basic is generally better.

But then sometimes there is that one product that is so different, yet works so well, that it creates a class of its own. Prepare for one-handed typing.

Design & Connectivity

Upon pulling the TekGear Twiddler 3 keyboard out of the package, I couldn’t help but think back to some fond memories of playing Suikoden with a one-handed Sony Playstation controller (the original was eventually discontinued). Those were some good, good times. Two thoughts came to mind as I cradled the Twiddler 3 in my hand: “I kind of like the way it feels” and “what have I gotten myself in to?!”

TekGear Twiddler 3 box

Twiddler 3, strap, and included USB charge cable (not shown).

This is not your average keyboard. The bottom of the Twiddler 3 hosts an array of keys and colors. Think of it as 12 letter/symbol keys that do triple & quadruple duty when paired with the ‘function’ color squares. I swear, it makes more sense once you start using it.

The top features an additional four keys and a thumb switch for mousing. There’s a power button and micro USB port on the bottom, and that’s about it. It’s pretty simple.

Despite the initial foreign feel, the shape and material of the Twiddler 3 makes it pretty comfortable to hold. It’s smooth, lightweight, and easy to handle in either hand. If you want to get real crazy, you’ll learn to use it with both hands.

The included strap lets users secure this keyboard to their palm for positioning. And when you want to relax your fingers but not lose your place. This soft strap slides in one of the notches and gently fastens to the velcro at the bottom of the Twiddler 3.

TekGear Twiddler 3 strap

Handy strap (pun not intended)

Two things to keep in mind about the strap: it’s not really optional (unless you want to make things more difficult for yourself), and it only slides in one way. Just pay close attention to the direction you’re inserting with respect to the shape. But I feel that the strap makes effective twiddling possible. With the way fingers adjust to hit keys, I find it necessary to keep the device from falling out of place (especially as one learns).

Just as any Bluetooth device, the Twiddler 3 pairs quickly, but does so only one at a time. Like most keyboards. If you want to switch between a smartphone and laptop, you have to connect manually (or power cycle) each time.

Aside from the Twiddler 3, charge cable, and velcro hand strap, the box is empty. Instructions? All that is explained and learned through the Twiddler typing tutor on the home site. Although natural exploration of this keyboard starts to make sense to a new user, the added direction and training really does help a lot

Learning Curve

In order to become adept with the Twiddler 3, it’s going to take equal parts physical and mental practice. Much like the playing of an instrument. Those who have experience with curling their fingers quickly (e.g. guitar, bass, ukulele, mandolin, etc.) are more likely to learn the Twiddler 3’s ‘chords’ faster. My years of piano playing weren’t able to help much in the physical learning department, since fingers spread and dance more than curl. Strangely, I find myself more adept with the Twiddler 3 in my left hand even though I’m right-handed.

TekGear Twiddler 3 grip

Prepare your finger curling muscles!

When it comes to memorization, it’s like learning to use a keyboard all over again. Or maybe reading sheet music. Remember your first [keyboard] venture, with index fingers hunting and pecking? It’ll feel a little like that at the start until you start to remember key locations by heart and touch. Thankfully, the middle column of keys have a tiny nub to help figure where your fingers are at without looking. Unfortunately, I consider it a little too small.

You’re going to need to find that sweet spot of holding, where all your fingers (pinky especially) can reach. Unlike a keyboard that sits in a fixed position, unmoving, the Twiddler 3 can shift in your hand unless you have a solid grip. Don’t forget. Also unlike a standard keyboard that has letters appear upon the press, the Twiddler 3 does so upon release. So when you have to hit a chord to create letters with the Twiddler, you can take your time to find the required pair or trio before letting go. And that’s how you make words with four fingers, a thumb, and 14 keys.

The Twiddler 3 supports custom-created chords via the website, which are then downloaded onto the keyboard itself. You can create these macros using three, four, five buttons – whatever you want. Email addresses are a good place to start, since they’re pretty common.

TekGear Twiddler 3 top

The ‘mouse’ feels dated, but it works well.

Once you start getting the hang of it, it actually gets really fun. Even though a typing tutor is still a typing tutor, Twiddler’s own does provide graphs and statistics for those who reward well with numbers and progress. It’s going to grind you until it’s good and satisfied at your performance before moving you to another letter set.

I’m good for about 18 WPM for high accuracy. At least for now. When I attempt to type faster I don’t always press down far enough, which makes me miss keys. Fat-fingering still happens; my pinky is too short and insufficiently dextrous enough to maintain accurate separation between the ent-q-z and h-n-w keys.

The site says that average users can achieve WPM rates between 30 and 60. I’m still working on reaching that 30 with minimal fat-finger mistakes that require correcting. But 60? Hmm. It’ll certainly be quite the feat.

Although the Twiddler 3 is convenient as a single-handed keyboard, I find myself having to take breaks often. My muscles are still on a learning curve for curling – decades worth of extended fingers and open hands for typing. At least it’s just muscle fatigue and not ill-positioning or strain. Either way, it is indeed very easy on the wrists. You can hold your hand anywhere with the Twiddler 3 in it and just go to work. It’s a totally different type of ergonomic.

Performance

For the most part the buttons click well and smoothly. On occasion you’ll get a press that is slightly off-angle, but it doesn’t usually interfere with the typing. Sometimes you can press a key down, thinking it registers, and it actually wasn’t pressed far enough. And sometimes you will press it far enough, yet the correct key still won’t pop out (rare, yet still has happened enough for me to notice). Although I’m sure there is room for tactile improvement, the overall performance is impressive.

The mouse nub is pretty good, as far as this type of mouse goes. The push resistance feels a bit too much at times, but at least the cursor accelerates well and moves smoothly. This is an old-school kind of joystick mouse, so pinpoint precision will require patience and practice. The trio of buttons for the index finger to click operate equally well for standard mouse buttons.

In terms of Bluetooth wireless connectivity, you’re more likely to not be able to see what you’re typing before walking out of device range. Unless you’re working off of some huge HDTV as a screen or monitor. I’ve been able to use the Twiddler up to 6 meters away, which has been more than enough for my needs. Most will be able to appreciate the reach, especially when controlling streaming media (e.g. HTPC, Roku, etc).

Verdict

Don’t look at the TekGear Twiddler 3 as a keyboard/mouse replacement. This is not the device you’ll want to use when you need to mash out 80+ WPM for a report. But it is very convenient for all those other times when speed isn’t of the essence and/or you want to occupy only one hand. With the Twiddler 3 you can browse Netflix on the laptop connected to your HDTV via HDMI. Or tweet on your smartphone in real-time while arm wrestling someone. Or drink a beer while texting as you’re lounging lazily in your backyard hammock.

The Twiddler 3 is even smaller than some of the best-performing folding keyboards, making it a top mobile gadget. Thinking of getting a smartwatch or some other wearable? With enough practice, you’d be able to type out responses with the Twiddler 3 faster than poking at teeny screens. And if you happen to be out in public and walking, you can type and watch where you’re going instead of being head-down into a device.

I like this one-handed keyboard. Not only is it unique, but it’s very effective at what it accomplishes. That’s not an easy feat when it comes to input devices like a keyboard. Is the Twiddler 3 for everyone? No. Can everyone effectively learn to use it? Absolutely yes. Is it both fun and useful? Yes, and yes. However, the most significant hurdle to overcome will be the cost, which will set users back by a cool $200. But, hey, that’s the price for combining freedom, convenience, and technological sophistication. The Twiddler 3 is a serious – and seriously good – mobile input device.

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  • ivan wellesz

    “For the most part the buttons click well and smoothly”

    And that’s simply not good enough for a keyboard! As this is the result of a random lag depending on the chord entered, you end up watching the input cursor to make sure you can type the next character… Better wait a firmware uprade before spending 200$ and 30+ hours on the learning curve to realize that.

    • http://plus.google.com/+StanleyGoodner/about Stanley Goodner

      It’s more of the physical click, and it can throw off one’s “typing game”, but not so much if you slow down a bit. I think that the Twiddler is a better match for lifestyle, like with wearables. On a standard keyboard, my fingers fly to push content. But with the Twiddler, I have to relax and loosen up a bit for typing accuracy. So the times I typically Twiddle is when I’m listening to and reviewing headphones. I’ll prop my tablet/smartphone so my document is visible, Twiddler in my left hand, drink in my right, and just immerse in what I’m listening to. It’s quite effective for me, especially since I can lounge almost any which way.

      The price may be steep for some, but the team is indeed working to make tweaks and improvements.

  • Jan Stepka

    I’ve been using previous model Twiddlers for years. I was able to walk 3.5 mph on my treadmill while surfing the internet and typing when necessary. I think guitar players will have a particular advantage in learning how to use one. The chords for basic characters and numbers are laid out very logically, but I keep a printout of the non-numeric characters nearby for reference.
    It was also very helpful to have after shoulder surgery. I’m planning to order the Twiddler3 soon.