Maltron Single Hander - Just for the Fun of It.
Having used a Maltron 3D Dual Handed keyboard since I bought my first one in 1986, I get contacted about Maltron keyboards from people in my state, asking questions, sometimes hiring one for a few days (I've now got four of them). On a couple of occasions I have been contacted by people with, for whatever reason, the use of only one hand, sometimes injury, on one occasion they had two hands, but their job required them to be using one hand on the keyboard and the other operating a switchboard of some sort. Sadly, I didn't have either a keyboard for them to try out or any personal experience to assist them, so I decided to buy a couple of Maltron Singles (one left, one right) and teach myself a bit about them, both for experience, and for the fun of learning something new.
I'm a semi-retired court reporter (since 1990) and have used a 3D dual hander since I started and still do the occasional job, mostly in the area of transcribing oral history interviews. I played with the right hander (my dominant hand) in a fairly desultory fashion for a couple of months, but over Christmas/New Year, I ran out of work and decided to use this time to do some serious one-handed practice. I was still doing some volunteer transcription for my state library's audio collection, but this was not a "pressure" job so I could take my time. (When I taught myself to use the two-hander I was actually typing someone's university thesis and although I was making pretty good progress in learning the Malt layout, I sometimes had to revert to the old QWERTY to catch up on my page count. But nevertheless after about 6 weeks I found myself able to touch type at about 15 WPM so I stayed with the Maltron from that time. (I was also doing some part-time work as a legal secretary which meant I had to use the QWERTY keyboards in the various offices I was assigned to.))
Unlike almost any other keyboard, the Maltron single seems designed totally for single handed operation. This photograph
shows the traditional Maltron "bowl" shaped 3D curvature which is intended to minimise movement of the hand or arm, and rely more on the extension and contraction of the fingers. As can be seen there are three (if you discount the yellow function keys) major key groupings. The largest grouping is for the majority of letters, as well as a standard set of numeric keys with shift characters such as #, $, %, etc. There is also a grouping for the thumb, which holds the space bar, as well as the "i" and "u" character keys. There are the four navigation arrows at the top of the group. Lastly, several modifier keys, LH Ctl, Caps Lock, RH Shift and the BS Del and Enter in dead centre. (LH Alt is placed on the far left of the large key grouping.) The third grouping is on the far side (in this case the left) of the case, and contains a pretty standard collection, rectangular numeric keypad, with the shift navigation arrows, Pg Up, Pg Dn, Home, End, Enter, Space, and several alternate modifiers.
The Maltron website has a fairly comprehensive suite of training pages, which are down loadable so I spent a couple of hours getting the feel of the board via these. I certainly didn't go through the entire keyboard because in some ways I didn't feel it was necessary. Looking at the photo of the key layout, it is apparent that keys are distributed in such a fashion that the ones with the highest frequency of use (FoU) are either on the home keys or within easy reach of the more agile/strong fingers, so having covered the commonest keys, I didn't go any further. In any case, my aim was not to replace the dual hander (where I can easily reach 150-180 wpm, using WordPerfect shorthand) but rather get some personal experience with the single hander to be able to discuss it intelligently and knowledgeably with an interested party.
I will however, still put some more time into the singleton, and if I ever reach an acceptable standard, I may do a Youtube video.
Because of the requirement to have all the keys on one hand, the number of rows is quite extraordinary. As with the original Malt concept, the keys are all in straight columns with no staggering, and the middle finger has 8 rows to cover. Starting from the top row down to the bottom:
The top row is a wee bit of a stretch, but certainly not impossible. But in keeping with the Malt philosophy, the most difficult keys to access are the least used.
It's fairly hard to compare this keyboard to anything else I've ever used. I still use QWERTY when I have to, but mostly it's the Maltron dual hander. If for some reason I was reduced to using one hand (say I broke my wrist in an accident) there is no way I'd try and use the Maltron dual. I'd have to go back to the QWERTY, simply because the QWERTY is flat and it would be almost impossible to use the Maltron with one hand. The 3D curves in the Maltron would create such difficult rolls and twists that it would wind up being slow and probably very painful. The QWERTY would be a barely viable proposition in the short term. However, if my state of unidexterity was a permanent one I'd chuck the QWERTY in the bin and get a Maltron Single. Compared to the QWERTY, the Maltron single is a model of "rock steady", with almost no gross movement involving the shoulder or arm, compared to the QWERTY.
Once I started using it properly, ie I was transcribing, I found it unsettling (obviously) but within a day or so it was fairly comfortable, if not speedy. My shorthand method of transcribing means that I'm using the Alt and Ctl keys much more than a non-shorthand typist would do. For example, to key the word "the" I strike Ctl+T, for "ation" I hit Ctl+A, "just" is Ctl+J, "ment" is Ctl+M etc. The Caps Lock key is push-on-push-off key, as normal. The RH Shift is a single action keystroke. The red LED tells you that the Shift is active, and when the next key is struck, the LED goes out. Fine. However, the LH Ctl and LH Alt are push-on-push-off, and initially I wished to have a single action, to avoid having to push the key again to turn it off. But once I got used to it I found it was not really an irritant, and found that in at least some circumstances, it was actually an advantage. For example, the word "adjustment" is typed by keying in "a-d" then Ctl+JM Ctl. And even some word sequences, such as "through the", "t-h-r" Ctl+G SpaceT Ctl have a slight benefit. With two words the "space" thus inserted is a Ctl+Space, which is "hard" (unbreakable), and can cause problems in justifying text, but long ago I created a "clean up" macro for my completed work which went through and removed things such as unbreakable spaces, so I don't really regard it as a problem.
On balance, I'd (barely) prefer to have the option of a single action keystroke for Ctl and Alt, but it's a very minor thing.
As I became familiar with the layout, I noticed a couple of interesting points. The "home row" is S-A-T-E-H-N, so you have the common trigraph "t-h-e" on the home row. On the second bottom row you have the digraph "c-k" on consecutive key (middle-ring) and while I was a bit puzzled initially by putting the "u" and "i" keys under the thumb, I eventually found that the sequence "q-u" could be very easily accessed by the thumb, as could "q-u-i", even though the "q" key is nominally at the bottom of the "index" finger column.
After 3-4 weeks, where am I at? Well, I must say I'm quite happy to revert to using two hands and could never see the Maltron Single as a substitute for ANY two handed keyboard. However, the reverse is also true, I don't think I could see ANY keyboard being as good for the single handed typist as the Maltron single. It's a device which is designed for a single purpose, and seems to achieve it well.
Comfort wise, I never at any time felt compelled to take a break any more often than with using the Dual. There is a pad at the lower edge of the case so the user can rest the hand. I have a fairly large hand and was able to have the base of my palm on the rest at almost all times, so there was no strain of any sort on my arm and shoulder. As with other Maltron products, the Cherry keyswitch is pretty standard, and so in my experience, longevity is not an issue at all. (My original Dual has lasted since 1986 and never had any fault.) There is little worrying noise (but maybe that's because I'm used to Cherry key switches), and the feeling of each keystroke is firm, but gentle.
Most of the key caps themselves appear to be lightly engraved characters, rather than "stick on", so there shouldn't be any concerns about them wearing off in the short term.
Whilst the cable on my pair are PS/2, USB connections can be fitted.
One of the areas I DIDN'T go into was the settings of the various DIP switches (x8) on the under side. The manual which comes with the keyboard is fairly detailed, but as it seemed to be working well out of the box, I didn't alter anything. The proverbial "Big Red Button" on the front of the keyboard, as well as swapping between "numbers" and "letters" can also be used as a modifier for such things as setting the typematic rate, or cursor speed. However, this function needs to be reset each time the computer is switched on. (There may be a way of setting this permanently, but I haven't looked for it.)
Whilst the entire keyboard is reasonably light (7-800 grams), it doesn't bounce or slide very much, at least at my slowish speed of work. It has rubbery feet underneath. The wrinkled grey surface is designed to reflect the minimum amount of light, but does seem prone (based on my experience with other Maltron products) to gathering dust in the long term.
I mentioned I'd played with the right-hander board only. I'd only used the left-hander to make sure it worked. A couple of days ago I decided to try the left hander out and see what happened. It's not quite a mirror image. Whilst the letters are in the "same place" ie if a letter is under the index finger on the right-hand, it's under the index finger on the left, it isn't true right across the board. The Function keys still run in the "normal" sequence, as do the numeric keys. Other keys, such as the question mark (?) and back slash (\) are under the same fingers but in the same sequence. Since it's unlikely that somebody is going to be swapping from one single hander to the other regularly, I don't regard this as at all significant.
It was an interesting sensation to be sitting at the keyboard, knowing that a particular letter is under the same finger, but on the other hand, and then try to "make it so". But I reckon, for whatever it would be worth, that having learned one of the single hand keyboards would make it so much easier to use the other one. I think within a day or two I could have got the "leftie" to go pretty well. But I'm not going to bother.
This was, after all, done mainly for fun.