Chording Keyboard: EkaTetra EkaPad (EkaPackage)

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ekapadfrontI have to say that until I was contacted by EkaTetra to see if I would like to review the EkaPad, I had never even heard of chording (or chorded) keyboards,  The basic concept of the EkaPad is the reduction of the standard keyboard functions into a small device with only 12 keys.  It would seem at first that this would really reduce the number of functions available.  However the beauty of the chording keyboard is the ability of to use chords (more than one key pressed) to provide the full range of features of a standard keyboard.  This means that typing can be effectively done with only one hand (albeit slightly slower than with a standard keyboard).

Chording keyboards can make a viable alternative to standard keyboards if intensive use of both a keyboard and mouse/stylus are required (such as data entry), or extra portability is required (such as with a Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC)).

The EkaPad that we received came as part of the EkaPackage, which also includes the EkaHand (strap for mounting the EkaPad to your hand), USB cable, EkaStand (a lightweight wooden stand for mounting of the EkaHand on a desk), EkaCase, quickstart guide, crib card and a CD-ROM containing training tools etc.

The EkaPad is well designed and lightweight with rubber buttons and I found the EkaPad very comfortable to hold in one hand using the EkaHand, which straps around your thumb.  Connection to your PC is really simple and straightforward with no extra drivers required (For first time Mac connection, the device requires a simple 3 chord input to activate Mac mode, followed by telling the Mac that a keyboard has been connected).

eka_packageFollowing the quickstart guide gives a brief insight into the use of the EkaPad, and the crib card highlights the full set of functions that can be performed.  The guide gives a short course on how to write a simple sentence and using the EkaPad was somewhat reminiscent of childhood piano lessons and it became clear that fast typing using the EkaPad would require a lot of practice so as to memorise chords required for each letter, symbol and for extended editing and navigation options.

After a bit of practice I was able to use the EkaPad to write a short sentence (of my own choosing!) using the crib card for reference and I am sure that with perseverance I could be chording pretty fast.  The learning curve is pretty steep to start with and as I have mentioned earlier it is much like learning a musical instrument, however, alongside the CD-ROM there is also a great amount of support on the EkaTetra website to really speed up the learning progress.

In honesty, it will not be considered as a direct replacement for the average PC user for the standard keyboard, where the convenience will generally override the benefits of the chording keyboard.  However, if you are willing to persist at learning the chords for each key (I definitely will be!) I am sure that typing speed will greatly increase as use of the EkaPad becomes second nature, and it is reportedly 8 times faster to learn to chord than it is to learn touchtyping.  The EkaPad will undoubtedly prove to be a good tool for data entry specialists where a combination of mouse and keyboard is required.