Shareware Beach

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

One-Handed Keyboards

Filed under: Hardware & Gadgets — Jan @ 17:46

A DataHand review I found on the net, mentions that the DataHand is unusable with just one hand. That’s absolutely true. Because the keys are grouped together per finger, you really have to use the correct finger positions to type at any speed. Using the wrong hand to press a key is totally cumbersome.

I do have a one-handed keyboard. It’s called the FrogPad. It’s designed to be used with portable devices like PDAs and cell phones. You hold the device in one hand, and use the keyboard with the other. The FrogPad is small and very thin. It easily slides into its protective cover and your pocket. I have the USB version of the FrogPad, which I use with my Samsung Q1 UMPC. The Q1 has no keyboard other than an on-screen one. There’s also a Bluetooth FrogPad for devices without a USB port (or if you just can’t stand wires).

The keys on the FrogPad are roughly the same size as those on a normal keyboard. The most common letters, at least for English, can be typed directly. The other half of the alphabet is formed by holding down the green modifier key while pressing the letter key. There are separate modes for symbols and for the numeric keypad.

The FrogPad works great for typing in passwords, search queries, etc. It takes less than an hour to get the hang of it (i.e. typing while looking at the keys, without frustration). I don’t know how long it would take to become proficient at it (i.e. typing blindly at speed). I’ve never tried to use it for anything beyond quick newsgroup posts. But it’s certainly way more comfortable than the on-screen keyboard or handwriting recognition of the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition that the Q1 runs.

If you often have one hand unavailable, for whatever reason, you could plug the FrogPad into your desktop PC’s USB port. Use your regular keyboard for two-hand typing, and the FrogPad for one-hand typing. Typing on the FrogPad with one hand will be faster than typing on any two-handed keyboard, including an ordinary keyboard.


A company in the UK called Maltron sells special single-handed keyboards. These have regular keys, like on a Cherry keyboard. There’s one key for each letter. Given the size and price (295 GBP) of the Maltron keyboard, keeping lying around one on your desk like you could do with a FrogPad is not really an option. But if you permanently have only one (free) hand, it does look like a worthwhile investment.


  1. With the addition of one switch, the DataHand keyboard could be made to work as a one-handed keyboard. Flipping that switch could enable a mirror image of the other hand. It would be just like the other mode shift keys on the DataHand keyboard. If the market existed for this, the company could offer such a product easily, and it would not be greatly slower to type on it. I do not know what their calculation about the market need for a one-handed keyboard might be, but the inquiry would be worth making. A one-handed DataHand keyboard would not replace the FrogPad, but it could make life easier for a one-handed person who needs to do a large amount of entry, like a writer, for example.
    In the past, DataHand Systems offered a single-hand Ten Key version but they discontinued it because of limited demand. The Ten Key mode is still offered as part of the two-handed keyboard, and it is a big improvement over the standard Ten Key Pad. (I have been a daily user of the DataHand keyboard for 17 years, and because I am a believer in the product, I am also a shareholder in the company.)

    Comment by Don Patterson — Tuesday, 5 February 2008 @ 22:54

  2. Thanks a lot for your input, Don.

    I don’t think that adding a switch to allow one half of a DataHand unit to function as both halves would work well in practice. A one-handed DataHand would have to be a totally new design.

    Both the Qwerty and Dvorak layouts are designed to maximize alternation between both hands. As you type, you’re switching hands almost every other letter. That’s great for people with two hands, since spreading the load between both hands reduces RSI.

    The design of a one-handed DataHand would have to be closer to the FrogPad. Since the FrogPad has 20 keys, and half a DataHand has 25, it should be perfectly doable to come up with a great design for a one-handed DataHand. It should certainly be more comfortable and more ergonomic than the FrogPad, and likely the Maltron too (which I haven’t tried).

    For it to be commercially viable, it would have to be marketed not just to handicapped people, but to people who’d be more productive with a one-handed keyboard, because it frees up a hand for other things (drawing with a pen, operating machinery, whatever).

    Comment by Jan — Wednesday, 6 February 2008 @ 7:32

  3. Thank you Jan for the comparisons. FrogPad is only 4 years old, yet has dominated the portable one handed and mobile market with both its USB an bt model. The fact that you are using it with a UMPC is awesome.

    Comment by FrogPad — Wednesday, 6 February 2008 @ 12:05

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