Writing Laptops?

(This thread is partly inspired by James Kekerusey’s post, Writing Keyboards)

I’m in the (very, very early) stages of switching from a desktop to a notebook/laptop for writing (as well as everything else) and I’ve run into a bit of a problem. The vast majority of today’s notebook computers have chiclet keyboards which, after 30 years of using full-sized keyboards, I don’t care for at all. I’d like to find out what solutions other writers have found for this.

So far, I’ve uncovered three items of interest:

  1. A couple of years ago, the Lenovo 450T had a very comfortable keyboard/touchpad, but it’s been ‘updated’ and is now not much better than anything else.
  2. I tried an Alienware 17 that feels pretty good compared to most. The keys aren’t completely flat like those on most notebooks and so I find it easier to feel where I am and when I’m starting to stray away from the home position and correct without having to stop and look down.
  3. The MSI GT80 has a full-blown Cherry MX Brown keyboard (although they replaced the numpad with a turned-sideways touchpad). I know this would be perfect for me, typing-wise, but the base model (GT80 SLI-094) is $2800 Cdn.

Nobody writes on a laptop?

Well, I do. But I adapted to using a standard MacBook Pro keyboard long ago. In fact, I’ve become so accustomed to it that I bought an Apple wireless keyboard that matches my laptop keyboard (same muscle memory regardless of the keyboard used) and find going back to a “regular” keyboard uncomfortable.

I didn’t reply earlier since (a) I use a Mac, and (b) I like my laptop keyboard. Hence I’m unlikely to give the type of response I expect up you were hoping for. :confused:

Fair enough. LOL :slight_smile:

I do, but I use a docking station with full screen and keyboard, since most of my writing is at my desk. I consider the laptop to be “good-enough” for shorter sessions.

Thanks, devinganger. Docking is definitely another option.

I’m with nom; I’m a Mac user, I got used to chiclet keyboards ages ago. Last year I tried to go back to a clicky Matias Tactile Pro and after some days of swearing I ended up reverting to chiclet mode. It grows on you – given enough time.

Currently I swear by the 12" retina Macbook as the near-perfect portable, although I use it as a travel machine – I have a full-powered iMac on my desk – and once they see fit to rev the design and add a second USB port I will be upgrading.

I will agree here. The years that I used a MBP on a regular basis, I definitely got used to the keyboard. It was a better laptop keyboard than anything in the PC world.

Unfortunately, my wrists and incipient carpal tunnel disagreed. That’s when I started docking and using a keyboard with better tactile keyswitches, and it’s been enough to hold off my carpal tunnel indefinitely. (Went from having to wear wrist braces 50% of the time to not having worn them in a decade.)

Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Interesting point. I went five or six rounds with CTS about six years ago, but it started with endless scrolling up and down on the mouse wheel while working with Dream Weaver. I even had to switch from using the mouse left-handed to using it right-handed for several years to give my wrist a rest.

I guess I won’t try to adapt to chiclets. My wrist is still on the edge and I really don’t wanna go there again.

Thanks for the heads up, devinganger.

So how are you coping with the 12" Macbooks keyboard? I am thinking of getting either that one, or the Macbook Air, mostly for writing, and I am not sold on the keyboard yet.

Two things that I find help:

  1. using laptop “risers” to increase the height of the back of the laptop relative to the front e.g. wedge shaped cushion lap table, laptop stands, even old books. I use the Lazy Couch at work.
  2. A separate keyboard for extended typing sessions – I have an Apple bluetooth keyboard in my study at home. This also allows me to place the keyboard in a better position (i.e. on my desk’s keyboard drawer) which reduces neck and arm strain as well.

Other people have recommended the MacBook Air (and, presumably, other wedge shaped laptops) as helpful.

Your mileage may vary, but what I found for me (and my phys-med confirmed) is that it wasn’t as much the angle of the keyboard that was causing my problem so much as the fact that my wrists were too flat and low. I learned how to touch type on a cranky old manual typewriter that I picked up at a garage sale as a boy, and in order to use the keys I had to have my wrists in the “correct” raised position in order for my youthful fingers to generate enough power.

Many modern keyboards, especially the chiclet style, require hardly any power at all to move the keys. Unless one has uncommon discipline, typists tend to lower their wrists in response, and that’s where the problems with CTS/RWS come sneaking in. Keeping the wrists up helps keep the carpals in the proper position while your fingers direct the force mostly downwards. For me, the buckling spring keyswitches require enough force to operate that I unconsciously have to raise my wrists to generate enough force again.

Yup, that’s what happens to me. I get caught up in what I’m typing and next thing I know, my wrists are down and starting to ache.

Not strictly a keyboard choice (I have always been happy with whichever keyboard my current Mac laptop offers), but I have found that it made a difference switching to the Dvorak layout. It took a bit of discipline to learn (probably six years ago now), but it’s long been completely automatic for me. Vastly decreased finger movement, which makes it much more comfortable for my arthritic fingers when I’m typing for hours on end. It’s a bit awkward when you have to type odd characters for strong passwords, but otherwise I think Dvorak is great, and I wouldn’t ever consider switching back to QWERTY.

A recent article in the Guardian, written by a famous female writer, and renowned dipsomaniac, mentioned her preference for the Dvorak layout, because that was what the Qwerty layout resembled when she was rat-legged/stocious. Just sayin’ :neutral_face:

Oyrjcrgo co a irre ,rpev
[size=85](That’s enough sobriety from me – I think I prefer the letters in their proper Dvorak places!)[/size]

I tried one of the old IBM keyboards recently, of the sort that I used to love, and it felt quite alien after so many years on a laptop, requiring a rather uncomfortable wrist position. I think you get used to the keyboard you use the most, whatever it is. One of my husband’s colleagues doesn’t have a tab key on his keyboard at work, and hasn’t done for years, but apparently he doesn’t miss it at all. That is taking keyboard idiosyncrasy a step too far, I feel!

I considered the Dvorak layout way back in the Amiga days (late 1980s for those who don’t remember) but never got up the courage to actually do it. There have been times when I’ve wondered if my typing would be better now if I had. But I learned to type the QWERTY way when I was about 32 and it was such a struggle, I didn’t want to start over from scratch. Yeah, call me a coward. :blush:

I considered learning Dvorak, but finally decided not to after:

a) watching the hijinks my Dvorak-using friends and co-workers had to continuously go through (and alternatively, put others through on shared/company equipment)
b) being able to type more quickly and accurately than anyone I knew who had mastered Dvorak
c) read some studies which show that the gains that Dvorak gives over Qwerty aren’t as pronounced as a lot of people think they are

I’ve got nothing against Dvorak – just not my cup of tea, I guess.


two hands :unamused:

right hand :unamused:

left hand :unamused:

I took one look at these … went cross-eyed … an’gorra 'nedache :open_mouth: :frowning:

I don’t think my typing is either faster or more accurate with Dvorak than it used to be in QWERTY – it’s probably about the same, although I have not tested this empirically. I had actually forgotten that speed was meant to be one of the theoretical benefits! For a while, I used QWERTY in a work-outside-the-home job, and Dvorak for everything else (work-from-home and personal), and I came to the conclusion that Dvorak was definitely less hard on the hands. I’ve been Dvorak-only for the past couple of years, and I can type for much longer periods without making my fingers hurt more, which is a huge plus given that I spend all day, every day, typing. I’d like to pretend that I’m being terribly creative, but my typing mostly consists of support emails! :smiley: