Quick Summary: The TouchStream is sleek, compact, durable, foldable, and does everything FingerWorks says it does.
Pros: The zero-force “keys” require no pressure (which may lessen the likelihood of computer-related RSI); the built in “mouse” is a great timesaver and again can help prevent RSI; the gestures put dozens, maybe hundreds, of shortcuts literally at your fingertips; workmanship is solid; the TouchStream is available both in DVORAK and QWERTY configurations.
Cons: Quite steep learning curve, cost is high for a keyboard.
Chances are if you’re thinking about dropping hundreds of dollars for a keyboard, you’ve already had problems with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, RSI, or something similar (unfortunately, most of us don’t worry about ergonomic keyboards and the like until we’re already in pain). That’s the boat I was in when I purchased my Touchstream last Christmas. However, the keyboard has a lot of features and built-in shortcuts that make it a good choice for any hard-core computer user.
What makes the Touchstream different from your everyday keyboard is the fact that it’s perfectly flat. Aside from tiny bumps on the home row keys (to help your fingers find their spots), you might as well be typing on your desk. The keyboard does come with a sort of tent/stand that raises it in the middle like a split keyboard (use optional).
The Touchstream Doubles As a Mouse
The Touchstream replaces not only your traditional keyboard but also your mouse. You move the pointer by sliding two fingers around on the keyboard. A light tap with two fingers makes a “click” while a light tap with three fingers equals a double-click. Two fingers and a thumb tapping the keyboard make a right-click.
It’s very intuitive, and you’ll adapt to this new “mouse” as soon as you start using it. I love the mouse aspect, because at the time, I was looking for (without much luck) a click-free mouse to lessen the stress on my hands caused by repetitive clicking. Needless to say, I was excited to find this technology.
On top of the mouse ability, the Touchstream expands on its touch interface, including dozens of helpful “gestures” that can replace common tasks, physical macros if you will. The keyboard comes with a lot of gestures preprogrammed in (you can also program your own). They act as keyboard/mouse shortcuts. An example of a Touchstream “gesture” is tapping your thumb and middle finger. This gesture is the same as selecting copy from the edit menu. Another example is putting your thumb and three outer fingers on the keyboard and rotating counterclockwise to open a file; turn your hand clockwise to close the current window.
If you’re having problems with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, you may want to take it easy on the gestures in the beginning. Though most of them don’t involve twisting the hand, a few do and I found the twist a little awkward on the wrist. However, using their free editor (more on that below), you can alter the gestures to be more comfortable if certain motions bother you.
The Touchstream comes with a quick reference guide to help you remember all of these gestures. There’s about ten or twenty that I use now as second nature. The rest I’d forgotten about until I pulled out the cards to reference in this review. But then, I spend the majority of my computer time using MS Word and my web browser, so I don’t need the more complicated stuff. There are sets of gestures specifically for gamers and for applications such as Photoshop. There’s also a ton of support for programmers and computer specialists. The Touchstream really is an intuitive keyboard with a lot of thought invested in it.
If the gesture you’re looking for isn’t there already, you can program your own gestures through MyGesture Editor, a free download from the FingerWorks site. With it, you can change current gestures including altering their sensitivity, remap the keys, and add gestures.
Typing on the Touchstream:
The only thing that keeps the Touchstream from being perfect for me is that even after several months, I have trouble typing on it without looking at the keys. If I look away for more than a couple of words, I invariably end up hitting the wrong keys, especially with my pinkies. You probably don’t realize how much the physical presence and positions of your keys aid you if you’re a touch typist; it’s hard to manage when they’re gone.
However, I believe if you type on the Touchstream several hours a day, you could overcome the accuracy problem within a few weeks. In fact, other reviewers have said as much (one person recommended a few minutes a day with a typing tutorial program such as TypeSmart). I think I’ve just been slow to pick up speed and accuracy with it because I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking (voice recognition software) for entering text the majority of the time.
I’m happy to say that I’ve had zero issues with my Touchstream, so I haven’t really put this to the test. However, Fingerworks has an active forum where you can get your questions answered from FingerWorks representatives. There are also quite a few members who are very supportive of their products, so you may just want to read through some of the posts if you’re still on the fence.
In a perfect world, or at least one where I’ve never had RSI, I would probably stick to a keyboard that has more traditional keys and grab the iGesture Mouse, also by FingerWorks, because the gestures and the zero-force mouse are definitely my favorite parts of the keyboard (I have not tried the iGesture, but from what I’ve read, it uses the same technology). I would want these features regardless of hand injuries (you traditional mouse users just don’t know what you’re missing). In my RSI world, despite difficulties with typing accuracy, I’m still using it after six months, so that says something.
I definitely recommend this keyboard for anyone who’s had trouble with repetitive strain injuries. In fact, between the cool gestures system (timesaver), the onboard mouse (another timesaver), and the potential for helping prevent RSI, I would recommend it for anyone who works everyday with computers, especially programmers.