MAKE:TNT Tools 'n' Tips

FingerWorks TouchStream LP

Tool photo.

(Note: FingerWorks has ceased operations. You can still buy the keyboard from online retailers and eBay.) Three weeks of 12-hour days in front of my laptop, and the mere amount of force it took to press a key was causing pain in my wrist. Keyboards are cheaper than wrists, so I began looking at serious ergonomic offerings from companies like Kinesis and DataHand. Then I bought a FingerWorks TouchStream LP because it was so much cooler than all those.

The TouchStream LP has a perfectly smooth surface like a trackpad, but with a keyboard overlay. The lightest touch will activate a key. The TouchStream is far more than just a pad for typing, however. Place together two fingers on the right-hand surface and it becomes a trackpad. Two fingers on the left-hand surface mimic the arrow keys. Add a third finger for shift-arrow, to quickly highlight text. The TouchStream supports a dizzying array of gestures. A grasping motion is used to cut. A dropping motion to paste. A clockwise flick of the wrist closes a window. Dropping all four fingers of either hand activates shift. Similar gestures exist for all the modifier keys, eliminating the need to reach. Special modes and gestures exist for everything from Emacs to Photoshop.

The MultiTouch Utilities allow for gesture customization on Mac, Linux, and Windows platforms, but the TouchStream will also work on any USB-equipped computer without drivers. It can be removed from its base and folded in half for easy use with a laptop or lab computer.

I bought the Dvorak version, which I hadn’t used before, in an attempt to minimize finger movement. After about a month, I’m to the point where I can type in Dvorak on the TouchStream without looking, but it’s still much faster if I keep my eyes on the keyboard.

My biggest disappointment with the TouchStream is that long periods of mouse use are hard on the wrist. I found a few hours of graphic editing to be unbearable. While I far prefer the TouchStream to a mouse for selecting menus and buttons while word processing or browsing the web, if you do a lot of graphic or CAD work, I recommend keeping an actual mouse nearby.

available for various prices on Ebay