First let's look at the thing in question...
Photo of Zoom Text Keyboard from Ai Squared
Let's get this straight right off the bat. This is an initial look. Not a review. The keyboard should be shipping to dealers soon and I urge, emplore and beg you to see this accessory, like I always say here, for yourself. Every eye is diferent. Every pocket book is diferent. So take my sarcasim with a grain of salt. I try to be informative and somewhat entertaining. Years of being in morning Radio has that effect on any presentations I do. So again "try before you buy".
Here''s what you get for $99 plus $10 shipping.
1 Zoom Text Keyboard
1 User's Manual
1 Program CD
1 PS2 to USB Converter [found on end of cord]
With that said.. It's a bright yellow in that picture eh? Well it's even brighter in person. Oh it's not a Humanware bright Orange but trust me even low vision people will spot this keyboard from across the room. Now most individuals respond well to blue and yellow color schemes. And a number of people work well when viewing white text on a black bacground.. this blog for instance. But I don't know about yellow and black lettering. So far in the three people I have let use the keyboard all have been indiferent to the colors.
The feel of the keys though ranged from mushy from one to stiff from another. Again diferent strokes.. get it.. key strokes.. nahhh. Anyway, bad jokes aside, the keys themselves are an office cubical nightmare. If you or someone you know are a heavy typist then hearing the pounding of these keys will be heard all the way in the breakroom.
The raised, for lack of a better term, dias that surrounds the keys themselves is wide and it makes fitting it into some keyboard caddies a tight fit at best. Using it's legs to tilt adds some genuine support for those who lay their hands rather than rest them lightly on the keys. Overall the three victims, eh, people we had use the keyboard said it felt okay to use for their daily tasks.
The layout, however, was said to be odd by everyone. The Six Pack is kinda sideways. Well I say sideways but not like you find on a Microsoft Natural Keyboard. If you look Home and Delete are not exactly in a logical, and by that I mean right next to what you would think they would be next to, place. Moreover, the new keys up at the top row that let you perform Zoom Text specific tasks are visually labled with no tactal dividers. When you throw your hands up there as a touch typist you will find yourself guessing at the key you want. Not fun when trying to write that all important blog post or email. In fact this is my chief complaint and has been since I saw it back at CSUN earlier this year. The one main purpose of this accessory is to make using the computer, and to some respect Zoom Text, easier from the low vision perspective. Unless your 2 to 3x in 800 by 600 resolution terms you kind of don't always see the keys clearly no matter what. Not having some bumps, spacers or just about anything else other than colors to divide the hotkeys is a tremendous oversight in my opinion.
But did others agree with my feelings about the issue? Well it ranged once again. Which tells you once more that seeing is believing. One person with a lot of residual vision had no problems using the top row of keys while another person with far less vision came to the same conclusion that I had come to earlier.
The keys themselves do work well and they are grouped in such a way that hitting one will put you right next to it's partner. Increase is next to decrease and so on it goes. The keyboard is not programmable which means if you have a specific hotkey not listed at the top you will have to remap it from the Zoom Text User Interface. Not a chore and now you have some other keys free to to that with besides.
The setup of the keyboard is simple and you don't even need ZT running to do it either. A talking install will guide you and the documentation for the keyboard is on the CD, you will have to browse it to find it, in case you want to read it with Doc Reader. The install is quick and painless with no real problems noticed on on either of my two test systems.
The real story will come when I get a room full of techies to look at it this week. But let's say that this is a great tool for beginners or others with little to no computer experience who don't know that Control, Alt, Shift, Delete and U refresh the Zoom Text Database.
More to come..