Glide in your stride – Alps Electric USA’s GlidePoint Keyboard; Cirque’s GlidePoint keyboard – Hardware Review – Evaluation
WIN 95 / WIN / DOS The first time we saw a trackpad pointing device on an Apple PowerBook notebook in mid-1994, we had a religious experience. The motion of our fingers on a small pad of plastic made the onscreen cursor respond to our wishes. Literally, we had control of a computer at our fingertips. We knew it was just a matter of time before this device found its way onto our keyboards.
The main barrier to such products is the standard 101-key keyboard, as thoughtful a design as you’ll find in the computer industry. Normally, a QWERTY layout handles typing, an inverted T of direction keys navigates you through the graphical interface, and the number pad makes spreadsheet entry a breeze. It’s clear that both Alps and Cirque struggled to find a way to include a trackpad in such an economical design.
Alps GlidePoint Alps’s approach is to widen the keyboard and place the trackpad beneath a shrunken inverted T. The extended curve at the bottom of the keyboard also allows Alps to surround the trackpad with the buttons for highlighting text, clicking on an icon, or right clicking for assistance in Windows 95. The Alps GlidePoint includes three Windows 95-specific keys to provide quicker deletions and context-sensitive help similar to what you get when you click on a right mouse button.
Setup was as simple as removing the existing isting mouse and keyboard, plugging in the Alps unit, and turning on the system. The trackpad worked with the existing mouse driver, although running the software installation routine installed a new driver that gave us greater control over the trackpad. Although Alps claims that the shipping model will allow you to click on an item by tapping on the trackpad, the prerelease version we tested didn’t yet have this feature implemented.
Cirque Glidepoint Clicking on the Cirque keyboard was enough to make us hope that Alps does get the feature properly implemented. There’s something so elegant about tapping on your keyboard to control your computer. We expected Cirque to do this right-after all, it holds the patents for the Glidepoint technology that underlies both these products.
But it was soon apparent that Cirque doesn’t regularly produce keyboards. The company’s first unfortunate mistake was to eliminate the inverted T direction keys to make room for the trackpad. Though a pointing device can help you navigate an interface, sometimes you just need a back arrow to move from character to character.
The placement also has two serious drawbacks. First, there’s less space for the QWERTY keys. As a result, Cirque moved the key right where you would expect to find Enter. And the abbreviated Enter key reminds us of the bad old days of the original PC XT. Yuck.
More difficult is the button placement off to the left of the keyboard. In our tests we found it difficult to stop typing, choose an item with the trackpad and its buttons, and then quickly return to typing. With Alps’s design, only your right hand has to leave the keys to use the pointing device. When you need to return to typing, your left hand remains in place, making it easier for your right hand to find your place again on the keys.
These early trackpad devices each have their deficiencies, but the combinations look much more promising than previous attempts to unite pointing and typing devices. For now, at least these units free you from having to reach back to the desk for the mouse when you’re typing with the keyboard on your lap.
Alps GlidePoint Keyboard
Manufacturer: Alps Electric USA, 408-432-6000, 800-825-2577 List Price: $150 Key Specs: 105-key keyboard with Windows 95 keys and Glide Point trackpad
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Cirque GlidePoint Keyboard
Manufacturer: Cirque, 801-467-1100, 800-454-3375 List/Avg. Street Price: $139/$119 Key Spec: 97-key keyboard with Glide-Point trackpad
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