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Touch typing on the HP Palmtop

Touch typing on the HP Palmtop

"The quick brown fox ..." learned to touch type on his HP Palmtop using the tips in this article.

By Michael F. Walsh

I know they claim that it can't be done, but most of you touch-typists can type on the HP Palmtop's tiny keyboard. All it requires is patience, practice, and the strong desire to stop lugging your eight pound laptop computer around. The HP Palmtop's keyboard is a challenge, but so was that full size keyboard when you first started to learn.

I've had my HP 100LX since May 1993 and I was one of those that complained vociferously to Hewlett Packard about the tiny calculator keys. After twelve months of juggling both the HP 100LX and a separate note pad during meetings, I finally decided to go cold turkey and take notes on the HP 100LX. About a week later I discovered that touch-typing on this minuscule keyboard was possible after all.

The Problems

There are three problems with typing on such a small keyboard. First, many keys are in unfamiliar places. Solving problems related to the unfamiliarity of the keyboard simply takes practice. For a while you have to be conscious of the fact that the period key is below the "M" key rather than two keys to the right.

The second problem is that it takes more pressure to activate the keys. The solution is simple -learn to press the keys harder. (Didn't any of you learn to type on a manual typewriter?)

The final problem is that most peoples' fingers are too large and crowd the keyboard. Below are a few tips to help you re-learn touch typing on the HP Palmtop.

Don't break your wrists

Do not start out by trying to put your wrists together in parallel to address the HP Palmtop keyboard. In order to type comfortably you need a nontraditional approach. The angle of each arm should be at least 45 degrees to the front edge of the HP Palmtop keyboard (see graphic). If you could type at this angle on a regular keyboard there would be less fatigue on your wrists. Unfortunately, the keys are too far apart on a standard keyboard! [We've seen some newer experimental desktop keyboards with this angle built into the design of the keyboard -Rich.]

Touch Typing Can Be Done: Graphic

 The keys on the HP Palmtops are close enough together that you can get both hands on the home row using a 45 degree or greater angle.

To make this technique work you have to find the right amount of "curl" for each of your fingers so that they all rest on the home row as described below. For my size hands, my index fingers have only a slight curl while resting on the "F" and "J" keys. My middle and ring fingers, however, are quite curved. I also keep my right thumb almost fully extended, using it to strike the spacebar. I rest the tip of my left thumb against the front edge of the keyboard to help steady my fingers on the home row.

Finding the Home Row

You can't touch type on the Palmtop if your hands can't find the home row. Here's the trick. The home row has two small gaps among the keys -for the right hand, between the "L" and the "4" keys and for the left hand, between the "A" key and the edge of the keyboard. Learn to rest the ring finger of your right hand in the space between the "l" and "4" keys. This should allow the index finger on your right hand to rest on the "J" key and the middle finger to rest on the right edge of the "K" key. It is helpful to remember that there are only three keys ("j" "k" "l") on the right side of the home row.

Learn to rest the little finger of your left hand in the space between the "A" key and the edge of the keyboard. This should allow the index finger to rest on the "F" key and the middle finger to rest on the left edge of the "D" key. The ring finger will probably rest between the "S" and "A" keys, or even on the "A" key itself.

By using the ring finger of your right hand and the little finger of your left to find the gaps in the keyboard you can learn to "bracket" the home row with both hands.

Move hand and finger to reach keys

When you first learned to touch-type, the keys were too far apart! It was a real stretch to reach the "Y," "B," "Q," and "P" keys. You solved that problem by moving your hand a small distance as your finger stretched for the desired key. The dual motion of moving your hand and your fingers is the key to typing on a small keyboard as well.

The idea is to move your hand slightly in order to center the appropriate finger over the key you want to press. For example, in my "home row" tip, the ring finger of the right hand rests slightly to the right of the "L" key. When you want to press that key you have to move your right hand slightly toward the center of the keyboard to bring your ring finger over the "L" key. Similarly, to press the "Z" key, you have to move your left hand toward the center of the keyboard and down a little so that your little finger is over the "Z" key. Unless your fingers are very large, you'll find that the distance you have to move your hands is very small.

Practice makes perfect

Make a short list of the words you feel most comfortable typing -words that almost pop out of your fingers before you think about them. For me those words are "the," "that," "would," "first," and other short, commonly used words. Type those words over and over again on the HP Palmtop until you start to get the feel for the small hand and finger movements necessary.

Once these words start to feel comfortable, the keyboard will come together for you. Good luck!

[Note: Ed Keefe wrote an excellent article titled, "Living with Big Fingers and an Itty Bitty Keyboard" in Vol.3, No.1, Pg.44. The article gives some good tips on how to get by on the Palmtops' Lilliputian keyboard.]

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