The Charachorder Keyboard Is Too Fast For Competition

It's a keyboard!

We interrupt the flow of Keebin’ with Kristina to bring you this special bulletin. When three different people alert you to a keyboard within 48 hours or so, it calls for more than just a paragraph in the roundup column. So here are several paragraphs, an animated GIF, and some extended commentary about the Charachorder, a new kind of input that came up through Kickstarter in 2021.

Driving this hype train are some short viral videos that show the founder hitting 500+ WPM on this crazy thing. FYI, that is fast enough to get you banned from typing competitions, including the monkeytype leaderboard. Those apes forbid chorded input altogether, and automatically throw out entries above 300 WPM. It acheives these insane speeds through clever mechanical design and, of course, firmware.

Wiggle Room

The Charachorder resembles a pair of rock climbing holds connected with a length of extruded aluminum. Each hold has nine little golf tee-looking joysticks sprouting out of it, which take the place of keys. Charachorder keyboard has 3D switches.There are three golf tees for the thumb to wiggle, four for the fingers, and two extras beneath the middle and ring fingers for arrow keys and mouse control.

Instead of using up-down motion like a regular keyswitch, each little joystick has D-pad directionality for four-way input per digit. The founders claim that 300+ unique inputs and over 17 billion chord combinations are possible without lifting a finger.

One of the cool things about Charachorder is that it accepts standard-one-at-a-time typing as well as chorded input. The chording style isn’t particular, either. According to the site, you just mash h, e, l, o at the same time, and you’ve got ‘hello’. Doesn’t matter if they hit the screen in the wrong order, because the processor rearranges them on the fly. So there’s none of this ‘learn a whole new language’ business to type syllables by shorthand, but of course, you will have to learn a new layout.

Could Have Been an IO Project

Although none of the technical details seem to be listed anywhere on the site, there’s a rather nice GIF that shows the internals.

Astute viewers will notice what appears to be an Arduino Pro Micro along with another board that looks like a wireless module of some kind, and a single AA cell. However, the site says that only wired versions are available, and the picture above shows that the halves are connected with a retractable 3.5 mm cable.

This thing totally reminds me of the DataHand keyboard and its open-source successor the lalboard, although I don’t find it as aesthetically pleasing as either one. I think I prefer the individual switches of the DataHand, though I like the idea of slightly less finger movement from rocking those little joysticks around. Honestly, I’d have to try both to be sure. Y’all know where to send donations to the keeb fund, right?

Thanks to [D—-], [The Commenter Formerly Known as Ren], and [RoganDawes] for the tip!

[Images via Charachorder]

50 thoughts on “The Charachorder Keyboard Is Too Fast For Competition

  1. I have so many questions about the mashability given the example is a letter short. rta = rat, tar, art, tart, drat, tear, etc.

    Really have to wonder how that would work with non-dictionary content like variable names.

    1. That’s exactly what I was thinking. I would only consider one of these after someone demonstrates it’s use for programming. I guess if it can type using characters at similar to keyboard speed that would be acceptable.

      1. Watch… one of these will appear in a movie with a “hacker” opens 5 windows, types into all of them, with screens full of code flying by. And it might actually be possible!

    2. I wondered about that sort of thing as well. The example for “hello” would be fine in most cases, but what if I wanted to type ‘helo” instead?
      I guess chording keyboards are for people who like chording keyboards. I’d better stick with my full-sized split keyb, which I have 25 years worth of muscle memory on. Besides, i nevr havv any erors wen i tipe with thiz one.

        1. If it is like a stenography keyboard, then the vowels are paired to the consonant. So left hand chords h-e (or e-h) while the right chords L & O. From there, arranging the pairs into possible words doesn’t result in as many options

        2. The article looks overhyped in enthusiasm. It will be impossible to type variable names
          500 wpm??? If someone can type those many in a minute using this keyboard correctly, then we might have some interest in this project

    3. I suspect you can be 90% confident the first letter detected is the first letter if its from the dominant hand, and probably still 70% from the non-dominant, just because that is how we think, so rta cuts down the list to so few words that simple spelling and grammar checking should get it right most of the time.

      Not a fan of that sort of offloading though, I would far rather actually put the world or pseudo world letter mashup that I want in manually so when it goes wrong I know its my wonky spelling, not some auto correct buggering me about.

      1. I used to be a fan of “swipe” keyboards, but I had to move to something that allowed me to input individual characters (in this case, “MessageEase”) for this precise reason: if the swiping generated the wrong word and I didn’t notice it until later, it was a lot harder to figure out the correct word, than had I merely misspelled it!

  2. “According to the site, you just mash h, e, l, o at the same time, and you’ve got ‘hello’. Doesn’t matter if they hit the screen in the wrong order, because the processor rearranges them on the fly.”

    This seems like a problematic feature. Also, it makes sense to ban what is effectively shorthand for particular words because you aren’t actually typing the letters. However, banning chording keyboards is dumb and they should instead put them in a separate category.

  3. Seems not too different from stenography, really. It’s a really cool thing, but is a whole lot of work for something that doesn’t have a huge benefit to most people.

    And I think it’ll have the same problems as steno, where it’s much faster for purely english text, but very inefficient for things that need to be keyed in one letter at a time, or things like coding.
    I know I’ve seen videos of coding in steno, but it’s going to need custom dictionaries, and a ton of development, and is still likely to be quite limiting.

    Also, even for normal english language use, there’s a pretty steep/long learning curve. Most people who don’t have an important use that requires realtime transcription abilities, etc, will never learn it well enough to be useful.

    1. yeah…i appreciated this article because even though i actually bothered to look into it a little bit already, i couldn’t tell anything about how it worked from the wall of salesman claims that i ran into. now i know, it works basically the same as stenography. no wonder it’s banned. and my interest is decreased as well…call me old fashioned but i want a character input device, not a word one. if i needed to do much stenography, i’d probably feel different! :)

      1. I feel the same as you, I’m actually more interested in the layout, where I wouldn’t need to move my fingers too much, than in the chords which seems to be useless for almost everyone

    2. It might be a bit difficult to type code, but what if you pair this with something like codex or bloom? You could have some hot chords for comments and transformer-based code generation, and write functions in fractions of a second. Obviously, you would need to debug the resulting code, but I feel you could have entire files done in minutes if used properly.

    1. what’s stopping anyone from doing this on a OS level via software? its cause 99.9% of the world doesn’t want it and it serves little use outside of a few niche applications

        1. The hardware of the keyboard determines the level of ‘ghosting’ and ‘key rollover’. The latter is a fancy term to describe how many keys can be pressed at one time. It is a limitation of either how the key matrix is configured like you’ve said or the hardware controller for the keyboard.

          For typical qwerty keyboards, 2-key rollover or 2KRO is recommended. Not sure what the standard is for PS/2 but USB keyboards can have N-KRO if designed that way — or in other words, you can press all the keys simultaneously. 6KRO or better is recommended for gaming and other oddities such as this piece of hardware.

          Given 6KRO or greater, this could be done in software. Each “key” being a 4-way directional d-pad is interesting. I don’t have a particular use for this device but it is interesting to see, one doesn’t have to learn a new language of typing but they need to learn a new layout.

          Something that is desirable for me, personally, is a portable keyboard that can be used with smartphone or small portable devices that is small in size, is intuitive, and works well for writing terminal commands and code. I wish Gboard’s Swype typing feature worked for Termux, but for some reason it doesn’t. Not that it would solve the issues I just enumerated… unless one created a dictionary with coding and terminal keywords / suggestions… even then, not sure. Still looking for a good portable solution.

          Interesting input method, though.

          1. SwiftKey allows you to put arrow keys as well as modifier keys (ctrl, alt) into your layout. I use it for Termux periodically. You can also get cherry switch (or similar) compact Bluetooth keyboards all over Amazon. I have one of those and it is handy, but not small enough that I would carry it around with me all the time.

          2. It’s actually the other way around. PS/2 sends key events sequentially, so it’s a true NKRO. On USB, on the other hand, the default is report polling which polls 8 bytes at a time, 1 of which is used as a bitmap of the four modifier keys, and 6 for variable keys, hence the 6KRO/10KRO. There are ways around that, which are: 1 – extended reports up to 32 bytes(30 keys), but it’s bugged in windows and other software, 2 – full 16 byte bitmap reports, which are technically 128KRO, and 3 – making keyboard report as dozens of standard report keyboards, which is just calling for issues.

            The problem is, nobobdy bothers. None of the motherboard and KVM manufacturers are bothered their buggy firmware, no OS developers care about alternative input methods, not even keyboard makers themselves bother with implementing a proper NKRO over the USB. While pretty much all mech manufacturers claim that they have NKRO, in almost every case it’s over the PS/2, while the rest who do have it over the USB, fail to disclose which approach they’re using to achieve it.

            I’ve been in this rabbit hole for long, but I only know that there’s one manufacturer (Das Keyboard) that implements full bitmap reports, and that QMK-compatible keyboards can support it, too. The rest’s buried down in marketing bullshit. So, the only way to reliably find an NKRO keyboard on the cheap still is to go with the good ol’ PS/2. Which is a shame, since most modern motherboards don’t feature it anymore.

  4. Did anyone else read the name as “CharacHoarder”?

    Seems like a good name for a keylogger…
    As an alternate keyboard noob, I’m curious if anyone more in-the-know is aware of those being used to determine/test chording options, or is it all based on character frequency in a given language and some creativity from the builder?

  5. Not sure why it would be banned, Hey if it types, it types.
    Has the ‘Keebin with Kristina’ series subsumed the ‘Inputs of Interest’ series? I am not exactly sure of what the difference is, but am guessing Keebin is for Kristina’s personal experience with hardware she acquires/reviews, and Inputs is of a general technical/historical nature of human-comptuter interaction?

    1. Because they have to draw a line somewhere between “conventional keyboard” and “press one button and the entire target text gets streamed out at full USB speed.” It’s not like we put runners and sportscars in the same race, even though technically both get a person from A to B.

  6. This makes my spider senses tingle. Not in the good way, in the “I’m being sold something” way.

    Chording with standard letters sounds like hardware autocorrect. Useful for typing sentences in a speed test, actively inhibits you when you deviate from whatever set of words it was trained on.

    I will delighted if I find out that it is as useful in practice as they claim, though! Have to keep an open mind.

  7. I’ve wanted a datahands keyboard ever since I saw it on a show called Beyond 2000 on, I believe, Discovery channel roughly 30 years ago.

    If Apple iPhone predictive type / autocorrect is anything to go by, the state of that technology isn’t ready for full time use. But hardware wise, I think this thing looks awesome and I wouldn’t have a problem at all with one at a time character entry. Been doing that for decades also.

  8. I really wonder how this thing will wear, all those joysticks seem like a recipe for constant replacement of the most common ‘letter’ motions, which means probably all of them as you are not going to put all the most common moves on the same few sticks if you want to get good speed out of it…

    Also seems like a nightmare for haptic feedback, I pushed the stick left, but did I push it far enough, or ‘left’ enough – with a key press even those crazy 4+ keys per finger tiny little switch throw type keyboards you can feel when you hit it correctly and are only going to trigger the one you want (I would assume – I want to try them but time and money, most a lack of the latter).

  9. Seriously. I’m software developer, using a normal keyboard (okay, a natural split keyboard). I don’t need anything to type faster. I need something to make me *think* faster, and autocorrect my thoughts if that could be possible.

    I also need something to make me read websites and comment on articles faster.

    The quickness/slowness of a keyboard is the least of my concerns. :P

    1. As a programmer I sometimes take meeting minutes at work. sometimes I spool up what is going on and am typing long after a person has stopped talking. It would be valuable to me if I could sometimes type a little faster without having to spend a lot of effort practicing.

    2. Indeed, really depends on what you are doing, copy typeing, typing up handwritten notes (assuming legible handwriting), notes on the lecture you are in are all very quick tasks you need to type damn fast. When having to do all the thinking for yourself at that very same moment on the other hand even the smartest and fastest folks I know are typing slower (at least than most touch typists can go) as their ideas form.

    3. I don’t mind the slow thinking, i mind the torture of manipulating the apps, shells, windows, frames, blocks, lines, entire texts, references, pastes, buffers, panels and their spatial locations and visibility as i go about my business.

      chording and using emacs as a window manager lets me use shift, ctrl, meta, hyper & super, to do all that using just the funky keys left of numpad. even if its mostly just 2 of those modifiers at a time, i don’t think i could do without them, even if this was the bee’s knees for journaling.

      (fwiw, i’ve got 8 different personal bindings around just hyper and meta which work with those funky keys – across and on top of all the application i’ve used in the last few years to interact with the os and a bunch of single function/app shortcuts spread around the letters. setting it up this way and drilling myself to use the new simplicity that arose has been the best thing i’ve done for myself with the computer ever.)

      as for read-speed.. go vertical and play with your color scheme until you find one that you enjoy every time you look at it. iow, don’t underestimate just how disturbing the need to scroll is on the attention!

      with a simple ‘delete last word’ command, this input style might work fine with AR glasses and gloves that let you chord and learn to chord while on a long walk. wake me when that happens ;-)

  10. As I’ve explored different keyboard designs via “thought experiments” (I have yet to take the plunge and actually make a keyboard), I used to like the idea of a chorded cord, until I realized that we already have a chorded cord — and while I’m more of a Vim person myself, I cannot help but notice chords are particularly important to Emacs users! Yet even as a Vim user, though, there isn’t a minute that goes by without using Ctrl-P for autocomplete, or even Ctrl-F to find something in my web browser, or Ctrl-D to close a Tmux terminal screen.

    Even Notepad++ users will undoubtedly use Ctrl-S to save documents, Ctrl-X/C/V for cut-and-paste. Having to figure out how to implement these kinds of chords into a chorded keyboard would be a nightmare!

  11. i got a bit inspired by this, maybe could be nice to have the joystick kind switches even if the chord typing may not be the best idea.. not totally convinced. good points in the comments above.
    regarding the keyboard matrix it seems like my laptop keyboard can handle 6-8 simultaneous presses depending on what specific keys are pressed, for chord typing to work I guess any 8-10 key combination must work, or maybe one or 2 less if you come up with some really clever key placement/algorithm.
    another idea that might be useful in some cases but probably not as fast would be to be able to type all letters with one hand for mobile use or while using mouse with the other hand. I guess thats what this thing does;
    thinking of getting some of those joystick switches to experiment with, guess these are the ones used by charachorder or something really similar;

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