L3 Systems WristPC Keyboard

by Don Marti

Looking to enter the world of wearable computing without learning a chorded keyboard? Or just need an easy-to-learn input device for your forklift operator or bass player? L3 Systems' WristPC keyboard is worth trying out.

As the name implies, you wear it almost like a really big watch, except that there's a sort of half-glove that goes around your thumb. It stays in place very well and comes with Velcro arm straps to keep the cable under control. (You can also skip the wrist kit and devise your own rig.) The total cable length is five feet, which is more than enough for a wearable. It's available in USB and PS/2 versions, with an aluminum or plastic case, and with or without backlighting.

The rubbery-feeling keys (except the space key) are identical and square. The 39 keys are arranged in a 4" x 10" grid, and the space "bar" takes the place of two. There's a photo on the L3 web site.

The FUNC key, like Fn on the Happy Hacking Keyboard, gives you access to less common keys. Unfortunately for vi users, this includes the Escape key. But you shouldn't expect to use this keyboard for heavy editing sessions anyway.

The CAPS LOCK and NUM LOCK keys light up--somewhat confusingly, NUM LOCK lights up when you press FUNC. The optional backlighting is very useful as all the keys feel identical, and you do need to use your eyes to get to most of them.

The most pleasing characteristic of the WristPC keyboard is that it leaves you freedom to use your hand normally. For example, you can drive or type on a regular keyboard while wearing it.

And it's not just for wrists. You can strap it to other things too. For example, if your electric guitar or bass has deep enough cutaways at the top, you can strap it on without modifying the instrument and invoke strange and terrible software-based effects, without stepping over to a conventional keyboard or even moving your left hand. (If your band uses a Linux box on stage, please put me on your mailing list.)

My typing speed, with a little practice, is still only a few words per minute. It would be even slower for code or complex editing. The WristPC probably isn't the best choice for constant use or applications that depend on keys you can't access with one press. But if you write your application with the WristPC in mind (hint: use q, w, and e for frequently used menu options!) it will be handy for many uses.

The Good
  • Doesn't interfere much with normal activities.

  • Built like an anvil.

  • Easy to learn.

  • Backlighting is cool.

The Bad
  • Identical keys mean you mostly need to see it to work it.

  • Not for heavy vi-ing or touch typing.

Don Marti is Technical Editor at Linux Journal.

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