Typematrix 2030 Keyboard Review

If you’re a born minimalist or just somebody with a small desk, you can’t do much better than the TypeMatrix. It’s one of the smallest keyboards you can buy, yet includes almost all of the commonly used keys and a strikingly usable numeric keypad. Plus – if you listen to TypeMatrix – it’s ergonomically beneficial as well.

A modern keyboard layout

TypeMatrix 2030 Keyboard Layout

The TypeMatrix 2030 layout – click to zoom

The flagship feature of the TypeMatrix 2030 is the improved layout of its keys. Look down at your keyboard. Notice something odd about the way the key rows are staggered? Neither do most people. We just expect that C, for instance, doesn’t line up exactly with D, and U doesn’t line up exactly with J. While this might seem like some kind of ergonomic innovation, it turns out that there’s nothing innovative about it. Like QWERTY itself, the staggered layout is a holdover from the days of manual typewriters, when the keys had to be staggered to leave room for their mechanical arms. Unlike QWERTY, this ancient holdover can be changed without too much inconvenience for the user.

The TypeMatrix design straightens out the staggered keys, giving the keyboard a simple grid layout. But that’s not all. To further transfer some typing load away from the weaker pinkie fingers, TypeMatrix also moved some important keys. Enter, Backspace, and Delete are now in a straight column down the center of the keyboard. Personally I think this is a good idea, but it takes some getting used to – as do numerous other tweaks to the positions of keys like Ctrl, Alt, and Backslant.

Some people have reported typing clumsily for weeks after switching to the TypeMatrix. I was able to go fairly fast on it right away, though I had to look at my hands for accuracy. The biggest problem I experienced was with the right Shift key, which is further away than I’m used to. When I tried to type, for instance, the word “TypeMatrix,” I ended up with “\typeMatrix” instead – Backslant being where my pinkie expected to find Shift.

A better numeric keypad

Narrow keyboards usually try to implement ten-key the same way it’s done on a laptop: They make the numeric keypad an alternate overlay on the right side of the board. There’s just one problem with this. Because of the staggered layout we discussed earlier, the numbers don’t line up with each other like a good ten-keyer expects. This makes it challenging to use and a poor substitute for a real numeric keypad.

The TypeMatrix grid layout changes all that. The numeric keypad characters now line up exactly as they do on a standard keyboard. Just hit Num at the top right and you’ll be right at home. The 2030 even has one useful numeric key that isn’t found on most boards, a dedicated double-zero – great for entering dollar amounts.

Small footprint, low profile

TypeMatrix 2030 keyboard

The TypeMatrix 2030 used in this review

The TypeMatrix 2030 is only 12.75″ wide, making it one of the smallest keyboards available. The resulting increase in desk space can really help to bring everything within reach – particularly your mouse. Standard keyboards are usually 15″-20″ wide, leaving you the choice of either pushing your mouse too far away or off-centering the keyboard. Both choices are bad and can result in various problems with your elbow and wrist. This is one of the biggest problems that can be solved with a small keyboard like the TypeMatrix.

Having a low profile keyboard is usually good for ergonomics too. The 1/2″-thin profile of the 2030 makes it that much easier to get your keyboard down to elbow height or below, particularly if you are stuck with a less-than-ideal desk setup. One word of warning though: Don’t try to use a standard palm rest with the TypeMatrix; it will almost certainly be too thick.

Ultra portable

One thing I really don’t like about my Kinesis Freestyle is its lack of portability. Two separate keying modules with elaborate foot assemblies are awkward to scoot across the desk, much less stuff into a laptop bag. The TypeMatrix has no such drawback. It’s both small and sturdy, and would easily fit into the most modest briefcase, bag, or backpack. This could be important if you work on several different computers.

A keyboard with a raincoat

TypeMatrix 2030 with clear rubber cover

The 2030 with a clear rubber skin

Those of us who eat at our desks have a dilemma. Food is unappealing without something to drink, but computer keyboards don’t like to get wet. Some of them really don’t like it. I discovered this the hard way a few years ago, when I tipped a bottle of cold tea into my Microsoft Natural Elite. As I recall now, I did everything you’re supposed to do. I unplugged the keyboard at once, inverted it, disassembled it, and got the inside completely dry before hooking it up again. Despite all these efforts, several letters were gone forever; my keyboard had abruptly reached the end of its useful life. You can get a Microsoft Elite for about $20 off eBay, so this wasn’t a particularly expensive accident. In the case of a higher-end keyboard, though, such a mishap could be very expensive.

In what I think is a pretty cool touch, TypeMatrix offers various rubber “skins” for the 2030. Made of thoroughly waterproof and washable silicone, they’re perfect for protecting the keyboard from dust, wear, and ham-handed coffee drinkers. I can also see a place for this in laboratories, industrial facilities, art studios, restaurants – the list goes on. Sure, you can buy a roll-up rubber keyboard for a lot less money, but the mushy action on those things is a joke. The rubber coating on the TypeMatrix 2030 can actually improve an already-good typing experience – more on that later.

Low typing noise

Many typing enthusiasts consider keyboard noise a thing of beauty. Some even love it so much that they go out and buy a Das Keyboard, which is specifically marketed as one of the planet’s noisiest. Coworkers, and others who have to listen to this “beautiful” sound, tend to share a different view – just as extreme, but in the other direction.

If you want to maintain popularity among those within earshot of your typing, the TypeMatrix is your friend. To start with, the keyboard itself is reasonably quiet, with about the noise level of a laptop. But when you add a rubber skin, even that small amount of noise is almost eliminated. A TypeMatrix with a rubber cover is probably the closest thing you’ll find to a silent keyboard – short of a touch device like the iPad.

Typing action

If you’ve typed on a typical good-quality laptop, you’ve experienced pretty much the same thing as a TypeMatrix. The keys are a bit softer and springier than those on my HP notebook. Add a rubber cover, and those keys become softer still – but in a good way. If you find the action of other keyboards jarring, the gentle presses of a TypeMatrix 2030 may be just what you need.

Alternative keyboard layouts

High efficiency QWERTY alternatives like Dvorak aren’t for everybody, but they do have their fans – particularly among those whose living depends on their typing speed. Normally Dvorak users have to customize every computer they use, and change it back again if it’s a shared system. The TypeMatrix 2030 makes things much easier, because it doesn’t rely on the computer’s OS for Dvorak capability. Instead, there’s a smart chip on the board itself that toggles between QWERTY and Dvorak when you press Fn-F1.

Additionally, you don’t have commit to an alternate layout by buying a special version of the keyboard, or worry about changing keycaps. Instead, you can order a rubber keyboard skin reflecting the layout you want. You can even order a completely blank skin for an unlettered keyboard, just like the ones they used in old time typing classes.

The ouch dots

Most keyboards feature some kind of plastic “bump” on the index finger home keys, to help touch typists find their starting positions without looking. The TypeMatrix has such bumps not only on the J and F, but also on Numeric 5, Numeric 00, and the Delete key. This is fine in concept, but there’s a problem with those dots – they’re sharp. Sitting here typing on a brand-new 2030, my index fingers are getting quite uncomfortable from sliding over the little pinpoints.

The good news is, a rubber skin softens up the dots considerably. If you want to use the keyboard without a cover, and you have sensitive hands like mine, you may have to put up with some discomfort until natural wear rounds off the dots. You could also put a tiny piece of tape on each one, or sand them down with a Dremel tool (though I’m pretty sure the latter would void your warranty).

Summary

In my opinion, every keyboard that comes with an ordinary computer should be more like the Typematrix 2030. Its ergonomic features – straight grid layout, small size, and reduced pinkie use – are all basic but helpful. Most importantly, the keyboard is not some weird-looking device that will scare users with a steep learning curve. Though small and deceptively simple-looking, the TypeMatrix 2030 is really quite an innovation.

Disclosure: This review was made using a complimentary sample from TypeMatrix, which I gave to another person after finishing the review.

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11 Comments

  1. Redglyph
    Posted August 9, 2014 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    I never understood the argument about the mouse being too far, hence being a danger for elbow and wrist. It’s not as if our arms were crippled or hard to move around. Admittedly, according to several studies published in Journal of Medicine, the use and abuse of mouse would be slightly more prone to CTS than keyboard, though neither reached a conclusive correlation with the disease which makes the argument hardly relevant.

    Now surely using the mouse every other word may be awkward, but to me it’s mainly an efficiency issue, as it takes time to switch from the keyboard to the mouse and vice-versa. That’s why I favour keyboard shortcuts whenever possible, and that’s why I came to dislike the programs which wouldn’t make it easier on typists.

    A typical example is the search-oriented web pages, take IMDB, which open without automatically focusing on the input field. Why is that? The first action everyone has to take is obviously grabbing the mouse and select the input field. It’s just poor design, and perhaps it’s as important – if not more – to increase developer’s awareness about this issue than designing smaller keyboards.

    In that regard, programs like TotalCommander are a bless, you can save so many travels to the mouse compared to the standard Explorer that it makes it one of the keyboard-minded people’s best friends. Not to mention all the downloads it saves for daily operations (here I’m talking as a developer, that may not be true for everyone) – comparing files, archiving them, synchronizing directories… everyone of which makes otherwise a longer use of the mouse.

    There are other good and bad examples, but I’m sure you’ll get the point 🙂

    • Jason
      Posted August 9, 2014 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

      While I haven’t personally experienced any problems due to the mouse being far away, I can see how it might be a real issue. To make the problem clear, let’s imagine that your elbow has to rotate 45 degrees to reach the mouse, or maybe even 60 degrees. That makes my elbow hurt to think about. (Obviously there’s a limit to reductio ad absurdam when it comes to things like this, but you get the idea.)

      I do completely agree that keyboard shortcuts are a great idea for a host of reasons.

  2. tebor
    Posted June 23, 2014 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    Why does the image in your review show different printing on the keyboard than the images at the TypeMatrix web site? In particular, yours has icons instead of text for things like Start, back space, enter, etc.

    • Jason
      Posted June 23, 2014 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

      I did this review in 2011, so I assume they’ve changed up the labeling slightly since then.

      • tebor
        Posted June 24, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

        Hi Jason,
        I have a TypeMatrix 2030 keyboard I purchased in 2009 and it looks exactly like the photos on their web site. I’m wondering if their web site photos aren’t up to date, or if you had a special version I hadn’t heard about.

        • Jason
          Posted June 24, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

          No special version that I know of, but I guess it’s possible they sent me an out-of-date model for sample purposes.

    • tebor
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      So I contacted TypeMatrix about this discrepancy and was told that the images on their web site aren’t up to date. Current shipping keyboards look like the image in your review, and match what’s shown on the images of keyboard skins on their web site.

      • Jason
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

        Good info. Thanks for following up and posting back. 🙂

  3. Amy Marre
    Posted March 31, 2013 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

    Hi, Jason!

    Thanks so much for your great site. It was really helpful to me back when I was shopping for a new keyboard (I had a Kinesis Essential but didn’t love it), and I just posted my own glowing review of the Typematrix 2020. I’ll be sending some of my readers your way when I publish my followup to it, about general keyboard shopping; yours is the site I hint at, at the bottom of the current post!

    Amy

    • Jason
      Posted April 1, 2013 at 8:52 am | Permalink

      Glad you found my site helpful. I scanned your write-up on the Typematrix, and it was quite interesting. I must say I’m a bit shocked that the TM worked for you better than the Kinesis, but it just goes to show that everyone’s different. Thanks for the feedback and mentions 🙂

      • Amy Marre
        Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:59 am | Permalink

        Hi, Jason,

        I know, it’s surprising—I think Typematrix was nonplussed to hear that I prefer their board to a Kinesis, too! But for the line of work that mainly inspired me to get the Typematrix (transcription), the reduced finger-travel distance has really been a benefit. It never felt like the Kinesis cut down that distance to the same extent, and I felt that in my wrists.

        Still have that follow-up post I planned on my to-do list; work on the second edition of my book is taking longer than expected, so everything else is being pushed back. Meanwhile, I went ahead and put you on my blogroll. I’m happy to spread the word about your terrific site!

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  • About The Blogger

    Jason, the All Things Ergo bloggerI'm Jason, a user of many ergonomic devices by necessity and choice. I'm also a partner in a business that operates a number of commercial enterprises, including All Things Ergo.

    I have no particular training or expertise in the area of ergonomics. My views are based on my own personal experience, and what works for me won't necessarily work for you.