Hardware Review


Microwriter keyboard is handy on the Beeb

MICROWRITER, a small portable word processor with about 8k of memory, has been around for several years now. What made it unique, apart from portability, was its rather special keyboard which only has six keys.

The Microwriter keyboard itself -without the inbuilt memory - is now available for the BBC Micro as the Quinkey.

Strangely, the name suggests it has five keys (from the Latin quinque=five) though the name might have been more interesting if it had derived from the Latin for six (sex)!

Quinkey is housed in a good quality plastic moulding, about 9 x 4.5 x 2in in size. The six full travel keys have a positive though light feel and are arranged in a semi-circle so that the fingers of the right hand will rest above them. The thumb has two keys to control, while the other fingers control one key each.

Connection to the BBC is by a cable to the analogue port - where joysticks plug in. Up to four keyboards can be connected at the same time.

Before the micro can recognise the new keyboard a short piece of software (PROG) needs to be loaded and run. After this nearly every character and command can be entered directly from the Quinkey keyboard.

This linking software can be added to your own Basic programs. The manual contains notes on how this can be done easily.

To begin with I was rather sceptical. I had seen a demonstration before but it's difficult to believe that a keyboard with only six keys could replace the standard qwerty typewriter keyboard.

I doubted even more the claim that it would be easy to learn.

Well, after only a short time I had changed my mind. An hour or so is all it takes to learn all the alphanumeric and main control characters.

The manual supplied is clear. Simple diagrams show the keys to be selected and mnemonics are given to aid your memory. However putting in information quickly will obviously take more experience.

Interestingly the characters are selected, not when the keys are pressed, but when they are released. People find it easier to release keys together rather than pressing keys at the same time.

Also, because your fingers stay in the same position, you feel that you don't need to keep looking at the keyboard, which encourages touch typing.

Microwriter has also written some programs which make use of the keyboard such as Learn, which starts to give the basic ideas using the "shape a letter" system.

One of the best of these programs is Skram, a "zap" game. Here letters displayed on the screen must be selected within a time limit and more quickly than other players.

The keys pressed are displayed along with the correct combination if the answer is incorrect.

The graphics and sound combine to make this an entertaining way of learning to use the keyboard.

The Quinkey can be used as an alternative to the standard keyboard in word processing packages such as Wordwise and View. For example, this review was written with Wordwise via a Quinkey.

To allow for the numerous control codes in these programs a slightly different linking program called WP is supplied.

One drawback was that all the software was on tape. It would have been easier if it had been on disc. The best solution would be for the linking software to be in ROM, ready for use when required.

This is one piece of equipment that I'll be sorry to give back.

Jim Notman