The Best Keyboard We’ve Found (so far)
A SpongeBob SquarePants keyboard will initially sound like an odd choice. We’ve been told that it’s a little bit insulting to give a 90-year-old a keyboard that screams from the top-left, “I Love Bubbles!”. The surface features SpongeBob looking gleefully at the bubbles, Patrick the starfish lazily blowing bubbles, Plankton trapped in a bubble, and Squidward fuming under the right control key.
But it’s perfect in many ways that other keyboards fall short. It’s visually simple; it uses the standard keyboard layout; and it leaves out extraneous keys. The keys themselves are also nice and sturdy — and they require enough weight to press that they’re not easily pressed by mistake. We’ll address keyboard springiness, squishiness, and all general tactile issues in a later entry.
Notice what’s missing? F1 through F12. The numeric keypad. Scroll Lock, Pause|Break, Home, End. Stuff you might use but a computer novice would not. Surprisingly frequently, users may press ‘F4′ rather than ’4′, with very confusing results. ‘Home’ could reasonably be expected to take you to your desktop, but it doesn’t, nor does ‘End’ log you out. They’ve done an admirable job of including just what’s needed. And they’ve made it high contrast while highlighting the difference between functional keys, letter keys, and number keys with different colors.
Similarly, the layout itself is exceptionally well-thought-out. I used it as my only keyboard for two weeks, and aside from getting used to the ‘backspace’ key being a row down, it was a very pleasant layout. The keys are exactly the size of those on a standard keyboard — the only difference being that they’re rounded. At first, this made touch-typing odd, but I got used to it quickly. And whether intentional or not, it serves a purpose other than just matching with the “bubble” theme of the keyboard — it makes accidentally hitting two keys MUCH less likely (especially at what would be the corners). Finally, the keys are offset from a grid, just like they are on a regular keyboard. Many seniors have lost some dexterity but could touch-type like mad back in the day. For them (and for those of us who use seniors’ computers), it’s maddening when the Q is DIRECTLY over the A key, and Z is DIRECTLY below S. It’s not the way your fingers naturally move if you’re trying to do anything beyond hunt-and-peck.
There has to be a catch to this heaven-sent keyboard. There is, and it’s not just the danger of being insulting by giving someone an “I love bubbles” keyboard. It’s that it seems to be no longer in production. On the plus side, it’s also no longer advertised, therefore no longer in demand, and thus somewhat available. But it undoubtedly won’t be forever. Check around. It was originally made by KidzMouse (who has no contact information on their web site — I tried to get in touch with them to find out more). It would be great to see another run of these.
I doubt we’ll find a keyboard that is better suited to the needs of the users of PawPawMail. And I love having a SpongeBob keyboard. As Spongebob sings (spelling “FUN”), “F is for friends who do stuff together, U is for you and me… N is for anywhere or any time at all, down here in the deep blue sea…”