All ages

15th June 2001 at 01:00
Maltron Track Ball keyboard. pound;435. (plus VAT and pound;10 pamp;p). PCD Maltron Ltd, 15 Orchard Lane, East Molesey, Surrey KT8 0BN. Tel: 020 8398 3265. email: website: PC and Mac compatible. Maltron specialises in ergonomic keyboards that allow many sufferers of repetitive strain injury (RSI) to continue using a computer keyboard. While it's unlikely that any pupil will get enough time on a school PC to develop wrist strains and sore fingers, those who have motor skills problems and need extra help with mouse control may benefit from the new, enhanced Track Ball keyboard. The black tracker ball is in the centre of the lightweight plastic keyboard, making it easy for left-and right-handers to use.

The keyboard has two connecting cables to plug in and takes about a minute to set up. Getting to grips with the tracker ball to control the cursor is straightforward and took me about 30 seconds.

For those used to the standard keyboard, the Maltron version will take some practice to master. A number pad is located directly above the trackball, and the QWERTY keyboard is split on either side of the number pad with another set of numbers running across the two sets of letters, and shift, shift lockand cap lock keys running down the side. The letter keys are arranged into the concave shape of the keyboard with the distance of the keys matching the lengths of your fingers to reduce stretching and movement.

The lack of a central space bar is strange, and at first I came to a halt after typing one word and trying to work out what to do next. Typing a word that required both sides of the keyboards also slowed me down, but with practice my typing became smoother and the pauses less frequent.

The action buttons behind the tracker ball for cursor control and frequently used functions are time savers, and some of the action keys are as easy, if not easier, to locate as they are placed on either side of the tracker ball.

Touch-typists will be slowed down at first, but for new keyboard users the Maltron keyboard will probably be no more confusing than the standard issue. These keyboards are compatible with most PCs, and if you want to try before you buy, they are available for hire at pound;10 a week. The company recommends at least a week-long trial for new users to get used to its shape and layout. Training manuals and computer-based training are also available for new users.

Yolanda Brooks

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