ExpressKey Alternative

Discussion in 'Accessories' started by juicedesigns, Oct 13, 2017.

  1. juicedesigns

    juicedesigns Pen Pal - Newbie

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    Hey all, I've been an on-and-off tablet enthusiast for a while and this forum is almost always where I end up when I'm googling for tablet related info, whether it be an issue with wacom drivers, comparing brands or just looking for advice. As such, I felt like this would be the best place to share some fresh findings.

    Somewhat recently, I picked up a new tablet PC. I like it quite well but, like most convertibles, the keyboard isn't accessible when it's flipped. This isn't a big deal if I'm at home and can use something like mouse without borders to share my desktops keyboard, but it can really put a damper on creativity when I'm on the go. I mean... Photoshop, for example, feels near impossible to work with if you can't hold down a modifier key or two.

    With that in mind, I started researching programmable keypads. There are a handful of options if you're willing to write autohotkey scripts. I wasn't, and the only two options that are purpose made for custom key commands via a user friendly interface are the Wacom ExpressKey Remote for ~$100, or this XP-Pen Shortcut Remote for about $36. If anyone has found others, feel free to share.

    I was in the process of checking out with the cheaper option when a thought crossed my mind. Could I use my Switch controller?

    I popped open a new tab and did a quick search to see if anyone had paired a Switch Joycon to their PC. Of course it had been done, and I was surprised to find that there's nothing special about it. You can add them like any other Bluetooth device. But that's only one part of this experiment. I needed a way to program the keys.

    There are plenty of paid and open source programs made for mapping gamepads. I tested out JoyToKey and Antimicro, both of which are open source. They basically do the same job, but I found Antimicro to be more robust. Here's what that looks like:


    With almost no effort, I programmed a few buttons on my left Joycon. I'll need to play around with combinations that feel comfortable, but here it is in action:

    The beauty of this is that left-handed folks can use the right Joycon.

    Of course, it isn't an option if you don't own a Switch and/or don't feel like dropping $80 on a pair of Joycons which, ironically, is still cheaper than a Wacom ExpressKey Remote.

    But here's the thing... that Antimicro program seems to take any kind of usb or bluetooth controller input. For example, an ecksbox or play station controller...

    In the spirit of seeking alternatives, I decided to test one more thing I had on hand. This novelty controller I bought months ago but never really used. It's got nearly the same number of buttons as the switch controller, reads over Bluetooth and, as an added bonus, is half the size. It worked great, though I did find the switch controller to be easier use -- especially the triggers for shift/space modifiers.

    Right now I'm testing out this configuration:


    I'll fiddle with these buttons as well as that other controller to see what feels most comfortable, but there you have it... a few Wacom ExpressKey alternatives. Nothing totally free, unfortunately, but definitely cheaper. Could be as cheap as $6 if something like this works.

    EDIT: I set up the bitdo controller... The only thing that's really missing are undo/redo buttons. I'll have to keep fiddling with it to see if I can make the direction pad behave differently. Right now, it acts like arrow keys.

    I think this will be my go-to option since it's so easy to toss into the laptop bag. I do like having easy access to save and esc, but maybe those could be my undo/redo keys... :/
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2017
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  2. WillAdams

    WillAdams Scribbler - Standard Member Senior Member

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    Yeah, I've used a Wii Remote in the past (and still occasionally haul it out to control a CNC) --- working up some sort of adapter to allow a JoyCon to be clipped on would be very cool.

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