Some cheap solutions for use of a tablet without a keyboard

Discussion in 'The Tablet PC Life' started by lblb, Dec 2, 2014.

  1. lblb

    lblb Scribbler - Standard Member Senior Member

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    Lately, I’ve been testing out a few things to make using a tablet PC without a keyboard a bit easier. As some of the options out there seem ridiculously expensive, I've tried to explore some inexpensive alternatives. Here are some cheap options!

    1) Cheap and easily programmable keypad

    - For less than $20 you can get a very easily customizable infrared Windows remote controller. I’ve tried many other controller- and keypad-type gizmos, many much more expensive, and this is probably one of the most easily customizable and inexpensive. Winner all the way! See here (and there are quite a few others like it):
    http://www.amazon.com/Ortek-Windows...d_sim_e_3?ie=UTF8&refRID=08M745V5PJ1GZAE3NPEH
    It connects through a usb port. The IR sensor is at the end of the USB cable and as long as the sensor is visible, the remote controller is as responsive as any wireless/usb/Bluetooth device.

    Advantages of such a remote over other keypad solutions I’ve seen posted here include:

    1) This is basically an extended normal keypad: think about it as a numpad with many extra buttons. Since this remote just simulates keypresses like a normal keyboard, it can easily be remapped using normal remapping software like AutoHotkey. No need for XPadder, or PPJoy/MotionInJoy-type drivers that work half the time and are a nightmare to configure. Anything AutoHotkey can do (like pressing modifiers or sending hotkey combos, or starting complex macros) can most likely be easily assigned to a remote button. For example, with AutoHotkey it's very easy to remap buttons to different things depending on the active program. All you need is an AutoHotkey script that you start/stop whenever needed.

    2) Note that the remote is indeed just a handheld keyboard: so almost all of its buttons are just buttons that are found on a normal keyboard. So if you remap the remote’s “Clear” or “OK” buttons (which send “Escape” and “Enter”, respectively), the Escape and Enter keys on all physical keyboards will be remapped.

    3) Since this is a remote control, it’s designed to fit well in a hand (contrary to many types of rectangular numpads or small keyboards) so holding it for a long time is no problem.

    4) As any other remote, most buttons are ergonomically placed so you can very quickly use the remote with a tablet without having to look at the remote. By comparison, I found that even the buttons on the PlayStation nunchuck (if you can get it to work correctly, as has been discussed here: http://forum.tabletpcreview.com/threads/best-accessory-for-digital-painters-yep.56515/) are not ergonomically placed.

    5) For example, you can easily remap the four arrows around the OK button to modifiers like Shift/Alt/Ctrl/Space, you can remap all the “media” keys above to any shortcut you want. For example, I remapped the Play button to Alt+Right-Click so that pressing this button allows to quickly resize the tool in Photoshop CS6.

    6) It's less than $20.​


    2) Tactile feedback from onscreen toolbars

    When using onscreen keyboards and toolbars, I’ve found that I actually lose a lot in terms of efficiency because the onscreen buttons don’t give any tactile feedback. So I always have to look at the toolbar before pressing its buttons. I’ve been exploring two solutions that work very well to add tactile feedback (but granted, it means there is something on your screen that can get in the way):

    - For about $20, you can get three removable buttons made by SteelSeries that stick nicely to a tablet screen:
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00AROMN8G/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o04_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
    In the package, there is also a highly ditchable and useless scrolling thingy. But the buttons work great and allow to use buttons on any toolbar without having to look at the toolbar. These are not programmable buttons: when you press them, they are detected as touch input right where the button is placed on the screen. They work very well on all kinds of onscreen toolbars if touch input is turned on, and you can also use them in Windows 7 on ArtDock-like scripts even if touch is turned off (through the normal Windows touch toggle mechanism that was sadly removed in Win 8).

    - Alternatively, for less than $10 you can get a boatload of velcro stickers:
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00IYDOL64/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o01_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
    These stick nicely to a screen and can be easily removed without leaving any trace. At least on my Wacom-based EP121, touch input is detected through the velcro patches. So if you want some good tactile feedback for onscreen toolbar buttons, you can just cut a small piece of velcro and put it on each button. (As a bonus, you get two different feels for the two different velcro sides!) This is particularly useful if you use the toolbar in a specific out-of-the-way position on the screen (or if you dock the toolbar to a screen edge).


    Anyways, maybe others here have explored affordable solutions to facilitate the use of a tablet without a keyboard?
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2014
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  2. ron2k_1

    ron2k_1 calibuchi Senior Member

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    Nice. I like the remote, but it seems a wee too large to look aesthetically pleasant in your hand when using your tablet.

    Quick question: can you use AHK to remap controllers like Zeemote or PS3 Controller? Xpadder is not free and it doesn't recognize all controllers, and as you said it works a bit choppy.

    This seems that it's going to be cool project:
    https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/flic-the-wireless-smart-button
    But they're aren't many tablets with NFC out there or a USB adapter in its absence. And it seems that the starting price point for this may be at $25 per button.

    Which expensive options did you find? The X-Keys are programmable but they are expensive, wired and eye-sore ugly.

    Swiped from my Galaxy Note 4 using Tapatalk
     
  3. cleft

    cleft Scribbler - Standard Member

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    Precisely my problem with onscreen toolbars. I've known about the SteelSeries long ago but never thought of using them that way. Clever!
     
  4. lblb

    lblb Scribbler - Standard Member Senior Member

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    @ron2k_1

    Indeed, as far as aesthetics go, the remote is not a top fashion item! But as for functionality and comfort of use, it think it’s up there with the best. What I really like is that since most people have probably some kind of familiarity with a similar remote, it really takes no time to be able use it without having to look at it. I also like that if you hold it normally, your thumb will invariably be aligned with the OK button, which means that there are about 10 buttons that are easily reachable with the thumb alone!

    As far as I know, it is not possible to use AutoHotkey with a Zeemote controller.

    For the PS3 controller, it depends on what you mean. If you mean the normal PS3 controller, then I think it’s not worth the effort: just use an XBox controller as it’s made my Microsoft and so already fully compatible with Windows (and easily remapped with all kinds of software, though I've never tried it).

    If instead you mean the “nunchuck” nav controller, then you need to do a bit of work. By the way, I don’t know if you’ve used this nav controller before but there is a quite easy way of using it with a PC that is much more reliable than other methods I’ve seen here (I’ve just never had the time to describe it here). Here are the highlights of what the procedure involves:
    1) Install MotionInJoy and download appropriate drivers
    2) In the past, most people (including me) have had a horrible time because you need to use the “DS3 Tool” that comes with MotionInJoy to try to do anything. That DS3 Tool is a nightmare to use, is full of adware, and needs a connection to internet. But: YOU ACTUALLY NEVER NEED TO USE THE DS3 TOOL AFTER INSTALLATION!
    3) Instead of using the DS3 Tool you can use the free program “Better DS3” that someone else developed (guess where the name comes from!!!). With that software (http://betterds3.ciebiera.net/) it’s very easy to remap the buttons of the nav controller (no need to buy XPadder or anything else). Importantly, in contrast to other solutions that have been posted here, with that software you can very easily adjust the sensitivity of the joystick on the nav controller so that it very reliably sends a different command for each direction only once.
    4) With this setup, you can just plug in the controller, then launch Better DS3 and you are ready to go! You never need to see anything about MotionInJoy ever again (but it needs to be installed to provide the drivers that Better DS3 uses)
    5) If you want to send complex commands with the nav controller, then you can just map one of its buttons to send something like F5, and then you write a AutoHotkey script that does the complex task when F5 is pressed.​

    Anyway, if you want more info, I'd be happy to provide more. By the way, this method of using the nav controller is actually very reliable (I’ve only done it with the nav controller plugged through USB, not Bluetooth) and I would still use it all the time if my EP121 wasn’t all messed up!
     
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  5. cleft

    cleft Scribbler - Standard Member

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    Ughh..

    @ron2k_1 and @lblb
    As for PS3/nav controller driver, now I'd recommend this over MotionInJoy. That driver basically recognises the PS3/nav as an Xbox 360 controller, saving lots of hassle with MiJ. I've got a write up here.
     
  6. ron2k_1

    ron2k_1 calibuchi Senior Member

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    I own a PS3 nunchuck controller. Having to install Xpadder on all my machines, transferring the profiles individually and never taking the time to fully study the workings on adjusting sensitivity and all that to make the controller more "accurate" just turned me off. I'm dreaming to one day find a small low profile button strip (led touch buttons you can stick on the bezel of you tablet) that are programmable and that program is stored in the keys themselves...

    I know you've said you prefer the Zeemote over the PS3. Does it entail the same headaches in setting it up? Why do you prefer it?

    Swiped from my Galaxy Note 8 using Tapatalk
     
  7. lblb

    lblb Scribbler - Standard Member Senior Member

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    @cleft
    Thanks for pointing to your writeup, I somehow completely missed it when you first wrote it. I'll have a closer look when I have a chance.
    I haven't had a chance to try the Zeemote but it seems like there are very few buttons on the controller. With the software they provide, how many different commands/buttons are you able to remap it to?

    @ron2k_1
    Wow you've been busy lately! It seems every time I come to the forum there are several of your posts aligned in a row! It's great that you can contribute like this to provide help!

    Have you tried the method I highlighted for the PS3 nunchuck? Or have you tried cleft's?
    In my hands, the method I described has proven to be very reliable and using "Better DS3" has made remapping quite easy. To me it's mostly about efficiency: I'm still on my good old EP121 and I still use koide's script but even after a few years of using his script, I still find that I need to look at the onscreen toolbar whenever I want to press a button with my fingers. So a physical solution (like the button strip you mention, or the individual buttons that are only available for Android systems) would be ideal.

    When earlier you asked about what more expensive setups I have tried, one of them was a X-Keys button strip (http://www.amazon.com/X-keys-Stick-Keys-programmable-keys/dp/B009ROIFQ6). One of my friends had one provided by his company (I think it had 8 buttons) and I borrowed it and tried it a couple years back for use on my EP121. From what I remember, it was cool to be able to have these extra buttons but it was certainly not worth the price. Especially since the strip is too thick to stick onto the bezel of a tablet, and too straight and impractical to hold in one hand.
     
  8. ron2k_1

    ron2k_1 calibuchi Senior Member

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    :D
    I apologize for the seemingly ostentatious and insistent line up of posts. I was on 2 weeks holiday leave and although there was a lot of babysitting and in-laws visits involved, I had a bit more time to hang here. Finally got my NAS fully set up the way I wanted, had the time to manufacture the toolbars I needed, did some work on my motorcycle... Wanted to do some art but I'm finding that although I really want to get back on it, I'm not making the time for it. So, in all it was good. I know you're quite swamped with work and the list of requests don't stop pouring in at the TC thread. But the work you and incrediclint are putting in its invaluable! So, once more, A BIG THANKS! I try to promote both toolbar projects anywhere I see fit.

    Thanks for taking the time to provide info like the one on this thread.

    I need to look for my nunchuck. As I mentioned, lately, notwithstanding my eagerness to do digital art, it seems I've gotten very passive (another word for lazy) in that regard. I know it's somewhere with all the junk I no longer use (or use much). I'm back from holiday so there is a buttload of work at the office. I'll try to get back to my tablets in the next few weeks. I'll try @cleft's approach. But that Zeemote is teasing me. I don't really need lots of physical buttons, thanks to you and @incrediclint. So the few buttons on the Zeemote will be enough, and the size makes it more appealing than the PS3 Controller. I'll wait on @cleft to give me his feedback as to why he prefers it over the PS3 and if setting it up is easier or if it still entail Xpadder.

    Swiped from my Galaxy Note 4 using Tapatalk
     
  9. cleft

    cleft Scribbler - Standard Member

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    @ron2k_1 and @lblb
    Really sorry for the late response, I've been busy with moving lately.. will update my post soon.

    In short, prominent advantage of the Zeemote over a PS3 nav controller is its portability. To me "portability" means that all the accessories and tablet being in one piece if possible. The Zeemote has (much) smaller profile and flat side surface, thus can be attached firmly to my x201t with velcro. I did the same to the nav controller but the attachment was flimsy.

    Zeemote has a very limited number of buttons indeed. There are, however, 7 programmable buttons and just enough for painting although I do wish for more. I have Ctrl, Alt, Space, Shift, [, ], and B on the Zeemote. It's worth to note that there are already quite a lot of shortcuts centre around these buttons. Also big credit goes to Clip Studio Paint for enabling users to customise even more. As for less common commands, I use Toolbar Creator.
     
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  10. Jambalaya

    Jambalaya Pen Pal - Newbie

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    I use a small handheld Apple infrared remote and Twisted Melon's Mira with a gen 1 Modbook. Combined with the two pen buttons I have 8 programmable buttons. I don't have to hold the remote anywhere in particular as the signal will bounce off walls, ceilings, etc.

    While this option doesn't apply to tablet PCs I mention it for comfort reasons. An artist's pen hand/arm is already so constrained to the limited surface area of the tablet screen that forcing your other hand/arm/shoulder to remain in a single position will only lead to nasty cramping and discomfort especially as the decades mount up. My suggestion is to look for an option that allows for easy changes in your body position or seating arrangement. You'll spend more time at the drawing board and be much less fatigued at the end of the day.
     
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