Review: Tap Strap 2 – typing to a different beat
Live out your sci-fi fantasies with this futuristic gadget.
If you grew up watching sci-fi movies in the ’90s, it’s a good chance you watched Keanu Reeves typing in thin air while surfing the net in virtual reality. It’s a seminal moment for tech, turning finger movements into controls without an unwieldy keyboard.
Well, someone at Tap must have been a big fan, as they’ve created pretty much the same gloves, just with modern technology instead of some Powergloves (because we all know Keanu was playing with power).
The $200 Tap Strap 2 is a slimmed-down version of those VR hacking gloves, so the real question is – are they any good?
So, what’s it all about?
Really, human-computer interfaces haven’t changed much in decades. Keyboards are still (more or less) the QWERTY configuration and mice are still using a sensor to track movement over a surface. Tap Strap 2 is different. You literally type by tapping, which in practice turns into something between air-drumming on your armchair and doing all those fancy multi-tap gestures that you never quite get the hang of on your laptop’s touchpad.
Each knuckle piece has accelerometers to figure out which fingers you’re tapping with, and there’s a bulkier piece that goes over your thumb that turns into a mouse when you put it onto a surface. Yes, that surface could be your other hand, or your thigh, or your chair, or…
It’s super-futuristic, and the teenage me that devoured every piece of sci-fi I could get my hands on is hoping that it feels exciting, like those movies and books made me feel.
So, tap-happy or Taps?
So we’ve already established that typing is done by tapping away. What I didn’t mention earlier is just how complicated the process can be, until you get some level of muscle memory going on. Single taps are fairly easy, set to A, I, E, O, and U by default. Then there’s “period”, which is done by double-tapping all four fingers and your thumb, and space bar, which is a four-finger tap. Following along so far?
Then you learn two-finger taps, with adjacent fingers, two-finger taps with a gap between them, two-fingers with a two-finger gap, and even more complicated taps like “one finger up” which is a four-finger tap, with one of your five digits held up. Filling up the rest of the alphabet is more esoteric names, such as “one finger chasing two,” which is a tap with three fingers but with a one-finger gap, and Y and W that make your fingers tap in the same shape.
Don’t think that Tap leaves you alone to learn all this new, strange movement. There’s the TapGenius app to learn the alphabet, to begin with, then there’s the Tap Academy which puts you through repetitive typing exercises that harken back to the typing class I took in eighth grade. There’s also Tap Squadron, a SHMUP that uses the Tap Strap as the controller. Just be warned – these only work in Portrait mode, and don’t auto-rotate if your device is in landscape mode.
I’ve been using the Tap Strap 2 for some time now, and my memory is only slightly better than when I started. That’s perhaps not surprising, as I learned to touch-type nearly three decades ago but I still have to look at my fingers sometimes. There’s a real sense of achievement when I actually remember the right tap combinations, and I think if I was younger that it’d be a lot easier for me to learn (and probably unlearn my normal typing skills).
The AirMouse gestures are new to the Tap Strap 2, which work best on iOS, as you can replicate actions as if touching the screen if you have assistive touch control enabled. Again, like tapping to type, this works better after practice. Lots of practice. I’m still finding simple cursor movement to be a struggle, and the various flicks and taps to interact with the screen are hit-and-miss.
So, should I buy the Tap Strap 2?
At $200, I’m struggling to find a market for the Tap Strap 2, unless you’re a heavy VR/AR user. It might make sense then, as tapping is more tactile feedback than typing on a keyboard when you can’t see the real world. Until VR is an everyday thing, this wearable is going to be a niche use case at best.
It’s just not a viable replacement for the trusty keyboard and mouse combination, not yet. Could it be tweaked again so there’s less variability on response to user input? Sure, and I really hope Tap manages this because my dream of typing in midair like Johnny Mnemonic is still alive.
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