Inspired by Go “First-person shooter” with the Eclipse debugger, I bought a shiny new Nostromo n52 almost a month ago.
Several of those who know me or have seen me working know that I'm somewhat obsessed with keyboard shortcuts, so it doesn't come as a surprise that I pounced to get the toy as soon as I could.
I'm still a bit hazy about it. On one hand, it IS a super sweet toy: good looking, well built and quite useful. Everything I pictured. On the other hand, I soon started noticing a few flaws about my newly-acquired toy.
While it's understandable that I'm trying to fulfill a different goal than what the n52 is supposed to fulfill, I still can't figure out why would a d-pad be useful at all. This gadget replaces a trackball, which keeps my insurance premiums low by happily assisting my pre-TCS right hand. The n52, however, is absolutely useless when one attempts to map the d-pad to mouse movements. It really is the equivalent of moving the mouse with the arrows.
I soon started fantasizing about ripping it open and sticking in a small trackball. I'm not hardware hacker, so I'm pretty confident that while I have a good chance of making it work, the aesthetic result will be shameful. Assuming it works without having to pay attention to keeping the unit in one piece while using it.
After a few days of using it, I inevitably ran into configuration problems. No, the software is fine, I just couldn't figure out what to map to what. It has 4 states (normal + 3 "shifts"), which somehow forced me to find 4 different group-related macros or key presses.
I mapped the standard state to window and browser management: alt-tab, alt-shift-tab, control-tab, maximize, minimize, close tab, next, previous, etc. It works ok, I still find myself wondering what the right key is for minimizing a window instead of closing the last tab of my browser.
I mapped the second to "typed stuff"... well, so far, to parts of my password. Now I can log in with one hand. Of course, I could've created a one-handed password but shifting for caps or symbols wouldn't be as easy.
The third state is for gmail shortcuts. The fourth is for eclipse and firebug debugging.
So far... I can't say it has saved me much time or frustration. I have gotten used to keyboard shortcuts and I still find myself using them when I'm in the middle of typing. I wouldn't want to forget them anyway. On the other hand, I do find myself hoping that I could use it as a pointing device. Perhaps much of the problem also lies in the fact that I have Linux, Windows and Mac systems tied with Synergy, making the task of defining common shortcuts more difficult.
Originally, I wanted to buy the n52te (for "Tournament Edition"). It's much better looking and the d-pad is actually a joystick, which might help. Then again, belkin doesn't seem to be in a rush to deliver it, since it has been promising it for several months now. Well, my wallet appreciates sparing it the $50 difference anyway. For now.