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Click N Type

Click N Type is a free on-screen keyboard available to download from the Internet. It's resizable, customisable, switch-accessible and free! But is it suitable for you (or your pupil)? Does it have the features that you need and will it meet your needs?

Read my review below and try it for yourself by visiting Lake Software External Link. Or take a look at some other on-screen keyboards that I have reviewed.

Appearance

Click N Type first appears as a small floating keyboard, looking fairly similar to the Windows XP OSK. However unlike Microsoft’s keyboard this one can be easily resized by dragging the edges of the window - and as you resize the window the keys and fonts get bigger as well. Although perhaps not enough - the letters remain fairly small inside larger keys and there's no apparent way of increasing this font size any further.

A screenshot of Click N Type in use

The Click N Type on-screen keyboard can be adjusted in position and size by dragging the edges around the screen.

There’s no easy way of changing the colours used by keyboard. There is ‘Use Custom Colors’ option but this only allows one to change the background colour of keys and not the text colour.

Click N Type screenshot showing black letters on black keys

Changing the Windows global colour scheme is one way of forcing Click N Type to display keys in your preferred colours. You may have to restart Click N type for these settings to be enforced correctly.

Access Methods

This On-Screen keyboard can be accessed by pointer control or via switch access.

Dwell Delay

Click N Type has a dwell mouse utility built-in. This is a very useful accessibility feature, especially to headpointer users, as a mouse click is not required to select a key. Instead you simply hold the mouse reasonably steady within a key for a specified amount of time. It doesn't matter if you tremor a little (again especially important for headpointer users) as the pointer only needs to remain inside the key for that amount of time, regardless of how big the key is or how much the pointer is moving. When the key is selected it flashes red (or another colour can be chosen) to indicate this.

The dwell delay does lack the useful time indication that can be found in the Windows XP OSK. With the Microsoft keyboard the keys 'fill up' with another colour from bottom to top and only when 'full' is the key sent. This is a great bit of feedback for users and it's a shame that it's lacking from Click N Type.

The dwell delay can be set at any interval from 0.1 seconds (fairly impossible) up to 5 seconds (very, very slow). The software also allows you to change the initial repeat delay (from 0.1 seconds up to over a minute!) and the subsequent repeat rate (same options). This is a very handy set of accessibility tools making the keyboard highly customisable to each individual user.

Switch Access

Click N Type can be set to use the left mouse button or a keypress as a selection switch with an autoscan setup. The right mouse button can act as a cancel button, if required. Although you can use the left and right buttons on your mouse you could also substitute these for any type of switch.

Somewhat unusually the software does not scan individual keys but instead uses block/group scanning followed by the radar method to choose an individual key. If that doesn't make sense I understand so here's how it works:

I also have an animated screenshot (requires the free Flash plugin) of the scanning method described below.

Scanning Stage 1

First the keyboard is divided into six (overlapping) sections.

Each section is highlighted one by one through a standard single switch autoscan method (the speed of this can be varied in the options).

Scanning Stage 2

When the left mouse button (or equivalent switch) is pressed the program sets up a radar method of selecting an individual cell within the group scanned.

First it starts by dropping a horizontal line within the section's red rectangle.

Scanning Stage 3

On clicking the mouse or hitting the switch the horizontal line is fixed and the program produces a moving vertical line - effectively creating a crosshair - targeting a key first by the vertical and then the horizontal.

Click the mouse or hit the switch once more and the key is selected and send to your client application.

Regardless of where the key is displayed on the on-screen keyboard it will always take three switch presses to select it and the program does not support two-switch scanning at all. The scanning method is rather complex and certainly aimed towards users with good cognition skills. As there's no simpler scanning available (such as key-by-key with auditory output) this may not be a suitable keyboard for those with learning difficulties.

Customisation

Click N Type comes preloaded with a small selection of keyboards and you can make your own using the CNT Designer (a separate program but also free). The two main keyboards are the standard QWERTY keyboard and the 'Speed' version that places all the most frequently used letters in the centre of the keyboard.

For switch users it also has a scanning keyboard although this is classed as a custom-made layout and consequently isn't listed on the Keyboard menu.

Scanning Keyboard Layout

The scanning keyboard layout can be opened from the 'User Defined Keyboards' option.

There is a special feature that lets you swap keys around with relative ease but this only seems to work on the standard QWERTY and Speed keyboards and won't work on the user defined layouts (including the scanning layout). However you can download and use the also-free CNT Designer tool to modify an existing user defined layout.

UK users might want to download the British Language Pack as this is needed to make British characters like the pound sign available.

Prediction

Prediction, which for some reason requires an additional (but still free) download, is basic but seems to work well. The wordlist recommends UK English spellings as well as American but a quick spell check of the wordlist using Word can remove the American spellings if you wish.

Prediction is a great tool for on-screen keyboard users as it can effectively increase the overall typing rate which is otherwise usually considerably slower than with standard keyboard typists. Prediction isn't usually required for small words such as it or for as using it saves little or no time. Consequently the default minimum length of words that are predicted is three letters and the prediction window doesn't even show until you reach this number. Fortunately you can lower this as the word you're after might frequently be available after the initial or the second letter is typed.

The predicted words appear in a small window that sits alongside the main keyboard. It can generally display about half a dozen words although this varies on the font size you select. In any case you can scroll up and down the list to reveal more words or make the window bigger to accommodate more words.

You can move the prediction window away from the keyboard and some of my clients have found that having it as a 'desktop sidebar' is ideal. However be aware that if you reposition the keyboard element the prediction window snaps to follow it.

Click N Type with Prediction Window

The Prediction Window can be scaled to display a lot of words at once - although they might take a while to read through each time a new key is pressed.

The prediction window is accessible to switch users (contrary to my comments in a previous review!). After the main keyboard is scanned the opportunity arises to scan the prediction list. Only the x axis of the radar is required so this is an efficient way of selecting whole words and can accelerate a switch user's overall typing rate enourmously.

Other Features

In addition to the above main aspects of the software there are three more useful features that are worth describing to you.

Administration

CNT-Administration is yet another free 'add-on' that increases the feature set of Click N Type. The admin program lets you selectively enable and disable the other features of the keyboard in order to 'lock down' your users. The program essentially consists of a list of tick boxes that allow features to be turned on and off.

The most useful of these options turns off the entire menu bar - thus presenting the end user with the keyboard and no ability to inadvertently change any of their settings. You can also stop the keyboard from being closed, minimized or resized.

The Admin program also comes with CNT-Clone which allows you to export a keyboard's settings onto a USB Flash pen or similar and transfer them to another user.

Typing addresses into Internet Explorer

Like The Grid, but not Penfriend, you can type into the Internet Explorer (or Firefox) address bar without difficulties. Unlike The Grid, Click-n-Type allows you to type directly into the bar address without needing to enter the text into a buffer and then send it.

Macros

The Macro feature allows you to store a string of up to 255 keypresses behind a single button. These strings can be individual words, phrases or even multiple lines of text. To create a macro one simply types the required text into the same buffer as mentioned above but followed by selecting "Store a Macro using Buffer" and assigning a key to it. Then whenever that key is selected, preceded by ALT, the text stored in the macro will be sent to the client program.

This could be useful for storing any text that your pupil has to write frequently. It is especially useful if you are using Click N Write as part of a communication aid where the macros could contain common phrases.

Summary

Click N Type is a powerful, flexible program that is suitable for many users with a wide variety of needs. It includes all the features we would expect from a commercial on-screen keyboard but is quick, easy and free to download and install. The story behind Click N Type is commendable. It was never designed for commercial reasons but originally to help a friend's disabled sister.

Some of the keyboard's features do fall a little short and could be worked on further. Scanning is restricted to a single-switch radar mode that many pupils with cognitive difficulties might find confusing. The keyboard's font sizes and colours can't be easily changed, although they thankfully increase in size when the keyboard window is resized. The layout and wording used in the software isn't particularly novice-friendly and may be difficult to get to grips with for people without access to technical support. I'm sure that the good folks at Lake Software External Link will help you out via email if you get stuck.

All considered, though, Click N Type is definitely an on-screen keyboard worth trying, especially before you think of spending 100s on a commercial option.

Charlie Danger
30/10/2006

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