Tuesday , February 27 2024
This new Gmail shortcut keyboard aims to save time. Does it succeed?

Product Review: Gboard

The ability to do more in less time drives many an innovation.  One of the latest technological shortcuts to come about – and just in time for Christmas too – is called the Gboard and the basic idea behind is quite simple.  The Gboard is a small numberpad sized keyboard which attaches to a computer via a USB port and requires no special software.  It contains 19 different color-coded buttons which function as Gmail shortcuts, thereby saving one's time by alleviating the need for a mouse in Gmail.

The color-coding certainly makes the Gboard buttons easy to locate, and the entire device a good-looking one.  Additionally, a small blue light sits at the top of the Gboard, allowing one to know when it is plugged in, and that is a crucial bit of information.

As the keys on the Gboard are hardcoded to the keyboard shortcuts within Gmail, they are actually simply duplicating various letters on one's true keyboard.  Consequently, the Gboard doesn't only allow things to happen in Gmail, it works in any program – though one will have a devil of a time trying to figure out in advance (unless one has all the Gmail shortcutsGboard memorized) what pressing each button will do.  While pressing the "next thread" key in Gmail will flip to the next e-mail thread, in Word, it will display the letter "k" (because that's what the keyboard shortcut for "next thread" is).

Ultimately, the question that has to be answered is whether or not the Gboard will save one's time, because, after all, that is the point to – to save one's time.  In the short run, it isn't.  The keys on the Gboard are certainly laid out logically and the color-coding does differentiate the various categories, but they are not laid out in the same relationship as the Gmail shortcuts themselves.  As stated above, "next thread" is a "k," while "previous thread," which sits just below it on the Gboard is a "j," which does not sit below "k" on a Qwerty keyboard.  While those two are at least close together on a traditional keyboard, other keys Gboard have far less – or no – relation to a traditional key layout.

In the long term however, should one choose to put in the time to learn where the keys are on the Gboard, one might forget their Qwerty relatives' locations.  But, is that worth it?  Is the time one would have to put in so to learn the keys worth it – will they get that time back in their not having to move the mouse later?

Fans of keyboard shortcuts certainly might. In fact, for those who regularly use keyboard shortcuts or who tend to have issues with mice, the Gboard could work very well.  Currently available only through Gboard's website, the pad sells for $19.99 and has a wonderful feel to it.  It neither feels cheap nor shabbily made, and as with many regular keyboards, it can be made to sit at an angle.

For those who do not like keyboard shortcuts or who have no issues with mice will be far more hard-pressed to want to spend their time learning where the various keys are.  Beyond that, no matter how one feels about shortcuts, one's hand will have to be moved away from the standard home keys on a keyboard to operate the Gboard – a move which may take less time than using a mouse, but certainly more than using one's actual keyboard to utilize the shortcuts.

It may be unlikely to win many converts to the use of shortcutting, but it looks great, feels great to use, and just seems cool.  It is, at the very least, something for those who use Gmail on the web browser to seriously consider.

About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.

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