Expand your laptop’s keyboard
A LAPTOP COMPUTER
A mobile phone (optional)
IF YOU WANT A COMPACT LAPTOP, you’ll usually need to compromise by foregoing the numeric keypad on the right. The number keys at the top of the keyboard are a decent stand-in for occasional use, but for anything else, it’s worth adding an external keypad dedicated to digits.
Thankfully, there are plenty of options, including programmable pads and phone apps. You can pick up a good numeric keypad, such as the Targus Numeric Keypad with USB Port Connector ( tinyurl.com/54ud9ws7) for less than $25. This has a full complement of numeric and mathematical buttons, as well as Enter, Back, and Tab keys. If you’re doing data entry or spreadsheet work, adding a device like this can be much quicker than using the horizontal number keys above your keyboard.
Microsoft has a more versatile solution in its Number Pad, also costing $25 ( tinyurl. com/4bxyvru8). Available in black or white, you can pair it with up to three devices using Bluetooth, and switch between them. It’s powered by a single battery, with a claimed working life of up to 24 months between battery changes. –NIK RAWLINSON
1 SET UP YOUR KEYPAD
Even if you can manage without a numeric keypad, you might still find a programmable keypad useful. These let you assign specific tasks to each button, which you can execute with a single press. We’ve tested the excellent Vaydeer OneHanded Macro Keyboard, costing $46 ( tinyurl.com/yjtdj7t5) [ Image A], which has nine buttons, each with a satisfying ‘clicky’ action thanks to the tactile key switches beneath them.
» By default, it’s set up to behave like a regular external number pad—albeit one without a zero key—with the bottomleft button typing 1, the top right typing 9, and so on. However, the whole point of a keyboard like this is that you can reassign the function of each key using the accompanying software. Download this from ( vaydeer.cn/download) by clicking the ‘Vaydeer keyboard Setup 1.2.0-Windows.zip’ link.
» Once it’s done, launch the downloaded file and click ‘Extract all’ on the File Explorer toolbar. Extract the contents to your Downloads folder, then launch the ‘Vaydeer keyboard setup’ program. Plug in your keyboard and a visual representation will appear on the launch screen. Click to continue the setup process.
» Now work your way through the various categories of functions in the right-hand sidebar. As seen in [ Image B], which shows our keypad halfway through configuration, we’ve chosen to put three volume controls on the top row, for volume down, mute, and up, respectively, from left to right, and three Desktop controls on the bottom row.
» Pressing the lower button creates a new desktop and the buttons to the left and right move backward and forward. We’ve also set the first button on the center row to open the privacy-focused DuckDuckGo search engine.
» If you want to do something similar, start by clicking the sidebar’s Multimedia heading, then click and drag ‘Vol-’ onto the top-left button on the on-screen keypad. Drag ‘Vol+’ to the top-right button, and Mute to the top center. You’ll find the Desktop controls, which you can set in the same way, by expanding the System section.
» To specify a website to open, expand the One Click Start section then click Url. Now click the ‘New One click start’ line below the image of the keypad, delete the text, and give it a meaningful description, like ‘DuckDuckGo’. Next, click in the box below and type the address you want the button to launch, including the ‘https://’ prefix. The easiest way to do this is to visit the page in your browser, which will include the relevant prefix, then copy the address from the browser’s address bar into the box in the keypad setup program. When you’ve done this, click Save, and drag the website from the sidebar onto the button to which you want to assign it.
2 TRANSFER YOUR COMMANDS TO THE KEYPAD
So far, all you’ve done is tell the program what you want each button to do, but you haven’t yet transferred the commands to the keypad itself, which will still type 1, 2, 3, and so on. Click ‘Flash Keypad’ at the top of the interface to transfer the commands to the keypad, then try them by pressing the keypad buttons. If you want to change any function at any time, simply drag a new one on top of an existing setting and click Flash Keypad again.
» We might only have nine buttons at our disposal, but you can still program up to 54 commands across six virtual ‘layers’. You can program one layer of nine functions that you use in LibreOffice, nine for PaintShop Pro, nine for your browser, and so on. To switch between each of these virtual layers, hover your cursor over the Current Layer line at the bottom of the keypad head-up display (HUD) at the bottom right of your screen [ Image C], and turn the mouse’s scroll wheel or use two-finger scrolling on your trackpad.
» This HUD remains in view, even when you’re not changing layers, and shows which function you’ve assigned to each button. It’s useful when you’re just getting used to the keypad, but when pressing the buttons becomes second nature (like touch-typing) you can hide the HUD and reclaim the screen space. Click the up-pointing icon on the Windows taskbar to reveal your hidden icons and right-click the Vaydeer icon. Click ‘Close the HUD’ on the menu that appears. To reveal it again, repeat this process, but this time select ‘Open the HUD’.
3 USE A KEYPAD PHONE APP
You can also use your smartphone as an external numeric keypad, with on-screen buttons that, when tapped, send their output to your computer.
» Numeric Keyboard Lite for Android ( tinyurl.com/2zphpvhv) comes with ads but you can remove them by buying the Pro version for less than a dollar. You’ll also need to install the free server app from ( www.numerickeyboard.com) and launch that and the Android app while your computer and phone are connected to the same wireless network.
» When your phone spots your computer, tap the computer’s name on the phone’s screen to pair them and display the keyboard. You can now use the on-screen buttons as though the phone was a physical keyboard.
» If you have an iPhone, ‘Virtual KeyPad and NumPad’ ( tinyurl.com/5dj843rz) is free to download but you’ll need to pay either $1 a month or a one-off $4 for lifetime access to get rid of the ads and add extra features.
» If you don’t want to pay or you simply want to try before you buy, scroll down and tap Dismiss. Again, it relies on server software running on your PC to connect. This is a free download from ( cherpake.com/get/#dl_ section). Just click the Download button.