Hands Down Alt
Variations

Hands Down Alt variations are optimized for the lowest total distance traveled, then for as many comfortable inward rolls as possible. They may have slightly higher index finger utilization and same-finger bigrams, but by keeping a careful balance between finger usage frequency and total distance traveled, the Hands Down Alt variations manage to perform very well on paper and in practice.

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X marks the sweet spot.

If you're the type to leave no key untyped to improve comfort (and stats), you may consider the variations that eXtract a letter (E, T, N) from the finger field and put it on the thumb opposite space. It helps to balance the load over more fingers, and can greatly reduce the dreaded same-finger bigram (SFB) problem. It is a very compelling argument, but it is not for everyone—it can be devilishly difficult to learn, and may not be faster for everyone.

These "rankings" don't show which is Hands Down the best layout—only the relative rank among those chosen on a particular KLA and test corpus. Download the Hands Down JSON files to see how Hands Down performs on the KLA of your choice with your own sample texts.

Stats from kla.keyboard-design.com using my own 200k word corpus (~500pgs) of academic, social media, literary, and programming sources that approximates a couple months of my own typing. All layouts have shift on thumbs.

Hands Down Alt A comfortable alternative 1.45% SFBs

w c h f v / y u j q
r s n t g k i e o a
x m l d b z p ' , .

Finger/Hand Usage(ƒ) & distance(d) distribution
Pnky Ring Mid Index Thumb Thumb Index Mid Ring Pnky

5.4
8.1 10.6 13.7 6.6 ƒ(%) 20.6 10.9 10.7 7.0 6.3
44.4
L R 55.6
4.3 9.1 14.1 19.3 6.4 d(%) 13.3 14.2 10.0 5.7 3.7
53.2
L R 46.7

Same-finger bigrams%†
0.047 0.231 0.113 0.197 sfb(%) 0.534 0.190 0.129 0.013
Total 1.453%
cf. QWERTY 6.6%, Halmak 2.8%, Dvorak 2.6%, Colemak 1.7%, MTGAP 1.3%

(native OS support for Hands Down Alt is in the Hands Down layout OS bundle here)

Hands Down Alt variations are still grounded in the basic Hands Down home block (the 3x3 keys under each index, middle, and ring finger, plus pinky home). The Hands Down Alt variations have slightly higher SFBs, mostly on the right index finger, but that is balanced by lower utilization and more comfortable inward rolls wherever possible, making them very comfortable (and lays the groundwork for the Hands Down Alt-x variations below).

  • Balanced to avoid finger fatigue: A careful balance between same-finger bigrams vs finger burden means that each finger is tasked according to its abilities and strength. The middle power fingers do a few things very frequently, while the dextrous index fingers cover more letters with a lesser burden. Ring fingers and pinkies take on less demanding tasks, with particular attention to eliminating bigrams altogether on these squirm prone twigs. Excellent L-R hand balance (and finger-by-finger balance where possible) keeps it all together. It's the balance of busyness and bigrams that makes Hands Down Alt and its variations so incredibly comfortable for me.

  • Comfortable inward rolls. Following Dvorak/MTGAP design wisdom, the most common bigram problems are solved by placing vowels and consonants on separate hands. But where consonant clusters or vowel blends do occur, every effort is made to make them be comfortable inward rolling motions. On the consonant hand, SH, ST, RS, NT, NG, CT, CH, WH, BL, LD, (CL, via combos,). Most of the opposite direction bigrams occur less frequently. While TH is much more common than HT, index-middle finger outward rolling is almost as easy. On the vowel hand, OE, OU, EI, AI, are generally more frequent. (Hands Down Alt-nx is even more amazing in this area.)

  • The notable exceptions here are IO/OI, and OA/AO. The IO bigram is notably more common than OI, but like the TH/HT bigram, not nearly as uncomfortable on the index-ring rolling as it would be if the pinky were involved. Both are both more common than IA/AI, and OU, OE are much more common than AU, AE, so it is far better to avoid the cross-hand reach involving the pinky for these bigrams. Rolling out is less comfortable than rolling in, but almost unbearably so when the pinky is involved. Similarly, OA is more frequent than AO, but they are both relatively less frequent bigrams, so this less frequent bigram becomes the weakest roll of Hands Down Alt. You could swap these, but it is the sum of all these rolling bigrams, not just adjacent ones but those across the hand with OU (all while considering the SFB impact) and on two rows. This is a close call, and I suspect individual hand physiology might dictate one's choice here.

  • Semicolon and colon are produced with combos, '+,=;, ,+.=:, '+.=!, p+'=\

  • 🇯🇵 For Japanese, I recommend swapping K->U->Y->K. Since K is the second most frequent consonant (after N), and E is the least used vowel in Japanese, pairing K & E on the same finger keeps a very even workload in either language (KE is a fairly lower frequency bigram in both languages). It makes KU, the most common bigram in Japanese, a super comfy inward roll on the most capable fingers. One might also swap O<->A, since A is much more common in Japanese than O, skewing the consideration noted above. The arrangement presented is a tiny bit better for English only texts.


※These stats are from kla.keyboard-design.com. Use the JSON files on the download page to see how it preforms with your own sample texts on the KLA of your choice.†Same-finger bigram stats from the Colemak-DH Layout Analysis Tool, with default settings. go ahead and copy the layout above and paste it into the Colemak-DH Layout Analysis Tool to see for yourself, and compare with other layouts.

Hands Down Alt-tx rev. —Have your T and Kanji too

v g m f "[ '] k/q u j/z #@
r s n h
p y i e o a
x c l d b -
+ w / ,; .:
t ␣

Finger/Hand Usage(ƒ) & distance(d) distribution
Pnky Ring Mid Indx Thmb Thmb Indx Mid Ring Pnky

4.9
8.5 10.5 12.4 9.2 ƒ(%) 18.4 11.5 10.6 7.1 7.0
45.4
L R 54.6
2.4 10.3 13.5 22.0 7.5 d(%) 11.3 16.3 6.2 5.7 4.7
55.8
L R 44.2

Hands Down Alt-tx is all about comfort. It has been the easiest for me to learn of the Hands Down Letter-on-a-thumb variations. It has amazingly comfortable features and excellent finger burden distribution curve that accommodates home-row mods very well. I feel that combined with the burden of layer switching or shift, T makes for a nicely balanced utilization of the otherwise underutilized "other" thumb. It's outstanding in English, and every bit as comfortable in Japanese.

The revision? p->w->v->". I've been toying with this for some time (I've been typing on Alt-tx/Alt-nx for several months now), so I thought I'd just post my waffling here and let it publicly simmer for a while. What is presented above is a bit better on most analyzers than the original (WI is better than PI…), and lower SFBs on finger 6 (right index), and lower burden on finger 1 (left pinky). As well, I wanted to take better advantage of the extra real estate made available with the Alt-x platform by looking harder at usage frequency and sequence of non-alpha characters, and paying more attention to different types of keyboards (ergo/ortho). The net stats difference is rather small (trivial, actually), and I'm not yet convinced that what is presented above is actually better overall... but we are talking the finest points now. Most notable is the cross hand reach for PR & PL , which less comfortable for my medium sized hands (PH stands out, but is less common than PI/IP). Finger 4 (left index) gets a slightly higher frequency and distance load. These are some of the many things that I think current analyzers may not be capturing quite well enough, and have guided my obsessive attention to detail as I've developed Hands Down.

  • Why T not E, the next most common letter after space?

    • It has to do with the structure of a syllable, where E comprises the nucleus of a syllable, and thus interrupts the mental chunking that goes on while typing the word (and the rhythm) much more than do consonants that serve as syllable delimiters (the onset or coda). The consonants occur at natural thought breaks, like space does, so they are easier to group in the chunking that goes on as we think about the bursts of letters in the next syllable or so. That's been my experience, at least. I think that the typing rhythm gain with a consonant not breaking up the syllable is far greater a benefit than putting E on a thumb. All this is, of course, just my opinion, trying to be the test subject and researcher at the same time. Others are sure to feel differently. This observation is born out in Peter Norvig's study of 74 billion English words, 97k unique. E occurs much more regularly in the middle of a word, whereas T occurs most frequently at the beginning of a word, and next at several places near the end, least frequently in the middle (where E reigns supreme).

    • Of course, other layouts put E on the thumb (RSTHD, -+T+- HT02a, Maltron, BEAKL-E, X6.4H etc). While with the best of them, E on the thumb may produce slightly better stats (over T or N for example), any gain is statistically insignificant after careful consideration for the remaining letters in the finger field. Furthermore, with E occurring much more frequently, there is risk of overburdening the thumb (with shift or other layers), because while the thumb is strong, it is neither dextrous nor quick (most people will have the space thumb do almost nothing but space). Same layouts go all it on thumbs, putting many functions on increasingly complex thumb clusters. I think this is ill advised, for the reasons just stated above—while the thumb is strong, it is neither dextrous nor quick.

    • Naturally, T being the most frequently occurring consonant in English makes sense to put it on a thumb. N is the next best candidate (see Hands Down Alt-nx below).

    • Since I use layers extensively, preferring to hold the modifier with my left thumb and use my right hand for the nav or 10-key layers, it makes sense to avoid overburdening the thumb with E. My thumbs already have a lot going on with them. (I wonder if a perfectly mirrored layout might be most comfortable for left-handed typists.)

  • Optimized for inward rolls. Wherever possible, neighbor finger bigrams are organized to make typing as easy as rapping fingers on a table. Inward rolls are more important on the outside fingers (pinky to ring) than the inside fingers (index and middle). Most of the opposite direction bigrams occur much less frequently. Hands Down Alt-nx allows for the second most common consonant bigram, ND, to be realized with almost the same comfort as with TH, all without sacrificing any of the other exceptional rolling features of Hands Down Alt. High frequency consonant bigrams are optimized: ND, SN, SH, RS, SL, CH, GH, WH, LD, CL, (GL via adaptive M); and TH,NT, with the thumb. Most of the opposite direction outward rolling bigrams occur much less frequently.

  • Adaptive keys: Quickly rolling GM produces GL, FM yields FL, while MF yields MB. M & L use the same middle finger, so this motion leveraging existing muscle memory to avoid the awkward row jump entirely. Now, GL and CL, roll just as easily as GH and CH, with nothing new to remember. B requires a move to the center column, shifting the whole hand out the home block, but the split-neighbor stretch for BL is awkward, so BD yields BL, since BL is more that 3x as common.

  • Combos: Q, Z, ;, :, !, \ and less common letters have eXtracted less common letters from the main layout, but they remain easily available in predictable locations with comfortable combos. Yes, the layout was designed with the eventual placement of these removed letters in mind, and the stats were analyzed with the impact to each finger properly considered. In all, my instance of Hands Down Alt-tx has around 80 combos, making my tiny 36 key keyboard faster and easier than any keyboard with more keys.

    • KU for Q, UJ for Z. The two letters (K&Q, J&Z) are phonetically very similar, so they occur naturally in the same place on the keyboard; but also exactly because are so phonetically similar, they rarely appear together and don't compete on the keyboard like SFBs. I find these to be very natural positions for these lesser used letters, with related letters still convenient to reach. Hold KU just a bit to get QU (hold with shift for Qu, capsLk for QU). QU is so ridiquelessly easy that you don't need to design a whole layout around these low frequency letters: ThinQu.)

    • Semicolon and colon, right where you'd expect to find them. /+,=;, ,+.=:, /+.=!, p+/=\

    • GM combo produces LM, eliminating another row jump and awkward SFB. The timing has been carefully tuned to never interfere with the GM adaptive key behavior that produces GL, just hold the GM combo to get LM. (some combos are instant, like KU for Q, and some require a hold to prevent rolling misfires).

    • MF combo sends LF, so words like GOLFING HALF-WOLF HALF-CALF, are as easy as they are common. Like the GL combo above, this requires a slight hold, to avoid the rolling MB or FL on the same MF keys, but it is still more comfortable than a row jump.

  • There are no sculpted keycaps for M on the upper row, or W on the bottom row. You're going to have a two wonky letters, no matter what you do. I don't look at the keys, so it doesn't matter much to me. I use a 180° rotated W cap for both, so my M has sloped sides, and I have the same for a W. You could just use blank keycaps. They're much better for touch typing.

  • 🇯🇵For Japanese, I swap K<->U. (See Hands Down Alt above). It is a fraction worse in English (IU/UI), but the gain in Japanese more than compensates, as Hands Down Alt-tx is amazing as a Rōmaji input for Japanese. T is the third most common consonant in Japanese (after N & K), so putting that on the thumb still has great benefit in Japanese, and much better across the two languages than E on the thumb would be.


※These stats are from kla.keyboard-design.com. Use the JSON files on the download page to see how it preforms with your own sample texts on the KLA of your choice.†Same-finger bigram stats from the Colemak-DH Layout Analysis Tool, with default settings. go ahead and copy the layout above and paste it into the Colemak-DH Layout Analysis Tool to see for yourself, and compare with other layouts.

Hands Down Alt-nx rev. Nnnnnice rolling

v g m f "[ '] k/q u j/z #@
r s t h
p y i e o a
x c l d b -
+ w / ,; .:
n ␣

Finger/Hand Usage(ƒ) & distance(d) distribution
Pnky Ring Mid Indx Thmb Thmb Indx Mid Ring Pnky

4.9
8.5 12.4 12.4 7.4 ƒ(%) 18.2 11.5 10.6 7.1 7.0
45.4
L R 54.6
2.4 10.3 14.2 22.0 7.1 d(%) 10.9 16.3 6.2 5.7 4.7
55.8
L R 44.2

Hands Down Alt-nx may be the most ergonomic, comfortable, and versatile of all the Hands Down layout variations. It has a nearly ideal burden distribution, according to the Hands Down design goals (The frequency & distance combine to yield a remarkably balanced typing sensation). The index and middle fingers are burdened about equally, but the more dextrous index finger must cover 2x the number of keys and thus more distance (and home-row mods, in my case). The ring and pinky fingers are given appropriately lighter loads (see below).

Hands Down Alt-nx is very similar to Hands Down Alt-tx, with the same logic that consonants make a better choice for thumb placement than vowels (read that for more detail on this logic). It is, similarly, perhaps the easiest to learn of any of the letter-on-thumb layouts. If you can handle putting both of your thumbs to work, then I can enthusiastically recommend that you give Hands Down Alt-nx a try.

The revision? p->w->v->". I've been toying with this for some time (I've been typing on Alt-tx/Alt-nx for several months now), so I thought I'd just post my waffling here and let it publicly simmer for a while. What is presented above is a bit better on most analyzers than the original (WI is better than PI…), and lower SFBs on finger 6 (right index), and lower burden on finger 1 (left pinky). As well, I wanted to take better advantage of the extra real estate made available with the Alt-x platform by looking harder at usage frequency and sequence of non-alpha characters, and paying more attention to different types of keyboards (ergo/ortho). The net stats difference is rather small (trivial, actually), and I'm not yet convinced that what is presented above is actually better overall... but we are talking the finest points now. Most notable is the cross hand reach for PR & PL , which less comfortable for my medium sized hands (PH stands out, but is less common than PI/IP). Finger 4 (left index) gets a slightly higher frequency and distance load. These are some of the many things that I think current analyzers may not be capturing quite well enough, and have guided my obsessive attention to detail as I've developed Hands Down.

  • Better bigrams. While T or E may occur more frequently, there is a strong argument for placing N on the thumb. Like T, N does not break up a syllable, so it does not interrupt the "chunking" or typing flow as much. But, N occurs in more high frequency consonant bigrams in English than any other letter. This means that with N on the thumb, only two of the 50 most frequent consonant bigrams (TH, ST) must be typed on one hand (fingers), and they are both comfortable inward rolls on the most capable fingers. All the other high frequency bigrams are achieved with a vowel, so they can be typed quickly with alternating hands.

  • Better inward rolls. Hands Down Alt-nx has the best rolling of all the Hands Down Alt-nx variations. Wherever possible, neighbor finger bigrams are organized to make typing as easy as rapping fingers on a table. Inward rolls are more important on the outside fingers (pinky to ring, ring to middle) than the inside fingers (index and middle). Hands Down Alt-nx allows for the most common bigram, TH, to be realized with the most comfortable inward roll on the most capable fingers, all without sacrificing any of the other exceptional rolling features of Hands Down Alt. High frequency consonant bigrams are optimized: TH, ST, SH, RS, SL, CH, GH, WH, LD, CL, (GL via adaptive M); and ND,NT, NG, with the thumb. Most of the opposite direction bigrams occur much less frequently.

  • Better for layers: N is just about right for balancing the workload the thumb has with the letter and frequent layer shifting. E, and even T, in English may be too frequent, resulting in what I called "thumb confusion". My non-space thumb does N and backspace, plus Nav and Num layers. It feels just about right.

  • Swapping G<->C may be more comfortable for some if the more common NG bigram reach is too great. The CL bigram is more common than GL, so C it is placed next to L for more comfortable inward rolling. This may be better suited to your hands and/or board type (ergo vs matrix). With adaptive M (below), this would present no problem or change in stats.

  • Adaptive keys: Quickly rolling GM produces GL, FM yields FL, while MF yields MB. M & L use the same middle finger, so this motion leveraging existing muscle memory to avoid the awkward row jump entirely. Now, GL and CL, roll just as easily as GH and CH, with nothing new to remember. B requires a move to the center column, shifting the whole hand out the home block, but the split-neighbor stretch for BL is awkward, so BD yields BL, since BL is more that 3x as common.

    • Combos: Q, Z, ;, :, !, \ and less common letters have eXtracted less common letters from the main layout, but they remain easily available in predictable locations with comfortable combos. Yes, the layout was designed with the eventual placement of these removed letters in mind, and the stats were analyzed with the impact to each finger properly considered. In all, my instance of Hands Down Alt-tx has around 80 combos, making my tiny 36 key keyboard faster and easier than any keyboard with more keys.

    • KU for Q, UJ for Z. The two letters (K&Q, J&Z) are phonetically very similar, so they occur naturally in the same place on the keyboard; but also exactly because are so phonetically similar, they rarely appear together and don't compete on the keyboard like SFBs. I find these to be very natural positions for these lesser used letters, with related letters still convenient to reach. Hold KU just a bit to get QU (hold with shift for Qu, capsLk for QU). QU is so ridiquelessly easy that you don't need to design a whole layout around these low frequency letters: ThinQu.)

    • Semicolon and colon, right where you'd expect to find them. /+,=;, ,+.=:, /+.=!, p+/=\

    • GM combo produces LM, eliminating another row jump and awkward SFB. The timing has been carefully tuned to never interfere with the GM adaptive key behavior that produces GL, just hold the GL combo to get LM. (some combos are instant, like KU for Q, and some require a hold to prevent rolling misfires (or to add more, like Qu).

  • There are no sculpted keycaps for M on the upper row, or W on the bottom row. You're going to have a wonky letter, no matter what you do. I don't look at the keys, so it doesn't matter much to me. I use a 180° rotated W cap for both, so my M has sloped sides, and I have the same for a W.

  • 🇯🇵Possibly better as a Rōmaji input for Japanese than even Hands Down Alt-tx, since N is the most common consonant. ものすごく心地よくて使いやすいキーボード配列だと思います。 For Japanese, I swap K<->U. It is a fraction worse in English (IU/UI), but the gain in Japanese more than compensates.

  • Better in many languages. While the usage frequency for any letter can vary greatly from one language to another, N is the most frequently used consonant in far more languages (Spanish, German, Italian, Russian, Japanese, Turkish, Polish, Dutch, Swedish, and many more), and is still second or third most frequently used consonant in almost all languages. This means that the benefit of placing N on a thumb is more consistent for those who must type in multiple languages. Read about the Hands Down Polyglot layout project for more.

  • Semicolon and colon are produced with combos, /+,=;, ,+.=:, /+.=!, p+/=\

  • Q and Z are removed from the main layout with all Hands Down Alt-x variations, but they remain easily available with comfortable combos. See Hands Down Alt-tx above for more.


※These stats are from kla.keyboard-design.com. Use the JSON files on the download page to see how it preforms with your own sample texts on the KLA of your choice.†Same-finger bigram stats from the Colemak-DH Layout Analysis Tool, with default settings. go ahead and copy the layout above and paste it into the Colemak-DH Layout Analysis Tool to see for yourself, and compare with other layouts.

Hands Down Alt-ex Extremely low finger movement with Etaoin shrdlu efficiency

⇥ g m f v ' u k/q j/z ;
r s n t p y a o i h
x c l d b - w / ,
; .:
e ␣

Finger/Hand Usage(ƒ) & distance(d) distribution
Pnky Ring Mid Indx Thmb Thmb Indx Mid Ring Pnky

6.3
8.4 10.5 13.5 18.7 ƒ(%) 17.4 12.4 7.7 6.5 4.5
5
6.2 L R 43.8
5.6 10.7 14.4 20.1 9.8 d(%) 6.7 19.3 7.2 4.2 1.9
57.6 L R 42.4

  • A simple reshuffle of letters brings H to the vacancy, so now all of the 10 most frequent letters (TAOINSRH + E + space) are accessible from home positions, and all other letters are in convenient locations. Hands Down Alt-ex has excellent distribution of burden according to each finger's abilities.

  • Exceptional inward rolls. Wherever possible, neighbor finger bigrams are organized to make typing as easy as rapping fingers on a table.

  • Adaptive keys: Quickly rolling GM produces GL, FM yields FL, while MF yields MB. M & L use the same middle finger, so this motion avoids the awkward row jump entirely while leveraging existing muscle memory. Now, GL and CL, roll just as easily as GH and CH, with nothing new to remember.

    • GM combo produces LM, eliminating another row jump and awkward SFB. The timing has been carefully tuned to never interfere with the GM adaptive key behavior that produces GL, just hold the GL combo to get LM. (some combos are instant, like KU for Q, and some require a hold to prevent rolling misfires (or to add more, like Qu).

  • There are no sculpted keycaps for M on the upper row, or W on the bottom row. You're going to have a wonky letter, no matter what you do. I don't look at the keys, so it doesn't matter much to me. I use a 180° rotated W cap for both, so my M has sloped sides, and I have the same for a W.

  • Semicolon and colon are produced with combos, /+,=;, ,+.=:, /+.=!, f+/=\

  • Q and Z are removed from the main layout with all Hands Down Alt-x variations, but they remain easily available with comfortable combos. See Hands Down Alt-tx above for more.

  • Swapping F<->U might be better. I don't know. I do know that CLD<->GMP is a tempting swap, but lots and lots of subtle reasons add up to arguing for it to be the way presented. For certain, swapping just one pair on the same finger (ex C<->G) destroys some of the comfortable rolling features...

  • Swapping thumb duties (space<->E) improves L-R hand balance, which may be more comfortable for some.

  • 🇯🇵For Japanese, I swap K->U->Y->K. (See Hands Down Alt above). Because E is the least used vowel in Japanese, I don't recommend any layout with E on the thumb for anyone who needs to type in Japanese, unless you use a Japanese specific layout with your input method (ex, JISかな配列, 親指シフト, 薙刀式) and Hands Down for English. Hands Down Alt-nx or Hands Down Alt-tx are better suited for mixed English-Japanese use, and maybe for other languages as well.


※These stats are from kla.keyboard-design.com. Use the JSON files on the download page to see how it preforms with your own sample texts on the KLA of your choice.†Same-finger bigram stats from the Colemak-DH Layout Analysis Tool, with default settings. go ahead and copy the layout above and paste it into the Colemak-DH Layout Analysis Tool to see for yourself, and compare with other layouts.