capsule review

Quickly Access Nonstandard Characters With Free Holdkey

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Holdkey

    PCWorld Rating

Holdkey lets you enter characters from the Windows extended set (not shown on the keyboard) by pressing and holding a key--much as with the virtual keyboards found on mobile devices. For instance, with Holdkey running, pressing the e key generates the "e" character, but continuing to hold the key morphs it into an up arrow. When you release the key, a menu pops up displaying ten related characters in the extended set, such as "ë." Mouse to the character you want and it's entered instead.

Holdkey runs in the background and is configured via this dialog.
There's also a more option in the pop-up menu that takes you to the Holdkey Web site where you'll find more related characters that you can copy to the clipboard. Obviously, you'll need an Internet connection to make use of this feature.

It's the mousing that's my issue with the free version of Holdkey. There's no way to select the character that you want from the pop-up menu using the keyboard cursor keys. Reaching for the mouse is not something I like to do when I'm writing--it disrupts the typing and creative process. (No wisecracks, please.)

Holdkey Pro (€7.5) solves this issue for most users by adding the ability to quickly enter single characters by simply using the Windows key or Ctrl-Windows and Shift-Windows key combinations. Sadly, this is useless to me. My precious-90s era IBM M-Series keyboard--the best ever made for typists--has no Windows key.

The Pro version of Holdkey also allows you to enter accented characters by pressing a standard or altered (Windows-) punctuation character once or twice, then the character to be accented--for example, typing two parentheses then e once will enter "ë."

To address both my mousing and Windows-key issues I'd like to see an option to ditch the pop-up menu and simply enter a single character with press/hold, or perhaps cycling through the extended characters as you continue to hold the key. Coupled to a facility for editing the order so you can place your most commonly-used characters first, the latter could be a very elegant entry methodology.

My minor gripes aside, Holdkey is a great idea. For people who regularly make use of the extended character set or symbols, it could prove quite useful.

--Jon L. Jacobi

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Keyboard utility Holdkey makes it easier to enter extended and nonstandard characters.

    Pros

    • Free
    • Eases entry of extended character set

    Cons

    • Mouse sometimes required to choose characters
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