Friday, 20 May 2016

What’s Your Type?

What’s Your Type?

If you have to look at your keyboard every time you type a letter, then these touch-typing programs and games are what you need

Whether you’re a journalist, a programmer or just a school pupil doing coursework, having the ability to touch type can be a real gamechanger. Of course, what you write matters more than how you write it, but if you’re not wasting time with an inefficient two-fingered search-and-peck typing system, then that’s time you can better spend on research and fine-tuning your work. It also means there’s less of a gap between when you think something and when you type it.

Yes, without doubt, being able to type quickly and effectively is a huge advantage in many professions. And for students, it’s become increasingly necessary, with handwritten essay submissions now a thing of the past, and programming courses gaining popularity.

Yet, for some reason, it’s not a skill that’s taught in most schools. As you’d expect, there’s plenty of focus on handwriting (as there should be), but touch typing lessons are a rarity. This is strange, considering that for many adults, keyboards are our primary way of putting down our thoughts, and we rarely pick up a pen, unless it’s to  jot down a few notes.

The weirdness of this situation is compounded by the fact that it’s not even particularly difficult to grasp the basics of touch typing. There are many typing tutor programs you buy cheaply, and there are even some decent ones you can pick up for nothing at all.

It can also be fun too. Many typing applications also include simple games, which reward you with points or destroy enemies for typing words as they come up on the screen. Plus there are dedicated typing games, which mix typing with more traditional gaming genres.

If you’re one of the many people who’s reached adulthood without being able to touch type, this guide is for you. We’re going to look first at standard typing tutors, before moving on to the fun stuff.

Typing Tutors

There are plenty of programs available that teach you how to type, and they generally have a few things in common. For a start, although some do support alternative layouts, they generally teach you how to type on a standard QWERTY keyboard. They do this by getting you to type out the words they show on screen, which is accompanied by an image or animation that instructs you on which fingers to use for each letter. What differentiates them is the quality of the exercises, the statistics they gather about your abilities and extra features like games.

For the sake of space, we’re only going to cover a few such programs here (starting with a very familiar name), but there are loads more, many of which are free.

Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing (

The supreme ruler of all typing programs, Mavis Beacon might not be the best typing program in the world, but it’s certainly one of the most well known. First released in 1987, this range of applications is known largely for the titular Mavis Beacon, a pretty young woman who adorns the front of every box. Obviously, whoever she is, she must be an amazing typist, right? Maybe, but she certainly isn’t a real person. Instead, she’s a fictional character, played by a model named Renee Lesperance (you can read more about this at She also seems to be portrayed by a different person on new versions of the software.

Regardless of who Mavis is, though, the program itself has plenty to offer in addition to a pretty face. Available for Windows and Mac OS X, there are a few different versions available, from a wide selection of retailers, with prices ranging from as little as £3 up to about £40. There’s also a version created for children, called Mavis Beacon Keyboarding Kidz (presumably, the person who named it mistyped ‘kids’).

Whichever version you choose (other than Kidz), you’ll find Mavis Beacon to be a more than competent typing tutor, which promises “Proven positive results in just 8 hours”. The program sets you goals, gives you exercises to complete and even comes with a range of simple games. Like many other typing tutors, during lessons you see an on-screen keyboard, complete with a set of hands, so you know where your fingers are meant to be and which ones you should be using for each key.

Be aware, though, that some earlier versions only support QWERTY keyboard layouts, so if you use or want to learn the Dvorak layout (see boxout), make sure you buy a version of the program that supports it.

Typesy (

Formerly known as Ultimate Typing, Typesy is available for Windows, Mac OS X, iOS and even the Chrome web browser. Not only does the Chrome version potentially  enable users on Linux and other platforms to use Typesy, it also lets anyone try the program for free without committing to a purchase of the full version. That costs £17 and includes installations on unlimited computers for up to five users, unlimited cloud services and unlimited free updates. This is great, apart from the fact that it only gives you three years of access. We’d much prefer a straightforward purchase of the software, but you could argue that you probably won’t need three years to learn now to type anyway, and after that you’ll never use this software again.

We checked the free version, and it’s very limited, but it does allow you to practice the basics of touch typing. The app is broken into various sections, such as accuracy training, speed training, keyboard training and typing fun (games), and in each section, the first exercise is free. There are also a range of preset courses, with the beginner’s course being the only one available for free. You can also see your stats, which consist of typing speed, accuracy and the amount of time you’ve been training, and you can set yourself speed and accuracy targets too.

The actual training itself is fairly well presented. You’re first shown a video, in which a presenter introduces the concepts you’re about to learn, then you’re given a list of words to type, with an animated picture of hands on a keyboard to indicate which fingers you should use.

This is all fairly standard for typing software, but the Chrome add-on gives Typesy an extra layer of usefulness, because you’re able to practise using your own account, no matter where you are. Bearing this in mind, the three-year licence shouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience.

UltraKey (

Available for Window and Mac, UltraKey comes in at $39.95 (roughly £28), which puts it at the higher end of the price range for home typing software. For this, you get a licence for three installations and a choice of US, UK and Australia/New Zealand editions. There’s also an online version, which uses HTML5, but this is aimed at schools and businesses, rather than personal users. Indeed, much of the UtraKey range is based on this business model. It’s a shame, because it means regular users can’t access cloud saving functions or a version for web browsers. Thankfully, UltraKey makes up for this by being a competent and accessible typing program.

As you’d expect, you can track your typing speed, set targets and so on. And you can see a virtual keyboard, complete with hands, to see if you’re typing with the right fingers in the right places.

With such a focus on education, though, don’t expect to find any games, but do expect to find well-paced exercises, in-depth reports on your typing and good-quality instruction. Indeed, this aspect of the program is so good that newer editions of Mavis Beacon are “Powered by UltraKey”.

If you want a straightforward typing tutor without any of the frivolity, this is a decent option for sure.


TIPP10 isn’t the most advanced typing tutor in the world, but it’s notable for being completely free and available for Windows, Mac and Linux, and the online version increases its versatility further.

When you open the application, you’re shown some text, which explains where to place your fingers, and each of the keys in the home row (‘A’ through to the semi-colon) is colour coded. This colour coding continues into the exercises themselves, which replaces the animated hands you’d see in other programs. Supporting this, the names of the fingers you’re supposed to use are displayed at the bottom (e.g. ‘Left little finger’). This is sufficient, but it isn’t anywhere near as useful or intuitive as an illustration. Still, it’s a free program, so it’s seems unfair to criticise it too much, especially as the exercises themselves are perfectly fine, and the feedback you receive is good too. Not only can you see your speed in characters per minute and the amount of errors you made, you can also see your best and worst keys and the error rates of each of your fingers. These aren’t unusual features, because you’ll find such things in most paid-for typing programs too, but they’re not always found in free ones.

Unfortunately, there are no games and only 20 typing lessons, but this program should still be enough to help you grasp the basics of touch typing without you having to pay a single pound.

Typing Games

Finding typing games online is easy, but most of them are simple Flash games that amount to little more than typing exercises with simple animations, like popping balloons and so on. Even more graphically impressive Flash games don’t offer much interaction, either if they do look better. The main challenge from such games tends to be choosing which word to type first, depending on, say, which enemy is closer to you.

Full PC games, however, have much better production values, which generally means they also offer more game-like features.

The Typing Of The Dead: Overkill

Anyone who’s ever frequented a games arcade will have seen or played one of the House of the Dead games. The original Typing of the Dead took the House of the Dead 2 and replaced the lightguns with a keyboards. And although you might think it was a PC release first (coming out in 2000), there was actually an arcade machine first that came complete with two full-size keyboards.

The Typing of the Dead: Overkill is based on the later (and much more sweary) game The House of the Dead: Overkill, which was first released on the Wii in 2009. Just like the other Typing games, it’s an almost exact copy of its source material, but each zombie has a word attached to it. As you type each character of a word, you ‘shoot’ that zombie. Don’t do it fast enough and you get chomped.

As an on-rails game, though, interaction is inevitably limited. You can choose which zombie to type to death first, with the border around words going from green to red as they approach and become more of a danger. But essentially, it’s the same kind of gameplay as balloon-popping Flash games but with fancier graphics.

Does that mean it isn’t fun, though? Not at all. The presentation of the Overkill is what makes it enjoyable, and if you don’t mind bad language and puerile humour, it can be quite amusing as well. It won’t teach you how to type, but provided you already have some basic skills in this area, it can certainly help you to gain more speed.

Epistory - Typing Chronicles

Possibly the best typing game ever, Epistory mixes RPG and action elements with typing to produce a proper gaming experience and a challenge mode that will keep you coming back for more.

Graphically, the game’s world is based on origami, with new parts of the environment ‘unfolding’ as you progress. Weaved into this is a literary theme and a beautifully delivered voiceover. And unlike other typing games, Epistory isn’t on rails; you’re free to explore this world as much as you like, using either the WASD keys, arrow keys or a more typingfriendly layout. As enemies approach, you can choose to run away, or you can tap the spacebar or Enter to go into attack mode. Once you do this, words then appear on your enemies, which you type to banish them.

That sounds simple enough, but as you progress, not only do the words become longer, you also have to deal with enemies that have to be killed with a particular power. This means typing in ‘fire’, ‘ice’, ‘spark’ or ‘wind’ before typing in the relevant words, which will activate these powers, each of which has its own properties. Fire, for example, will burn the next word when enemies have more than one word to type, while ice will halt them in their tracks momentarily.

In short, it’s a proper game, with experience points, upgrades and more. And once you’ve completed the story, you can spend time in the arena mode, which consists of a few different on-screen environments, in which you’ll be bombarded with limitless enemies. Your high scores are then submitted to a global leaderboard so you see just how pathetic your 30 words per minute are compared to the top typists in the game (but don’t let that discourage you; just try to beat your own record).

Quite simply, an excellent typing experience, even though it doesn’t actually offer any form of typing tuition.

Like any skill, typing takes practise, and shorter, regular sessions are probably better than a sporadic, intensive ones. But from our own experience, you really can pick up a fair bit of speed and accuracy is just a couple of weeks. And even if you’re only going to be typing emails and Facebook posts, it well worth it for the time you’ll save later.

Happy typing!

Other Notable Software
• Typing Instructor Platinum
• Typing Master
• Greenstreet Quick & Easy
• Rapid Typing Tutor
• Kiran’s Typing Tutor
• All The Right Type


Named after Dr August Dvorak, the Dvorak keyboard layout was first patented in 1936. The idea behind this layout is that it’s more efficient than the QWERTY layout, which was and still is the most popular layout today. It’s been claimed that QWERTY was designed to slow typists down and prevent typewriters from jamming, but the exact origins of this layout are very much debatable ( Regardless of why QWERTY exists, the aim of Dvorak is reduce the amount of movement your fingers have to make, by grouping common letters together and making them more comfortable to reach. The vowels, for instance, are all in the same row, directly under the fingers of the left hand.

In spite of the supposed benefits of this system, however, it still hasn’t been able to supplant QWERTY. It has, though, gained enough popularity that a lot of typing software includes it as an alternative mode.

Of course, that won’t change the physical layout of your keyboard, and unless you buy a Dvorak model, you’ll be stuck learning Dvorak with a QWERTY layout. But that could actually be a good thing, because it might help you resist the urge to look down at the keys when you’re typing.

That said, there is one other option: key stickers, which are freely available on the web. With these, you can easily relabel the keys for Dvorak or any other alternative layouts, such as Colemak.