I’ve written about alternative input devices for editing and post-production many times here on The Editblog. There’s the RollerMouse, the Magic Mouse, Tangent Element and Ripple, X-Keys, CTRL+Console, PROCUTX and some other mice and stuff. They all have some varying degree of usefulness and/or uselessness. That often depends a lot on how the editor works and how much they want to focus their inputting on the keyboard vs. anything else. They keyboard is hard to beat when it comes to speed and simplicity while video editing.
Enter the Sensel Morph. This $299 piece of hardware is part large trackpad, part keyboard, part piano, part gaming tool, part music creators interface, part editing thingy and probably part other stuff too depending on your imagination. This tremendous functionality depends on the various overlays that can be dropped onto the Sensel Morph, each of which will do a lot of different things. But never fear if one overlay doesn’t seem to do what you might want because their buttons are customizable with the SenselApp. This thing is buttons, a keyboard, a trackpad, a pressure sensitive drawing tool, a gaming device, a MIDI tool and a whole lot more.
The Sensel Morph began as a Kickstarter campaign and actually came to life a product you can buy! I honestly can’t remember where I came across the product but it was in the context of video editing where I saw the overlay for video and audio editors. A few email exchanges with the developers and a Morph arrived at the Editblog labs for testing and review. I reached out to the Sensel creators as it looked like it might be that external input device I’ve been dreaming about to speed up editing and post-production. It has taken me quite awhile to write this review as I would use the Morph for awhile, then not use it, then try it again only to put it aside, unsure if it really helped or not. Back and forth, back and forth.
It’s a bit hard to explain what this thing does so I’m going to just lift the basic description of the Sensel Morph right from Sensel’s User Guide. Dig deep into this document if you’re thinking about purchasing as there is a lot to learn about all this thing can do.
The Sensel Morph is a multi-touch, pressure sensitive, and reconfigurable control surface for artists, musicians, coders, and other creative people.
There are several different Overlays for the Morph – each provides a different interactive interface for different creative softwares. Simply remove the current overlay and put down a new one – the Morph reconfigures and adapts to the new task at hand – playing music, editing video, drawing, playing games, or programming your own interface with the Sensel API.
- The Morph can be connected with USB or wirelessly via Bluetooth 4.0LE.
- Highly Sensitive: Approx. 20,000 pressure sensors 5g – 5kg sensing range per touch (32,000 levels)
- Extremely Fast: Full Resolution Mode – 125 Hz (8 ms latency)
- High Speed Mode – 500 Hz (2 ms latency)
- Precise Tracking: 6502 dpi
- Versatile Connectivity: Bluetooth LE, USB, Serial (enabled with Innovator’s Kit)
- On-the-Go Power: USB, Rechargeable Lithium Ion Polymer Battery
The hardware is top notch
The first thing you’ll notice about the Sensel Morph is that construction is high quality. The unit is heavier than I would have expected, with a metal body and a little light bar across the top. When you place a silicon/rubber/flexible overlay onto the Morph it snaps into place with what I am guessing is some magnets embedded into both the overlays and/or the Morph itself. And there must be a
tiny speaker (reading the FAQ answered this question, and many others, for me) within the hardware as well since, depending on what your setup is, there can be a little click sound when using buttons or controls on the Morph. I notice this sound on the video editing overlay but not the keyboard.
The functionality of the Morph comes from the various overlays that can be purchased and swapped out. You physically swap out the overlays on the hardware and then change, modify and create new overlay setting with the SenselApp. More of the software later.
The overlay construction is top quality as well. They are a thick silicon/rubber construction, also heavier than expected, and depending on the overlay the buttons might actually depress a bit, such is the case with the QWERTY keyboard overlay. There has been great care taken with the feel of both the Morph and the overlays and that’s good thing. That is reflected in the price but I can’t image how unpleasant a cheaply constructed piece of hardware like this would feel.
The video editing overlay is just cool
The $35 Video Editing Overlay is what our main focus is here.
One look around the buttons and you see a lot of familiar video editing things: Insert, Overwrite, Slip, Slide, Ripple and a whole lot more all in a very Adobe Premiere Pro looking color. That color of the video editing overly might be a tip as to what the keys are mapped to by default. The pinkish/purple hue of the video editing overlay is closer to that of PPro than Media Composer. From the Sensel Morph website: “By default, the key commands on the VEO are mapped for with Adobe Premier [sic] Pro. However, it can also be easily remapped in the SenselApp to adapt to any editing suite, such as Final Cut Pro.”
When you look around the video editing overlay you can see that some of the key icons on the left are tool-based but you don’t have to use them just to change to a new tool.
For example, Def Trans doesn’t have to add a default video transition as you might add a lot more audio transitions to the work you do when mixing audio. Leave your default video transition mapped to CMD+D and map the Apply Audio Transition away from a 3-button combination and put it on the Def Trans button on the Morph.
I’ve really come to enjoy the Zoom slider on the Morph editing overlay. It quickly and smoothly zooms the PPro timeline in and out, something I do hundreds of times a day, usually via my keyboard mapping of F11/F12. I’ve longed for a more hardware-way to do this and while a Contour Shuttle Pro almost got there for me I abandoned it years ago. Probably because it broke as opposed to not being useful.
The center of the Sensel Morph editing overlay attempts to mimic a lot of editing tasks in a more tactile way. The round jog wheel does a great job moving the playhead. There’s a lot of buttons around the center that you use all the time but many of those are already on the keyboard.
I’ve found that the keypad on the right to be particularly useful, not for a keypad as I always work with an extended keyboard but rather a place to map frequently used functions that I either don’t have on keyboard shortcuts or I have mapped to functions with lots of modifier keys.
If you look at the animated gif above you can see the default video overlay mapping and my current mapping. It’s hard to tell much since it’s only shows what I have mapped the keys to. But I have things like changing Marker colors on the number keypad, some different trimming functions mapped, toggling hardware playout, expanding audio and video tracks to name a few.
While you can use the Sensel Morph via plug-n-play right out of the box it’s the customizable nature of the tools through the SenselApp software the makes it truly useful.
The SenselApp software is the key to it all
While there is basic functionality via plug-n-play to get a Morph working right you have to install the SenselApp. This is the real gateway between whatever overlay you have on the Morph and the software you want to use with it.
If you are interested in spending the money on a Sensel Morph I would highly recommend visiting the Sensel support page and reading over some of the documentation, especially the User Guide (I’ll say this over and over), as it goes into a lot of detail on setup and what all the Morph can do (including pressure support for drawing and painting applications) as it can go much deeper than replicating button presses.
After adding an overlay to the app you can then customize all the buttons as you want. It’s clunky as you have to search out each button by a menu command instead of just pushing the key on your keyboard. This also allows for some very advanced type of inputs because you can use modifier keys as well as other different computer operations.
Once you make a change to your mapping you then have to send those changes to the Morph and it’ll blink the light on the unit to let you know its saved. Those custom mappings can be exported as a backup or saved to your cloud service so you can move the Morph from one workstation to another.
The SenselApp software could use some Mac polish but it is functional and probably looks exactly the same on Windows.
UPDATE 7-2-18: I forgot this image of the firmware being updated via the SenselApp. When updates are needed it’s just a click away.
I never thought the keyboard overlay would be my favorite
One overlay you can get is a $35 tactile keyboard available in three different layouts.
I’ve often wanted just a big panel of buttons to map different editing functions to (I’ve often used an iPad app but never purchased any X-keys) and I realized that a second keyboard on the Morph could be just that! With this I now have a whole button palette just waiting to map random things I don’t use too often or things that often require multiple modifier keys. I like the one-key-press to make something happen.
But is it really better than the keyboard?
As cool and fun to use as the Sensel Morph is the question that it always boils down to with any input device like this is quite simple:
Is using this alternative input device faster than using the keyboard?
The answer is no.
That’s not to say that the Morph doesn’t add an extra level of functionality beyond the basic keyboard, it most definitely does. But it suffers from the same problem that most any alternative input device designed specifically for video editing suffers from: it tries to replicate basic functionality already there on the keyboard.
Why do I want to reach and narrow my target to the top corner of the Morph to delete a clip when I can just use the delete on my keyboard?
Why narrow my target to the In or Out buttons on the Morph when I have an I and O right on my keyboard right next to my fingers?
These questions can go on and on when comparing most any input device to your keyboard. It was the same issue I had with the CTRL+Console on the iPad. Granted the Sensel Morph offers more a more tactile feel than any iPad app but it’s hard to beat having the button right in front of you on the keyboard where you don’t even have to look down to press it. And don’t even try to use this instead of the keyboard. That won’t work as there is too much missing. I also usually put these types of devices above my keyboard as I usually work with a mouse on the left and a trackball/trackpad on the right. I’ve tried to place the Morph to the right of the keyboard but it slows me down too much to not have the trackpad/trackball. Perhaps I’m reaching further above the keyboard than beside it but when the button is already on the keyboard there’s no reaching at all!
I don’t usually call out other product reviews in my own product reviews but I will in this case. A photographer editing video on Fstoppers says “I couldn’t have imagined something like [the Morph] could have such an impact on my workflow and the way I edit videos.” My reaction to that is he’s not using his NLE nearly as effectively or efficiently as he could.
If you’re a mouse-based, hunt-and-peck, part-time video editor who hasn’t ever learned the keyboard shortcuts (and there are a lot of them out there) then you’ll love the video editing functionally of the Sensel Morph. In fact you’ll probably learn new Premiere functions you never knew existed. The Morph will be well worth it.
If you’re a keyboard-focused, speed-at-all-costs, 10-hours-a-day video editor who has mapped the keyboard to your liking or learned all the shortcuts within an inch of your life you most likely won’t touch the editing overlay of the Morph beyond a few things here and there. It’s probably not worth the cost just for the default buttons alone. But as a customizable hardware interface? There is value there.
There’s no demo for $299 hardware so I suggest you study the website, digest the user guide and watch some videos before purchase. If you only plan to speed up your video editing with the Morph the cost might be too much but if you have a lot of different disciplines in your life (editing, music, gaming, graphics) then you can probably get a lot of mileage out of a Sensel Morph. It’s a unique piece of hardware.
- High quality construction
- Great customization via the SenselApp software
- Different overlays for a variety of uses including music production and gaming
- Can go beyond just editing though I haven’t even experimented with an app like Photoshop and pressure sensitivity
- It’s just fun to use
- High cost
- The Mac COMMAND key option in the SenselApp software is “Win” … if you’re gearing toward creatives on Macs then match the keys
- The SenselApp software is clunky when it comes to assigning new, custom keys
- It’s not going to make the keyboard-based editor any faster
- I can’t get the Navigate button on the bottom of the Video Editing overlay to scroll the timeline no matter how I change the settings
- You can’t give custom names to the keys in the SenselApp which would be nice to see what the actual command is
- When changing functions don’t forget to Send to Morph to get those changes to the unit
- Export your custom settings to Dropbox as a backup or to move them to another Morph
- Plug-n-play has limited functionality so install the SenselApp to make the most of the Morph
- You can use the Bluetooth feature of the Morph with the keyboard overlay as a Bluetooth keyboard for an iPad but when I do there are a few buttons that don’t work (like the T and 2) but that can likely be fixed in software
- While there is a power button I don’t think I ever really used it since I plugged in via USB as the functionality via the SenselApp doesn’t work over Bluetooth