Whats in a Keyboard ?
Did you know that keyboards come in all shapes and sizes and it is possible to spend upwards of £200 on a professional one?
The first thing that made me aware of high quality keyboards was a blog post by Steve Losh. After that it was only a matter of time before I started asking myself a series of questions about what I wanted from a keyboard.
Know Thy Self
Its not like I am unhappy with the keyboard I have in front of me. Its the pretty metal one which comes with all Mac computers. I intentionally went with a wired one as dealing with batteries feels a bit like living with a nuisance, a wired keyboard very rarely loses connection in my experience. I also very rarely need to use my computer from up to thirty feet away.
I spend the majority of my working day tapping commands on my keyboard, favouring keyboard use over the mouse in almost all situations. Having a professional keyboard won’t make me a professional coder but it might help me to enjoy the experience of writing. Can you hear me trying to convince myself?
The question is , what do you want from your keyboard?
The Quest begins
Mechanical keyboards are raved about by the people who use them and rarely given a second thought by those who do not use them. Part of the problem which I have experienced is that I have never managed to actually have a go on one! Recently I upped my game to try and have a go with a fancy keyboard. The options are limited. I visited both PC world and Maplins. I asked the sales assistant at PC world and got the blankest look you have ever seen in your life. Maplins were fantastically enthusiastic and showed me several boxes and even offered to get me a physical one of any that I fancied.
This now highlights the second problem. Variations and choice. Mostly Maplins had gaming keyboards, as I understand it they behave slightly differently than a keyboard you would chose for typing words with. The travel of a keypress on a gaming keyboard will be the same all the way down to when it bottoms out. The alternative is that the typist can feel a differnce when they reach the actution point before the key bottoms out.
If you consider the options: there are different physical shapes and sizes; different types of switches with a different feel for each one; different keyboard layouts and various options for the over all style. Blanks key caps are cool, didn’t you know?
There is too much detail about mechanical keyboards to cover it all here in this humble blog post. I would like to take this moment to mention one aspect of professional keyboard which requires consideration. The overall size of the keyboard I have found fascinating. You can get a full sized keyboard, a ‘tenkeyless’, a 60% sized one and even a 40% I have recently discovered. If desk space is not a consideration then a full sized board has all the buttons. The number pad on the right, arrow keys and all the function buttons. It may even feature an additional modifier key to sit alongside your control, alt, meta and shift. A ‘tenkeyless’ loses the numberpad usually but will have many of the other options.
It is the next category of keyboard which I found interesting. A 60% is exactly what it suggests. It will have pretty much just the typewriter keys and won’t really mess with their arrangement all that much. It probably won’t have arrow keys. These extra features can be reach by holding a modifier key in combination with a letter or number. Much like you would if you wanted to type a capital letter or punctuation. It is this behaviour which makes the 40% a viable keyboard. It works much like the keyboard on your phone. Here is an example of one.
The Quest Continues
I am still waiting to take the plunge and settle on a keyboard for professional use. On the one hand it is a lot of money to spend but on the other hand I spend a LOT of time typing. It is significantly less money than the Mac I type on. I have made some decisions though. I work in an office with other people so there are some considerations there. Maybe a keyboard that isn’t as loud as it can possibly be is a good decision and blank key caps may not help my co workers if they need to do anything on my computer.
Twice I have cobbled together a keyboard on wasd.com and concluded that I wanted silly things which require making my own keyboard layout file. Thinking back on it now I don’t really remember what those changes were. At some point all the decisions will come together and I will be able to settle on something. Then I will know if mechanical keyboards are worth the money.
I have cobbled together a custom keyboard three times now.