Wednesday, June 29, 2016

4 practical tips for choosing the right mechanical keyboard

I have been a big fan of mechanical keyboards all my life. And for the past 3 years, I have made many purchases and tried many switches. Heck, in my forum at loopgit, I even have a dedicated mechanical keyboard category so we can discuss this particular human user interface when using a PC or a Mac.

A keyboard is a keyboard, many will tell you. But, the moment you ventured into mechanical keyboard, you are looking at a big onion with many layers that you can peel. Much like mechanical watches or fountain pens, which functions are pretty common but the fact that they are both mechanical in nature, there are many choices and deviation.

So, how do you know which keyboard is right for you? Read on for some tips base on my experience of trying out various mechanical keyboards. You might also want to review the different type of switches in this article if you are not familiar with the keyboard switches.

Tip #1 - what is your typing style?
Before deciding on the type of switches, look at your own typing style. Are you someone who pound on the keyboard using only a few fingers much like a finger pecking at the keyboard? Or are you like the professional typist who put both hands on the middle row (ASDF and JKL;) and is able to type with both hands at the slightest touch?

Someone who is a pecking on a keyboard will naturally like a heavier switch. That is because a lot of time, you are pounding on the keys and you will appreciate a much more tactile feedback from the key being depressed and bouncing back at you. Heavier switches such as MX Clear, MX Green, Buckling Spring are suitable to you.

Some who can touch type usually prefer a lighter switch that accentuate at the slightest press, so that they received the tactile feedback and know that they have press that key and can move on. In this case, lighter switches such as MX Brown, MX Blue or Alps (Matias) switches are suitable for you.

Tip #2 - are you bothered by the sound of typing?
Do you love the click clack noise when using your keyboard? Or are you in an office environment where the sound of your typing will be annoying to your co-workers? Gone are the days of an office where all you can hear are the sound of old typewriters click clacking away. These days, office are pretty quiet stuff and using a noisy mechanical keyboard might turn people off. On the other hand, perhaps your boss will think you are working very hard when they hear you typed.

So, if you like to listen to the click clack noise from your keyboard: MX Green, MX Blue, Buckling Spring and Alps (Matias TactilePro) are the one you are looking for.

And if you like to be incognito when typing on a mech keyboard, then MX Clear, MX Brown and Alps (Matias QuietPro) are the one you should consider. In fact, Matias QuietPro claimed to be the world's quietest mechanical keyboard. And they even recorded the sound of typing on various keyboard switch. You should head over there and listen to the recording to determine which keyboard is sound is right for you. Here's the link).

Tip #3 - do you have limited desk space?
There are various sizes to a keyboard. Mechanical keyboards will give you even more different sizes. There are the full 104-key keyboards. This one include the number pad on the right:


There are the TKL keyboard. TKL stands for Ten Key Less. Basically, it does away with the number pad (total of 10 keys there) and therefore the keyboard is shorter. Very good for gaming because your mouse hand will not need to stretch too far to the right.

There are the 60% keyboard which are small and portable. Notice that the 60% did not have the Function Row (F1 to F12). It also does not have arrow keys. These keys are achieved through pressing a combination of Function and another key.


Comparing the 60% Poker Keyboard to the Full size Razer Blackwidow.
Depending on how much desk space you have, you might want different keyboard. Most people will take the 60% if they travel around with their keyboard for instance a student will take the keyboard to connect to the University's lab PC instead of using the one in the lab, which is frankly, pretty gross out.

Tip #4 - Do you care about replacing the keys?
I am not sure how OCD some of you are but they keys are made of plastics and plastic do wear out over time. For instance, some of the letters might disappear because of the oil and grim from your finger. The best thing about mech keyboard is that each of these keys can be taken off and replaced with new ones. You can even replaced with colourful keys such as this:


Now, if you care about replacing keys, then you have to make sure the keyboards that you are buying are using standard layout. Typically, the alpha keys (ABCDEF.... ) are standard size. What is not standard are the modifiers which are the SHIFT, CAPSLOCK, TAB, ALT, CONTROL, WINDOWS. SPACE BAR. Many keyboard manufacturers do not use standard key size for the mod. For instance, the Razer keyboard pictured above are not standard. And that means, they are not easily replaceable.

Most keyboards use ABS plastics. It's the same plastic materials used by Lego. That means, they keys are very colourful and vibrant, much like Lego blocks. The problem is that over time, they keys became very glossy. Look at your laptop now. Are the keys shinning and glossy, as though covered in oil? It's gross, right? Some keyboards have keys made of PBT plastics and those are the best. It feels a bit coarse and does have some matte texture feel but these plastics do not shine. If you own a old IBM buckling spring keyboards, notice how that over the years (20-30 years) they keys does not shine and the letters does not go away? These are PBT plastics.

And there you have it
Four practical tips that you can quickly ask yourself and it will help you determine the type of keyboard you should look out for. As for the brand and price, we can discuss in the forum. Head over there.

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