keyboard nerd

published : 2020-04-18 changed: 2020-04-18

category: global --> keyboards


Am I a keyboard nerd?

Obviously I am in addition to building drones or multicopters, general computer / Apple in particular and the service desert in Germany also very much in to the topic (mechanical) keyboards. And apparently this is a topic that also concerns others, which is why I got some feedback on my post about Kinesis Freestyle Edge RGB vs Ergodox-EZ.

So here are a few thoughts on the subject ...

Keyboards ... why is that an issue

In IT business we work on the computer far more than 40 hours a week. And the keyboard is the most important input device for these devices today. I hardly think that this will change in the foreseeable future, because voice input is far too inefficient for e.g. programming.

I've been working with computers and keyboards for almost my entire life. And I've now noticed that the choice of keyboard is important. Apart from the fact that you can get so-called RSI (pain from repetitive movements) if you work non-ergonomically, efficiency is important. If I type something 100000x per day (keystrokes) and get that faster by 0.05sec per keystroke, that'll save an entire hour!

If you check your typing speed on sites like typeracer, 10FastFingers or the Typing Game z-Type its If you test speed, you quickly realize how important the right keyboard is. To make matters worse, I have had problems with my elbows and wrists since my motorcycle accident a few years ago. Typing on a normal keyboard quickly leads to pain because I have to "bend" your wrist.

Egonomic keyboards

This is a wide field, because unfortunately many think a curved keyboard is ergonomic. But that's far from enough.

For me, a good ergonomic keyboard must have the following properties:

  • It must be possible to get to the keys comfortably with both arms, straight from the shoulders. At least with my stature, this is actually only possible if I can separate the halves of the keyboard and make at least 10 cm space in between
  • this way in between I can put the trackpad so I have much less "way" to reach the mouse.
  • The keyboard halves must be tiltable so that the inner side is higher. This minimizes the twisting of the hands. Some even set the keyboards to 90˚ so that you can type with your thumb "upwards" .
  • Ideally, I can adjust the inclination of the keyboard in the other direction, i.e. front / back. It would be best if I could raise the back end a bit.
  • The keyboard should be "ortholinear". This staggered layout of the keys on today's keyboards still comes from the old typewriters. At that time there were levers on every key and for mechanical reasons they couldn't be "on top of each other". So there were mechanical optimizations, that drove the design. In general, the QWERTZ layout is designed precisely for this - not for ergonomic typing.

So, to sum it up. It is important that you can put your arms down as naturally as possible and start typing. Without kinking your wrists or having to bring your elbows too close to your body.

Mechanical vs. "Spongy"

Then there is a difference in the keyboards between mechanical keys and non-mechanical. Most keyboards available today use so-called rubber domes. These are small rubber domes that are pressed down while typing and then make contact. Or they use a membrane System (that actually works similar to rubber domes). These things naturally feel spongy, it's hard to say when the contact is really made. But they are quiet emoji people:smirk

Apple and some other manufacturers have the "scissor mechanism" on their keyboards. It feels a little better, but it hardly gives you any "travel" and typing feels a bit like typing on the iPhone screen. Mechanical keyboards have a mechanical switch with spring for each key.

There are many ways to influence the typing experience. The hardness of the spring, how is the switch closed (loud, quiet, tactile, linear ...) And that's where I have to mention the keyboard that keyboard nerds almost think is sacred: IBM Model M. It was the first keyboard with an audible and noticeable "click" when you typed.

This keyboard has spoiled me emoji people:smirk after using the IBM Keyboard once I only wanted to have such keyboards. The click was only somewhat suitable for work in the office, it was loud. But at the time, those keyboards were not really easy to find, actually.

There are a lot of manufacturers of such keyboard switches nowadays. First and foremost the company Cherry, which has probably made it a little famous. The switches are supplied in different "colors", each color has other typing characteristics and so by color you can exactly tell what the switch should feel like.

  • cherry mx blue: noticeable, hard and loud bump when typing. Very similar to the IBM Model M
  • cherry mx brown: a little more noticeable bump when activated, a bit quieter and therefore more suitable for the office
  • cherry mx red: linear switch, no bump, relatively quiet All other manufacturers actually refer to this.

Manufacturer, wich also play some role in the market are Kalith and Matias

There are many more switches available, lots of other "colors" and such. But those are usually only variations of blue, brown and red.

Examples of keyboards

Oh boy ... I've tested a lot of keyboards in my career, I'm sure I won't be able to list all of them here. I will highlight the special keyboards:

  • The strangest keyboard ever: Fingerworks Touchstream LP. Actually no keyboard, because it has no keys. The whole keyboard is a touch surface, and with two fingers you could move your mouse! That was the first way ever to make gestures and move the mouse cursor with fingers. The company was then bought by Apple and the technology was probably a basis for the modern IPhones
  • Siemens Ergonomic Keyboard ... that was kind of mechanical, but more like Cherry MX Linear. Also rattled extremely. It felt quite good, was extremely expensive for that time (that was in the late 90s)
  • In between I had a lot of "normal" rubber dome keyboards. But probably changed them on a weekly basis emoji people:smirk None of these were ergonomic keyboards. I remember I owned some forerunner of the Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard, though.
  • Razer Blackwidow Chroma - my first RGB keyboard. However, it was anything but ergonomic. Apart from the fact that the thing on the Mac hardly works at all, it was not my brightes idea to go for a non-ergonomic keyboard in regards to my condition with wrists and ellbows - here I learned things the painful way.
  • My favorite and the keyboard that I have used the longest is the Ergodox-EZ. I have already talked about it here.
  • currently in use: Kinesis Freestyle Edge RGB. I also wrote a review here

The last keyboards were all mechanical ones, with Cherry MX Brown or Blue switches. These are the keyswitches I prefer to type on. And I'm pretty consistent with that.

but as you can see, I was not 100% satisfied with the keyboards - thats why I switched so often. Most of them did not break (apart from the very latest from the Ergodox EZ), but were simply exchanged because it was "time" ... or because I was fed up or there was simply a better / cooler keyboard.

In the early days of computing, it was actually just a necessary evil to get a keyboard ... you just took a keyboard for a few marks, it doesn't matter anyway, they're all the same anyway ... Oh boy...

A little bit of history

This is an intersting topic. We have achieved so many things in technology and yet we have hardly developed the keyboards in the past 120 years. Sure, there are no longer any levers that practically stamp ink on paper, the mechanical effort has become significantly lower. But the design criteria have actually remained the same. The well-known keyboard layout is still based on the layout for the first typewriters and was optimized in such a way that the mallets do not cross easily when typing and thus cause jamming. And, even though we no longer have levers or mallets, we still type on keyboards that look pretty much the same. Further details are also available [here] (https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tastaturbellassung#Geschichte).

Therefore, the keys are not arranged "straight", but rather offset or staggerred. Because, back then there was no other way, there was one Lever underneath each key that went in the direction of the paper. Therefore it was not possible for mechanical reasons, e.g. to place the 'e' just above the 'd'.

Why are we still doing this today ?! well ... on the one hand there are a few standards that have been agreed upon and I am sure that there are laws somewhere that refer to them. But ergonomically that doesn't make sense ... Not only the arrangement of the buttons, but also the "distribution" of the letters, as already indicated above, is designed to get as little "jamming" as possible. So ergonomics has never been a priority.

Alternative keyboard layouts

If you take a closer look at the topic of ergonomics when typing, you will eventually find that QWERTZ is not the best choice regarding ergonomic typing. There have been some alternative keyboard layouts for a long time, such as DVORAK and alike. But my favorite is actually ADNW and there the variant XOY. I also find the optimization for straight (= ortho-linear) keyboards with thumbshift interesting - if I put shift on the thumb cluster of the ergodox, this layout would have been an idea.

Despite practicing the new layout from time to time, I have not yet managed to switch 100% to it. Well ... As soon as I type with the new layout, my typing speed drops from approx. 400 keystrokes / minute to less than 100 ... that feels sooo slow ... I'm going to do something about that, and I will write about it if I can do that in the new layout. emoji people:smirk

The right keyboard

Before ergodox-ez came onto the market with the keyboard via Kickstarter, the keyboard nerds had to build their own keyboards. When my Ergodox said goodbye, I wanted to familiarize myself with the topic. I can solder, tools are there ... But etch circuit boards? Milling the housing ... Nah ... that was too much work for me.

But this DIY community is the basis of the open hardware layout for the Ergodox keyboards. I can only hope that there are more companies that jump on this train and hopefully bring many innovations in the field to market.

future?

Something is happening in the area of ​​keyboards. The Ergodox keyboard was certainly one of the first good ergonomic, split keyboards. Ergodox-EZ then brought it to the mass market. There will be many other keyboards in the area.

However, the current trend is to make the keyboards as small as possible. Ergodox-EZ now also has one "mini" keyboard. It is not ergonomic. and with only 40 or so buttons, you have to use everything multiple times ... no idea why people think it is so great ... I hope the trend goes in the other direction again. With a mini-keyboard like this I couln't work 8 hours a day. And I will not be the only one.

Sure, the 105-key standard keyboard certainly has had its day, but why build a 40-key keyboard, where every key is assigned twice ...

Well ... How many keys are the "sweet spot", the best mix between size and ergonomics, because the smaller a keyboard is, the fewer distances the fingers / hands have to travel to reach the keys. But if you double-assign each key or just get the umlauts in German with a kind of shift key, then it slows down typing a lot. I think the sweet spot is certainly somewhere in the 60-70 key range, that could be a good compromise.

Not like with the Ergodox keyboard. Because there are actually enough keys, you cannot reach them easily, especially the lowest row of keys. There are a good 14 keys to drop.

My optimal keyboard

I have in my layout for the Ergodox-EZ e.g. the bottom row occupied with all sorts of double modifier assignments. Something like CTRL-Shift or CTRL-ALT ... I hardly used it because the keys are almost directly under the palm of my hand. I should change that, it's actually pretty nonsensical.

That is now better with the Kinesis, because there is no "hidden keys", there are only CTRL, ALT and CMD and Space ... standard. However, it is better to be a little exaggerated. The buttons are just not superfluous. : smirk:

The problems with kinesis are now of a different nature. Your fingers cover further distances before you hit the right key. There is a key for everything and it is a lot closer to the normal standard keyboard, but unfortunately the keys are staggered here again and not ortholinear. I think it's a shame that there is no thumb cluster at all. It was good that I could map backspace and space for my two thumbs, but one more key would have been cool.

No matter how you do it, apparently there is no optmial keyboard, unless you build it yourself. But, what would be the optimal keyboard ...

  • mechanical switches
  • split, so that I can pull the halves apart enough
  • ortholinear
  • at least about 60 buttons, which should all be easily accessible (or most of them)
  • RGB lighting of the buttons, because it is cool and I think the feedback is useful
  • and: programmable with several layers! This is the only way I can really switch between layouts, from ADNW-XOY to QERTZ, then another one Game Mode etc. Especially double assignments should be possible, they are often annoying, but sometimes also very practical.
  • Tenting must be possible
  • an easily accessible, meaningful cluster of thumbs
  • a pleasant palm rest.

So, where could I get such a keyboard? The Ergodox Infinity keyboard mit fit best. but it is currently no longer available and I would have to build it myself. But even the individual parts do not exist, and I would even have to etch the circuit board myself ... that is too much effort for me. And I've never seen a tenting kit for that.

There are a few others, but they all go the way to drastically reduce the number of keys.

When I rate my keyboards according to the above criteria, it looks like this:

  • normal Apple keyboard: I have used it for a long time and also applies to other normal keyboards ... does not meet any of the above points. Programmability only about the operating system, there is no tenting, not shared etc. 0/10
  • razer blackwidow chroma: the keyboard is programmable and has RGB LEDs, but that's about it. The software is crap on the Mac, although it has a great feature, the automatic switching between profiles, depending on the open program. That's what I call practical. There's still an extra point for that, but I still can't get over 6/10 points.
  • ErgodoxEZ: can do almost everything, RGB backlighting and the associated info channel is missing (unfortunately also in the current models), the thumb cluster is only of limited use. For this, the software is super customizable. tenting is also possible, the palm rest could be more pleasant (just a lump of hard silicone). So the keyboard gets 8/10 in my scale
  • Kinesis Freestyle Edge: can do a lot, especially there are more keys. However, the thumb cluster is missing, programming is a bit too easy, features are missing. But typing is great. So I would also set it to 8/10, but because typing feels a bit better, there is 8.5 / 10: smirk: You can see that the Kinesis Freestyle keyboard is not ideal either.

Somehow I will have to keep looking and / or build something for myself. And to answer the initial question: I think I'm a keyboard nerd! emoji people:smirk

created Stephan Bösebeck (stephan)