Mark Llobrera

Keyboards Extended II

Update 2008-05-02: Got a SteelSeries 7G to try. It’s a non-starter, because on the Mac the “SteelSeries” function key occupies the left-hand Alt/Option key position and can’t be remapped. When ordering it I thought they had just put the SteelSeries logo over the standard Windows key. So I’m sending it back. Just for reference, the keys are the black Cherry switches with no click. Now I’m looking at importing a Filco Majestouch FKBN104M/EB from Japan.

My previous post brought me a bunch of emails and comments with keyboard suggestions, so I decided to do a quick rundown of their recommendations in a separate post.

John Gruber (whose tag-team podcast episode with Dan Benjamin kicked off all of this typing) has put up a flickr set of his retired Apple Extended Keyboard II. Note the well-worn groove in the spacebar.

A while back while disappearing into this rabbit-hole of a keyboard search I read this overview of the different keyswitch types. The article also has a good note on how most keyswitches require less force to actuate than people apply, and this is due to the amount/type of tactile feedback that the typist receives. It also refers to the Strongman switch, which I believe is in my Matias Tactile Pro 1.0. Interestingly enough, my Tactile Pro looks exactly like a rebranded Strongman board. Hrm. Speaking of the original Tactile Pro, here’s Khoi Vinh’s review from 2005, which led me to both the Tactile Pro and the Macally iceKey.

The new Apple Aluminum Keyboard got more than a few mentions, for a variety of reasons: some cited the small form factor, others the handy OS X-specific function keys. My bosses gave the office a nice surprise a few months ago and bought every employee one of these, and I think only two people (myself being one of them) declined to use it after trying it out. My other coworker said the Caps Lock behavior (where it requires a long press for activation) drove him batty, and that was enough for him to reject it. I found the key travel too short — I had expected it to feel like my Macbook’s keyboard, since it’s basically the same layout, but the keyfeel is different in my opinion.

Jake Seliger, Eric Hood, and Perrin Haley all recommended the buckling-spring (using the same tech as the IBM Model Ms) models from Unicomp. I may order one of these Unicomp boards and see whether it’s an acceptable noise level for the office. Jake Seliger also has a good review of the Matias Tactile Pro 2.0. His review mentions the “shadow/ghost keys” issue with the original Tactile Pro, which I use at home. I haven’t had it happen all that often, but it is annoying when it does since it’s usually when you’ve built up a good head of steam.

I got two mentions for the Das Keyboard II, which has no markings, only scooped F and J keys so you can center your hands. I had thought about ordering one about six months ago but my ever-increasing reliance on TextMate key commands means that this would be an exercise in frustration since that’s the one time I look at the keys and need to see the characters. The Das Keyboard uses keyswitches from Cherry.

Ryan Singer mentioned the Happy Hacking Pro 2. It can be ordered unlabeled, just like the Das Keyboard II.

The one that I’m most itching to try was suggested by Sam Lentz: a SteelSeries 6G. Sam wrote me: “…the keyboard you are looking for exists, but comes from an unlikely place. It is designed by a hardcore computer game hardware manufacturer called SteelSeries.” A blog post from SteelSeries has all the hype over the 6G. Once again, Cherry keyswitches make another appearance. Sam pointed me to this review which mentions the relative noise level, but sadly the recorded sound files are dead links. I’m not sure if there’s a difference in keyswitches between the 6G and the newer 7G; the 7G appears to be easier to find from online retailers. I think I know where part of that economic stimulus check is headed.

Finally, there’s the waffle keyboard.