My New Old Keyboard

Posted by Howard on Thursday, May 15, 2014

If you follow Jeff Atwood, then you’ve no doubt read his articles on designing the Code keyboard and his thoughts on mechanical keyboards more generally. I’m not going to even attempt to provide an equivalent level of insight into all of the details on the different types of keyboards. However, I will share my experience now that I finally took the plunge and got my very first mechanical keyboard.

I had been toying with the idea for a while as I’m always looking for things and techniques that will make the hours that I spend in front of the screen more enjoyable (not saying that coding isn’t it’s own reward - perhaps saying that all of the other stuff that involves typing that’s not coding my need a bit of extra incentive from time to time). I had borrowed a co-worker’s Das Keyboard a while ago and really loved the sound and the feel. However, there were 2 things that kind of bugged me about it:

  • It was pretty thick
  • It wasn’t ergonomic

It was really the non-ergonomic part that bothered me more than anything as I had gotten very used to typing on one of those Microsoft ergonomic keyboards with the negative angle and the built in wrist-rest. In fact, when I was evaluating my friend’s mechanical keyboard, I went out and bought a wrist-rest to see if that would help to make up for the fact that it wasn’t ergonomic. At the end of the day, I decided against the mechanical route (since virtually every one that I looked at was the same, traditional layout) and opted for an ergonomic, non mechanical keyboard - the Kenesis Freestyle 2 to be more specific.

After typing on it for a while, I like my Kenesis well enough - but the keys tend to be pretty light and rather sensitive, so in general, I think that I probably make more mistakes when I’m typing on that one. Plus, as much as I like the split keyboard from the ergonomic perspective, I find myself looking down a lot more to see which half of the keyboard I need to pay attention to. And the thing that I dislike the most about that one (and I really didn’t think that it would bother me when I ordered it) is the lack of a numeric keypad.

Recently, my Microsoft keyboard started showing signs of aging - coincidentally, DasKeyboard released a new model of their famous mechanical keyboard, and it had a couple of features that for me made it worth taking the plunge and trying it out again:

  • The new model is slimmer than the previous model
  • There’s no longer a separate keyboard for Mac and Windows. For me, this is really important as I’m regularly switching back and forth between the two.

So like I said, I ordered one.

And after about a week of typing on it, I’m hooked.

First of all, the feel and the sound is just out of this world fantastic. I’m old enough to where the chunky, clicky keyboard may bring about some feelings of nostalgia. However, even without that, when you get in that work rhythm, there’s no greater validation IMO than the sound. It feels like every character I type carries with it the weight of the thought behind it.

Secondly, because the keys are heavier and require a little more to press down, I find that my typing is just generally more accurate. Not really sure why that is, but for me - it just is.

But what about the non-ergonomic aspects? Well, on this part, I’m still a little confused, but am willing to go with a couple of things I’ve read until I learn differently. On the lack of a wrist rest, I came across this article that suggested that wrist rests are actually bad in that they end up putting your wrists in a position that causes them more strain. I can see that this would be true if you just set a wrist rest down in front of a regular keyboard, though I’m not sure that it still holds true when you’re looking at a negative angle keyboard like so many of the curved ergonomic models. Curious to learn more about this.

The other thing that I’m realizing (which is I think possibly one of the more important things in this whole discussion) is that most desks are simply too high to sit a keyboard on. I’m of pretty average height and I have a better than average desk chair - and if it’s true that you’re supposed to maintain an open angle with your arms, there’s no way on this earth that I could possibly achieve that by having my keyboard (ergonomic or otherwise) sitting on my desktop. The solution that I’m opting for is a keyboard tray. Now, this realization was kind of a drag for me because when I put together my home office, I wanted it to look like more home - less office. But the keyboard tray that I ordered is supposedly relatively low profile and should (fingers crossed) blend in ok with my existing furniture. However, I’m writing this post with my keyboard sitting on my legs and I can already see the difference that the lower position makes, so at the end of the day, I think that the keyboard tray will be worth it.

Regarding the impact of a traditional keyboard layout (as opposed to a curved or split layout) on my fingers and wrists, I honestly don’t know what the research says here. When I feel strained, it’s typically in my wrists and it’s typically the result of the keyboard being too high up and my wrists being bent as a result. I guess time will tell how much the straight layout will have an impact.

So there you go - the keyboard edition (so far) of my never ending search for the perfect work setup.