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August 25, 2016

Keyboard Snobbery Explained

Filed under: Main — Tags: — admin @ 12:01 am

The typical computer user looks at a keyboard and thinks, “Well, I suppose it has all the proper keys in the right place. Yep! I’ll take it.” But when you’re a keyboard snob, as I confess to be, other factors play into how you select a keyboard.

Seriously, I’m surprised at how little people care about computer keyboards. I once used a keyboard that caused my hands to cramp. It was cool-looking, but undersized and some of the key combinations were odd. Yet, other people think it’s the best keyboard ever.

When it comes to judging a keyboard, I don’t care about how things look. I don’t need extra keys. Fancy lights are cool, but that’s not a deal-breaker for me. No, to judge a computer keyboard, I examine three factors:

  • Spacing
  • Travel
  • Switch type

Spacing determines how far apart keys are from one another. The distance varies! For me, typing is like playing the piano; I use muscle memory to play or type. A good computer keyboard uses the same spacing as the old IBM Selectric typewriter. In fact, I’m such a picky typist that I can immediately tell when the spacing is off. Yes, I’m that much of a pain in the ass.

As an example of a keyboard with different key-spacing, consider a laptop keyboard. To get the all necessary keys in a laptop format, they must be squished closer together. And those ultralights and tablets with Bluetooth keyboards are just hideously difficult to use.

Travel describes how far the key moves when you press it. And, by the way, you press a key on the keyboard. You do not “depress” it. I had to correct editors and keep them from modifying my text to read “depress the Enter key.” That’s just so sad.

Anyway, a fine keyboard has a good travel distance. It’s not great, perhaps 0.375 inches, but when you’re a high-speed touch-typist, that distance is marvelous to feel. Low-quality and laptop keyboards have a limited travel. in fact, that horrid keyboard I wrote about earlier had hardly any travel.

Switch type refers to the mechanics of how the keyboard determines which key you press. The two types are magnetic/membrane and mechanical.

The magnetic/membrane keyboard is the most common — because it’s cheap! Even a keyboard with nice spacing and full travel is most likely this type of keyboard. When you press the key, a tiny magnet gets close to a sensor and closes the circuit.

On a mechanical keyboard, a physical switch is present beneath each key cap. You can actually feel the switch click as you press the key, which is wonderful for a touch-typist. The problem is that the mechanical switches cost more. Yet, when you get a mechanical keyboard, you also get good travel and perfect spacing. For a touch-typist, such features are more than worth the extra cost.

2 Comments

  1. Hi Dan,
    Firstly was the wambooli site down for a couple of day, I ask as I use it as home page and kept getting funny error message. Also you don’t mention the “Extra” keys that some keyboards which can cause you PC to sleep, turn off, mess with the volume etc…

    Comment by glennp — August 25, 2016 @ 10:09 am

  2. The hosting service can take the site down for maintenance, which is frequently the case. Also, if traffic gets heavy, the site may go down. I don’t pay more for a high-volume site, but occasionally it does get swamped for some reason. That might explain it.

    I don’t really look at the extra keys from the perspective of a keyboard snob. I know that the advanced keyboards that use mechanical switches, such as the Razer keyboards, feature programmable buttons and other controls. My goal is to type, so I don’t use those features. Even on my beloved Das Keyboard, it features special function keys that I rarely use.

    Comment by admin — August 25, 2016 @ 12:19 pm

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