If you play videogames or have a 9-to-5 job, you most likely spend hours every day typing on your keyboard. That’s thousands of hours a year! That’s why is very important to have some basic ergonomics while at your desk. If done extensively and improperly, typing alone can cause all sorts of injuries to hands and wrists.
Unfortunately the vast majority of keyboards sold today, are not designed with ergonomics in mind and thus don’t help a lot in preventing things like carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive strain injuries.
Your keyboard is most likely a “rubber dome” keyboard. This means that under every key there is a rubber dome that, while pressed, close a circuit so that a letter can be displayed on the screen. This is the most inexpensive type of keyboard but sadly it doesn’t give much of a feedback and it makes your finger exert more force that is necessary to register, often bottoming out the key.
If you are a gamer of a fast typer you have another problem: you simply can’t press more than two keys at a time. This means that you can’t press key combinations that require three keys, or even type too quickly without loosing keys from time to time, worst of all you can’t emulate a piano.
A third thing you should know is that your keyboard layout was designed for typewriters in the ‘70, not the funk music type of seventies, more like the Franco-Prussian War type. Back then the main issue was to avoid clashes and jams between the the levers, not ergonomics!
Worst of all, most rubber dome keyboard are plain ugly. They just sit there and pour out ugliness into your desk. Won’t you rather have something that reflect a little bit of your style? Or maybe you have a drawer to hide it when you are not using it.
But there is hope. The main reason cheap keyboards continue to be popular is for market reasons. They are cheap. And people are familiar with them. Luckily there is a world out there with better, more ergonomic, beautiful keyboards.
I’m going to address all the three issues I brought up. Tactile feedback, more presses simultaneously and layout. I will also present you with some cool colorful keyboards.
As I said, rubber dome keyboards don’t offer much of a feedback while typing. On the other hand, mechanical keyboards, keyobards with actual mechanisms behind each key, are much easier on your fingers and will let you know with visual, auditory and tactile feedback when the key is going to register.
Prior to 1990 the majority of the keyboards were mechanical, like the popular IBM model M. That was because having a computer was serious business and people who invested $5 000 in a computer would make sure the main input device was up to the task.
So what is so different about the tactile feedback of mechanical keyboards? Actually a lot. It’s like blowing your nose with a pizza place napkin instead of a linen handkerchief. It’s a totally different experience! If your finger-brain system start to receive some consistent feedback when pressing keys your way of typing will change for the better. As a matter of fact, having a hint before the key actually register will set up a virtuos circle which will give a chance to your finger to not bottom out every time.
All this will put less strain on your hands and will reduce the overall fatigue. But every person is different and has different tastes, the variety in key switches is accordingly big. Some switches require more force, others are louder, some click, others are dampened.
Speaking of tastes. The other main thing about a keyboard is indeniably its style. Mechanical keyboards are easily customizable. Because every key is a sub-device on its own, you can pull the keycap and move it around or change it a fair amount of times without problems. There is a vast community of keycaps out there and personally I think about it like changing clothes to your keyboards. If you touchtype like me you can even disregard the letters printed on them and put blank keycaps or print your owns, make some art with your keyboard. I brought one of my keyboards at work and I immediately received many comments about it and how colorful it was, in this respect it’s very fun.
There are many shops online like pimpmykeyboard.com or massdrop.com in which you can start looking around to get an idea of what the current trends are. One of my favourite keycaps set is the DSA Retro which is made of superior grade plastic and feels wonderful to the touch. The font is inspired to the Commodore 64 and it certainly has a warm personality. DSA refers to the shape or profile of the caps which are uniform instead of slightly slanted like most keyboards.
Keycaps is not the only thing you can personalize. In fact there is a variety of shapes and cases your keyboard can come in. With or without num pad? You can even get rid of the arrows and function buttons if you are a minimalist, with a design called 60% keyboard. As your taste get finer you start to appreciate weird more exotic shapes. From the ultra-minimalistic 40% to the ultra ergonomic butterfly. In the final stage you design your own case and send it to 3D printing yourself.
In the next article I will explain some basics of tactile feedback which I gave a general introduction and I will compare it to the common rubber dome.