One Keyboard to rule them all (Reviews)

Since I’ve become what can only be d3scr1b3d as an ultrahacker (I can break encryption keys in 12 languages, I go by the hacker alias N3O, and apparently help my landlady take out the trash. One of these lives has a future… the other does not.), I’ve decided to upgrade my computing center to the mega-ultra-command complex of usability that it deserves.

That said… I’ve started looking for the “ultimate” keyboard. My metrics more specifically, are: increased typing speed, improved correctness, lower fatigue, and reduced hand stress (I’ve noticed that I’ve been cracking my knuckles a lot… every 4 or 5 words in fact). And thus I embarked on a journey of heroism and despair, filled with the demons of.. customer service, and overcame the trials <bad pun> and tribulations to find the one keyboard to rule them all.

Alright, so I tried a number of keyboards, and I rather than rehash all the crap about how membrane keyboards suck (which you will find anywhere), or why one should have a “good” keyboard (insert rant about the need for good user interfaces (keyboards and screens)), I thought I would just give you the relative rating and rankings of the crap I have tried. Of note, that as I am writing this summary, I am using the Model M, which was the winner of the roundup.

People like conclusions first, though I definitely would read the rest of what I write before going out any buying anything.

Tactile Feel & Performance (typing speed, error rates, tiredness):

> greater than, >> way greater than, >>> dude, infinitely better.

Matias Tactile Pro 2* > IBM/Lexmark/Unicomp Model M >> Das Keyboard > Apple Extender > Some cheap clicky microcenter keyboard that I don’t remember >>> Logitech DiNovo Edge >> Saitek Eclipse II ~ All membrane Keyboards >> Apple new aluminum keyboard

Feel/Price:

Model M > Matias TP > Membranes > Eclipse > Apple aluminum > DiNovo

The DiNovo gets notably the bottom ranking because it feels like crap (worse than my laptop), and costs $200, ouch. The Matias TP, which costs ~$150 gets the second rating despite its price because it frankly feels so great that the cost is justified. Everything below membranes pretty much hyper suck, so if they cost more than $15 bucks, they just get worse.

Matias Tactile Pro 2

Alright, the MTP is in red and underlined because it has some BIG PROBLEMS. I say this coming from the position that this was the best and most comfortable keyboard I’ve ever typed on, and it felt so good that I tried for a month to overcome, “tolerate”, and condition myself around the problems so that I could keep the keyboard. It was even better… far better than the IBM Model M (clicky, buckling spring), which everyone goes on and on about.

First the good. The alps keyswitches this keyboard use feel wonderful. The force curve is exactly right for my hands, and it feels like every time I press down on a key, the key returns most of the energy of the keypress back to my finger, thus relieving it of the stress of having to lift the finger back up as well. (try that without a keyboard, it’s quite hard.). The click coincides with the input trigger, so you don’t have to watch the screen to see if the key went in. Also, the curve on the keys is exactly right (as it is on the Model M), such that your fingers don’t slide off and press neighboring keys — which reduces lateral finger stress and worry. So basically as an interface, the keyboard’s performance becomes a non-issue, like having a good tennis racket — after learning, you don’t have to monitor and lose performance over “uncertainty”. Its also compact, light, and comfortable enough to fit on your lap, allowing you to relax on back, kick up the feet, without losing performance. So in short, because of its good points, the TP2 was exactly everything that I was looking for.

The bad. That all said, I returned this keyboard. For one, its shoddy… I mean “shitty” construction made me wonder how long until it fell apart, and I always wondered where the $150 went into the construction of such crap. But even that I was willing to tolerate. Where it failed though is in a problem that I have NEVER HAD, much less ever seen, in ANY of the keyboards I have ever owned, touched, observed other people touching, broken and then used, or spilled water over. That is GHOST KEYS. If you “type too fast” <cough, slow> on this keyboard, certain character sequences will “inject” other… unintended characters into the sequence. For instance, if you type “ever”, you will end up almost certainly with “everC”! How fast was I typing? I got down to 1-finger, one at a time, character punching slow-ass, grandmother, bad-eyesight speed, and still the “c” surfaced. I was willing to tolerate that one error… after all, how often does one type the sequence “ever”? (Turns out, quite a lot.) But then over the course of a month, I counted 4 MORE affected sequences! I started slowing down to read what appeared on the screen to make sure it was what I wanted. Then I realized that the TP keyboard had defeated itself, and I returned it.

Model M

The IBM Model M (which you can buy from Unicomp) for like $70, or ebay for $30 is sturdy, heavy, and while it feels great (but not as good as the TP), it is still a 1000, or even a million times better than all the other keyboards in the whole of the world. The clicking becomes annoying, and sometimes I have to push to hard on the keys (hand tiring), but those annoyances are at best… small annoyances. Since switching to it, I no longer crack my hands, and my typing speed has increased, and since I did get it on ebay for 20$, I can’t complain about the price either.

Just remember, USB versions are hard to come by, so you might have to get it directly from unicomp for $70. Oh yeah, its butt ugly, and heavy enough to kill someone, but who cares when your hands don’t hurt anymore. Other than that, there are plenty of online reviews praising the Model M, so no need to do it here.

DiNovo Edge

I never actually bought the DNE, though I have pretty strong feelings about it. You see, I thought it was one of the hottest looking interfaces on the planet, and was willing to shell out 200 for it if it just reached the bare minimum of tactile feel. I mean, I don’t want to make my hands worse. So I went into MicroCenter and rudely (not really) demanded that they come down from their white tower and open a box for me to try the keyboard out. Realizing that I was a customer of repute and power, they immediately complied and I was … disappointed to say the very least. Not only was it horrible to type on, but it very nearly was the worst keyboard I had ever put my fingers to. (that position belongs to the aluminum apple keyboard, which is surprisingly worse than those crappy roll out rubber keyboards that the hackers supposedly use in “Live Free or Die Hard”. No person who actually types would use one of those things. Its almost better to use the onscreen charactermap to select keys by mouse). It was heavy, keys were too small, pressing one key was just as likely to trigger the neighboring key as not, and for all its compactness, it felt unwieldy to use.

So DNE: F horrible. bad. shame on you logitech.

Deck Glowing Keyboards

The last keyboard which did not make this roundup, which I did not have a chance to test and review (but have always wanted to) was the Deck glowing keyboards. In the end I chose not to shell out $160 for the experiment because reviews and discussions in the deck forum seem to indicate that the keys feel mushy and don’t spring back decisively — which means more finger stress from trying to raise the finger after the keypress. But man they look sly. And what speaks more to the status of your power use than a glowing LED keyboard with customizable keys and nearly unlimited modification from Deck? Nothing, that’s what. Anyway, if anyone has experience with these (or better, wants to let me test theirs), feel free to comment.