Really Nice Keyboards

I tend to type a lot. I don’t write for a living (though sometimes when making time entries it starts to feel like it), but I am verbose (ask anyone I know, but make sure I’m not around or you may not be able to get a word in edgewise!) and I like to type. I’m not the fastest typist but I’m pretty darn good. Well above average, at least. After several tries I managed to hit more than 100 Words Per Minute (WPM) on a test in my teens, but 50-80 WPM is relatively normal.

When you type a lot and are decent at it, you can usually type well on most keyboards, but it’s a lot more pleasant and causes fewer mistakes (and possibly more speed, even if just from fewer mistakes) to use a high-quality keyboard with a good “feel.” Most laptops have really bad keyboards, most desktops come with cheap keyboards, and you can get a better-but-not-great keyboard for $20 to $40 if you want one. Some laptops have nicer keyboards as well, the pricier ones anyway, and especially business models. IBM’s old desktop keyboards from the ’80s (that’s when they started) were awesome (people still refurbish and sell them today! Also, Lexmark was an IBM spinoff originally formed to make their keyboards), and the IBM/Lenovo ThinkPad series is known for having excellent keyboards, for example, though that hasn’t been as true lately. Dell Latitude keyboards are ones I’ve generally been happy with, though they’re middle-of-the-road. Any keyboard on a sub-$500 laptop will probably feel like junk.

That brings me to the Surface Pro 3. I already pointed out in my review that the biggest shortcoming of the SP3 is, in my opinion, the Type Cover keyboard. It’s a marvelous feat of engineering and it’s bearable compared to, well, any other keyboard that thin, but compared to nice keyboards, it’s total junk. Keys occasionally type when they’re not supposed to, the travel is super short (for obvious reasons), and it’s on the cramped side of full-sized for a laptop. (And that’s just the keys. The trackpad is miserable as a mouse, though I generally dislike them except for Apple trackpads.)

So, this past week, the Woot deal site had a nice deal. A premium keyboard company called Das Keyboard (not only does a coworker have one of their keyboards, I’m kind of partial to the name being my initials!) makes mechanical keyboards that are very high quality with various Cherry MX brand mechanical switches (a company that’s been making keyboard switches since before I was born and is the main supplier of this kind of clicking mechanical switch). And Woot had one of their very nice keyboards, the Das Keyboard 4 Professional (and Ultimate) (Das sells it on their site as well and also has sample sounds of the various switch types available). Woot also had a secondary sale on a slightly different model keyboard of theirs, the Das Keyboard Professional Model S, for less but with a different key feel and sound (Cherry MX Red Quiet Key version).

Now, I didn’t buy these deals because I wasn’t ready to spend that kind of money on a keyboard I’d not really researched or tested, and I wasn’t planning on a keyboard purchase, even though the Surface Pro 3’s keyboard’s lack of quality has bugged me lately. I only work at my own desk zero to two days per week; if I was constantly at the same desk a nice keyboard would be a no-brainer (I currently have a Microsoft Natural Keyboard 4000 that’s served me well for years but is a little mushy). But the deals got me thinking, so I did some research today while procrastinating on my Ham radio license upgrade testing study, and I think I’ll probably get a mechanical keyboard soon, even if I don’t use it 100% of the time.

A quick aside; I’m not going to go into detail about the various mechanical switch types in nice keyboards (or the rubber switches in cheaper ones), that’s been done to death elsewhere. Das has a good guide, and The Keyboard Company has good details about Cherry MX switches in specific (Cherry MX switch types vary and are differentiated by color as to the feel and sound).

I could pick up one of the Das models, they do look nice and they get awesome reviews. And I was tempted, after ending up looking for cheaper options and finding mostly some knockoff brands along with some accessory makers that put Cherry MX switches in gaming keyboards, for in the $80 to $150 range (Corsair, Rosewill, and Cooler Master seem to be the big players in this game). I just want a keyboard that types, I have no interest in gaming, and the backlight options and macro keys many of the gaming keyboards have don’t interest me. That’s one reason Like the Das options so much, they’re for typists.

But, I did find that there’s another brand that appears to have nice Cherry MX-based keyboards, on par with the Das options but different. That’s the Filco brand of keyboards from Diatec, a Japanese company. I’m pretty sure I want the Cherry MX Brown switches, rather than the Blue, because it still has a nice tactile feel but is quieter, which my wife will appreciate (I reserve the right to change my mind after I find a way to try the various Cherry MX switches in person more rigorously), but there are Filco keyboard models with four different Cherry switch types. But I’m focusing on Brown here. Anyway, they have a keyboard called the Majestouch 2 that looks very nice, basic, and has the switches I want. It gets good reviews but is hard to find stock in the Brown switch version, though I could probably track one down. It’s in the Das Keyboard 4 Pro price range.

And I was leaning towards that Majestouch 2, when I saw in the Diatec product list the Majestouch Convertible 2 keyboard. Earlier, I had searched Amazon.com for wireless mechanical keyboards, almost just for fun since most serious typists wouldn’t rely on wireless when they’re more concerned about how many keys you can simultaneously press and if USB is even capable of transmitting enough of them (usually only 6 keys can send a once unless the manufacturer works around it at the driver level, which the Filco and Das keyboards generally do to allow up to all keys at once to be pressed and work, called N-Key Rollover or NKRO–and if they don’t do this via USB they usually have an alternate PS/2 connection option where this works).  But recall I have a Surface Pro 3, and although I do now have the dock, I also use the system around the house, and I’m typing this on my couch in fact. And, taking a Bluetooth keyboard in my car to work in one of our company offices, of which we have several, wouldn’t be out of the question for longer days with fewer appointments. So as I said, this Convertible 2 keyboard popped out at me, model number FKBC104M/EB2, and it supports both wired USB and wireless Bluetooth with battery operation, with up to 4 devices! So I could dock it, I could Bluetooth it with my Surface on the go, and I could even potentially Bluetooth it with my iPhone if I felt the need to type faster on it (although my thumbs are faster than many and I even do a decent job without looking at the screen, it’s no full-sized keyboard!).

So, I’m now relatively sure which keyboard I want, and I’m somewhat sure I want the model I mentioned above, with the Cherry MX Brown keys, but I suspect I’d be happy with the feel of the MX Blue option as well, though noisier. But I’ll probably end up with Brown unless I get a chance to test it and really dislike it. The only problem is, I can’t seem to find it anywhere to buy. Amazon has never heard of it, eBay hasn’t either, and general web searches link mostly to the manufacturer. I guess when they say “New” they mean it! I did find a listing for it at The Keyboard Company, but they are out of stock until the end of Feburary (maybe that’s first stock?) and they appear to be overseas since they’re priced in Euro (and their site says they’re in Gloucestershire).

While writing this, I actually also discovered through their Twitter feed that The Keyboard Company did a blog post about the new Convertible 2 in December. It does seem to confirm not only some operational details about the keyboard (all of which looks great!) but also that it is brand spanking new, and isn’t in stock yet. There was apparently an original Convertible keyboard like this that was Japanese only, hence the number 2, but nothing ever available in the USA. So, I happened to find this with both good and bad timing–good because it exists and I didn’t buy something else yet, and bad because it appears I have to wait at least some amount of time before this one hits the shelves. Fortunately, I can use that time to beef up the budget so I can buy one without an earful from The Keeper of the Budget (aka, my wife–and I appreciate her for doing so!).

This has been The Long Rambling Thoughts of David with Many Links and Much Verbosity for the night. If you made it this far, you probably like keyboards, too, so there’s that :-)

Comments

2 Responses to “Really Nice Keyboards”

  1. Filco Convertible 2 Keyboard – yay, it’s here! : David Szpunar Exists Differently on April 24th, 2015 15:49

    […] case you missed them, I wrote some blog posts about discovering the things that are mechanical keyboards, and about my decision to purchase this specific one, before I wrote the […]

  2. Varmilo VB87M Mechanical Keyboard : David Szpunar Exists Differently on July 12th, 2015 03:19

    […] with my iPhone, and it works pretty well there also. Unlike my Filco Majestouch Convertible 2 (and here and here), it seems to have a shortcut for the Home button; but sadly, no way on the keyboard to […]

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