The Right Keyboard is Key

These days, with everyone on theirphone, the lowly keyboard is beginning to take a bit of a backseat. That’s unfortunate because it’s happening just as keyboards are experiencing a bit of a renaissance.

My first keyboard was an IBM Model AT. It was a very, very good keyboard. My second, an IBM Model M. It still may be the best keyboard ever made. It had a buckling spring that gave a very mechanical feel. It ‘clicked’ when you typed on it. A positive, happy click that let you know you have typed a key. There have been many copies made of that keyboard, and some of them are very good, but none of them are the Model M. I learned to type on a mechanical typewriter and to type without looking at the keyboard. I may be of the last generation of the rulers-on-the-knucklesfor-looking at the typewriter while typing. At least I hope so. That mechanical typewriter left me with the need to know that I’d hit the letter. A gentle push wouldn’t do it. A confident poke was necessary to get the letter to leave its impact on the page.

That feeling has never left. I still need to feel the key click. Much to the consternation of Mrs. Answer Guy on occasion, I might add. But that click, if I misspelled a word, or hit a double key I knew instantly. Call me a purist, but I still like a mechanical keyboard. And thanks to an old hoarding school chum’s need for a cordless Mac keyboard I have a Model M again. I don’t use it. Goodness no! It weighs over 5 lbs. Its base is solid metal. It’s enormous. I’ve long since stopped using the numeric keypad, which the version I have now has. But I’ll say this about it – it’s over 30 years old and it still works perfectly. Every letter works. The space bar is not worn out. It just works.

Side note: in case you’re thinking it’s just old computer dinosaurs like the Answer Guy that are fond of these, Markus “Notch” Persson, inventor of Minecraft uses a Model M.

Back to the Renaissance. In the days of the Model M, there weren’t a lot of choices for keyboard styles. Today there are plenty of good choices if you like mechanical keyboards.

My current keyboard is Leopold FC200RT. It uses Cherry Brown MX keys. It’s an 87 key keyboard. It has the right layout in that matches up almost perfectly with the old Model M layout. It’s not crazy expensive – about $100. So, I can risk an occasional cup of coffee while using it. All else aside though, it’s all about the keys. My Leopold has Cherry Brown. Personally, I like the Blues better for typing, but I also game occasionally and the Browns are a good compromise between gaming and typing.

Cherry is a German company that makes keyboard switches among other things. They have a full-colour spectrum of switches to choose from with each colour providing a different kind of feel on the keyboard. I like clicky and tactile, so for me, Cherry MX Blues or Greens are the sweet spot. A lot of people like the Cherry MX Browns and Clears for gaming. They have a very tactile feel but with a quieter click. If you like keys that are quiet and don’t need the feel then Cherry MX Red or Black is probably for you.

The better mechanical keyboards don’t come with backlighting, or USB ports, or media switches, so they’re not for everyone, but if you type for a living, or just want to own something that you won’t have to replace every year then a good mechanical keyboard is just what you want. Varmilo, Leopold, IKBC, and Ducky are solid makers of excellent keyboards. They have full size and tenkeyless and come in almost every type of key switch. You should expect to pay upwards of $100 for a good
mechanical keyboard, and over $200 for a truly great one. Of course, you should only ever have to buy one, so there is that.