Keyboards – Laptops

I started this post a long time ago, shortly after I joined RIM, but the story didn’t have an ending until very recently…

When I joined RIM I got a “new” unibody MacBook Pro 15′ (I missed thunderbolt by a few weeks) and a Lenovo ThinkPad W510.  I liked most everything about the unibody MacBook Pro except the keyboard: I wished it had the keys from the previous MacBook Pros rather than the new flat, short-stroke, keys.

Laptop Keyboard

The compact design of the flat keyboard allows light, thin designs like the new MacBook Air (my wife has the cute 11′ one – with even worse keys!), but I type much better in the keyboard of the ThinkPad.

The curved keys in the ThinkPad are self-centering, and the slightly longer stroke feels much better for my long fingers.  Compare the picture above with that from the MacBook:

Compared with other laptops, the keys on my old Toshiba Tecra were non-contoured, but they had a stroke similar to that of the ThinkPad.  Looking at other pictures of other manufacturers, the laptops from Sony have keyboards similar to the MacBook, while those from Dell are similar to those from the Toshiba.

I see the MacBook keyboard as yet another example of Apple placing style and form above functionality and durability (although a worse example were the hinges in the titanium macbooks), but there is not much I can do about that.  But most of the time I use the laptops with an external keyboard, mouse and monitor – at work both laptops connected via a KVM switch, and at home just the mac – and there I can do something.

External Keyboards

At work we have a standard issue MS 200 wired keyboard, which is not really bad, but it means I had different key layouts at home and at work…

Next I tried some external Apple keyboards. I bought an A1242 because the mac is my main laptop, I never use the numeric keypad and I liked the idea of being able to take the keyboard with me.  Unfortunately this keyboard worked very poorly; actually, worse than the keyboard in the laptop.

It’s not like Apple does not know how to make keyboards; Apple has a long history of keyboards (Wikipedia), with some very nice examples, like the Apple Extended Keyboard (we had one years ago).  I still have a Apple Pro Keyboard (M7803), so I tried that, after some clean up:

This was a reasonable keyboard when we got it but it really is quite old and didn’t feel much better the MS keyboard, so it went back into a storage box.

Things stayed like this for a while but a few weeks ago I bumped in to a keyboard lying around at work, an Adesso ACK-595UB, and I tried it.

This is a compact design that I can carry it back and forth from home and it had a reasonable feel, so I used it for a bit, but it was too compact.  Still that got my keyboard ich back again, and since the Holidays were getting close, I resurrected an old idea of getting an actual mechanical keyboard, like the old Model M.

Searching the web mostly found reviews from a gamer’s perspective – turns out that they still care about keyboards – and a number of keyboards, some focused on gamers and some on typists.  Some examples of these keyboards are Das Keyboard, Matias TactilePro 3, Siig Keyboard and SteelSeries 7G.

Finally, I ended up purchasing a Leopold Tenkeyless Tactile Touch from Leopold International, a Korean manufacturer.  The keyboard feels very solid and this particular model uses brown Cherry Switches that feel good without being too noisy.  I got them at Elite Keyboards – the keybard is more pricey than a standard keyboard but cheaper than some of the alternatives mentioned above, and I feel I got a very good product.  It was a nice Holiday present :)

Additional Readings

While searching for all of this I was surprised I could not find articles comparing the ergonomics / typing speed and accuracy between the two types of keyboards.   My feeling is that Apple (et al.) is succeeding in resetting the expectations of people to the new keyboards, despite their shortcomings – maybe the gamers will save us!

For additional readings, check the keyboard technology page at Wikipedia and these two posts at OverClock:  Survey and list of Keyboards by Switch Type.

3 Responses to “Keyboards – Laptops”

  1. Kohsuke Kawaguchi Says:

    I always regret that I haven’t bought my keyboard in a dozen, as they always seem to discontinue the product I like. When I buy a new keyboard, I’m not sure if I’ll like it, so naturally I just buy one, yet by the time your keyboard gets dirty or you get another computer and need a keyboard, it’s too late!

    • pelegri Says:

      The Leopold seems a solid product. Reviews said it was made by the same guys that did the Filco Majestouch, just a bit better. And if you want to try mine out, let me know and I’ll lend it to you for a few days.

      Elite Keyboards also distributes a couple of keyboards with the Topre switches, but those are more expensive. Regardless of what you get, I think you should expense it and Sacha should pay :)

  2. pelegri Says:

    And something else to consider is the Matias OneKeyboard. It has a USB and a BlueTooth connection, so you can switch between your PC/Mac and your Tablet/Smartphone at one click.

    A bit surprising there are not more keyboards with this feature.

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