In search of the per­fect key­board

DEEP IN THE RE­CESSES OF THE IN­TER­NET, AN OB­SES­SIVE SEARCHES FOR THE PER­FECT KEY­BOARD.

Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - BY DAVID OWEN

IWAS GIVEN MY first PC back in the early ’90s when Mi­crosoft’s Win­dows was still in its in­fancy. In those days, a com­puter was still a lux­ury which had less RAM than my fit­ness tracker that I usu­ally for­get to wear.

There was noth­ing truly stand­out about it other than the fact that it ran on Win­dows 3.1, had a floppy disk drive and the key­board which de­spite be­ing on the chunky side was sat­is­fy­ingly com­fort­able to use.

The keys had sculpted tops and when I pressed them they re­sisted my fin­gers and made a some­what sub­stan­tia­tive click, at­tempt­ing to repli­cate the tac­tile feed­back that typ­ists were ac­cus­tomed to.

The en­tire key­board was sat­is­fy­ingly sub­stan­tial – it weighed sev­eral times as much as an en­tire Mac­book – and I could ad­just the an­gle at which it rested on my desk.

As some­one who writes for a liv­ing, it should come as no sur­prise that I’ve al­ways loved typ­ing but I es­pe­cially loved typ­ing on that key­board.

While I en­joyed typ­ing on my key­board – a Model M – there are many who would ar­gue that de­spite be­ing the fore­fa­ther of modern key­boards, the Model M did not beat the typ­ing ex­pe­ri­ence on the in­fa­mous Model F.

A re­viewer for Byte in 1982 wrote that the orig­i­nal PC’S key­board – the Model F was “a de­light to use” and was, “bar none, the best key­board on any mi­cro­com­puter”.

The judge­ment still holds in the opin­ion of sur­pris­ingly many key­board ob­ses­sives, of whom there are sur­pris­ingly many. From the early ’80s their key­boards largely evolved in op­po­site direc­tions: com­put­ers rapidly be­came al­most unimag­in­ably more pow­er­ful, while key­boards in­creas­ingly stank.

The main dis­tin­guish­ing fea­ture of the Model F, by com­par­i­son with the vast ma­jor­ity of key­boards to­day, was that press­ing a key ac­tu­ated a springloaded me­chan­i­cal switch rather than flat­ten­ing a squishy sil­i­cone pil­low.

Nowa­days, even sup­pos­edly high­end key­boards of­ten seem to have been de­signed more for how they look than for how they func­tion: they’re skinny shin­gles cov­ered with flat, Scrab­ble-tile-shaped keys, which have so lit­tle “travel” that when you type you feel al­most as though you’re drum­ming your fin­gers on your desk. The dif­fer­ence be­tween one of those and a Model F is as great as the dif­fer­ence be­tween a toy pi­ano and a Stein­way con­cert grand.

Luck­ily for the ob­sessed, high-qual­ity key­boards have made a come­back, driven by gamers, pro­gram­mers, coders and other power users. Small and small­ish man­u­fac­tur­ers now sell key­boards with me­chan­i­cal key switches, pro­gram­mable lay­outs, er­gonomic shapes and other tan­ta­lis­ing fea­tures. Mem­bers of on­line fo­rums (pimp­mykey­board. com, for ex­am­ple) end­lessly de­bate the mer­its of com­pet­ing key­board de­signs and they dis­cuss their own col­lec­tions with the lu­natic in­ten­sity of car fa­nat­ics.

Al­though the Model F is no longer on the mar­ket, there are dozens if not thou­sands, of pos­si­bil­i­ties for its re­place­ment.

Here are a few our staff have used and loved.

DIE-HARD KEY­BOARD fans will most likely protest the use of Blue­tooth key­boards but I have mul­ti­ple de­vices which I swap be­tween many times a day: my smart­phone, tablet and com­puter or lap­top.

As more peo­ple be­gin to do ex­actly this and switch be­tween de­vices, the de­sire to trim ac­ces­sory clut­ter be­comes a ne­ces­sity.

Logitech’s K810 Blue­tooth key­board has the abil­ity to pair with up to three de­vices and it’s slim enough to fit in your lap­top or tablet sleeve.

It’s back­lit and has an in­ter­nal recharge­able bat­tery which can last up to a month on a sin­gle charge.

Travel be­tween keys is pretty shal­low but, by us­ing a vari­a­tion on the scis­sor switches found in sim­i­lar chi­clet-style key­boards, Logitech’s been able to bet­ter dis­trib­ute the force of a key­stroke across the en­tire key which gives it a more ac­cu­rate typ­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

You def­i­nitely won’t ex­pe­ri­ence the same crisp tac­tile feed­back and full key­strokes as on a me­chan­i­cal key­board but you’ll be com­fort­able us­ing the K810 in a pinch.

The elu­sive buck­ling-spring key switch came stan­dard with 1981 IBM PCS. Now they’re all but im­pos­si­ble to find.

Cost R810 (Bren­don Petersen) Logitech K810

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