The keyboard is a ubiquitous interface, an eccentric interface, a limiting interface, a soft interface and a hard interface. It is also, often, an unconsidered interface.
I’ll avoid writing an ode to keyboards and their fascinating role in culture (besides, one blog post would be the to the subject as one key is to the board: entirely incomplete), although I’ll mention the question that got me thinking about keyboards long ago: do the Chinese, with there thousands of characters, use similar keyboards to British people?
If discussing the most popular text input device is an entire keyboard of inputs, then the subject we’re discussing here is the scoll lock key: mostly useless, except for the passionate few (someone once tried to re-engage users with the scoll lock key, allowing you to toggle it on to indicate you were happy, off to indicate you were sad, and counting the results as a quick method for analysing the mood of all computer user.)
This post is about mechanical keyboards. I’ve just acquired one, as you might be able to tell from the verbose introduction to this article, which required many keystrokes but little thinking. Each key on this board is guaranteed for 50 million taps, so be wary of the length of future introductions (ideally I would have found a keyboard that allowed 500 million taps for the delete key and fewer for the others, but that kind of robustness, it seems, doesn’t exist).
Mechanical keyboards are a different construction to the ones commonly found on laptop computers or shipped with a normal PC or Mac. The keys are often (but exclusively) tall, and they click heavily under each press. The mechanism is spring-loaded to push the key back up the finger after an input, which makes the fingers feel like they’re bouncing. It’s a little more effort to push the keys, but the feedback helps push your digit onto the next input.
The lightness is intoxicating: if an normal keyboard is akin to walking down the street, a mechanical keyboard is like bounding between trampolines. You almost don’t want to stop typing – which I apologise for unreservedly.
Non-mechanical keyboards, in a successful effort to be much, much cheaper than mechanicals, use a rubbery membrane to squidgidly return their keys to their resting position. In comparison, it’s lethargic, and not the high-energy, high-noise affair of a mechanical.
For me, just moments into mechanical keyboard ownership, it’s a revelation. Maybe it’s because the click, click of the keys adds the gravitas of a 1980s newsroom to my office; tapping away at something important. Maybe it’s the fact that my hands now have the satisfying ache of a job well-done. Maybe it’s because my calorie-burning prowess must have increased by at least one joule/day, and I’ll already feeling those gains. Maybe it’s because when you spend £80 on something, you’ll justify any old madness to yourself.
But I don’t think it’s any of those things. Or, at least, not primarily any of those things. It’s because mechanical keyboards are a better input solution than a membrane keyboard.
It’s also because it has a rainbow pattern of LEDs.