Buying a New Keyboard – The Mechanical Renascence

So you have an old Microsoft Wireless Desktop 3000 Keyboard and Mouse. You get used to it and it becomes your ‘personal standard’ for keyboards. It has full travel keypress and all the keys laid out the way you want them – the large Enter Key and the Media Mute key. But then it gets old and breaks and they don’t make that version anymore, so you look and the closest replacement. In this case the cheaper Microsoft Wireless Keyboard 2000. It’s OK and you put up with it, but the mouse starts to break as well. What to do…

Microsoft Wireless Desktop 3000 Reviews | TechSpot
Microsoft Wireless Desktop 3000 Keyboard (with the full size UK Enter Key)

Well, its time to go down the rabbit hole of Mechanical Keyboards.

What follows is a list of what I care about in a keyboard. From there hopefully, a clear winning keyboard will show up.

Noise

I am really sensitive to noise and I also look to find products that are quiet. To me it indicates good engineering. If they worried about sound then it is likely the rest is OK. I often do product searches based on dB. I seem to be unusual as most web site and a lot of manufacturers don’t seem to let you search on this important feature. Car, Microwave, Fridge, Computer, Dishwasher, they all get checked for how quiet they are.

So when it comes to the new fashion of Clacky Mechanical Keyboards, then I have a huge worry. How can I get the new good engineering and hopefully better typing experience and still have a quiet keyboard.

I know I have to have some noise as I will not put up with a flat membrane laptop style keyboard. So I tried to find out via reviews what the different keyboards sound like.

This video is very good and covers the switches in detail for noise:

So after watching this I was convinced I could only live with Silent Red.

Listening to an endless list of Youtube sound tests I started to get less convinced. The Silent keys, while very well designed, still make enough noise to make using these keys into a ‘nice to have’. I grew up with the old style mechanic keyboards and so I feel I could live with either ‘Browns’ or ‘Red’. It would require a real world play to choose. This may be a bit of a lottery if I cant go out shopping and try them on for size.

I did get some good advice of another Youtuber about sound. The real sound volume is also due to the build of the keyboard and wether the key have lube/grease. So I will search for a keyboard case that has the keys sitting down into it rather than exposed on a flat plate – even if that is a nice industrial look.

Large Enter Key

So why is this even a thing? It must be a old keyboard style in the UK perhaps, but I am used to the large enter key and would be very worried that having the more standard narrow key would slow me down. Yes, it turns out to be part of the British ISO standard key layout. Thanks Wikipedia! They do such a good job I donate regularly.

So I know I want to have a UK keyboard layout, but also make sure it has the UK Enter key as well.

Wireless

I like to have a clean and well laid out office area. So I have cables all hidden away and put through desk grommets. So naturally, wherever possible, I want to have wireless components. Wireless charging in the phone stand, wireless drawing tablet, and definitely a wireless keyboard and mouse.

Wireless support is not common in the new world of mechanical keyboards. I believe this is because of the battery constrains. The main market space for these newer keyboard designs are gamers and streamers and they want the battery draining RGB light show. That said, I still don’t see why this can’t be a USB C charged device with a decent battery pack.

USB C

I made a pact with myself a while back. Anything new had to be USB C. I want to get to where the whole house only uses the simpler format. So a keyboard that charges with USB mini is just too old school. Even it it has just been launched. Sorry Filco Convertible 2 Tenkeyless MX Silent Red that is a deal breaker.

Function Keys

I need the function keys to be prominent and for the lettering to be prominent. It is a big annoyance of both the Microsoft keyboards in having the small keys with small print.

Tenkeyless or Full?

When doing this search I started with the default expectation I would go with a full keyboard, but then I realised I never use the numbers for data entry. I do use the / and * for a quick rocking motion to do comments in C… but Imagine gaining that desk space back. It is a very attractive idea. One that made me change my mind and so I changed to searching for TKL keyboard.

Why call it “10 key less” when it is actually 17 keys less than a full keyboard? Retorical question if it’s not obvious.

Media Keys are also part of this problem. I wanted to have ‘play’, ‘volume’ and ‘mute’ keys as well. I was also considering the option of adding a control deck, the Behringer X-TOUCH MINI Midi Controller and if I am going TKL, then I will have to look into this more.

RGB Lighting

I am not that young anymore and while I like a nice light show, having the keyboard cycle rainbows is actually a negative. However I would like a nice low light back light. And changing that colour would be a nice add on. But this feature is not a key requirement.

Scoring System

I will probably ignore this and end up going with my gut – ‘but I like the brushed metal one!’, but I will have a go at scoring the various keyboards using the feature list above.

Points system is:

  • Noise: Silent Red = 10, Red = 5, Brown = 3
  • UK Enter Key: Yes = 10, No = 2
  • Wireless: RF = 10, Bluetooth = 5, Wired = 2
  • USB-C: Yes = 10, No =0, Battery Only = 10
  • Function Key: Standard and Bold = 10, Shared print = 2
  • TKL: Yes = 10, Full = 8
  • RGB: Selectable Colour = 5, One colour = 3
KeyboardNEWUFTR£S
Filco Convertable 21010501010014045
Ducky One210100101010515055
Durgod K3201020101010511047
Logitech G6138101010108010556
Logitech G915 TKL8101001010520053
Keychron K8510510210310045
Royal Kludge 873221021057034

So currently it looks like the G613 or if I can put up with the cable the Duck One2.

Updates

2021-05-21. I decided on the Ducky One2 and I ordered it from Overclocker.co.uk – they charged £8.70 for delivery and I almost walked away from the purchase. Given we do everything via delivery in these Covid times I was shocked they wanted that much. I folded because I was now keen to get it and try it. Delivery Monday they said. I hope I like it. I can’t say ‘fingers crossed’ as that would make typing useless.

2021-05-22 AM Ordered 5:30pm and arrived Saturday at 10:00am. Even thought they said weekdays only. So the delivery charge did help.

2021-05-22 PM The grand unpacking. It is very nicely packaged and comes with the dragon space bar and a number of yellow highlights. First impression was how the keyboard felt. It was obviously metal and very well made. The lights can cycle and do pattern without any SW which is nice as I don’t like to load the PC with lots of one time use junk. The keys are very different. They are very narrow at the top and so you have to much more accurate to get a nice smooth typing motion. And like hitting the golf ball right, when you get it right it is very smooth indeed. The Silent Red have no sound to them so you only hear the keys as you bottom out. Typing on it does feel lush. The cable is there winking at me and annoying me a bit, but I hope to be able to put up with it given how nice it is to type on. A bonus is the super bright caps lock LED light which is much more useful than I would have thought.

2021-05-24 It has been a day of work and using the keyboard in anger. I stumbled a number of times but I slowly improved. Now I think I may be able to get better at this keyboard than with ‘normal’ keyboards. I do full finger typing, but not the standard fingers for all the keys. This is making me want to go back and train again properly. I current type at about 30-40 words per minute, so it would be really useful to type at 50-60.

Designing a Perfect Keyboard

I thought I would now write down my perfect keyboard design:

  • TKL or a Full size with media keys downwards as the last column
  • Wireless with 2.4G USB dongle, Bluetooth and Wired USB-C too
  • Charge and work with USB-C at the same time
  • Large 10,000mAh battery so it does not need charging often
    • And so it will run other USB A and USB C out.
    • As a wireless USB hub. Sure only 54Mbps but convenient.
  • Bold laser etched key caps so the light shines through
  • Silent reds
  • Wide key cap tops.
  • Metal frame
  • RGB with on board storage and good defaults including solid colours
    • No SW required unless you want to play.
  • Sound damping on the inside for when you bottom out the keys
  • Bold clear F keys with the alternate window functions on the side
  • Bright LED for key lock etc.
  • UK ISO layout

Links

  • Here is a list of typing practise websites:
    • https://www.typingtest.com/
    • https://www.typing.academy/typing-tutor/lessons

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