My Review of the KBT Pure Mechanical Keyboard
After about a year of lurking on GeekHack and the r/mechanicalKeyboard subreddit drooling over every kind of mechanical keyboard I finally bit the bullet and bought one. Its been about three months mow and I thought I might share my very positive experience with my new weapon of choice, the backlit KBT Pure with Cherry Blue switches.
The KBT Pure is a surprisingly small keyboard. It's only 5 rows high and, at most, 14 keys wide. Its as if you took a full size keyboard and cut out everything by the main section. Each row is slightly raised and there is no flip-out feet in the back to adjust the keyboards incline. On the back there are 5 switches that offer the ability to modify the layout by doing things such as switching ctrl and caps lock (something that I am very happy about). Everything is made from the same black matted plastic, and the whole board feels very solid. I feel very comfortable throwing it in my backpack along side text books.
You can get the Pure with or without backlight. If you do get the backlight, there are a slew of different colored LEDs to choose from. To match my Cherry Blue Switches I got the blue LEDS. fn+b turns on and off the backlight, while fn+v and fn+n turn the light up and down. At its lowest they letters give off a very subtle luminescence as if they were painted with glow-in-the-dark paint. At its brightest they keys will light up your hands in a dark room. Over all I would say the backlighting is a good investment, though it does eliminate most options if you go shopping for after-market key caps.
Instead of the cord being connected to the keyboard, it's completely detachable and connects via miniUSB meaning replacement cords are cheap and plentiful. The cable it comes with is good enough, not much more than your standard miniUSB cable and plenty sturdy. The KBTalking logo replaces what would of said 'enter' on the return key, and the windows/apple logo has been replaced by a non-denomination acorn looking thing. As a mac/linux user, this is especially refreshing to see.
For those of you who don't understand the magic of the mechanical keyboard, or why they're so expensive, let me explain, it's all about the switch. In order for your keyboard tells your computer that a key has been pressed it needs to make contact between two pieces of metal. In most keyboards this is done with a thin rubber membrane under your keys. Each key sits ontop of a rubber dome in the membrane with a metal contact at the top. When the key is pressed the rubber dome collapses and creates contact with the wire below. The disadvantage to this is that the key needs to be "bottomed out" with every press.
A mechanical keyboard is any keyboard that uses some mechanical switch to trigger the contact. There are many kinds of switches. Many keyboards (the KBT Pure being one of them) offer a selection of different switches you may choose from. Cherry Blue switches are generally favored by people who just type a lot. Other switches, such as Cherry Browns or Cherry Reds, tend to be favored by gamers who are looking for a lower resistance contact. Cherry blues also don't require the key to be bottomed out. The contact is made half-way down on the press and "clicks".
If you're interested in learning more about different kinds of switches, Overclock.net has a fantastic guide detailing the differences between switches.
The Key Layout
What drew me to the KBT Pure was really the form factor. Originally I had looked at ten-keyless boards which eliminated the number pad, but the KBT Pure takes this a step further. It eliminates a dedicated number pad, the function row, the Insert, Delete, Home, End, Page Up, Page Down, and most importantly the arrow keys. All of these are still accessible through the function layer of the keyboard, but the lack of dedicated keys takes some getting use to.
Anyone who thinks that they never use their arrow keys should try removing them for a week, the change is jarring. I myself am a programmer who does most of his work alt/cmd-tabbing between Chrome and a command line running Vim (a text editor that discourages the use of arrow keys). I bought the KBT Pure thinking that life without arrow .keys would be easy, but quickly I suddenly realized the difficulty in editing emails, or even correcting a typo in Chromes search bar. Luckily the KBT Pure offeres two avenues of getting back your arrows. The function key maps 'k', 'l', ';', and 'o' to their respectful directions, and by hitting fn+space the right modifiers and dwarfed right shift key transform into surprisingly comfortable arrows.
The only other major difference is that the tilde/back-tic key has been moved from the left of the '1' key to the right of a dwarfed right shift. Similar form keybords such as the KBC Poker don't move this and put Escape underneath tilden/back-tic with the function layer. As a Vim user (which requires the use of Escape to switch modes) I respect the decision. I still use tilde pretty frequently since it's the shortcut to you're home directory in Unix and have yet to find this to be a real problem. It would have been nice to offer one of the switches on the back of the keyboard the ability to switch them arround like it does for Ctrl and Caps Lock, but if it really bothers you it's not hard to configure at the operating system level.
The one thing that does bug me about the layout is the width of the space bar. The space bar ends just under the 'x' and '.' keys. While this is very common in many keyboards its a little odd to get use to coming from my MacBook's keyboard where the spacebar is the exact width of the 'c' through 'm' keys. When I'm using the keyboard on Windows or Linux this isn't a problem because the most used modifier is ctrl, but on a Mac most application shortcuts happen through the command key (which on this keyboard is labeled alt). My thumb instinctively goes to hit the command key and hits the spacebar instead. This would never be a problem to most people, but its an overlooked detail worth considering before you buy a keyboard.
Over all impressions
It's been about three months now and I can say I am very happy with this keyboard. The switches are great, the backlighting is beautiful, but most importantly it's small and sturdy. I can throw it in my messenger bag and run out the door. It fits near perfectly over my MacBooks normal keyboard, and when I work on the machines in my University's labs I can just pull it out and plug it in. I spent the summer working an internship that had me writing code on a traditional mac keyboard. It was nice to be wireless, but the flat keys quickly got to my fingers after hours of typing. I've found that having a mechanical keyboard has lead to less sore fingers and knuckle cracking.
Images courtesy of mechanicalkeyboards.com, photobucket, and flickr.