In Search of the Ideal Keyboard

Just so I am clear with everybody reading this post, I am no hardcore typist. In fact, typing elitists would probably frown upon me as a keyboard n00b. My current typing style involves using, on average, 4 fingers in total (my 2 thumbs and index fingers), and at peak capacity I can only type at around 60 wpm. If you're like me, you probably understand my predicament. If you're one of those >120 wpm keyboard maniacs, please don't stone me!

Anyway, a few weeks ago I came to the realization that one of these days I am gonna have to improve my typing skills one way or another. Programmers often like to boast about how great their keyboards are, and how freakishly fast they can type on those things. I look at these stories and almost look down upon myself as a guy who will spend a good chunk of his life in front of a computer, yet ending up typing in code and text at a (relatively) laughable rate. After stumbling upon a random blog post by Jeff Atwood of Coding Horror (if you're a programmer like me, read his blog; he's an incredible guy) about the responsibility of becoming a better typer, I made a promise to myself that I would, one way or another, make my typing skills worthy of the title 'programmer'.

So why am I writing this post anyway? As you can already guess from the title above, I am in a quest of sorts to find that perfect keyboard for me that will help me become that better typer. Sure getting a new keyboard alone will not make me a more efficient programmer or writer, but it sure helps a lot. A peripheral like a keyboard is a long-term investment at a (fairly) small price, and getting one with the right ergonomics and features can go a long way in saving both time and your wrists (thanks again for the tip, Jeff!). In other words, as silly as it may sound for the average Joe, getting the right keyboard matters for guys like me.

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Some Past Experiences

Before I go about presenting some of the options I have come across, I would just like to briefly share some of the keyboards I have used in the past that I really enjoyed using.

The Apple Wired Keyboard

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via codinghorror.typepad.com

I am going to just say it right now: I loved this keyboard. I first got a hold of this keyboard when I got my first Mac, a 2007 20-inch iMac. Not only was the industrial design sublime (a clear step above it's glassy-plasticky predecessor), the keyboard also comes with two USB 2.0 ports, and the tactile feel of the keys was just great. It even came with a nice numpad on the right side, something that Apple still refuses to place in their newest keyboards. I know that there are some people who actually dislike the feel of this keyboard, but my fingers just glide on this thing, and its incredible; to each his own I suppose. I am still quite disappointed that this keyboard may soon be axed by Apple in its relentless quest to cull the wired cable from the desktop computing experience, which is a shame because I think this keyboard was arguably the best peripheral Apple ever came up with. It will be missed.

Asus EeePC 1005HA

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via www.netbookreviews.net

This netbook was actually the first laptop I owned prior to owning my current 15-inch Macbook Pro. It was quite light for a laptop, and the battery on this thing was pretty nice, though not great. Anyway, there are two gripes I have with the keyboard that came with this netbook. One is the arrow keys; I hate them. While the left and right arrow keys are fine on their own, the up and down keys are unbelievably tiny, and these keys get to me. Every. Single. Time. As you can see in the image above, there is a lot of space beneath the keyboard to extend the arrow keys to make them more comfortable to use. Why Asus did not do so still baffles me to this day. Second is the row of function keys. Again, they feel too small, and I think it could have gone a long way were they made just a little bigger.

Other than those two gripes, however, typing on this keyboard felt like laptop Nirvana. Despite the compact design, this keyboard was probably the one that allowed me to type the fastest. I just seemed to type at a blistering pace on this keyboard, and I'm still not sure why. It's probably because the tactile feel of the keys was also well thought-out, and the almost gapless surface of the keyboard allowed me to glide my fingers along it, allowing me to find keys faster. While the keyboard of the 15-inch Macbook Pro is pretty decent in itself, I can't help but think I could have finished writing this post sooner had I had my trusty netbook with me right now.

Now On To The Options

Microsoft Natural Keyboard 4000

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via www.activewin.com

I once again owe my gratitude to the venerable Jeff Atwood for showing me this keyboard. This keyboard is his personal recommendation, and I can see why. Despite the odd shape that this keyboard possesses, the ergonomics are supposed to give way to a more comfortable typing experience. I actually tried out a more ancient version of the Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard from my parents (the keyboard itself goes as far back as my childhood), and I was pretty impressed with it. One thing I noticed is that my current typing style (hitting keys with index fingers) is almost completely incompatible with this type of keyboard, meaning I will be forced to learn touch typing (using all fingers on each hand) if I ever get this keyboard recommended by Mr. Atwood. Once I do master touch typing, however, I can imagine blazing through this keyboard.

Another thing interesting about this keyboard is that its front side can be raised, again supposedly to give a more comfortable feel. I initially laughed off the idea as a marketing gimmick since it looked really silly from the outside, but after trying out the elevated mode (again on the ancient keyboard), I realized how much better my hands felt while I was typing away. Microsoft wasn't kidding; this thing actually works!

This keyboard might be the one I will most likely purchase, not only because of its comfort and feel but also because it's probably the easiest one to obtain based on where I am located in the world. It's pretty well-priced, coming in at $50 the last time I checked, and the keyboard is Mac-compatible, so I can easily integrate the keyboard into my Mac workflow should it become a part of my life. I'll continue to keep an eye on this one.

DAS Professional Keyboard

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via www.daskeyboard.com

As for this keyboard, I first learned of it from a random post from the Loop. This is supposedly the keyboard that typing veterans swoon over, since this loud, mechanical keyboard pays tribute to the really old IBM Model M keyboard, which many regard as the greatest keyboard ever made. I don't know if that's supposed to be a hyperbole or not; I'll leave that to the typing veterans here on the Verge forums to decide.

Anyway, I've taken a look at this keyboard on the DAS website, and honestly there's hardly anything to not like about this keyboard (except perhaps that it's really loud, but some people like it that way). This keyboard is the peripheral equivalent of a Mercedes; no expenses were spared in making this thing. Almost every aspect of this keyboard screams premium. The mechanical springs are supposedly of the highest quality, the industrial design seems quite solid, and it even comes with two USB ports (hooray!). A Mac version of the keyboard also exists, and it's looking quite dandy as well.

Unfortunately, this keyboard is priced like a Mercedes as well. This thing costs nearly $130 dollars; you can buy almost 3 Microsoft Natural Keyboard 4000s with that money! That's a shame, really, because this keyboard could appeal to a larger number of people. I suppose that's what we have to pay if we want a keyboard that can survive the most beastly of typers. Besides, I don't think any retailer around my area sells one of these things anyway.

Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboard K750 for Mac

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via zapp1.staticworld.net

I learned about this keyboard from Tommy Refenes, the programmer behind the hit indie game Super Meat Boy. He's a PC user by heart, but when he bought a Mac in order to create the Mac port of Super Meat Boy, he recommended this one over Twitter. What got me excited about this keyboard is that it bears more than a striking resemblance to Apple's Wired Keyboard, which I've already said I adore. The enclosure is metallic, the keys look like they have the same tactile feel, and it even comes with a numpad, all while being wireless, and powered by light! It looks like Logitech capitalized on the fact that Apple may never create the keyboard Mac users are clamoring for, and I'm sure as hell glad that they gave us one!

While I am pretty excited about this keyboard, I am a little more cautious about buying this one. First of all, the spacing of the keys isn't the same as Apple's keyboard, so I do not know if this is an improvement or not. Secondly, I cannot confirm how well the solar panels perform. The room in which I am working in doesn't have stellar lighting, and I would really like to know from owners of this keyboard how well it holds up. The last reason is simply because this keyboard doesn't have nearly as many recommendations as the first two. It's fair to say that the first two keyboards have nothing short of a rabid following, though I haven't heard the same for this one.

This keyboard costs around $60; a decent price. If enough people recommend this keyboard, and if I can find it in a nearby retail store, I'll probably seriously consider this one. And yes, a PC version exists too.

In Conclusion

Alright, that was my really long post regarding my current dilemma. People sure have a knack for recommending a competent keyboard, and I am still drowning in options. Please know that I am still very much open to other alternatives, and that you are free to offer your suggestions below. I'd also like to know your experiences with your keyboards since it could help me choose the right one for me.

I honestly don't expect this search to end anytime soon, and I don't expect the final decision to be easy either. Still, it would be awesome if we could pool in as many options and as many stories as possible, as that would also help users other than myself who are searching for the ideal keyboard themselves. Anyway, I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Some personal opinions would be really nice.