Keyboard selection part infinity
OK, this whole 18 months of COVID-19 isolation has gotten me to buy lots of keyboards. I just got my latest one which is the Unicomp Mini M, this uses the original IBM PC bucking spring action. It is supposed to feel like the original IBM PC keyboard which I remember fondly.
The folks at Unicomp bought out the IBM than the Lexmark patents on this so they are the only people who make this. For $121, you can get an 87-key keyboard or a Ten-keypad-less (TKL) that uses this technology. It is smaller than the original. There’s a pretty good YouTube review:
At least for me, this has the same wedge case and it is really huge compared to most TKL keyboards. The color scheme I have to admit I don’t love too much, I got the one with a black case and white keys. It uses dye-sublimation keycaps which look pretty decent.
While this keyboard seem pretty nice, but I have to say this is not the feel I really remember the feel like this. It does have a USB connector so it isn’t wireless. But, what about the feel of this thing. After all, with shipping, this is $150 keyboard with shipping. It must be my memory, but I didn’t like the feel as much as I liked the original IBM SSK. While it has kind of a cool feel, the “rattle” or click seems subdued (which the reviewer found a little louder). I kind of remember the click sound was much higher and satisfying. I kind of want to buy the original IBM SSK but these things cost over $300 used of course.
If you want to see what the original IBM SSK (space-saving keyboard sounds like), the same reviewer has the buckling spring, so you can hear it. To my ears at least the click is higher pitched. I also remember that the click force was just a bit higher on the original, so off to ebay I go I guess
Overall, I have to say after all these searches, this is my ideal keyboard in order of priority.
- 60% Keyboard with arrow keys or at least TKL/87-keys. This is absolutely the smalled keyboard that is still functional. The winner here has to be the MagicForce (just $60). The Annie Pro 2 is really nice, but without arrow keys, it is super-inconvenient since so many of my keyboard shortcuts (thank you Divvy and Hammersnipe) really on them.
- Backlight (but not RGB Color). Honestly, when I’m typing this is the last thing that I need, but it is pretty important to have at least a white backlight for typing at night.
- The right keyswitch click and sound. Right now having tried all of these (OK, getting an old Model M is next on my list), I would say that at least for me Cherry MX Blue > Gateon Blue > Buckling Spring, and then there are the silent ones which are the like the Cherry Red which has a great feel. Even with the same key types, different keyboards just sound different. For instance, the click on the WASD Code V3 is just slightly less than the Annie Pro which I like a lot. If you have to have a silent keyboard because those zoom calls are important than the Cherry. And don’t get me started on the so-called dome keyboards, mechanical just feels so much better
- Doubleshot keys and ideally pudding keycaps. I love the ones that are translucent so you can see the LED glow underneath. The main thing is that you don’t want keycaps where the letters wear way (looking at you WASD Code v3) see the section on PBT vs ABS. But having doubleshot keys is more expensive, but because the keycaps glow they work a lot better at night. This is completely different from RGB lighting, but while those effects are cool, the main thing is to be able to see the letters when you get them. The biggest upgrade is to have pudding keys where the light comes out the top of the keys and also the side. You can get them aftermarket by the way and HyperX makes good ones.
- PBT Keycaps and not ABS. While I love my old WASD Code V3, it does have ABS keycaps and they definitely do become glossy and shiny over time. And you definitely lose the lettering. I kind of love the sandy texture of the PBTs.
- Wireless, but not with the various repeating keys and other problems that my Keychron K2 has. And you really want a reliable Bluetooth connection. Having used a bunch of wireless keyboards, it’s interesting how this has dropped so far back in my rankings, it is a really nice to have (as long as you get a good battery).
- A long-lasting battery. Like the Apple keyboard which lasts forever, the Keychron is actually pretty short if you have one of these, it feels like I’m always recharging it. There is nothing worse than having to find a cable to charge your wireless keyboard (which I have to do with the Keychron pretty often).
- Reasonable shortcut mapping for Mac. OK, I know this is a small thing, but having to remember all those strange keyboard shortcuts is really a pain. I love the way that Keychron handles keyboard backlighting, rather than having to remember say FN-F12 is backlight on a WASD, you just hit the same function key that you do on a Mac keyboard of F5 and F6. Also some of these keyboards come with Mac keys included so you can tell what the Command and Option key are (although by finger tip memory this is less of a problem more of an asthetic
- One thing that I have on the WASD are switch dampeners, these reduce the nose and the travel which is kind of nice. For instance, my Varmilo V87M is really a nice keyboard but it has.
- Correct settings for modifier keys on the Mac. While this is a simple thing to fix, you just have to change the System Preferences > Keyboard > Modifier keys, it is nice if they are properly set for the Mac.
So given all of these how do the various keyboards that I’ve tried compare and what would I recommend, well TL;dr, there isn’t the perfect keyboard, so you might want to think about modding things:
- Keychron K2 V2 with swappable keys adding aftermarket Cherry MX Blue switches. OK, this is a complicated one, but you can get a Keychron V2 with switches that you can swap out, so you can stick Cherry MX blue switches and then get the HyperX pudding PBT keys for $25 and then the Cherry MX Blue keyswitch for $1 a pop. And you have nearly the perfect keyboard for me. The only remaining problem is the wireless connection issues I keep having with it. The nice to haves here are the switch that makes it a Mac Keyboard so you don’t have to play with the modifier keys. You just set it to Mac mode and forget it. The base Gateron Blue which I have with my nonswappable K2 (I didn’t realize there was a swappable one was a very reasonable $69, with the swappable at $79. And save yourself some money, you don’t really need the RGB Backlight (my opinion which costs $20 more).
- Varmilo VA87M Mac with Cherry MX Blue switches. If you don’t feel like basically building your own keyboard (as in the recommendation above), is nearly the perfect one. It is $129 and you can get it with Cherry Blue MX key switches. Plus, they do use Dye sublimation PBT keycaps. The only thing that is missing is that the keys are not double shot, so you get the lighting only underneath it works, but is not as easy to see. Oh and yes, it is a wired keyboard.
- Qisan Magicforce Smart 68 with Cherry MX Blue. I’m actually surprised how this tiny little keyboard which only costs $70 has come up in my ranks. It is a 60% compact key but has those arrow keys. It does use Cherry MX Blue, but for some reason, it sounds really nice. Also, it has ABS Doubleshot keys and the blue glow of the numbers is really useful. It is wired thought, so that’s a tradeoff And I forgot it is super small. Overall this is the ideal travel keyboard. I just wish it was wireless. It also has three tiny DIP switches that let you change the keyboard to swap various keys around. And using FN and the arrow keys to change the lighting isn’t that hard to remember. For some reason even those these are Gateron Blues, I like the sound pretty well and the feel and travel are good. There are quite a few OEMs who make this keyboard, so I think it is OEMed widely. And at $70, it really doesn’t make sense to swap for PBT keycaps since it already is Doubleshot.
- WASD Code V3. I actually have the V2 but assume it is similar. This is an expensive keyboard at $165 but it has pudding keycaps. The V3 has been super durable. The main knocks against it are that it is a bit larger in size, it uses ABS and not PBT keycaps (mine are wearing out) and it is wired. I also have the Cherry Brown and it is good for being quiet.
- Anne Pro 2. I really wanted to like this keyboard because it is super compact and wireless, but the problem is that, unlike the Qisan Magicforce, it is Gateron Blue and not Cherry, but it does use Doubleshot PBT Keycaps. The main problem they don’t have any arrow keys so it is at least for me hard to use.