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Failing to buy a new keyboard

I love Microsoft’s ergonomic keyboards. I got a Microsoft Natural Keyboard in the 90s and used it until a handful of years ago when it just got so old and grody that I felt it had to be replaced. I replaced it with the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 which I liked even better, especially with its negative incline. But I have had a problem with the semi-colon key no longer hitting properly. I was going to buy a new 4000 but I thought, what the heck, why not get one of the mechanical keyboards? The keyboard on the 4000 is nice but I bottom out when I hit the keys and that can’t be great for my fingers nor is it a very nice feeling. I summarize below what I learned about keyboards and why in the end I couldn’t find the keyboard I really wanted.

1 My ideal keyboard

Split keyboard design I really like these designs. I find them extremely comfortable to type on for long durations. A few times I tried normal straight keyboards and found that they actually caused my wrists to hurt. To be fair I don’t know if this is because a straight keyboard requires my hands to sit in the wrong position or because my arms are now used to the split design after more than a decade of typing that way.
Normal Keyboard Layout I do most of my typing on PC style keyboards but I do a non-trivial amount on my laptop. I don’t want to have two completely different keyboard designs where switching between them is a pain. That’s why some of the more extreme ergonomic keyboards aren’t on the menu, they move keys like delete, shift, space, return, etc. around.
Great Keys! I want keys that take a light hit, don’t require bottoming out to be sure they are hit right and are QUIET. No buckling springs for me.
Mac compatible My home machines are all currently Macs so I need a keyboard that works well with them.
Multi-Key Rollover (a.k.a. Ghosting) Cheaper keyboards don’t actually hook every key to its own unique sensor. Instead they combine keys together. This means that if one presses certain combinations of keys together or types too quickly then keystrokes will be lost or misread. USB unfortunately has a limit of 6 simultaneous keystrokes that its protocol can read. PS/2 has no limit but good luck finding a modern computer with a PS/2 port. In practice I suspect USB is fine. But one only gets those 6 simultaneous keystrokes if one’s keyboard actually assigns each key it’s own switch which is more expensive.
10 Key Whenever I need to enter numbers using 10 key is much, much nicer than the keys at the top of the keyboard so a keyboard with a good built in ten key is a nice bonus.
No batteries, no Wireless I want a keyboard I can bloody well plug in. I know, I know, the batteries last forever. But seriously, it’s just one more thing to go wrong.

2 So what’s up with the keys anyway?

There are many claims made for the ’magical’ qualities of mechanical keys as opposed to dome or scissor keys. See here (or here if you want pretty pictures too) for a good explanation of the different key types. I have gotten to try out lots of dome switch keyboards and I don’t like any of them. The keys tend to be mushy and I always bottom out when I use them. Scissor style keyboards, such as used in laptops, are a little better but in my experience not by much. I actually have used buckling spring keyboards way back when the earth was still cooling but I never liked how hard you have to hit them nor the noise.
Of the modern mechanical keys the only ones I’ve had a chance to play with personally are the MX Blue, Brown and Red.
Both the Blues and Browns have very similar feels with a distinct bump at the activation point and then a separate bump when bottoming out. The first bump lets the typist know they have activated the key without having to have the jarring experience of bottoming out. The main difference, near as I can tell, between the Blues and Browns is noise. The Blues have a very distinctive loud click while the browns are less noisy. But the difference in noise level isn’t as huge as one might think, nevertheless I prefer the Browns.
The Reds have no distinctive bump on the way down so one just bottoms out. The reds I tried were really mushy.

3 The contenders to replace the 4000

Keyboard Split? Normal? Key Type Mac? 10 Key? Multi-Key Rollover Cost
Microsoft Sculpt Sorta Yes Dome Switch Yes Yes ? $60
Kinesis Freestyle2 Yes Yes Dome Switch Yes Overlay ? $159
Goldtouch V2 Yes Yes Dome Switch Yes Overlay ? $119
Truly Ergonomic Yes No Cherry MX Brown Sorta Overlay Yes $229
Kinesis Advantage Yes No Cherry MX Brown (Or MX Red with the LF) Yes Overlay ? $325
Maltron Dual Hand 3D Yes No ? Yes Yes ? $600
Typematrix 2030 No No Scissors Yes Overlay No $110
Kinesis Maxim Yes Yes Dome Switch Yes Available for $60 separately Yes $139
Microban Split Design Keyboard Yes Yes ? ? Yes ? $40
Microsoft Sculpt A bit smaller than the Microsoft 4000 it doesn’t seem to have as good a hand position as the 4000.
Kinesis Freestyle2 ErgonomicInfo has a good review here and here. You have to buy a framework to rest it on, the VIP kit which provides tenting and a palm rest seems like the right combination. But it uses regular dome switches. I got to try one at the office and I found the keys to be nothing special and the 4000 more than meets my ergonomic needs.
Goldtouch V2 I couldn’t find one to test but it uses dome switches. Also it’s setup really doesn’t make much room form wrist rests so when you aren’t typing there really isn’t anywhere for your hand to go.
Truly Ergonomic The keyboard uses Cherry MX mechanical switches but it doesn’t have a normal split and the feedback on geekhack is while the keyboard isn’t bad it seems to have issues on the Mac and their customer service is apparently not terribly good. An even bigger issue is that they have moved around a bunch of keys so typing on other keyboards after getting used to this one will, I suspect, be challenging.
Kinesis Advantage This is the latest Kinesis advantage keyboard and while the reviews on it are generally very good it doesn’t use a normal layout so I would have to be able to switch back and forth which is a pain. I actually got to try out the LF which I believe uses MX Reds and I found it mushy. The keyboard I tried out had a 10 key plug in that used MX Browns and those I liked a lot.
Maltron The complaints about the Maltron are mostly that it feels cheap and support isn’t terribly good. My personal impression is that the Maltrons are designed for people with serious physical disabilities, not dilettantes like me.
Typematrix 2030 Looking around the web at various reviews nobody seems to get too excited by this keyboard. I get the logic of the small design and matrix layout but I’m not sure how big a difference it really makes and I really don’t want to have to learn a new keyboard layout since it doesn’t use the normal one.
Kinesis Maxim This is basically a more aggressive version of Microsoft’s Natural keyboard with the ability to set the separation distance between the two halves of the keyboard. The keyboard has been around for years and honestly I just don’t see it giving me (in my specific case) much more than the Microsoft keyboards.
Microban Split Design This seems like a reasonable equivalent to the 4000 but I don’t see anything that would motivate me not to just buy another 4000.

4 And the winner is.... nobody

Unfortunately it seems like the keyboard I want doesn’t exist. I actually started a thread over at GeekHack asking if anyone knew of a split design keyboard that met my various requirements and used decent keys. The answer was - no. It was suggested that the Goldtouch V2 or the Kinesis Freestyle2 might be a reasonable substitute since they met all my criteria (more or less) but the use of mechanical keys. I tried the Freestyle 2 and it’s keys are as mushy as my 4000 so that wasn’t interesting. I haven’t had a chance to try a Goldtouch. But for now, it appears, I’m just plain out of luck.

10 Responses to Failing to buy a new keyboard

  1. Serge Khorun says:

    Fun fact: Kinesis office is in Bothell, so you can stop by, try their keyboards in person and buy right there.

    Anyway, I switched from 4000, and the winner is Advantage. Freestyle (not sure if it was V2 or not) is incredibly mushy, not pleasant to use at all. Kinesis has very nice switches and is “truly ergonomic” (apart from the fact that you need to prop it for negative recline yourself, lol). Typing on the different layout is not really a problem – it takes some time to get used to, but you still perfectly remember regular (or rather laptop) layout as well and working on both even at same time is not a problem at all.

    Naturally, I remapped central key group on Advantage so I have two large spaces and enters (at the cost of repeating ctrl and alt).

    So, anyway, it’s totally worth spending time and getting used to the alternative layout, it so much easier, less stressful for hands and faster to type on this keyboard that it makes a lot of difference.

    • Administrator says:

      To pay that much money for the privilege of learning a new keyboard layout I don’t need just seems nuts. I’ll wait for someone to release a split keyboard with decent keys.

  2. Serge Khorun says:

    I know, that is why it took me so long to try it out, I wish I would do it sooner. To be fair, I paid company’s money since I’m using it at the office.

  3. Administrator says:

    As a side note I put in a pre-order for the Matias Ergo Pro last November. It looks like it meets all of my requirements! Unfortunately they keep delaying ship. I just got notified that I didn’t make their first shipment and so am scheduled for their second shipment which is supposed to happen at the end of March. So it looks like I won’t get the keyboard until April. Oh well, I’ve been waiting for years to find a keyboard that meets my needs, what’s another 5 months?

    I also saw that there is now a second keyboard that meets my requirements! https://ultimatehackingkeyboard.com/ got announced. But unfortunately it’s not available for ordering yet. Still, it’s great to see more companies moving into this space.

  4. Tomas says:

    Looking forward to hearing about your experience with Matias Ergo Pro, been thinking about ordering one.

    • Administrator says:

      I can’t wait either… because I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting. But once I get it you can depend on me writing a review. I also just got a call from the desk folks. My new desk setup (see http://www.goland.org/sitstandwalkdesk/) should be here tomorrow!!!!!! Reviews by the pound on that one. :)

  5. Hesham says:

    Looking forward to hear about your new updates if there are new keyboards in the market, the “Ultimate Hacking Keyboard” seems better matching but yet to be released.

    • Administrator says:

      I’ve been meaning for a very long time now to write a review of the keyboard I did end up buying, the Matias Ergo Pro.

      But besides being insanely busy I’ve also not been thrilled or angry enough at it to motivate myself to put writing a review of it on the top of my list. It’s a decent enough keyboard. The keys are o.k. The layout is o.k. The tiny ctrl key on the right side has been a pain since I have a nasty habit of hitting it when I meant to hit the N key. I’ve had a lot of problems where the keyboard seems to think it’s in capslock when it’s not and I have to yank the USB cable to reset it. It’s… o.k. Was it worth more than $200? Maybe. I suppose. I type all day and it is nice. But honestly if one has the Microsoft Sculpt or equivalent I doubt it’s worth the money. Hence why the review hasn’t appear. It’s…. alright.

      I have been tracking the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard quite closely but I’m really not sure if it’s any better than the Matias. They use cloned keys mostly, not real Cherrys because apparently Cherry doesn’t sell to small manufacturers. I honestly don’t know how good the clones are vs the originals. They do have an add on palm rest and I like the trackball mouse module. Great idea. An ultimate hacking keyboard costs a little bit more than an equivalent Matias Ergo Pro but given my ‘m’eh’ experience with the Matias I would try out the ultimate hacking keyboard if I was starting all over.

  6. Sunny says:

    You mentioned that you tried the Microsoft Sculpt keyboard. Did you try the newer Sculpt Ergonomic keyboard? It’s wireless but has the same layout as the 4000 and has chiclet keys.

    • Administrator says:

      Yeah this article is pretty seriously old at this point. But my main replacement for the 4000 was the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic and it is a very serviceable keyboard. I still use it with my walking desk as my walking keyboard (since it’s easy to use at an incline). It’s not quite as nice as my Matias Ergo Pro but if you look in the comments on this article you’ll see my quick review of that. If you don’t feel like spending $200 on a keyboard then the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic would be my pick.

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