Knowing what to pay attention to is easiest with a guide, so we found two. The first is Zach Allaun. He founded Keycult, a North Carolina company that makes limited-run mechanical keyboard kits. Zach is, in his own words, “excitement-driven.” That’s how he got into keyboards in the first place, and it’s why we’ve turned to him in our own keyboard journey.
You’re going to touch it all the time, hear it all the time, see it all the time. It’s going to change how you interact with your space. So why not make it something you love? Given all the keyboard options out there, we bet you can find one that fits your budget, style, and workspace all at once. Especially if you’re willing to go custom.
Think about the look of the keyboard, the colors, lines, key rise. Will it create a good visual flow in your workspace? Will it contribute to a cohesive space that brings peace of mind every time you enter it?
What it might say about you: You type a lot, your nerves feel swollen and/ or pinched, and you sometimes get that numb feeling in your hands.
Now’s a good time to introduce our other guide: Cory Watson. Cory is a Grovemade customer, a programmer, and an Observability specialist. He also really digs keyboards. Unsurprisingly, Cory has a keen sense of awareness and a good memory. He remembered, for example, that his obsession with keyboards began with ergonomics! As he put it, typing was his living. So he decided to invest in an ergonomic keyboard. After trying a few, he settled on the Kinesis Freestyle, a split mechanical keyboard.
More on that later, but now that you’re aware of the path they might take you on, here are types of ergonomic keyboards:
Tenting. The keyboard is higher in the center than on the sides, again mimicking the natural position of your hands.
Zero or slightly negative slope. Since your hands shouldn’t be angled up. And a palm rest that sets your wrists a bit higher (enter: negative slope) can help alleviate wrist tension.
There are a lot of options out there, but what’s essential across all these ergonomic keyboards is ease. Opening up that hunched posture, that clenched and frantic clicking away, and creating a more sustainable typing experience. It’s not that an ergonomic keyboard prevents Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, or that there’s a proven “best” keyboard for Carpal Tunnel. Some have even suggested that since ergonomic keyboards change the key location, the strain of re-training your muscle memory negates any benefit you might get. We leave that there for you to consider.
But if you’re open to changing your typing patterns, if you spend a lot of time at the keyboard and are worried about a repetitive stress injury, there might be an ergonomic keyboard out there for you!
And you don’t have to find it alone. Wirecutter has their top picks of course, and New York magazine’s the Strategist does a roundup as well.
We wish you unhunched, easy luck!
The basic construction: the keys sit atop a continuous, rubber-like panel (the membrane), which sits atop a two-layer circuit matrix. When you hit the key, it results in a chain reaction that closes the circuit and signals a keystroke.
What it might say about you: You like minimal, quiet, low-profile tools at a relatively low cost. You want it, you order it, you open the box, you use it. And this makes you happy.
Basic construction: Individual keycaps sit on top of individual switches that connect to a printed circuit board (PCB) when you push down and register the keystroke. The switches either rest directly on the PCB or on a backplate that sits on top of the PCB.
What it might say about you: You like the term “tactile feedback.” You are willing to pay more for a more durable build that has more options for customization. Your favorite kind of travel is key travel, and the ultimate soundtrack is the one the keys are playing. You’re ok with the potential of developing a new obsession.
These keyboards make a visual and audible impact. They’re customisable, from the switches to the keycap set to the lighting and so on, which means they’re lovable. In fact there’s an entire universe of mechanical keyboard devotees (including Zach and Cory), so we devoted an entire article to it. We even built one ourselves. To read up in detail on switch types, group buys, and “thock” theory, head here. << link to mechanical keyboard article<<
Mechanical keyboards are known for their sound, though there are some quiet options out there! If you’re worried about the noise, consider that you can type more softly with a mechanical keyboard, because on most models the keystroke will register before you bottom out. For example, if the key travel distance is 4 mm, the actuation point can actually be at 2 mm. This avoids the hardness and loudness of hitting rock bottom.
These keyboards are also known for their price tag, but you don’t have to shell out hundreds of dollars to get your hands on one. Gear Patrol recommends the Magicforce 68 as an entry-level, inexpensive mechanical keyboard. Mid-range options exist too, if you’re trying to find that sweet spot between expense and multi-generational quality.
Many elite mechanical keyboards and parts are only available through group buys. The maker releases a keyboard concept, either a complete keyboard or components to make a custom one. People pledge to purchase it. If the campaign reaches the minimum order quantity necessary to make the product financially viable, then the maker will produce it. This process can take a long time. Zach’s company operates on group runs, and he knows people are willing to wait. Cory is one of those willing people. He goes in on group runs, and he always waits, no matter how much it irritates him.
Mechanical keyboards are long lasting (generally rated to around 50 million keystrokes) and because the keys fit snugly together there’s less space for water and dust to sneak in.
So if you like the idea of a “vintage keyboard,” or are searching for a thoroughly satisfying keystroke, or will be playing games, or want a really cool passion project, a mechanical keyboard could be just the thing!
Zach’s using a Keycult No. 1 tenkeyless at home (at the time of writing).
When we emailed with Zach, he was using the Keycult No. 2/65, “the 65% form-factor of our No. 2 design.” We get the feeling he uses all different types, maybe because when we asked what kind he uses he said “All sorts”!
QWERTY. Your classic keyboard layout since about 1878. Typewriters first had alphabetical keyboards. When the typist hit neighboring keys in quick succession, the keys would jam. So the QWERTY layout was intended to space out the letters that typically show up together.
Dvorak: A 1936 development that put the most frequently used characters in the most naturally-reached “home” row, meaning your fingers have to move a shorter distance when typing. Advocates of this style say it’s a more efficient keyboard than one with a QWERTY layout.
If you’re curious but approach commitment carefully:
Colemak: More similar to QWERTY (only 17 characters different), but still tries to decrease finger movement by strategically placing the most frequently used characters.
If you’re used to QWERTY, you’ll need to re-learn to type on a Dvorak or Colemak. And there’s no guarantee you’ll see an increase in efficiency. But here’s a good resource if you want to learn more.
Virtual keyboard. There’s the virtual keyboard on your touchscreen, but there’s also a laser projection keyboard that can connect to a computer, smartphone, tablet, etc. A projection device sends out the image of the keyboard, and when you tap a “key” a sensor or camera registers the keystroke. The device can connect via Bluetooth or USB, depending on the model.
Thumb or thumb-sized keyboard. A small physical or on-screen keyboard that’s optimized for typing with your thumbs. This can be helpful when a traditional keyboard is too cumbersome, like in console gaming.
Waterproof keyboard. these can withstand spills, crumbs, and dust, and some models can even be fully submerged for a thorough washing.
Flexible keyboard, or silicone keyboard. The flexible, foldable keyboard is often made out of silicone rubber. They are bendable and rollable, and typically are water- and dust-proof. They require more force to push the keys down, and must be used on a hard surface.