New Keyboard – Goin’ Mechanical!

I remember some 15 years ago or so, I had an IBM Model M keyboard on my desk at the job I had at the time. I really enjoyed using that keyboard with its tactile feel. I could type like a madman on the thing. Since then of course, with companies reducing costs, the keyboards that were produced were a cheaper rubber dome technology as opposed to the mechanical switch type that the Model M used. Some were pretty good, others less so.

Well, I recently learned there are a few companies making keyboard with mechanical switches. After some research on price, availability, and on forums such as geekhack.org, I picked up the Leopold tenkeyless in Cherry MX Brown switches from EliteKeyboards. There were a few factors that went into my decision to go with this particular keyboard:

  • Cherry MX switches come in different “colors”, each with their own characteristics. I chose brown since it has a tactile feedback, but not the potentially disturbing click of the blue. I’ve also heard of red and black switches, but these appear to be more for gamers. I’m not a PC gamer much these days. When I am playing a game, it’s usually on the Xbox, or if on the PC, usually a more relaxed game like Civilization V.
  • Tenkeyless: I’ve gotten used to not using the ten keypad since my work laptops have not had them. Really the only time I did use them is to put in some numerical data in Excel, or typing in an IP address. I don’t need to do this in Excel that often, and I’m almost as quick putting in an IP address using the standard number keys. Honestly, I value the real estate gained on the desk by using the smaller form factor, as well as having the mouse a bit closer.
  • Leopold: They are readily available in the US from EliteKeyboards, and at a decent price as far as mechanical keyboards go. Expect to pay more for a mechanical keyboard than for a rubber dome keyboard. That said the Leopold is much less expensive than the Happy Hacking and Realforce keyboards that Elite also sells. They used to sell Filco, but apparently had supply issues. Amazon has some Filcos, but they are a little bit more expensive, and what mostly seems to be available are different color combos (camo body, or yellow keys, etc.). I like the (mostly) basic black (more below). Also, while both Leopold and Filco have keyboards where there is no printing on the top of the keycaps, Amazon seemed to only really have the nonprinted version (what they call Ninja). I’m not that good of a typist (yet?).

The keyboard came solidly packed in the box, with a plastic tray like sheet over the top that you could use as a dust cover if you wanted to. It shipped with the black escape key, but also a red one. I switched out the black for the red. Why? Because having a red escape key is just cool. I guess I’m admitting my geekiness here. I also ordered along with the keyboard blank meta (Windows) keys. Why?  I like both Windows and Linux, so why not make the keyboard platform agnostic, right?

It’s the red, candy-like button

Blank Meta Keycap

I’m giving the keyboard its first workout as I type this blog post. I’m liking the typing experience. The browns are a little louder than the rubber dome keyboard it replaces, but not too loud. Caps Lock and Scroll Lock indicator LEDs are built right into the key itself. Other aspects I like about the keyboard is it has three channels to route the detachable usb cable: left, right, and center. Included is a velcro strap for cable management as well, which I use since the usb port I am plugged into is only about two feet away. The keyboard has a good solid feel, and you can tell it weighs a bit more than your typical keyboard. There are rubber feet placed on the bottom such that it hold without moving on the desk whether the back flip down pieces are out or retracted.

So the verdict is that it was money well spent. I may just get a second one for work.

Some more pics:

Cherry MX Brown Switch

Indicator LEDs

Original Keycaps

Underside – Cable Channels & Rubber Feet

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Logitech VX Nano Mouse

I know I’ve been very lax about science or tech posts of late, but as I’ve picked up a wireless mouse for my work laptop recently for use at home, I thought I would share some impressions of it.  This is the Logitech VX Nano mouse.  When it comes to mice, I tend to like them fairly simple – not the “buttons all over the place” types (i.e. like gaming mice).

What I like about this mouse is that while it is marketed as a notebook mouse, it is not too small.  It is only slightly smaller than a standard mouse.  Its shape and size still make for a comfortable mouse for me at least.  The shape should also allow for left handed users to be comfortable with it as well I think.  Larger hands may find it a tad small – my hands are more medium sized with longer fingers.  The USB transceiver is really nice in that it is small enough to plug into the laptop USB port and can leave in there without much worry of breaking it.  The portion that sticks out is just a hair under 1/4″, and the mouse itself fits into an included pouch which helps protect in in a bag.  It also has an on/off switch underneath to help save battery life when not in use.  Again while I don’t do much with the extra buttons, this mouse includes web browsing “forward” and “back” buttons next to the left mouse button.  There is also a button behind the scroll wheel that sort of acts as a replacement for Alt-Tab in Windows, giving a menu to select any open window.  Of course, these button functions are customizable through the Logitech software.  The scroll wheel has both horizontal and standard vertical scrolls.  One of the nicest features, for my use at least, is the that the scroll wheel has two vertical scroll modes.  One is the standard scroll of 3 or so lines at a time with some tactile feedback.  If you click the wheel as a button though, it goes into what I call “free wheelin’ ” mode.  This mode freely scrolls many lines. It’s very useful in a long web page, large spreadsheet, or in what I find really handy, while at work I have the ability to scroll through about 20,000-30,000 lines of text in large log files.  I find the section I am concentrating on, for instance an error dump section, then one flick brings me to the most recent events at the bottom of the section.

So, if you’re in the market for a nice cordless mouse for your system, check out the VX Nano from Logitech.  I like it enough that I now keep it in my bag and use it at work as well as when working from home.