A few years ago, I remember hearing about something called a “mechanical keyboard” and having vague memories of the huge clunky IBM branded monsters that used to be the standard. It didn’t really seem like the kind of thing I’d be into, really. I’ve written a couple hundred thousand words 1 on the ‘newer’ rubber dome models in my life; what could really be so much better about mechanical switches?
Obviously, I still have a ways to go about knowing myself better, because in restrospect this is exactly my kind of thing. One of the big turn off’s for the whole enterprise was, honestly, the cost. Spending a minimum of $100 just to get into the ground floor seemed extravagant, and I was honestly quite happy with my sub $40 boards I’d been buying. Then I noticed that monoprice.com had a “Cherry MX Blue” keyboard for not a whole lot more. “Scott,” says I, “that’s pretty reasonable. Let’s find out what the fuss is about.”
“Scott,” says I, “that’s pretty reasonable. Let’s find out what the fuss is about.”
The fuss, it turns out, is a typing experience that far exceeds the one I’d been having for nigh on two decades now. You know those bubble style buttons that’s on every microwave? You know how frustrating and unsatisfying they are to push, where you’re not quite sure by feel if you’ve done it right? Compare that to how it feels to throwing a freshly installed deadbolt lock, one that’s been oiled up and is still sitting in the doorjam perfectly. That will give you some idea of the difference between rubber dome keyboards and mechanical keyswitches.
My Monoprice board (pictured in the background there) was really me getting my toes wet. I immediately loved it, but I also knew that it wasn’t the ultimate solution. The first thing I noticed were the particular switch type in question: Cherry MX Blues. They felt very good, but these are colloquially known as the ‘clicky’ or ‘noisy’ switches. That descriptor is an understatement. If my office door was open and I was typing with enough force to bottom them out, the noice could be heard anywhere in my house. The sound of typing was loud enough that I felt bad using my computer when my wife was asleep2. So I knew I needed quieter keys.
As well, the form factor of the board, something I’d taken for granted for pretty much all the time I’ve used keyboards, started to get to me. I discovered that many people swear by the newer small boards. The advantage being not only a regained amount of desk space, but also a better ergonomic setup. A smaller keyboard means your mouse sits closer to the centerline of your body and reduces wrist and arm strain while using it.
When Massdrop.com featured a group by for a seemingly tiny keyboard with the new switch type I wanted to try, I had to get it on it. Since I’d just lost my job, the prospect of blowing nearly a hundred dollars on a peripheral seemed a bit ludicrous, but I excused myself by using some credit card reward points to pay for it. Thus, I became the proud owner of a KBP V60 Mini.
Worth every penny.
First off, the switches are the Cherry MX Brown switches that I ordered are a damn sight better than the blues. I was expecting them to feel very similar, and they do, with nearly the same activation force and a tactile ‘bump’ when they trigger. However, they’re also much more reasonably quiet. The feel is fantastic. The metal plate that the switches are mounted to feel exceedingly sturdy, and the caps have a nice weight and feel. Typing on this thing is a joy.
The small layout is something that takes getting used to. All of your function keys, navigation keys, and a few other things are on a function layer. For the most part this is pretty reasonable. Hitting FN+5 for F5 is absolutely fine. The sticking points come on the arrow keys and Delete. Arrow navigation is moved to FN+WASD, FN+PL;’, or through FN+Return which swaps your RSHIFT, WIN, MENU, and RCRTL buttons for a makeshift arrow cluster. None of these solutions really replace physical arrow keys properly. Similarly, Delete is FN+F or FN+Backspace, which is just a smidge inconvenient for how often Delete is used. Neither of these are sticking points, I love this keyboard nonetheless, but it’s something to remember when going for the next one.
The V60 Mini more than makes up for it with its party piece though:
I don’t think I can accurately describe how nice it is to have a real keyboard, a really good one at that, working with my tablet. With my Nexus 9, the V60 Mini, a decent stand, and a couple of cables, I have mobile writing station that is just fantastic. It’s been a little quest to find a Word Processor and a decent TXT editor, but once those were sorted, I can both write and do some coding on the run3. If you’re a human with a need to input characters into the digital world, this is a great way to do it.
Now I’m severely tempted to trying buying a kit and soldering my next keyboard together myself.