What is the Color of your Switch?

There are two issues to be aware of when choosing the Mechanical Switch that is right for you, so be warned:

Firstly, all mechanical keyboards are going to be substantially louder than typical “rubber dome” keyboards you may be familiar with. However there are “quieter” mechanical switches. Although this sounds very ‘Non technical’, the amount of sound that a key generates from a mechanical key is hard for anyone trying to review and give definitive statements concerning this. How loud is “loud”?

Secondly, when we are talking of Actuation point, recoil, and force required feeling, and hearing a result, we are talking about tiny figures: How much force does it take to hit a plastic covered mechanical switch, when it has to travel approximately 1.5 mm? Without getting into the description of how to measure CentiNewtons of force, ask how close do the actuation and recoil points have to be? The differences are slight, but our incredibly sensitive fingertips DO feel a difference.

Why does it make sound?

There is a school of thought that says when your computer keyboard makes a sound: It is a satisfying and relaxing sound. Like the old days of typewriters, you hear that sound and feel that something is getting done, a job is being completed, and projects are moving forward. The more silent that the workplace has become in this regard is recognized as less satisfying as it used to be. The retro-sound of mechanical switch sounds is just better. If you don’t feel that way, then perhaps mechanical switches aren’t for you, and your co-workers or life-partner at home may or may not feel the same way as you do, so research this before deciding.

Time to Switch!

The range of color-coded switches does include definitive differences, but what is written below may not be how you as a personal user experience them. Without getting too technical, here is a broad outline:

Black – There is no tactile bump when the key actuates: Considered by some to be better for “gaming” than typing for that reason. You have also seen these used in Point-of-Sale terminals in retail locations. It is the stiffest of all colored switches, and everything gets easier to operate after this point.

Red – A variant of the Black, with no tactile bump but with lighter Actuation point, recoil, and force parameters.

As a group, these are known as Linear switches, and offer a smoother press and release. From here on in, the sound and bump of switches change, and –as a group – could be called “Clicky”. Their design adds a deliberately louder ‘click’ sound to the existing tactile bump, allowing for greater typing feedback. This makes it easier to know that you’ve hit the actuation point.

Blue – these are commonly used by typists, and feature a bump with only 5cN greater force than the linear switches noted above.

Brown – This switch is basically a ‘Blue’, but without the extra noise, and is one of the most popular switches for both typing and gaming. They are also ideal for typing in office environments, where a “Clicky” switch might annoy some. Many manufacturers of ergonomic keyboards feature these switches by default.

Clear – This one is considered a “firmer, slightly more tactile brown”. It is not a huge difference – about 15 Cn.

There are also switches of various shades available that ‘fill the gaps’ between these Linear or Tactile switches, but the differences between their tactile bump and volume are ever smaller. Most users won’t feel the differences.

Start with one of these ‘major five’, and do your research. If you haven’t used a mechanical switch keyboard before, it is impossible to “know” what a keyboard will be like for you based on reviews and You Tube movies. Try to make the best decision you can, based on what you can learn from others, then use it for a while before reading again. You will then recognize more of the subtleties that people are recommending and complaining about, and be better prepared to decide on the next best for you.

However, a good ‘rule of thumb’ in terms of ergonomics and comfort is to follow the most popular colored switch purchased today, and that is the Brown. Starting here may well mean you don’t have to move on to another test color, as the majority of people believe this has the best feel of any switch type. Especially if you spend a lot of time at your keyboard – and don’t we all?

Choosing the Best Ergonomic Keyboard

Truly_Ergonomic_Mechanical_Keyboard-227In the days before electric cars were as common as they are now, many Automobile manufacturers would jump on the ‘Green bandwagon’ by stating that their gasoline consumption was so slight, it effectively made their models greener than others. The same can be said these days for ergonomic keyboards. Although there are plenty of keyboards available today that state they are ‘Ergonomic’, for the most part this is purely Marketing. While manufacturers can claim that their keyboards a ‘more ergonomic’, this really means that they are better for you to use than their competition. It is a business claim, not a health claim. So how do you know that stating that a keyboard is ergonomic is a fact, rather than a cool design and hype?

Firstly, what makes a keyboard ergonomic?

Ergonomics is defined as: “a science that deals with designing and arranging things so that people can use them easily and safely”: says the Merriam-Webster dictionary (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ergonomics). From a keyboard point-of-view, this means a tool designed to avoid any movement or positioning of the hand and wrist that is awkward, cocked, or causes any discomfort.  By working in a position that is comfortable, users can help avoid Carpel Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) in the first place, and relieve any current symptoms they are experiencing. In fact, simply keeping the wrists flat, and ensuring that the hand is extended comfortably over a keyboard, makes it ergonomic.

Until the day comes when all keyboards promote this simple working, gaming, and communicating posture, there are actually very few ergonomic choices on the market for you.

How can you see an Ergonomic design?

The major difference between ergonomic keyboards and regular ones are the staggered alignment of the keys. Look at the keyboard in front of you, and if you have to flex your wrists to either direction to reach keys, then it is not an ergonomic keyboard. Even a millimeter from straight will cause your wrists to bend in awkward ways and users are forced into an unhealthy posture putting strains on their body when used repeatedly. So why are keyboards laid out in this uncomfortable fashion?

The regular keyboard’s staggered key layout is based on 19th century Typewriters. Originally typewriter keys had to be offset due to the position of the levers that the keys moved and operated the hammer onto the carbon roll.  Originators of the typewriter (Which goes back to the 1860’s!) found that it was impossible to have these levers on a grid format, so designed space in between them, which led to a staggered keyboard. This easily mass-produced design became the norm, and soon everyone just accepted that this was how keyboards operated. In fact, even today, keyboard users are simply accustomed to twisting their wrists to operate a regular keyboard, which leads to discomfort, injury, and pain over a working lifetime.

A flat keyboard, therefore, with a straight format of keys is the only purely ergonomic tool that users should be looking for.