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?

The Keys to your Working Comfort

Khail Mechanical Keys
Khail Mechanical Keys

Now that we are spending more and more time in front of our keyboards, the more comfortable you are, the better your experience will be. The more pleasant the time spent, the better the standard of work will be, and the more productive you will become. All of this is easy to conclude, of course, but how do you make your typing experience as wonderful as possible?

The answer lies in your own fingertips!

Your Fingers do the work.

The point of contact between you and the keyboard work that you are doing, or the global internet as a whole, are your fingertips. These incredibly sensitive body parts are actually pressing the keys on your keyboard, so if you are trying to find a better typing experience, then start here. There are more choices than you would think about what to use, so start thinking about what makes you more comfortable. Because the act of typing is so automatic to us, we don’t generally think about what can change in the micro-second between you pressing a key, and the symbol appearing on the screen, but the answer to that is the main reason for the selection of key-types available today. So, how does it feel to press those keys? What changes can you possibly search to make the process of typing ‘better’ for you? Here’s some history:

Rubber, Silicon, and Mechanics

For those of us that started out on typewriters, we know how much easier it is to type on electronic devices: Remember the force required to hit that typewriter key so that the metal arm threw itself at the paper with enough force to print on paper? Today’s keyboards don’t have to use that kind of pressure – now all you have to do is press the key with enough force to make two contacts meet each other under the keypad. Most keyboards are mass produced, so the cheapest way possible to manufacture these keyboards is the one that most well-known names go for.

 

The vast majority of keyboards on the market today feature a Rubber or Silicon dome that sits directly under the key that you see, and connect to the ‘works’ that lie under the keyboard. The visible part of the key is called the Key Cap. These are relatively expensive items that must deliver a long life. However, it is the switch below it that receives all of the trauma and shock of being pressed – or hit! – repeatedly over the life of the product. A much more cost effective method is to protect this switch with a simple rubber dome that sits under the Key Cap, and suffers the repeated shock of action time and time again. While the differences in the shape and thickness of the domes that the mass producer of your keyboard uses determines the travel distance, resistance, and tactile feedback of the switch, they are all built to eventually fail.

If you are looking for a better experience, there are keyboards that have mechanical switches: Rather than based on one contact pad below the keyboard, these switches have individual mechanisms underneath each key-cap, and require much less force to produce a result. Are these more expensive than rubber-domed switches? Of course, you are looking at buying a much more up-market product, with a longer life and better working action. If you are spending a lot of time writing, gaming, or communicating every day, then why not make the investment to create your best possible working environment?

 

How the Mechanics work.

Let’s get a little technical, here: In most cases the mechanical key is actuated (the keystroke is generated, and the message sent to the computer) halfway through the key travel distance. For example, the key may be capable of traveling 3 mm before hitting the bottom of the key-well, but the keystroke is generated after 1.5 mm, by the action of a lever next to the key. This is a double-edged sword, however. The user may experience a learning curve getting accustomed to these keys. They are used to a ‘full stop’ to their typing action, where the key ‘hits bottom’, and sends a signal to their fingers that the signal has been received by the computer. There is also a sound generated that also tells them that the action is complete: No-one wants to stare at the screen to see if the message has been correctly received, we just expect that it has. However, we have gotten used to this sound, so the choice of where the key bottoms out and the sound that it makes when that is finished is completely up to the operator. In other words, your decision to move to a mechanical key-operated keyboard is a personal one based on what you are accustomed to (I.e., one that feels and sounds like a regular rubber-domed switch), or – at the other side of the spectrum – one that has a ‘click’ sound, and has no push-back to your finger action.

Your preference will be somewhere on this spectrum, somewhere, so in our next post, we will discuss the different types of mechanical switches, and what they offer for you on that spectrum.

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.

Is it Time to ‘Switch’ your Keyboard?

Truly_Ergonomic_Mechanical_Keyboard-227The more that you investigate about keyboards, in order to find the ‘perfect one for you’, the more detailed info ration you will find. Pretty early on in this process, it will become obvious to you that a keyboard’s keys, and the mechanisms below them, tucked out of site of the users, are the most important components that you will need to learn more about. The real job is learning about the switches below those keys.

The Finger points

After all, these are the points that your body actually touches any keyboard. Your fingers are the conduits that your brain signals communicate through. It doesn’t matter if you write blog posts, specialist technical journals, or simple e-mails. If you are at all uncomfortable, it is your fingers that will feel it first. Any kind of pain or discomfort you feel at the contact point will soon grow into nerve pain through your palms, wrists, arms and back.

Whether or not you are investigating moving beyond the ‘off the rack’ keyboard that comes with your working or home computer, or interested on what different products are on the market, eventually you will look at the different kind of physical keys that there are on the market, and you will be faced with a decision: Do I buy Rubber-Domed or Mechanical switches?

The Rubber-Domed Switch

The vast majority of keyboards on the market today feature a Rubber or Silicon dome that sits directly under the key that you see, and connect to the ‘works’ that lie under the keyboard, and connect between action and the letter appearing in screen.

The visible part of the key is called the Key Cap. These are relatively expensive items that must deliver a long life. However, it is the switch below it that receives all of the trauma and shock of being pressed – or hit! – Repeatedly over the life of the product. A much more cost effective method is to protect this switch with a simple rubber dome that sits under the Key Cap, and suffers the repeated shock of action time and time again.

The differences in the shape and thickness of the domes that the mass producer of your keyboard uses determines the travel distance, resistance, and tactile feedback of the switch.

Being Mechanical

Mechanical key-switches are more elaborate and made in a better quality than other key-switch types.  In this system, each key has its own independent key-switch mechanism that will register when a key is pressed.

In most cases the key is actuated (the keystroke is generated, and sent to the computer) halfway through the key travel distance. For example, the key may be capable of traveling 3 mm before hitting the bottom of the key-well, but the keystroke is generated after 1.5 mm.

As there is no requirement to travel the full key travel distance when being operated,  typists enjoy the luxury of not pressing keys fully down, reducing the constant jarring action on fingertips when ‘bottoming out’ and associated unnecessary muscle action. Additionally, the constant use if these types of keys offer increasing resistance after the keystroke is generated, encouraging the user to stop pressing down the keycap and instead move on to the next keystroke. Finally, keycaps snap back to the starting position (i.e. up) more quickly than other key-switch types, facilitating faster typing speeds.

Of course, Mechanical key-switch keyboards are more expensive when initially bought, but their working life is much longer. Together with the lowered risk of injury caused by repetitive stress injury, you may want to investigate a keyboard with mechanical switches for a more pleasant working experience.

Thanks to Truly Ergonomic Ltd. for the use of a picture of their ergonomic, mechanical keyboard

Is it Time to ‘Switch’ your Keyboard?

worker stress funny

The more that you investigate about keyboards, in order to find the ‘perfect one for you’, the more detailed info ration you will find. Pretty early on in this process, it will become obvious to you that a keyboard’s keys, and the mechanisms below them, tucked out of site of the users, are the most important components that you will need to learn more about. The real job is learning about the switches below those keys.

The Finger points

After all, these are the points that your body actually touches any keyboard. Your fingers are the conduits that your brain signals communicate through. It doesn’t matter if you write blog posts, specialist technical journals, or simple e-mails. If you are at all uncomfortable, it is your fingers that will feel it first. Any kind of pain or discomfort you feel at the contact point will soon grow into nerve pain through your palms, wrists, arms and back.

Whether or not you are investigating moving beyond the ‘off the rack’ keyboard that comes with your working or home computer, or interested on what different products are on the market, eventually you will look at the different kind of physical keys that there are on the market, and you will be faced with a decision: Do I buy Rubber-Domed or Mechanical switches?

The Rubber-Domed Switch

The vast majority of keyboards on the market today feature a Rubber or Silicon dome that sits directly under the key that you see, connect to the ‘works’ that lie under the keyboard, and between keying action and the letter appearing in screen.

The visible part of the key is called the Key Cap. These are relatively expensive items that must deliver a long life. However, it is the switch below it that receives all of the trauma and shock of being pressed – or hit! – Repeatedly over the life of the product. A much more cost effective method is to protect this switch with a simple rubber dome that sits under the Key Cap, and suffers the repeated shock of action time and time again.

The differences in the shape and thickness of the domes that the mass producer of your keyboard uses determines the travel distance, resistance, and tactile feedback of the switch.

Being Mechanical

Mechanical key-switches are more elaborate and made in a better quality than other key-switch types.  In this system, each key has its own independent key-switch mechanism that will register when a key is pressed.

In most cases the key is actuated (the keystroke is generated, and sent to the computer) halfway through the key travel distance. For example, the key may be capable of traveling 3 mm before hitting the bottom of the key-well, but the keystroke is generated after 1.5 mm.

As there is no requirement to travel the full key travel distance when being operated,  typists enjoy the luxury of not pressing keys fully down, reducing the constant jarring action on fingertips when ‘bottoming out’ and associated unnecessary muscle action. Additionally, the constant use if these types of keys offer increasing resistance after the keystroke is generated, encouraging the user to stop pressing down the keycap and instead move on to the next keystroke. Finally, key-caps snap back to the starting position (i.e. up) more quickly than other key-switch types, facilitating faster typing speeds.

Of course, Mechanical key-switch keyboards are more expensive when initially bought, but their working life is much longer. Together with the lowered risk of injury caused by repetitive stress injury, you may want to investigate a keyboard with mechanical switches for a more pleasant working experience.