A blogpost by our dear colleague Pierre
When you spend most of your days typing on a computer keyboard, you need to find the right peripheral for you and your hands, as the health of your fingers and wrists might depend on it. Even your productivity might be impacted by it. Even though Zucker. describes itself as a lifestyle agency, we pride ourselves in being somewhat geek and nerdy: we are always on the look-out for the latest technologies on the market, not only because it is important for us to stay relevant, but also because this might help our employees in their daily worklife.
At the moment, the market is all about mechanical keyboards, but other criteria than the sole type of keys should be taken into account before picking up a keyboard for your newly setup home office. Ergonomics are still an important factor, because your keyboard should fit your hands, yes, but new factors such as portability also have become more prominent. In case you are wondering “But why should I carry around my 60cm long keyboard?”, well, give us some time to demonstrate. But first a two-minute intro on what is a mechanical keyboard.
What are these mechanical keyboards everyone is talking abpout?
If you ask around the Zucker. office, everybody knows what a mechanical keyboard is. Or at least what it sounds like, because one of our employees has been testing the latest innovations in that field in the office and some mechanical keyboards can be extremely loud on purpose, for the users to get a clear note that their input has been taken into account. That’s one of the main reasons why these keyboards are particularly popular amongst gamers, who were, as always, the primary target of that innovation in the field of PC peripherals.
This type of keyboards has a lot of advantages for anyone who spends a lot of time typing, be it for writing a concept, proofreading a press release, translating advertising material or coding an app or a website. If we were to name only three, we would point out accuracy, typing comfort and fast key return allowing for increased typing speed. But what’s the difference with the good old basic keyboard you used for years? Without going too much into details, your keyboard , which should be a so-called membrane keyboard, has each and every single one of its keys connected to one of the domes of a single membrane, meaning that all your keys are somewhat connected to one another and sending signals through a single channel. On the other hand, on a mechanical keyboard, each key is connected to an individual switch that sends its own signal independently of what happens around it. These switches are at the core of the marketing battle between hardware manufacturers because they can be customized and changed based on the needs of the user.
Bleu, blanc, rouge for Bastille Day
Because yes, the needs of the users are at the heart of the switch technology and different types of switches are meeting different sets of needs. They are separated in color groups, each with singular benefits or meeting specific needs. Two companies, Cherry and Kailh, are dominating the market at the moment, but both companies make sure that the color code between their products remains coherent to avoid the same colour being used by the first company for a hard and clicky switch and a soft and quiet one by the other. They are also sorted in three different sub-categories: clicky (which are rather self-explanatory: those are the ones your colleagues will blame unfortunate life-threatening office accidents on), tactile (a moderate press is sufficient to activate the key, you do not need to press it all the way) and linear (switches you need to press all the way to register the stroke, similar to the feeling of a membrane keyboard).
Let us introduce some of the most suitable colors for the office life.
Black switches are particularly popular in business environments. Due to their high resistance (you need to apply 60g of pressure to activate the switch), they reduce the risk of typing characters inadvertently because of an overly sensitive key. They are also on the rather quiet side of things. However, if you are really spending eight hours a day typing walls of text, they might not be the best fit for you, as they can end up causing finger fatigue more quickly than other switches.
Brown switches are very popular, especially because of how versatile they are. They are the most neutral switches on the market and are well suited for tasks that require a lot of writing. They fall in the category “Tactile”, meaning you do not have to press the key all the way to register your hit, making for a great tool to increase your typing speed, at the price of typing accuracy as it is easier to activate the wrong key. The low resistance of brown switches, especially the Cherry ones with less than 45g, reduces finger fatigue and not having to press the key all the way makes it quiet enough to be used in offices without disturbing colleagues too much.
Red switches are the most used. These linear switches only require a force of 45 grams to be activated, making them an excellent choice for writing. The keys are also very quiet, especially the Silent Red variety available at Cherry, which enhances their ability to blend in with a work environment. Your colleagues will never know what hit them.
But what do you recommend?
That’s an excellent question, and you might be surprised after that lengthy introduction but we will not only recommend mechanical keyboards. They are great peripherals, do not get us wrong, but they do not necessarily meet every single need one can have in the office or even in a on-the-go office situation. Moreover, membranes keyboards have been around forever, and the mechanical trend is not here to make them irrelevant just yet. In the end, it’s all about what you need! Therefore, here is a selection of keyboards that can be all be relevant under different circumstances.
For the most prolific: Das Keyboard Model S Professional Soft Tactile MX Brown Mechanical Keyboard
This is widely recognized as one of the best typing keyboards out there. Many reviews describe it as a typist’s dream come true. This version uses brown switches to make sure your typing is on par and doesn’t bother your colleagues (be careful, there is also a clicky version with blue switches!). With a price point at around 150€, this is a high-end keyboard that will last you for years if you take good care of it. It is part of the design: we all know the pain of a key fading away to the point you can’t read what’s on it, Das Keyboard engraved their keys with a laser to make sure this never ever happens to you.
For the clumsiest: TOMOKO Mechanical Gaming Keyboard
The most interesting thing about this keyboard is probably its very affordable price; it’s the perfect example of “good-looking, efficient, qualitative cheap”, which makes it the ideal keyboard for someone who wants to try writing on a mechanical keyboard without spending too much money. It is also liquid-proof, which can come in handy if, for example, you tend to spill your coffee a lot – it even has a drain integrated in the casing to evacuate the liquid spilled into the keyboard more easily. Please note however that it sports blue switches, which are on the clicky side, but this might be a necessary sacrifice for the clumsiest employees to avoid driving their IT guy mad.
For the most optimizing: Kinesis Freestyle Pro Quiet
You might be wondering why we showcase this monstrosity here. Well, for a very simple reason, it might open your eyes on how bad your posture in front of the screen is. Splitting your hands to type definitely will lead to some days of rewiring, but the result will be extremely worth it as you will realize that some of your shoulders and back pains were connected to you cramping your hands on a tiny keyboard. The Freestyle Pro exists with brown switches, but the Quiet version rocks the Silent Red switches that are barely making any noise. The price point is high for this keyboard, as equipped with all the accessories necessary to use it in the best conditions (wrist rests, tent module), it costs over 200€, but trying it is such an eye-opener that you will not regret the investment if you regularly suffer from shoulder or upper-back pain.
For the most addicted to their tablets and smartphones: Logitech K780 Multi-Device
This is a membrane keyboard, but its use is so specific that we couldn’t find a mechanical equivalent. Some people work mostly on their phones and tablets, as they are always moving around an office and taking their laptop with them. That somehow thin and small keyboard allow them to connect up to three devices, including a PC or Mac, with a wireless receiver or Bluetooth, allowing them for instance to take meeting minutes on their tablet while responding to emails on their phones in parallel. Switching from one device to another is extremely easy, with keys dedicated to that effect directly implemented on the keyboard. Only downside in our view would be the fact that it runs on standard AAA batteries, that need to be regularly changed, generating a bit more waste than it should.
For the most nomad: Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard
A personal favorite that has travelled with us around the globe and will be a faithful companion for hopefully many more years to come. It is very similar in spirit to the Logitech we mentioned just before, except it cannot be connected to a proper PC or Mac. You can only connect it to a Bluetooth peripheral, such as a phone or a tablet. It is meant to be carried with you everywhere, it fits easily in every backpack (it is only 5mm thick when folded) and will quickly become your best friend to write longer notes on the go, on a plane or train ride for instance. This keyboard itself made it possible for us to simply ditch carrying around a laptop and to work only from a smartphone. This is also a membrane keyboard, but ours has seen millions of strokes over the course of the last few years and is still in top shape.
For the most sustainable (with a touch of patriotic fiber): Cherry Stream Keyboard
Peripherals are always a problematic topic when it comes to having a sustainable approach. They are greedy in resources, they are made of plastic, they can be extremely fragile, replacing parts is often impossible. However, some manufacturers are starting to develop a different approach and to look differently at how they produce and handle their products. We could have mentioned ZSA, an American company specialized in ergonomic keyboards that doesn’t subcontract the build of its keyboards but has some of their own employees, based in Taiwan, assemble the keyboards. But we found something a bit more local, and not just anybody: Cherry, the manufacturer of the switches we discussed at length earlier, is a German company that has been working with several entities specialized in sustainability to develop a more conscious approach to the design, the life and the after-life of their products. Some of their peripherals have received the seal of the Blauer Engel, proof that they are actively trying to change things for the better, from green procurement to environmentally-sound and energy efficient production, to near-complete recycling of the products at the end of their lifecycle. The Stream is one of these keyboards: it is definitely not the most fancy one, it doesn’t even use the mechanical keys its manufacturer is known for, it is definitely on the affordable side of things with prices oscillating between 20 and 30€. However, it does the job for office life, with all the necessary keys and functions you might need, including the useful multimedia keys to keep control of your “Work work work” playlist at your fingertips. On top of that, you can even pick either a black or a white version of it and the strokes are extremely quiet.
So yeah, now you know a bit more about keyboards and you can potentially go complain to your IT manager with some slang to justify your claim for a better keyboard that actually aligns with your professional needs, your physical necessities or your personal opinions. We presented to you only a few of the thousands of keyboards available out there. You might find a better fit on your own, you might already have found the keyboard of your dream. In France, there’s a saying that goes “You recognize a good worker at their toolbox”. It is no different for your peripherals.
This was only the first of a series of tech articles presenting a 2020 status-quo in terms of office peripherals. Keyboards was only the beginning; we still have to discuss mice and screens at the very least!
A post by Pierre Poinsenet