It has been a while since I started my search for a keyboard replacement/upgrade in order to improve my day-to-day computer related activities (mostly coding and shell). Of all the keyboards I tried, none seem to provide the fastest and easiest way to input program-specific symbols and characters.
That being said, I would almost always require a good stretch of fingers before I could swiftly input something like … }); . Expanding on this example, a standard keyboard would require the assistance of a Shift and possibly an Alt key - depending on the layout in use.
And so, with the goal set in mind, the long exploration started…
While doing my (re)search, I realized something interesting; there aren’t many keys I use on a standard keyboard - mostly alpha-numeric characters and some specific symbols. All the cool media keys, F-row, obscure symbols (¨, §, ° etc.) are almost never touched. And probably if you look at your own keyboard, you’ll notice more mileage in certain areas and close to none in others.
This observation made me think, why should I drag a bunch of extra keys I barely use?! Why occupy so much space and have my mouse positioned all the way to the right, developing additional tension on my right shoulder and wrists?!
Looking for answers and reading some blogs, a thought came to my mind: what better place to start looking other than data-entry communities?
As a side note, if you’re looking for a keyboard, here’s a hint - don’t ask programmers for tips, we don’t type that much (most of the time is spent reading code). Instead ask someone that does data-entry. Now these guys crunch the keys and know a lot more on the one tool they heavily rely on.
Continuing on, this research-path took me to (in my case) uncharted territories. I came across some new terms I hadn’t seen before; 60% and 40% keyboards, DIY etc. Then I realized some sub-categories like split ergonomic vs single block, ortholinear vs staggered.. I was hooked!
The keyboard wasn’t just a keyboard anymore. It’s a craft in it’s own league.
The more I think about it, I would probably give credit to the rise of 3D printers, people got really, really creative. If curious, just do a quick search and be amazed.
Finally, after some time spent reading blogs and experiences, I figured out what I wanted from a keyboard (phew!); something reliable, portable, highly customizable, ortholinear, no planned obsolescence, easily repairable, backlit… to cut it short - The PLANCK!
I won’t go over the history of the planck, you can find that online. Instead, I’ll give a short overview of how I use it and to what extent I was able to customize it.
When I first got the Planck ez, it looked like this:
This worked fine for a while but I felt the size was a bit too cramped for my hands.
Regardless of the size issue I was finally able to input the characters and symbols swiftly. Writing code was a real joy again! I ended up customizing the layers over and over until I had it fit just right. I’ll probably never go back to a keyboard I can’t customize to my liking!
The minor issue with the keyboard was solved by changing the layout, the physical key layout. I still wanted a bit of ergonomics while typing. The solution was to move the characters outward and do a “split” in between the keyboard. I just replaced the order of the default keycaps and remapped the letters, fairly straight forward.
That being said, after some months of use I would still recommend this keyboard. It is a portable and reliable keyboard. I also started the move to the Colemak layout and enjoy even more ergonomics while typing. No wrist, shoulder or finger pains!
The more I think about it, keeping healthy is important if I plan to type for years to come. Investing in this tool seems just right.
- As a revised update while getting up and running with the Planck, I made a layout switch too. You can read more about my experience with Colemak and Dvorak layouts.
Oh, and no one can spy on you typing in a password! The layers hide your custom mappings! :)
By the way, I’m keeping an eye on the Ergodox ez and Keyboardio split keyboards. Lots of interesting ideas out there.
For reference, here are some keyboard providers you might want to take a look at:
Ergodox-ez, Keyboard.io, Ultimate Hacking Keyboard, Kinesis, Keeb.io
2020-12-05 Update; I wrote a reflection on my longer experience and opinionated keyboard setup here.