I have an IBM Model M, but it is out for the count right now, and needs, probably a new membrane and so probably a bolt mod etc.
In the meantime, I need something to type on. I bought some keyboards to try. Actually, first of all I bought a cheap spare – the Logitech K120 due to its reputation for being quiet. This is useful for doing LP videos for those games that require a keyboard. I would also need a keyboard I can get some typing done on to serve me in the meantime.
I bought three keyboards.
Filco Majestouch-2 – £120
Cherry G80 – £82.80
Unicomp Classic – £100
Mine is a full sized keyboard and comes with blue Cherry switches.
First thing you’ll probably notice about the keyboard is the weight. Despite being one of those modern slim designs that has the case carefully cropped around the keys in a perfect slim rectangle it has a massive heft. This is because of the metal backplate on the keyboard. It is heftier than the other two keyboards I have, although doesn’t weigh more than the admittedly much larger Model M. Another nice feature is a backwards pointing cable with one of those rubber chunks on the end to stop damage to the cabling. The cable is dead center, which I’m not too keen on, but is not a big deal, and maybe even be preferred by some. It is also incredibly neat and well defined, much more so than the other keyboards which felt unfinished in their own right, but incredibly so in comparison to this one, which has a sublimely polished finish. It is also boxed in a more commercial way, whereas the other two keyboards came in plain brown boxes, the Filco arrived in a glossy colourful box, albeit one understated in comparison to an all-singing, all-dancing ‘gaming’ model, and is understated too with smaller and slightly italicised keycaps in a modern font. I don’t like the fact that the lettering on the keys is slightly raised, as I suspect this will wear eventually. Another downside is the lack of a proper vertical curve that I expect, although I’m sure most people wouldn’t even notice, but if it feels off, that might be why. Especially when doing something like alt-tab that has an oblique angle.
The switches themselves are fine and also polished in much the same way as the plastic is, with a flawless carried sound, and the backplate gives you something solid to hit keys against when you bottom out. The blues supply more than enough resistance whilst still feeling light. It’s a good feeling and the sound is consistent around the whole keyboard. N-key rollover didn’t really make a difference to me, and the keys feel a little smooshy when gaming, but overall, this is a damn fine keyboard, as to be honest, I’m expecting them all to be at this price range. This is definitely the nicest looking of the bunch and just is immaculately finished. Even to the point of having a slightly mottled texture on the keys, which is stronger on the spacebar for grip. The keys do feel a little thin compared to the other keyboards here.
The feet were nicely rubberised and seemed fairly robust, but personally I hate rubberised feet. Comfortable computer use is paramount, especially for those of us who suffer from RSI, having rubberised feet just makes it more awkward to shift position to stay comfortable.
The Cherry G80 is by the same company that makes the switches.
This is the lightest of the bunch, but does rather look the part. It is very light and uncomplicated, but inside has the exact same Cherry Blues that are also inside the much nicer looking, considerably more expensive Filco board. It doesn’t have a pull-safe cable and feels unfinished compared to the Filco. On the other hand it has its own charm, being friendly lettered, and with that curve that I like, with the cable sensibly off to one side. A cute little thing is that the Control keys actually say “Control”.
However, the typing action is simply less consistent and less nice than the Filco, it’s louder and I can feel a reverb that isn’t there on the metal backplated Filco board. I can also feel my error ratio going through the roof in comparison to the Filco. I just wouldn’t recommend this board over others. I was actually quite shocked that the same switches could feel so vastly different. The difference between the Filco and Cherry is vast, and not at all explained by the price, the Filco is nice, but is roughly in the same class as the Unicomp, but the G80 does not feel like £80-worth of keyboard.
Unicomp Classic Keyboard
Here we have a Unicomp keyboard with a clear lineage going all the way back to the Model M. It’s weighty, but less so than the Majestouch-2. Once you get over the fact that it looks a little messy and the plastics don’t feel like the high grade plastic on the nigh-indestructible Model M, you still have the buckling spring keyboard – if not a fantastic example of it. As expected of a board from that lineage, it is an absolute joy to type on. There is no smooshiness, and if you have typed a key, you damn well know that you have typed it. It is reassuringly loud and sounds a little machine gunny, but in a very pleasant way. The cable is by the side, but does unfortunately point down, and has none of the perfect polish of either the Filco or the Model M. Gaps between keys are uneven and some of the key edges are a little jaggy. Pressing around on the case makes an unpleasant creak (to an extent the Model M does too, due to design, the modern Filco is completely solid by comparison). To me the Unicomp is the one that feels the most right, but a curious thing happened once I moved from the Filco to the Unicomp, I made a couple of extra errors when typing. Curious. Once again I do blame the plastics – maybe a worn mold? – as I suspect the lack of rigidity in the board makes it feel ‘off’ and then causes less confident typing. Obviously getting used to the keyboard would mitigate that a bit over time, as it would on any board, really.
A big advantage that the Unicomp has over the more expensive Filco is that the keycaps on the Unicomp will not wear, using the same method as the Model M, the keycap lettering is embedded into the plastic so no worn-off letters, and the plastic is still higher grade than most other boards, feeling oodles more solid and wear resistant, the Filco’s keys feeling thin and barely there by comparison. I also much prefer the non-rubberised and more sturdy feet of the Unicomp.
The main thing that annoys me about the Filco isn’t really the Filco’s fault. It’s people’s advice about key switches. The Blues are always advised as the choice for typing, with people recommending others for gaming, but I see no such divide perhaps except for noise. I game with a buckling spring keyboard and I see absolutely no reason to not except for when I’m recording LP videos. However I think blues aren’t very suited to gaming and perhaps to light typists as well. Which reminds me of an aside I wanted to make.
Touch typing is when you can type by touch, where you know where all the keys are by feel and don’t need to look at the keyboard constantly to hit the right keys and know which keys are where.
And that is all it means. Wikipedia goes on to say that Touch typing typically involves placing the eight fingers in a horizontal row along the middle of the keyboard (the home row) and having them reach for other keys. Which is nonsense, almost every typist uses their own method, who has formal typing training these days? But anyway, yes, touch typing is emphatically not using a formal typing method, touch typing is not using each finger evenly as you type, touch typing is not typing fast, Wikipedia cites the famous study showing that informal typing styles people have self-developed are just as effective as the formal style. And touch typing is most definitely not typing so lightly that you don’t bottom out the keys when you type. Typing fast always involves a trade-off between accuracy and speed, and making sure you press the keys hard enough to actuate at 50g of force, but not enough to bottom out at 60g is a bizarre myth that keyboard enthusiasts spread. I have literally never encountered a single fast typist who doesn’t bottom out the keys. Although I’m sure there must be one somewhere just to be the exception.
Back to Conclusion
So the reason blues aren’t suited to gaming but buckling springs work is that buckling springs have a reset point at the actuation point, by which I mean the way to repeat the character is to make the spring buckle again, by lifting it and pressing it again. Every time you hear a click, you’ve typed a character. But with a Cherry Blue, the reset point is above the actuation point, so you can re-press a key without hearing / feeling the click. To me this rather defeats the purpose of the audio feedback. So the advice I got was to use Blues and avoid Browns. However, with Browns the actuation point and reset points are very much the same. With the blues trying to quickly double-tap feels very off, but for most typing they’re fine, and the implementation of Blues on the Filco is second to none. I’m eager to try some Browns, so I’ve ordered a second Filco to see if this fixes my problem with it. As well as getting a version that keeps the key lettering on the front to mitigate wearing off the keycaps. With those concerns out of the way, the Filco has the potential to outshine the Unicomp. But we’ll see when I get the Brown-switched version.
The keyboard I bought in addition to try out was the US layout (I’m actually more used to the US layout – wish I could buy a Unicomp in US without resorting to importing) brown-switched Ninja version of the Majestouch-2. The Ninja version is interesting for two things, you can either get completely blank keycaps or you can get keycaps which are front-printed. I went for the front-printed keys. The other interesting thing is that the keys themselves are actually nicer and thicker than the thin-feeling standard keys on the unsubtitled Majestouch-2. If you don’t find the lack of labelled keycaps too weird / distracting, I’d say go for them. I was certainly right about the brown key switches in terms of niceness with regards to having an actuation and reset point very close together. It means you always know when a keypress has occurred. However, I found myself getting a higher rate of accidental keystrokes because the force needed to actuate the keys was just too low. Higher tension switches would of course mitigate that, but you simply can’t buy keyboards with the more exotic switch types in them here. You pretty much need to build your own and that can be prohibitively expensive.
After all that, I’m sticking with the typing action of the Unicomp which for £20 less than the Filco has much nicer keys and dye sublimated keys so they’ll basically never wear at all. However, were I able to buy a Filco with higher tension brown-type switches for quiet, or better yet, capacitive buckling spring for sheer typing pleasure I’d go for one in a heartbeat.
Photography by Studious Octopus.