Our fearless leader on Brexit, new keyboards & more
It’s been a few months since I wrote for the blog, and what a few months… It seems we are now heading towards an exit from the EU.
As a rule I would avoid anything political on here but I felt it worth a mention as we are dealing with people all around Europe and all around the world.
As a company we intend to continue to do our utmost for our customers in Europe and we will redouble those efforts. It is unlikely that the political details will be sorted out for some time and it seems likely that trading in electronics will be largely unaffected even if we were to trade on WTO terms. Ultimately, we see no reason to change tack.
The currency situation has been the most noticeable effect of the vote to date and this is not all bad. It is currently the case that anyone buying from overseas is getting a discount of about 10%. This is helping sales so the early signs are promising. Please feel free to get on and bag a bargain!
So I feel it is all the more important now that we ensure we have the very best range of keyboards to offer and that we support this with first class service. Elsewhere in the newsletter you will see we have some excellent new keyboards on offer and we are continually looking to add to the range. Recent additions like the Filco Convertible wireless model and the Ergo Pro from Matias are already amongst our best sellers.
You’ll see that I have been having some fun with the guys from TechRadar chatting about keyboards. They were really interested to know more about what it is that makes us enjoy some keyboards more than others – particularly when it comes to mechanical switch models. We chatted about the ways we interact with our keyboards and how our fingers and brains work together when we type. It’s all on the video here.
If you happen to be in Birmingham this Thursday, the 29th, we will be at the St Andrews Stadium, home to Birmingham City Football Club, for Midlands Expo 2016. Come along and say hi.
We’re happy to announce that The Keyboard Company will be attending the Midlands Expo on Thursday 29th September! The show runs from 9:30 AM to 3:00 PM at Birmingham City FC, St Andrews Stadium.
We’ll have a booth set up with a range of mechanical keyboards, ergonomic accessories and much more. Visit us and try out some mechs before you buy, and have a chat with Bruce and the rest of the KeyboardCo team!
Everyone who visits the stand will get a free entry into our giveaway for a Filco MiniLa worth £114! This small form factor mechanical keyboard has been one of our most popular sellers, and it’s great for working home or away.
Entry to the Midlands Expo is absolutely free, and you can register online here. As well as the Keyboard Company, there are some interesting speakers from across the business world, interactive workshops and a legion of other exhibitors. It should be a blast!
Even if you’re not that interested in business, it’s a great chance to try out new mechanical keyboards and be in with a chance of winning one too! Plus, you can probably get the day off work if you say that you’re going to a business expo! 😉
Be sure to come on down and say hello — we’ll see you there! For more information on the show, check out the official website.
Our fearless leader Bruce recently starred in a video on ‘the subliminal appeal of mechanical keyboards’ that was produced by tech pub legends TechRadar. If you haven’t seen it yet, take a look — we’ve embedded it below. How many old school keyboards can you spot, and which is your favourite? We’d love to hear your thoughts too, so please share them below!
Today, we’re taking a look at the latest from Matias: the Wireless Aluminum Keyboard. This keyboard is designed as a full format alternative to the Apple Wireless Keyboard, offering a similar style but with Bluetooth and a number pad. They’re arrived in stock at KeyboardCo, so let’s go hands-on and have a look!
Our first impressions
The first thing you’ll notice is how solid this keyboard feels in your hands. It’s made from a single piece of aluminium, giving it impressive rigidity and strength. It’s cool to the touch as you take it out of the box, and warms up nicely as you begin to type away.
Under the fingers, this Matias keyboard feels very similar to Apple’s own. There’s a good amount of travel in the keys, and the low profile keycaps make it easy to glide around the keyboard at some speed.
There are function keys at the top for performing common commands like raising the volume or adjusting your screen brightness, and of course there’s that full number pad on the right hand side. This is brilliant for anything that requires typing numbers often, like math work, spreadsheets or data entry.
It’s a standard Mac layout, but it will work with Windows, Android and other operating systems too — you’ll just need to ignore some of the legends on the keys!
On your desk, the Matias Wireless Aluminum Keyboard is just as pretty as Apple’s model, and pairs nicely with an Apple Magic Trackpad or Magic Mouse. There are a few keyboards that attempt to mimic Apple’s aesthetic, but Matias get it dead on, and back it up with quality materials and a sensible design.
The Wireless Aluminum keyboard is available in four colours in US layout; this is the silver model. The other options are gold, rose gold and space grey — which you might recognise as the current colour options for the iPhone, iPad and MacBook. If you want a perfectly matching keyboard, we’ve got you covered. We’ve also got the UK layout model in silver.
You get a Micro USB charging cable in the box, and you’re encouraged to let the keyboard charge fully before starting to use it. That’s sensible advice, so I left the keyboard plugged in for a few hours, until the amber light on the Caps Lock key disappeared. Once charged, the keyboard should last a year before needing another top-up, so this initial wait is pretty understandable.
Once it’s ready to go, you just need to pair it with your device — which can be an iPhone, an iPad, a Mac laptop or desktop, a Windows PC of any description, or even an Android phone or tablet. Simply turn on the keyboard via the on/off switch on its back, then press and hold one of the four pairing keys above the numberpad. This key will start flashing blue to let you know it’s ready to pair, and then you pair as you normally do on your device of choice.
The process takes only a few seconds, and once pairing is complete you can re-engage the connection by pressing one of these Bluetooth keys again. There are four in all, so you can store four Bluetooth connections simultaneously and switch between different devices with ease. If it sounds complicated, it’s really not, and it’s all explained very carefully in the instruction card that accompanies the keyboard.
The Matias Wireless Aluminum keyboard is a nice addition to any desk. It’s stylish, well-designed and gets the job done. Because it’s Bluetooth, you can use it with basically every device you own, from laptops and desktops to smartphones and tablets. If you’re looking for a full-size keyboard with a number pad and you like Apple’s style, this is a great choice.
The Matias Wireless Aluminum Keyboard is available now at KeyboardCo. Choose the colour of your choice to see more information and get one for yourself!
It’s long been my dream to make my own keyboard. Almost every day it seems that there’s someone new on Twitter or Reddit that’s produced a gorgeous custom keyboard, and I can only marvel at the self-made layouts, beautiful engineering and exotic materials used in their construction. This week though, I got a little closer to my dream as I built my own (tiny) keyboard. It’s available as a kit from KeyboardCo, and it’s called the Max Keyboard Falcon-8.
The Falcon-8 requires a little construction before it’ll work, but you’re given everything you need to get started inside the box — apart from a soldering iron.
(We’ll also offer the Falcon-8 pre-assembled in the future, if you’d prefer.)
There’s the board itself, a collection of switches (in your choice of colours), some matching transparent keycaps, LEDs and a case. There’s also a micro USB cable to connect the board to your PC, some screws and some little plasticky stickers.
The first step of preparing the Falcon-8 for use is to put it together. This is pretty easy — just place the circuit board into the metal case, add screws to secure it, then cover the screws with some rubbery feet to ensure the finished product doesn’t skitter around your desk. Then it’s time to pop in the switches, and your keyboard is starting to look complete.
After that, it’s time to get out your soldering iron! I picked one up off Amazon for about £15, and it came with some solder and different tips. You could also use a stand and sponge, and either a solder sucker or braid to remove solder if you get things a bit wrong.
Now I’ve never used a soldering iron before, so I was a little scared of using it on a keyboard (even a tiny one designed to be built this way). Thankfully, it’s pretty simple stuff; as long as you keep the hot tip away from everything but the solder, you can’t go too far wrong. The solder naturally forms cute little cones over the connections to the switch, so it’s just a case of adding a bit of solder in approximately the right area, then moving onto the next bit. All told, it took me only a couple of minutes to do all sixteen connections.
Next is the somewhat trickier bit: adding the LEDs. You need to push an LED into each switch, then hold it in place while you’re soldering the two pins to the board.
The board remains upside-down at this point, so gravity will want to pull the LEDs back out of the switch. Remember this, and keep the LEDs in position until the solder has hardened, or you’ll end up with LEDs that sit too high up and bash into the keycap when it’s depressed! You also need to ensure that your two piles of solder remain separated, so be sparing with the amount that you use.
Once soldered, the excess metal is clipped from the ends. I ended up using good old metal fatigue as I couldn’t be bothered to fetch my clippers, and I ended up with slightly jagged edges. Don’t be lazy like me; do this properly!
Once the solder has dried, you’re good to go! Add your keycaps and connect up the keyboard to your PC, and test to make sure all the keys work (I used VLC on a multi-song playlist to test each button’s default bindings, shown below).
n.b. If you’re removing or changing keycaps, remember to wiggle them as you pull them off. I ended up having to replace one switch after I pulled its cap off a little too hard; the keycap remained in place but the inside portion of the switch came out of its housing! Whoops.
The Falcon-8 comes out of the box with some useful functions already pre-programmed: media keys! The diagram below shows the layout, incorporating volume and playback controls. You can launch your media player, skip back and forth, turn up for what, etc etc.
Changing these bindings is extremely easy. You just have to move a jumper on the bottom of the board, press the rest button twice, and start up the Progamming / Configurator app (I used version 2.1, available here) for Windows.
Then, it’s just a case of selecting which key you want to reconfigure, and choosing its new function. You can make it mirror any key on the keyboard, as well as set up more complex macros. You could also set up macros in something like AutoHotkey, if you preferred. Once you’re done, reset the Falcon-8 and switch the jumper back over, and you’re good to go.
Either way, it’s pretty easy to get basic functions going, and it’s deep enough that you can perform quite complicated actions once you get your head around the programming interface.
The Falcon-8 comes with backlighting for all eight keys. By default these flash rhythmically, but you can choose to keep them on all the time, react to your key presses, extinguish them altogether and more. There’s a small button on the underside of the board that switches between different modes.
Now that it’s complete, the Max Keyboard Falcon-8 remains proudly on my desk, where I’m using it to add macro keys to my small form factor keyboard and control the volume on my PC. I also installed five different MX switches, making it a good switch tester as well. Despite my amateur soldering, it’s working great and the metal case ensure it feels solid too. Awesome.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at building, programming and using the Falcon-8 from Max Keyboard and KeyboardCo! I certainly had a lot of fun building it, and I’m excited to see what these boards will be used for in the future. It’s also made me more confident in my abilities, and I feel better prepared for making my own custom board in the future. Cool stuff all around.
Thanks for checking out the article. Be sure to let us know what you thought in the comments, or talk to us on our regular social media channels. Thanks again and enjoy the rest of your week!
As a translator, I spend many hours a day at my computer, yet for years I didn’t give my keyboard a second thought. I switched happily between a basic external keyboard – the sort that comes bundled with a desktop computer – and my laptop keyboard when I was out and about. After all, I thought, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Six months ago, I was asked to give a webinar on typing tips for translators (on touch typing, shortcuts and other time-saving solutions) and I exchanged a few emails on keyboards and layouts with The Keyboard Company experts, who casually mentioned that “mechanicals are like the old car advert… Once driven, forever smitten”. Fascinated to discover what I had been missing all these years, I bought a Filco Majestouch-2.
Remember what it’s like when you buy a new kitchen knife? You suddenly realise how blunt your old knives are. I’d spent years typing on a mushy keyboard, not realising how much effort I had to make for each keypress. I wasn’t getting any aches or pains and I could type fairly fast on it (I average about 75 words per minute). Why splash out on a new keyboard if you’re getting on OK with your present one?
Well, a membrane keyboard gets harder to type on as time goes by because the rubber domes under each key get stiffer. It happens gradually so you’re not aware of the change. It’s a bit like putting on weight: you don’t notice until you get on the scales one day or try to squeeze into last year’s jeans.
Mechanical keyboards are completely different. From the very first test run, I was smiling. If you’ve ever tried mechanical switches, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
The Cherry MX Brown switches are a joy to type on. They have a bright, crisp feeling, with a slight bump (tactile feedback) to tell you when the keypress has registered just half way through the key travel. That’s totally different from a membrane keyboard, where you have to press each key right down to the base (bottoming out, as the experts say). With a mechanical keyboard you can type more lightly. It was actually quite hard not to bottom out the keys on my Filco to begin with, but after a few days I’d learnt to exert just the right pressure. I don’t think I’m typing faster now, but I’m definitely typing more lightly.
What about the noisy reputation that mechanical keyboards have? Well, for a start, many freelance translators work from home and not in an office, so there’s not much of a chance of bothering coworkers (unless you count your cat). On the other hand, I was a bit concerned that the clicky keys might invade the peace of my silent home office. Fortunately it hasn’t bothered me at all. I know brown switches are quieter than others (blue being the noisiest), but I actually find the rhythmic clatter quite conducive to keeping up a good translating pace.
I wanted a keyboard with a Spanish layout. It’s easy to switch input language with Windows and I can key in an ñ or an é without looking down, but with an English layout I confuse curly brackets, asterisks and other rarely-used symbols. The Filco Majestouch-2 comes in a wide range of languages, so it was a perfect choice for me.
For professional translators who have a keyboard at their fingertips all day, the extra cost of a mechanical keyboard should be a minor consideration in their work set-up. We invest in the latest software and up-to-date hardware components; a good quality keyboard should go hand in hand with those investments. If you calculate the cost per year of keyboard life, the investment is actually minimal.
The downside is that mechanical keyboards seem to have more teething problems than others, and I was unlucky that I had to return my first Filco due to occasional keystroke issues.
The upside is that a mechanical keyboard is an investment that will last. They have a longer lifespan than their membrane counterparts, which is good news for translators who crunch their way through 2-3 million keystrokes a year.
The acid test
After several months, I went back to my old Logitech membrane keyboard, just out of interest. It was stodgy and tiring to type on. After just half an hour, I could feel the finger fatigue. Honestly, I cannot believe I ever thought this was comfortable.
What keyboards do other translators use?
You’d think that most translators would be mechanical keyboard fans. Or that they’d go down another road and use ergonomic keyboards.
Well, you’ll be surprised to learn that just 3% use mechanical switches and only a small proportion, 17%, use ergonomic keyboards.*
* Data from a survey carried out in January 2016 among 817 translators
Why so few?
I’d love to find out why so few translators use mechanical keyboards. Is it the expense? Is it because they’ve simply never tried one out?
Please drop a comment below with your thoughts on this. Which keyboard do you use and why?
And if you’re not a translator, but would like to share your favourite keyboard and the reasons you chose it, I’d love to hear from you too!
Emma Goldsmith is a freelance Spanish to English medical translator who made a career switch from nursing some 25 years ago. She translates a wide range of texts, from cardiology research articles in medical journals to the leaflets that come in medicine boxes. Find out more about her at goldsmithtranslations.com.
With a good keyboard beneath your fingers, typing is a joyful experience. Particularly when you pick up a new keyboard — or upgrade an old one — you just want to type for hours. You could write that novel you’ve always had in the back of your head… but how about some games instead? Here are a selection of our favourites.
Epistory is billed as ‘an atmospheric adventure typing game’, where you sit atop a magical three-tailed fox and explore beautifully drawn landscapes. Exploring a paper-craft fantasy world, you type words to defeat monsters, unlock new areas and bash open treasure chests. It’s a relaxing experience, right up unto the point that monsters start pouring out of the woods and only machine-gun-style typing will push them back.
The game starts slow, with three or four-letter words, but intelligently ramps up in difficulty to match your abilities. You can upgrade your vulpine mount’s speed, set monsters ablaze or pinpoint areas of interest, each new ability bringing new tactical possibilities.
While the typing action is a satisfying test of your abilities, the world itself is the biggest draw here. The beautiful origami art style, occasional voice over from the protagonist and haunting music all add to the atmosphere. Of all the games on this list, it’s Epistory that I’m going to back to and finish — I need to know what happens!
ZType is a typing space shoot-’em-up, where you have to defeat waves of alien invaders with rapid typing skills. The retro graphics and sound effects fit the theme well, and the action ramps up smoothly to accommodate novices and challenge experts.
Unique among its peers, ZType is available on phones and tablets as well as on the web. This is achieved through a clever keyboard software embedded in the game, which allows you to type at speeds resembling a full keyboard. Of course, you can also use a Bluetooth mechanical keyboard if you really want to hit that high score.
The Typing of the Dead is a classic game from ’99, first on arcade machines and most famously on the Sega Dreamcast. A simple conversion of a light gun arcade shooter called House of the Dead, you’re tasked with typing out words and phrases to dispatch on-screen (mostly zombified) opponents and progress through each plot-light, action-heavy episode.
Overkill is a modern remake for PCs, and it provides a pretty decent workout for your fingers. The developers have made plenty of DLC too, so once you get tired of the (fairly substantial) base game, you can check out themed collections on the topics of science fiction, television, Shakespeare and many more.
Be warned that the game is largely NSFW, thanks to both profanity and violence. It’s available on Steam for £14.99
Sometimes the classics are the best. Type Racer is one of the best-known typing games, a multiplayer web game that challenges you to write a passage of text as quickly as you can manage. You’ll see your car zip across the screen as you go, and there’s a lot of pressure to keep pace with the other racers in your game. As well as randomised multiplayer matches, you can also challenge your friends or practice in a single-player mode.
N-key rollover is commonly cited as an advantage of choosing a mechanical keyboard over a rubber dome alternative, but the concept often isn’t well explained. In this article, we’ll explain what we mean by rollover, how keyboard rollover is classified and show you how to test rollover for yourself. We’ll also give some hints on what you should look for when you’re buying a new keyboard.
What does rollover mean?
Rollover is simply how well your keyboard can correctly register multiple keys being pressed simultaneously. When typing slowly, you’re probably typing one key after another, but if you’re writing more quickly or playing a game, it’s very likely that you’ll be holding down, pressing and releasing multiple keys simultaneously. Musical instrument emulation and Plover (a stenotype software) also require many keys to be pressed simultaneously, and therefore require sufficient rollover.
How are keyboards classified in terms of rollover?
Not all keyboards are created equal when it comes to rollover. Where one keyboard might be able to handle half a dozen or more inputs, others might struggle to correctly recognise three keys pressed simultaneously.
Rollover is quantified as n-key rollover, where n is the minimum number of keys that can be correctly registered when pressed simultaneously. This is often written in its short form KRO. For example, 2–key rollover becomes 2KRO.
Many inexpensive keyboards have only 2KRO, while higher-end keyboards (and many mechanical keyboards) have 6KRO or higher. If a keyboard can register all of its keys being pressed simultaneously, then this is called NKRO.
Note well that this limit doesn’t include modifier keys like Ctrl, Alt, Win or Shift.
Note also that not all 2KRO keyboards are equal, as their rollover may be quite different (or optimised towards different expected usages). For example, a 2KRO keyboard marketed towards gamers might take extra care to ensure that the commonly used WASD movement keys don’t cause rollover issues, allowing it to perform better when playing games that use these keys than keyboards built for general purpose use.
What happens if you exceed a keyboard’s rollover limit?
Two things can potentially go wrong if you press more keys simultaneously than a keyboard can handle.
The first is called ghosting, where a unpressed key is erroneously registered as having been pressed. For example, on a 2KRO keyboard, pressing down three keys simultaneously might cause four key presses to be registered.
Modern keyboards include ‘anti-ghosting’, a feature which essentially blocks additional keys from being registered once the rollover limit has been reached. Here, when three keys are pressed on our 2KRO keyboard, only two are registered, and the third one is blocked. This is why anti-ghosting is also called blocking or jamming.
How do I test rollover?
Rollover can be tested using apps that you download or run online. Run the program, and press and hold an increasing number of keys. Ensure that each key is correctly shown on-screen when pressed and released.
It’s important to test as many key combinations as you can. Keys next to each other are often prone to not being recognised, so these make good targets. It also makes sense to test for the combinations that you’re likely to use. An FPS gamer, for example, might hold W, D, Q, Shift and Space.
It’s important to remember that rollover is a minimum, not a maximum. If your keyboard can correctly register some six key combinations, but it can’t correctly register one three key combination, then it is a 2KRO keyboard, not a 6KRO keyboard.
For a long time, keyboards could only achieve NKRO over the older PS/2 connector. This is why some mechanical keyboards come with a USB to PS/2 adapter in the box, even as PS/2 ports started to disappear from computers. If your keyboard comes with a PS/2 adapter and is marketed as having NKRO, you’ll almost certainly need to use that adapter to achieve full NKRO on your machine.
Recently, more mechanical keyboards are able to offer NKRO over USB, often using the full-speed USB standard. These keyboards often come with a DIP switch or key that switches between 6KRO and NKRO, as the NKRO mode sometimes doesn’t work in non-Windows operating systems or in a computer’s BIOS.
If your keyboard comes with NKRO over USB, ensure that the NKRO mode is turned on and test it using the programs linked above to ensure it’s working.
What should I look for in a new keyboard?
6KRO is enough for rapid typists, competitive gamers and computer users of all types. There are some rare exceptions though — like two people using one keyboard, extremely rapid music games, music emulation or stenography. For these users, NKRO keyboards, whether over PS/2 or USB, may be worth looking for.
Most mechanical keyboards come with 6KRO or higher, while most rubber dome keyboards have less, but there are rare exceptions in both directions. If the rollover isn’t stated on the product page, try doing a search for NKRO or 6KRO plus the name of your keyboard, e.g. “Filco Majestouch-2 NKRO”. You can also ask us in the comments below, although we can’t promise to know this stat for every keyboard!
Here are some rollover figures for keyboards we sell:
The last few months have flown by, it seems like yesterday I was writing about how we’re working on the website design and looking forward to Christmas.
And here we are now, the website is up and running and we’re all looking forward to some better weather.
The new website
Speaking of the website, please take a look and please don’t be afraid to feedback with any ideas. We need people to tell us how it works for them. Although the main design is complete, we are working on added functionality.
A screenshot of the new website.
We have made it display equivalent US Dollar and Euro prices. So we will still take payment in UK Sterling but you are able to quickly check how that compares to other currencies. We have set it to calculate VAT as it would typically be in those areas, so the US Dollar price is without VAT, but the Euro price is with VAT. You can see how it looks here.
After much deliberation we decided on this as it represents what you would pay. But please feel free to let me know if this is not what you want to see, we can tailor it easily.
Mechanical & ergonomic keyboards remain popular
‘Surprise!’ – We’re still selling keyboards – Mechanicals are flying out the door. Filco, Matias and Topre in particular. It seems that once people find a keyboard that really is well made and uses the best components they are only too keen to buy. Our customers are very discerning and tend to know what they want. Quality keyboards and good service being top of the list. A keyboard that is a joy to use all day long is like gold.
Ergonomic models are making good ground and Mice to go with them. In many ways the mouse is more of a likely source of problems in an ergonomic sense. We ‘mouse’ so much more now, it can cause neck and shoulder pain and using the thumb-wheel scroll can cause finger troubles too.
The RollerMouse is one of several ergonomic mouse replacements.
There are some companies now who like to give you ergonomic advice and then offer to sell you the solution in the form of a mouse they just happen to have in stock. The professional ergonomists and physiotherapists that we work with are very uncomfortable with this, it is a conflict of interest. Do they want to fix your neck problem? Or do they want to sell some stock Most of these guys do a one week course, after which they call themselves experts.
We always stress that if you are feeling pain and you think it may relate to your computer use you must see your own GP or a qualified medic. They may suggest a product we don’t have, or they may find that you are suffering for some completely unrelated reason.
New wares from CBS
Coming soon we hope to have a range of Monitor Arms and laptop stands and ergonomic accessories from UK Manufacturer Colebrook Bosson Saunders. CBS for short.
CBS produce a range of ergonomic IT products.
Not so well known in the computer business, but CBS are very highly regarded amongst building interior designers and architects. We are really excited to have another set of top quality kit to add to make the desktop a nicer place to spend your time.
Thanks for reading, do email me if I can answer any questions.