Simple plan - use the pangrams ‘A quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’ and ‘Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs’ – all the alphabet letters - and use a freeware typing speed monitor to find the keyboard that felt most natural and allowed the fastest typing speed with the least errors.
My local and obliging OfficeWorks had a wide array of keyboards on display - I spent considerable time testing the usability and speed of the current popular models ranging in price from $10 to $200+.
Result: Let us just say that I was not able to gain good productivity at all on ergonomic, curved, wedged, forward slanting or other departures from the good old standard layout. I also disliked any keyboard that messed with the placement of critical keys. I found any keyboard that squashed the four arrow keys under the right shift key or played with function keys (which I use a lot) was harder to use – acclimation time is important.
The newer chicklet style keyboards - common now on notebooks and Bluetooth keyboards - have almost no tactile feedback and a very short throw – they simply do not allow touch-typists to reach maximum speed.
That is not to say all these are terrible keyboards but they take time to get used to and for occasional hunt and peck typists are perfectly fine.
Next, I spoke to a commercial PC supplier who said that despite the plain visage of Dell, HP, and Lenovo standard keyboards these were definitely the most popular and would beat the consumer keyboards hands-down – literally.
Using the same test, these keyboards produced at least 20% speed increase on the best OfficeWorks offerings. The common characteristics included a standard layout, large, well-spaced keycaps, and an upwards tilt mechanism. I found these commercial keyboards very good, the best so far, for productivity and accuracy.
Regular readers may recall my fond memories of the Honeywell keyboard circa 1990 that had mechanical key switches and a weight that made it perfect for typing.
I asked about mechanical keyboards and was referred to Cherry Australia. A brief discussion with one of the marketing people revealed that the standard 104 international layout (Dell/HP/Lenovo use) was definitely the most popular but that 99% of keyboard these days were membrane, not mechanical switch, based.
The reason – a membrane keyboard has a life of a between 6-10 million keystrokes (per key) and costs perhaps 10-15% of the mechanical one. Cherry’s mechanical MX series keyboards have 50 million keystrokes and allowed for N-key rollover (simultaneous rollover pressing of multiple keys as good touch typists need) but were only available in Australia on special order – did I need 5,600 in a 20-foot container?
Not daunted this revealed another possibility – gaming keyboards. CoolerMaster, Corsair, ThermalTake, Razer, and SteelSeries all had mechanical key-switch models, albeit that many looked like they came from the Starship Enterprise.
Suffice to say that after investigation I selected the Steelseries model 6GV2 - the most stock standard, QWERTY layout, mechanical keyboard I could find.
Then back to the pangram test - side by side with Dell/HP standard keyboards.
And the winner is?
SteelSeries 6GV2 wins by a mile – test after test it delivered 20% to 30% increases in speed and gave the highest accuracy of all keyboards. Suffice to say that the quick brown fox and I are old friends now!
What I like about it
- Tactile feedback – it is like an old IBM electric typewriter where you know you have pressed a key
- Throw distance – about 2mm instead of all the way to the bottom
- Almost no acclimation time – it’s a standard keyboard layout
- Heavy – does not move on a desk
- Uses Cherry MX Black switches (gold plated connectors)
It is not pretty, it is not sexy, it is not wireless (USB or PS/2), it does not glow in the dark, and it is unlikely that typist would have ever heard of Steelseries. At under $100 from places like Umart Online it is a small price to pay for absolute typing efficiency and a little after work gaming!