Friday, March 27, 2015

Code Keyboard

The Code Keyboard is blogger Jeff Atwood's idea of the ultimate keyboard for geeks. Since I'm a huge fan of buying a good mouse and keyboard I bought one and I've been using it for 8 month now.

The Code Keyboard is a high end mechanical keyboard. Mechanical keyboard use a spring instead of a rubber mat to make keys springy. Using rubber is cheaper but the feel isn't as good. The downside to mechanical keyboards is that they are expensive. Mechanical keyboards can be hard to find in stores and I hadn't used one in years so I was quite excited to get my hands on the Code Keyboard.

I have the Cherry MX Clear variant of the keyboard and it's quite stiff. "Cherry MX Clear" refers to the type mechanical spring system used. There are a large number of "Cherry MX" switch types named after colors. Most mechanical keyboards use one variant or the other of these switches. For the "Clear" type you have to push surprisingly hard to get the key to go down. The keys are bouncier than rubber dome keyboards so it feels like your fingers are bouncing around on a trampoline. The effect is actually quite pleasant. I suspect I would have preferred the lighter action of the Cherry MX Brown version of this keyboard, though.

Jeff's keyboard comes with a bunch of features designed to appeal to geeky keyboard enthusiasts. For example, on the back of the keyboard there are a row of switches that allow you to do things like swap the position of the caps lock and control keys. Or the alt and command keys if you're on a Mac. You can even set the keyboard to Dvorak or Colemak keyboard layouts.

The keyboard even has a few features for gamers like the ability to disable to Windows key so you don't accidentally kick yourself out of the game. It also allows you to push 6 keys at the same time - the limit allowed by the USB protocol. The best feature, though, is the backlight. The keyboard glows in the dark for those late night gaming or coding sessions.

The code keyboard is also visually minimalist. It doesn't have those silly extra media keys that don't work and just take up extra space on the keyboard making it look like fat Elvis. That doesn't mean there's no media key functionality but you have to sacrifice the menu key to turn it into a "fn" key to access that functionality. From the website:

Lots of keyboards have multimedia keys, but almost none of them do it right. Either they require weird hand contortions to use, or they tack on a bunch of extra unnecessary buttons and knobs all over the keyboard in strange places.
Our solution is more elegant. On the CODE keyboard, the Fn key replaces the Menu key (provided you’ve enabled it via the switches on the back of the keyboard), and moves the media shortcuts to the navigation cluster. This configuration allows you to comfortably and logically access multimedia shortcuts with one hand – pressing Page Up to turn up the volumejust makes sense. If you forget which keys do what, we’ve helpfully printed subtle glyphs on the front of each key, facing you, so you can see which keys have secondary functions.

The Code Keyboard is also well built. I mean old school soviet style well built. It's surprisingly heavy and feels very solid. You can use this thing for self defense purposes.

I like the keyboard. The selling points for me are the mechanical switches and backlighting. I also like the minimalist design aesthetic and the fact they used a the standard keyboard layout with standard key sizes. None of this Microsoft style "Let's move things around for no good reason". Also the function keys are full sized, which is nice. I think I would have preferred the lighter action of the Cherry MX Browns, though.