2012-04-09 18:43 (comments: 0)

Computers are for me the essential tool for self-preservation since more than 20 years already. I interface with a computer or other 70% or more of my awake time. Thus I hold as a principle that computer peripherals (display, keyboard, mouse, sound interface) have to be ergonomically-high-quality. And this, even if, given Moore's law, it is not useful to excessively spend on latest and greatest of number crunching sand-and-electromagnetics derivatives (chips, memory, disks).

Until recently, I was thinking that I had this principle well pinned down. Then, a few weeks ago, I started to feel piercing RSI related pain in my right shoulder. The reason is that regular keyboards are stupid and force us to move the right hand more than 20 cm to the right each time we need the mouse. I am a fan of profusive keyboard shortcuts usage in my usual program. But, in this age of the Internet, browsers badly done, combined with web pages that are devil's fruit when it comes to ergonomy, I can't really avoid using the mouse.

And then my incredibly long and painful quest started: to find the right keyboard for my normal usage. And I humbly learned that I know nothing about keyboards. And I guess you will thank me that now I can send you read this and particularly this. Yes, I knew and used the mythical IBM Model M, and instinctively knew, based on that, that I missed something.

I started first to look for a keyboard with the exact same layout as a full keyboard, but without numeric pads. This was important to me because of the prominent use of arrow keys as well as of the 6-key group (Ins/Del+Home/End+PgUp/PgDn) in my daily work (code editing). I found out that these are almost non existent in the normal (sub 30$) price range for normal keyboards.

Then I seriously started to look for a mechanical-switch keyboard, but I still find them expensive (HHK is north of 300$, stars like Filco, Cherry, Realforce, Leopold are not far behind). There is, since only a few days, a "tenkeyless" available in local specialty stores, which is "only" around 70$. I guess I will get one of these too. It is made by Cooler Master (and this is a reason for some reticence, because of the heavy eye-piercing branding this company professes).

But eventually my long winding wanderings brought me to stumble upon the exotic niche group of tracking-point users. I always had a ThinkPad provided by my work. This is really nice machine and the only one in wide commercialization that comes with the tracking-point. But I never got around to actually using the tracking point on these. Piqued by curiosity, I set on the adventure of learning if I can get used to it and I discovered that:

  1. It takes some using to (8-10 hours);
  2. I like it quite a lot;
  3. It's waaaay better than a mouse, 'cause it's in the middle of the keyboard and doesn't require any hand movement;
  4. infinite vertical and horizontal scrolling babeeee.

Lo and behold, I went out on the intertubes and bought a Lenovo ThinkPad standalone laptop USB keyboard with tracking point (the strange thing in the photo). I only had if for 4 days now but I guess it was one of the best computer-related acquisitions of the last 5-6 years (since my semiprofessional LCD displays in 2007, actually).

The things I love best about this keyboard are the trackpoint (of course); the very short travel of the keys (scissor switches of rather good quality); the arrow keys and the 6-key pad placed in almost-normal layout and in reacheable distance. (divagation here: I already owned one of those abominations of a laptop with the 6-key pad stretched out in a single-key column at the rightmost (thus interfering with all the essential -- Enter, Backspace, R-Shift, R-Ctrl -- real rightmost keys).

What I don't care about in this keyboard: the Fn key should be at the right; the context-menu key at the right of the space bar shouldn't be there; the sound volume keys are flimsy and non-tactile; the quality of the materials is not quite that of the keyboard on my ThinkPad T40, but it is still very good compared with normal keyboards and mice.

Anyways, if you have mouse-related RSI and don't care to spare 60$ (+20$ taxes and shipping), then you might well give this one a try. Remark that an acceptable-quality membrane polydome keyboard + an acceptable-quality mouse (Logitech or Microsoft) sets you back almost that anyways, and comes with the built-in silent torture to your shoulder and wrists.

That's it for now. I'll come back soon with a description of the "clavier de mes rêves" (keyboard of my dreams -- in oh so mundane English ;o).

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