Update: 2010-11-06 - I got a new Topre Realforce board.
Update: 2009-06-21 - I got a new Avant Prime board. I won't profess to be a connoisseur of exotic keyboards, but this week I got my hands on a Diatec Filco Majestouch FKB104M/EB (Filco) which found its way to me via a friend. These boards are not sold in the US and are available only through special order services from Japan. I was very lucky because the person who sold me this board is actually travelling to Japan and I already put in an order for one more.
The Filco is like nothing else I ever typed on (I am using it right now to write this). But first let me give you a little bit of history of how I got to the Filco.
Diatec Filco Majestouch FKB104M/EB
A few years back, Microsoft manufactured a keyboard called the Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 (Ergo 4K) and I got me one of those. With what I knew at the time I thought I was in keyboard heaven. A little while after that I got me a new laptop for work which had a docking station so I plugged the Ergo 4K into it and no problem. At that time I also started traveling quite a bit for work and it became apparent that I was having difficulties switching between the regular laptop keyboard and the Ergo 4K. The muscle memory that you build when using the Ergo 4K is unique and does not translate very well to anything else. So I needed a keyboard standard that I could use both at my desk at work and while travelling with minimum disruption. This is when I started researching keyboards seriously and learning about the features of high end keyboards. I decided to go with the Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite 2 (HHKB Lite) for my purposes. The HHKB Lite is light and you can pack it in a bag and easily take it with you at any time and it is definitely a world apart from the Ergo 4K. But the thing about the HHKB Lite is that it is a very minimal board. It does provide all the functionality of any 101 or 104 keys board, but it does so via Function key combinations. At work I live inside of 3 tools: GNU Emacs, Visual Studio and SQL Server Management Studio. The HHKB Lite works like a charm for Emacs, but not so much for VS and SSMS. To run a simple query in SSMS I found myself hitting some unnatural key combination.
One influence from the HHKB Lite that I will always carry with me is the position of the CTRL key. I swap the position of the left CTRL key with the CAPS LOCK key as they are placed on most keyboards. I use a registry hack in Windows to accomplish that and change some configuration files in Linux to achieve the same result. Nonetheless, my quest for the perfect keyboard continued...
I tried several different boards, but they were all mediocre or just plain bad. The thing is that most keyboards sold in the US today use the rubber dome key switch technology (both the Ergo 4K and the HHKB Lite use a rubber dome key switch). Rubber dome technology is just fine for most people, or so I thought. Then I had the opportunity to test drive a Unicomp Customizer and my mind was opened to all the possibilities available in one's choice of key switches, and this influenced my future research and learning.
In my opinion (and I have no factual base to back this claim... yet), now that I have been able to play with a buckling spring board (the Unicomp) and a mechanical board (the Filco), I have to say that the rubber dome boards provide for a sloppy typing experience. The rubber dome boards are not very conducive to efficient, precise, and fast typing.
The first thing I noticed about the Filco as I was unpacking it is how heavy it felt. This is a full 104 keys modern keyboard, but the footprint is minimal compared to the Ergo 4K and yet the Filco weighs a little more. The key caps on the Filco have a different look to them. It is as if they have been polished. The key switches themselves are Cherry MX Series brown axis switches. They are a soft tactile switch type: If you press on a key very slowly and really try to pay attention to what is going on as you press the key, you will definitely notice that after a very short amount of travel the key actually gives in and travels the rest of the way down almost by itself. I once used an IBM electrical typewriter that had a very similar behaviour of the key presses. The Filco is also fairly quiet, but louder than rubber dome boards.
Cherry Brown Axis Key Switch
During continuous typing tasks I feel that my fingers flow better on top of the Filco keys. It took me about an hour of typing to get comfortable with the Filco and at the time of this writing I've typed with it for a few long sessions over a couple of days. I am definitely not a fast typer, but this keyboard has already improved my speed by 4 words per minute and my accuracy by 2 percent.
Is the Filco Majestouch the perfect keyboard? From all the boards I have tried
so far, the Filco ranks way up there with the top 1. It is definitelly the most
elegant keyboard I've ever had. It also provides the best typing experience I've
ever had by a long shot. On the other hand, there are 3 things I would change on
the Filco if I could: first, I would add a 2 port (at least) USB hub; second, I
would add another foot or three to the cable; third and most important, I would
swap the left
CAPS LOCK keys just like the PSU guys did in their
Happy Hacking series.
I do, however, still feel that I need to continue to broaden my horizons by testing and using other boards. That's the only way to find my ultimate keyboard. What's next in my quest for the perfect keyboard (in no particular order): Das Keyboard III Ultimate, Topre Realforce 101, Happy Hacking Pro 2, Unicomp Customizer, the Original Model M, the Compact 1800 Series by Cherry, the Ultraslim 4100 Series by Cherry. I suppose I have my work cut out for me.