Users have been known to shout with delight when they start typing on a mechanical keyboard.
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Toss out that wimpy keyboard! Here's one you'll fall in love with

June 7, 2015

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2015, Al Fasoldt

The keyboard police would have fun writing tickets if they visited Countless Pines, the palatial estate where the Technofile lives. (OK, it's just a house on an acre. But let me continue.)

There are keyboards on tables, keyboards behind the shelves, keyboards on top of keyboards on tables. Keyboards almost everywhere. One day I used an old Apple keyboard for a sandwich tray.

I love keyboards. I never planned to collect them. It's just that I can't toss them out. It would be like turning your back on an old friend.

I've become an expert on keyboards. I never wanted to, but my curiosity left me with no choice.

Keyboard fans and fanatics rave about the old mechanical keyboards that came with the first few models of IBM PCs in the '80s. They had a marvelous feel each time you pressed a key: There was the initial medium resistance, then a softer feel, then halfway down a distinct "over the edge" sensation that let you know whether you'd pressed the key all the way down.

Alps, a Japanese company, and Cherry, a German company, have made the best mechanical keyboard switches for years. In a keyboard with mechanical switches, each key sits on top of a lever that moves the actuating part of a switch. It is the movement of that lever against spring tension that makes mechanical keyboard switches so precise.

This is so much different from the almost universal crop of membrane keyboards on current computers that first-time users have been known to shout with delight when they start typing on a mechanical keyboard. A friend of mine laid his body on such a keyboard and kept proclaiming, "I'm in love."

That PC or Mac you're using doesn't have a mechanical keyboard. All computer makers gave up on them a long time ago. They're expensive to make, and people just didn't seem to care anyway. Apple and some of the PC laptop makers confounded the issue starting a dozen or so years ago by designing laptop keyboards that had such short travel that no one seemed to care if they were mechanical or not; hitting a key meant you got what you wanted; you either hit the key or not. There could not be a missed character if you pressed the key with any kind of force.

(It's just such a keyboard that I use for hours a day on my MacBook Air. I also have an Apple Bluetooth keyboard with the same design. If you can't have a mechanical keyboard, get an Apple Bluetooth model.)

Cherry, to its credit, has refused to give up. In addition to some of the best mechanical keyboards you can buy, Cherry is now making a kind of hybrid keyboard thats uses membranes the way $5 mush-bucket keyboards do but combines that design with a sort-of, kind-of mechanical switch.

I know this sounds a little wacky, but trust me, it works. I've been typing on one of the new Cherry keyboards for a few months, and not only has my typing improved; my life is happier, I'm more content, and I've lost 30 lb..

(Well, at least some of that is true.)

The keyboard is the Cherry JD-0400EU-2. It's wireless, of course, like all good keyboards, but Cherry added encryption to the connection, so that both the keyboard and the mouse can't be deciphered by a hacker or spy. For an office concerned about security, this is a real plus.

Both the mouse and keyboard are seriously heavy devices. If you have a PC with a flap-flap flyswatter type of keyboard -- you know, the kind that could make a good wing on a model glider -- you'll refuse to believe your hands the first time you hold either one. My guess is that the keyboard weighs three times as much as a typical junky keyboard and that the mouse is maybe FOUR times as heavy as a typical mouse.

Be sure to read the manual. There is a special way to get the encryption matched and another way to change the dpi settings of the mouse. This is not a set-and-forget matter.

Cherry keyboards are sold online -- Amazon would be a good starting place -- and might even be available locally (always check). Cherry's web address for this model is www.cherrycorp.com/cid.

Al Fasoldt is a retired technology writer for The Post Standard newspaper in Syracuse, New York. His landmark column, Technofile, is the world's longest running online column. Read any of the thousands of current and previous columns at technofileonline.com.