WASHINGTON, DC– The pandemic has forced millions to work from home, forcing a rethinking of our computers, what our bosses see behind us, and containment chambers for children. We now purchase masks and hand sanitizer like never before, have picked up new hobbies like bread making and sewing (or at least the perfect people on Instagram have) and finally bought a ton of sweatpants.
But one product remains scorned and forgotten, a common, incredibly important household appliance used by millions of people each day, yet no thought is put into. The amount of hours spent using it reflect in no way the amount of money spent on it, yet they don’t fail and don’t complain.
What is this item?
Keyboards. The trusty item used to write reports and essays, that millions of Americans rely on to do their work, is forgotten and has received no new pandemic renaissance. Their extreme functionality makes them a victim of their own success – why upgrade if there is nothing to gain from it?
However, there is far more to keyboards than most people ever see. There is a small and growing community of keyboard enthusiasts that believe that custom, mechanical keyboards have a much cleaner feel, sound, and typing experience.
Mechanical keyboards are, to put it simply, made up of individual physical switches that actuate, or register a keypress, when partially depressed. For comparison, typical keyboards that everyday people generally have use rubber domes that register a keypress whenever they physically press against a membrane underneath the keycaps. This provides an objective benefit to mechanical keyboards – they don’t have to be pressed down all the way to be actuated, allowing some people to type faster. Furthermore, there are different types of keyboards – some assembled by a factory or brand, which are generally more affordable but made from less high-end materials, and fully customizable keyboards where parts are taken from all sorts of different companies and vendors and assembled by the end user themselves. External keyboards also work with laptops, provided there is an open usb port.
These benefits have attracted a small community of hardcore enthusiasts, who wish for the best keyboards and are willing to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars to get them. A relatively standard keycap set or set of the small plastic rectangles you physically type on, from a high end manufacturer, GMK, will run you 120 dollars, for reference. Furthermore, these have to be acquired through groupbuys, where a designer makes a set and it takes anywhere from three months to a year for the company to actually deliver it.
However, what is the true return? After getting hooked, I assembled my own keyboard to find out.
I chose a classic beginner board, the TOFU65. I paired it with tactile Durock T1 switches and a brass plate for a clacky, high-pitched typing experience since that is what sounds satisfying to my ears. For stabilizers, a device that holds large keys like the spacebar steady, I chose Zeal stabilizers since I thought they were the ‘best’ (I somewhat regret this now since I have seen they were overpriced and I would have been just fine with Zeal clones) and some dark gray keycaps from kbdfans.com.
I found the typing experience to be much more pleasant and faster, since I didn’t have to ‘bottom out’ or fully press down to actuate the switch. In general, working felt much more premium.
The downside was the immense cost in time and effort. It has probably taken me over ten hours of work to assemble my precious metal rectangle, and a number of dollars with two zeros.
However, if you type a lot and need a new hobby for the pandemic, in my opinion it’s worth it. Even if you consider typing better a small improvement, considering how much the average office worker does it, that cumulative effect will simply make your life easier.
Besides, you’ll have something to be elitist about.