Thursday, October 24, 2019

What I've Learned Part Four

I, like many others, have settled on the key switch as the primary source of tactility and sound. If you've managed to read between the lines at all (or perhaps I've said it directly), these are the two issues which are most important to me. I want a sharp tactility with a sharp sound to accompany it.

A few years back I began to become excessively frustrated with my writing experience. By "writing" I mean with pen and paper. I had long been a fan of the simple BIC rollerball design. It is, after all, a wondrous thing. Reliable. Straightforward. Functional. Cheap. Did I mention reliable? What bothered me about it was the rounded, non-committal feel of pressing the pen to the paper. Writing with it felt very... ambiguous. That's an ambiguous statement that I just made. However, I can think of no better method to describe what bothered me. I wanted my letters to be placed very precisely on the page. I wanted them to cut into the sheet I was working on. This desire for a directness of feedback and input led me on a journey toward fountain pens and, consequently, better quality paper. I do not regret this journey.

It strikes me now that my journey with keyboards has followed a similar path. I don't like the mushy, unaffected feeling of the standard rubber dome keyboard. But let me be very clear about something: rubber dome keyboards are ubiquitous for a very good reason. They are reliable. They are straightforward. They are functional. They are cheap. These are the driving forces behind our everyday objects. These are the dominant needs of profit in manufacture.

There is a certain tragedy in realizing that most people are more than satisfied with a $2.50 rubber dome keyboard which serves all of their needs sufficiently while I cannot force myself to be. Everyone has their quirks, I suppose.

Just as I love a sharp, cutting sensation while pressing pen to paper, accompanied by the scratchy whisper of the metal nib faintly slicing its way through the uneven fibers on the paper's unseen surface, so also I love a sharp, unforgiving snap to my key switches, accompanied by the harsh thwack of the retention mechanism giving way. This is the tactility which drives me.

Knowing this, I turned my attention toward an array of so-called "clicky" switches often referred to as MX Blue clones. Cherry certainly didn't invent the proper key switch, nor the "clicky" variant. Better iterations predate them entirely. However, Cherry has reached a position of ubiquity, so it makes sense for people to draw their comparisons at that doorstep. I shall follow suit in order to convey some of what I am looking for.

Cherry Blue switches can be described as high-pitched, loud, scratchy, echoing and rattling in their sound. I prefer high-pitched and loud, am indifferent to echoing, and dislike scratchy and rattling. Much of my effort in determining a better switch has been focused on finding something that would maximize the best parts an minimize the most undesirable parts. I eventually settled on the Kailh Box Jade switches offered by NovelKeys, because they seem to really maximize the weight, force and sharpness of the key switch while removing the rattle and scratch of the Cherry variants.

Cherry Blue switches can be described as light, soft, and gentle in their feel, or tactility. I prefer heavy, sharp and hard in key feel. This is another area where I felt the Kailh Box Jade switches would excel.

When preparing to build my own keyboard, I left the other concerns (mounting, housing and keycap) unattended so that I could focus solely on what I felt to be the most important part of the build: the switch. More on that to come.

No comments:

Post a Comment