clickity clacking my way into a new year

March 11, 2015

I’ve known about mechanical keyboards for a while now, but I kept assuming I wouldn’t like them because they tend to be very noisy. In the back of my mind I remembered the clunky keyboards I used to have with my desktops and how much more I enjoyed laptop keyboards– probably not what people are used to hearing, I know. Largely I liked the lack of finger and wrist travel distance, but also the switch happened largely in my teen years when being able to sneak onto the computer without my parents realizing I was still up was of high importance. But as my hands are small, the compact laptop layouts and short buttons were generally quite nice for me, also. There were more keys in easy reach and less force needed to press them.

With a variety of issues plaguing my hands and back, I’m always on a hunt to figure out the ideal ergonomic setup, though, and a recent flare has led me to reexamine what I can do to make my many hours on the computer less of a literal pain. So I started hunting for a more ergonomic keyboard which has progressed into a hunt for the ideal mechanical keyboard for my needs.

Right now I’m typing on a Noppoo Choc Mini, because I admit I really admire the way they tetris-ed all the keys into a perfect rectangle. It’s a great design, visually, so it drew my eye. Also didn’t hurt that I managed to snag one on sale.

The particular model I got has Cherry MX Red switches, which I’m finding is probably not the best for my largely typing-oriented needs. While I do also some gaming (primarily Guild Wars 2), I also bought a Razer Orbweaver (review-esque thoughts on that likely to also be upcoming after I’ve really learned to use it effectively), so the Choc Mini has gone untested for gaming– I’m finding I really make use of the tactile bump on the Orbweaver, though, so I’m guessing I’d find the reds too linear for my tastes in gaming as well.

In terms of actuation force they seem perfect, though, I’m loving how little I have to use to get the keys to actuate. And with that in mind, I’m on a hunt for browns, which I think are likely to be my switch. I have a Ducky Mini arriving tomorrow with browns that may end up being perfect for my home use, though one thing I really like about the Tenkeyless (TKL) layouts vs the 60% is that the TKL layouts still give me function keys. For coding this is really nice since I have F1 mapped to bring up iTerm on my Mac.

Speaking of Mac, it seems like old versions of the Choc Mini had incompatibility with Macs which I am not sure if I’m seeing with the recent version I purchased. There are no DIP switches on the Choc Mini, but the keyboard automatically maps to a reasonable key mapping for me. I’m not getting NKRO, however when I tried it on Windows, I wasn’t able to see true NKRO on Windows either. The main thing that doesn’t seem to work on the Mac is that the function-available number pad flat out does not work on a Mac. NumLock will refuse to engage. I do know the function key itself works, because it works with the media buttons (play/pause/volume controls), so there’s just something with the number settings that doesn’t work.

All in all, though, I like the keyboard and the compact layout. Mine did not come with extra keycaps, and the left ctrl and space bar actually had fallen off when it arrived, but after I stuck them back on they’ve stayed. Honestly, if I could find a version with MX Browns or if I actually had the time to learn soldering, I’d probably just exchange the one I have for that as a work keyboard/change the switches out. It’s not perfect, but outside of the arrow keys when trying to navigate blocks of text outside of Vim, I don’t find myself hitting any unexpected keys, which is really nice for a compacted layout.