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Deck Keyboard Review

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I ordered my Toxic Green Deck 82 key keyboard in April of 2005 to go with my Razr Diamondback and the new PC I had built from scratch. I still use the PC and Deck keyboard daily, the Razr Diamondback sadly turned out to be an over-hyped piece of trash. The Deck keyboard is billed as tough and a easy to mod keyboard. The keyboard is also unique in that each key is back lit by a super-bright LED. I use the keyboard for 1-2 hours almost everyday at home. While this is not the most comfortable keyboard I’ve ever used, I have been impressed by its durability and construction.

Background:
I bought my Green Deck keyboard more than 4 years ago on April 10th, 2005 from ThinkGeek.com for $119.99. The Toxic Green Deck keyboard had just been released and it was in high demand. ThinkGeek no longer carries the keyboard but it is still available through Deck Keyboards for almost the same price I paid years ago – $119.

Description:
Unlike some manufacturers that try to cut costs by painting letters onto the keys, each key in a Deck keyboard has its letter imprinted using a ‘sublimated negative printing process’, this means that the letter goes all the way through the key and will only become unreadable if the key wears through. Each key uses a ‘Cherry MX1A-11NN linear switch’ which is rated for ~50 million key presses or 20 years of use (according to the website). Each key is backlit by a super-bright LED (green in my case), the spacebar has two LEDs, and the caps lock key has an additional blue LED to indicate when it is active. The LEDs are readily visible during the day and especially in the dark which really makes the keyboard stand out. The brightness of the LEDs can be adjusted to one of 7 levels, 8 if you count off, by depressing the ‘FN’ key along with one of the 0-7 number keys. The brightness controls come in handy for when you want to turn the light down in order to watch a movie or when you are trying to avoid distraction. They keyboard’s edge housing is made of a very tough polycarbonate plastic and can be interchanged with other colored face plates available on the Deck website. The bottom of the keyboard consists of an approximately 1/8th inch thick metal plate that is screwed into the polycarbonate casing.

Mods:
The Deck website really plays up the modifications (mods) possible on the keyboard. The Deck website sells two main mods for the Deck keyboard. One is different colored polycarbonate casings and the other is key caps with different logos on them. Other mods include opening up the keyboard and changing the LEDs to different colors or performing different kinds of paint jobs. Deck even covers modded keyboards under its warranty – one caveat is that the modifications have to of good quality and performed with competence. In the 4 years I have owned the keyboard, I have not made any changes to it – it is flashy enough the way it is and I don’t feel the urge to spend extra money on new keys or casings.

Keys:
The cherry switches used on the keyboard are quiet, they don’t click like the switches on a Model M or Kinesis Contoured Keyboard. You only hear a click when the key hits the the base of the switch. The activation threshold on the switches is very low, so it is possible to type by lightly depressing the keys. This requires more concentration since you don’t get much tactile or audio feedback, but it allows one to type silently. The total key travel is deeper than on other keyboards I’ve used, this can lead to fatigue especially when you are are engrossed and start to pound at the keyboard.
As expected, the ‘sublimated’ lettering on the keyboard is very durable. Unlike most keyboards I’ve had, none of the letters have faded despite daily use. The keys are made of a hard, smooth plastic and they feel like they will last.

Usage:
The Deck Keyboard is a very solid keyboard. I use it regularly and its solid nature and silent keys make you want to pound at it in order to get feedback. It has stood up well over the last three years, all of the LEDs still work and it feels the same as the day I bought it.  You have to watch out for the screws on the bottom of the keyboard or they will scratch your desk if you drag the keyboard.

Ergonomics:
The Deck Keyboard doesn’t have the best ergonomics. It is a straight keyboard which means that typing on it stresses your wrists. The keyboard is also has a 7 degree tilt and is about 3/4 inches high. The Deck website claims that this was an overwhelming choice by their focus group. However, the extra tilt and height puts more strain on my wrists since I have to bend them back further in order to hit the keys.
In addition, the deep key travel quickly leads to fatigue if you start treating it like a regular keyboard and push the keys down until you hear a audible click.

Customer Service:
Early in its life, my keyboard would sometimes double print a character – that is if I typed in ‘a’ it would show up as ‘aa’ on the screen. I decided to contact Deck since the keyboard was still within its 1 year warranty period. They responded promptly and asked me to send the keyboard back. They never found anything wrong with the keyboard, however they said that they cleaned it before sending it back. This cleaning, whatever they did, fixed the problem and my keyboard has been trouble free since. I was impressed by their quick response and communication throughout.

Lighting:
The lighting on the keyboard is great, it is readily visible during the day and really lights up a dark room.  One thing to note is that the lighting is not even at low brightness levels.  For example, on my keyboard the ‘k’ key really stands out at lighting level 1 and doesn’t blend in with the rest of the keys until I get to light level 4 or 5.  Similarly, a few other keys stick out at low light levels but this isn’t as noticeable as on my ‘k’ letter key.  This is understandable since the LEDs used in the keyboard probably vary in their forward bias voltages, this sort of variation is common in semiconductor manufacturing since it is hard to create completely identical units during die fabrication.  I’m mentioning it here because it was a small annoyance when I got my keyboard.  The annoyance has since faded as I’ve come to see it as a uniqueness.

Summary:
Overall the keyboard is very strongly constructed and feels like a quality product. it is not very heavy but you can feel the sturdiness when you are typing on it. However, it has poor ergonomics and so isn’t suited for all day use.

  • Pros:
    – Solid keyboard that will add pizazz to your work environment
    – Excellent customer support
    – Easy to modify to suit your tastes
    – 20+ year lifespan (claimed)
  • Cons:
    – Expensive!
    – Poor ergonomics
    – Uneven lighting at low brightness levels
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Written by M Kapoor

May 29, 2009 at 3:32 am

Kinesis Contoured Keyboard

with 3 comments

The Kinesis Contoured Keyboard is billed as the best available design for both comfort and productivity.  Since I spend most of my time at work on a computer, anything that enhances my comfort and productivity is always welcome.  I decided to try one out just to see if it lived up to its billing and to find out if it would help me with the wrist pain I experience after a long day at work.  I’m sitting here typing this on a contoured keyboard I bought more than 6 months ago and have been using for 8+ hours a day and I can say that it definitely lives up to its billing.

Background:

I bought my keyboard, a near mint condition Professional QD, online on Ebay for about $200.  In addition to the fancy split bowl layout, the keyboard comes with high-tech built in electronics: it can be hardware switched between QWERTY and Dvorak layouts, you can re-map any key, create macros, have the keyboard beep on every keypress, and you can even attach a foot switch for your control keys.  The Kinesis website no longer lists the Professional QD, the closest match I can find is the Advantage Pro.  You may think that $200 is a crazy price to pay for a used keyboard, but they cost even more brand new!  Prices on the Kinesis website range from $289 to $359 + shipping.  The Human Solution has the mid-level keyboard for about $269 and you can find good deals on E-bay.  So, it is wise to shop around.  The price is high but you have to consider that these are high quality keyboards that are probably custom built in small batches, they have fancy electronics, and the company also has to make a profit.

Description:

The Kinesis Contoured Keyboard is split down the middle into two scooped out halves.  There is a wide gap between the two halves in order to make you correctly position your shoulders.  Your wrists rest on the bottom half of the keyboard and your fingers rest into the scooped out halves.  According to the Kinesis website, this downward rest is “the best available design for both comfort and productivity“.  The keys most used by your pinky (Enter, Backspace, Del e.t.c) have been moved to the bottom center of the keyboard so they can be operated by your thumbs.   This makes sense since the pinky is the weakest finger and the thumb is the strongest.  The arrow, insert, and other keys have been moved around so that you can operate them with your fingers without moving your hands.  The function keys remain in their normal spot at the top of the keyboard.

The keyboard as well as the keys are made of a hard plastic.  The white keyboard picks up stains easily and requires periodic cleaning if you dislike the grunge look.  The home keys are colored light blue.

Usage:

If you are a proficient touch typist like me, it will take about two weeks to get used to this keyboard.  The hardest part is getting used to hitting space, enter, backspace, and delete with your thumbs.  Another tough hurdle is learning to use the arrow keys with both of your index and middle fingers.  It is slow going for those first two weeks but your brain figures it out and you catch up rapidly after that.

My typing on a regular keyboard is largely unaffected.  I make some mistakes when I first switch over, but my brain warms up and I start typing normally after a few minutes.  I mostly get the space-bar and enter keys mixed up.

Keys:

The keys on the keyboard are made of a hard plastic.  They have a very nice clicky feedback, they are not quiet though – my cubemates have commented that they can hear them when things are quiet.  The force required to activate the key is not large like on the IBM Model M keyboard, they need a gentle but firm tap.  Neither are they hyper-sensitive like those on a Deck keyboard.  You have to push them down till they click before the computer registers a key-press.  The keys and switches feel high quality, however the QWERTY letters on the keys feel like they are glued on and the Dvorak characters are painted onto the keys.  I doubt the lettering will last.  I like the negative printing process on the Deck keyboards that embeds the character into the key and makes it impervious to wear.  I think for $300 Kinesis could have put more durable lettering on their keys.

The function keys are rubber with the same painted-on feeling letters and they have a noticeable wobble in their sockets.  They have a lighter, more rubbery clicky tactile feedback.  The function keys are about 1/2 the size of a function key on a regular keyboard, this is probably done in order to include the rarely used keys like Scroll Lock and Pause/Break along the top of the keyboard.

One oddity on my keyboard was that the backspace key was titled ‘Space’.  I only discovered its function by trial and error.  There are keys named space on both sides of the keyboard and my guess it they named both the space and backspace keys ‘Space’ to allow switching them to either one of your thumbs.

Ergonomics:

As advertised on the Kinesis website, this keyboard has excellent ergonomics.  I used to experience wrist pain when using my regular flat keyboard for long periods of time, the pain has mostly gone away since I switched and only returns if I spend extremely long periods, say 12+ hours, at my computer.  In addition, the bowl like shape makes my shorter fingers travel less than the longer ones which has also reduced fatigue.

There are some drawbacks though.   Any kind of one-handed typing is difficult.  The keyboard is harder to use for programming since the bracket keys are at the bottom which makes them hard to access.  The split arrow keys require two hands to operate which makes using the arrow keys and the mouse at the same time impossible.

Final thoughts:

I’ve used many keyboards including the Microsoft ergonomic split keyboards, the Happy Hacker, the Deck, the Keyovations Goldtouch, as well as the IBM Model M.  Of all the keyboards, the Kinesis contoured keyboard is the most comfortable and usable for long periods of time.  I think it is worth the price after you consider the damage you can do to your hands with the wrong keyboard.  I make my livelihood with my hands and I would gladly pay full price if I had to purchase it all over again.

  • Pros:
    • Very comfortable for daily typing.
    • Highly customizable with the built in macro support.  Settings are preserved even when the keyboard is unplugged.
    • Switches between Dvorak and QUERTY layouts.
    • Ergonomic layout allocates most-often used keys to the thumb, your strongest fingers, and separates your arms to about shoulder width.
    • Long USB cord.
    • Expandable with factory upgrades and foot switches.
  • Cons:
    • Expensive!
    • Programming guide should be printed on the bottom of the keyboard.
    • I don’t expect the keyboard lettering to last.

Images:

Written by M Kapoor

January 24, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Posted in keyboard, review

Tagged with , ,

Keyovation Goldtouch Keyboard Review

with one comment

I’ve been spending a lot of time away from my cubicle at a different site for my job. My company is big on preventing RSI and other injuries due to non-ergonomic setups. As part of this, I was offered a Keyovation Goldtouch keyboard to use while off-site. I’ve been using the keyboard for a week and I’m going to be be off-site for the next four so I’ll be using it for a while. In fact, I’m using it right now to type this review.

Description:

The keyboard is split in 1/2 down the middle and has a large ball-bearing type connector at the top holding it together. It has a large handle on the upper left that lets you unlock it. The handle is a little stiff at first but opens readily after you get it started. After unlocking, you can re-arrange each half in the horizontal and vertical directions. The Keyovation website describes the the keyboard as being able to split up to 30° in the horizontal and vertical directions. The keyboard is has a USB connector, but it comes with a USB to PS2 connector that lets it connect it to a PS2 port. The keyboard works flawlessly in Windows XP, I just plugged it in and it was recognized as a regular keyboard. The keyboard is a full size keyboard, all the text and function keys are full size. The control keys (Num Lock, Scroll Lock, Page Up e.t.c) are arranged on either side of the two halves. I’m guessing they are distributed to keep the typing distributed between the two hands. It doesn’t have a full num pad which makes it smaller than a full size keyboard, the smaller footprint is to let you keep your mouse close to you which will keep you from over-extending your arm and shoulder. I’ve been carrying the keyboard to and from work and it feels much heavier than a regular keyboard. I couldn’t find a weight on the website, but by my estimate it weighs about 2-3lbs, that is quite a load to carry in addition to my laptop and the equipment needed for off-site work. However, the heaviness lends a sense of sturdiness to the keyboard and I feel no bounceback when typing. There are LEDs to indicate when the ‘Scroll Lock’, ‘Num Lock’, and ‘Caps Lock’ keys have been activated.

Keys:

Keyovation uses dome springs which makes the keys soft but gives them a crisp feedback which I like. The typing is not like the cheap keyboards that computer companies like Dell bundle with their computers where you barely feel the feedback. You can feel the keys bouncing back with the Goldtouch keyboard. The amount of force required to actuate each key is minimal which makes it comfortable for long sessions. I use a Happy Hacker keyboard at work and I’ve noticed occasional pain in my fingers at the end of the day. I don’t feel that when using this keyboard. Typing on the keyboard is quiet and feels secure. The extra weight comes in handy here.

Ergonomics:

I’ve looked at other reviews for this keyboard and it seems like people either like it or hate it. There is very little middle ground. I like the horizontal split, it is a more natural way to type on the keyboard. However, it would be nice if I could separate the two halves so that I can keep my hands shoulder width apart. The vertical split doesn’t help me much, I still have to bend my wrists to type on it and it feels like there is more stress on my shoulders. It would be nice if I could fold it in half, that way I can type in a more natural ‘handshake’ position. A major problem I’ve noticed is that there is no place to rest my wrists like on a Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard. The keyboard is more than half an inch high at the spacebar which means that I bend my wrists uncomfortably if I rest them on a table. Keyovation does sell a pair of wrist pads for $20 which would help. However, spending $20 on top of ~$140 for the keyboard makes me feel like I’m getting ripped off.

Competition:

The ergo keyboard space is rapidly expanding as people spend more time in front of computers. In addition to the Microsoft line of ergo keyboards, Kinesis also has the Maxim and Freestyle keyboards. The Maxim, which comes with a wrist rest, is a split-keyboard similar to the one by Microsoft, the Freestyle allows you to split the keyboard completely in half. The Freestyle doesn’t incline like the Goldtouch or come with a wrist rest but Kinesis sells accessories to make it happen.

Final Thoughts:

The Goldtouch keyboard is a nice keyboard but it doesn’t fulfill all my needs. The vertical split doesn’t help much and the lack of a wrist rest results in additional ergonomic issues. I like how the keys feel and the sense of sturdiness, however it is a pain to carry around because of the extra weight. The keyboard costs about ~$140 on the Keyovation website, at that price I would rather try the Kinesis Freestyle keyboard because I can split completely in half. In addition, The Microsoft keyboards present a cheaper alternative.

Pros:

    • Solid Keys with good tactile feedback
    • Heaviness lends a sense of security
    • No drivers to install, worked flawlessly when plugged in
    • Horizontal/Vertical split for increased typing comfort

Cons:

    • Expensive, ~$140 is no laughing matter
    • Heavy, a pain to carry around
    • Requires a wrist-rest, no gradual rise to the space bar
    • Vertical split doesn’t seem to help much
    • No ability to separate halves like the Kinesis Freestyle
    • Short USB connector

Images:

Goldtouch Regular Layout

Goldtouch Horizontal Split

Goldtouch Horizontal/Vertical Split

Side View

Thanks for reading!

Written by M Kapoor

June 22, 2008 at 1:40 am