Archive for the ‘review’ Category

Sennheiser PMX 680 Sports Earbud Headphones Review

leave a comment »

I bought the Sennheiser PMX 680 headphones from for $36 about two years ago. The PMX680 is co-branded between Senneheiser and Adidas and is designed to be and is advertised as workout headphones. Amazon says that the PMX 680s have been replaced by the PMX685i, however the 685i are quite expensive at the current price of $75 for a pair. I chose 680s headphones because I like Sennheiser, I have a pair of PX250s at my desk that I’ve used daily for almost 6 years. Aside from the foam around the earbuds getting a little loose, the PXC250s are still going strong. Well maybe not so strong, the noise cancelling module also died a few years ago.

Fit and Finish
My PMX680s have stood up well over the last two years. I tend to baby them because they feel fragile, they are very light and the cord seems delicate. Despite the lightness the Kevlar lined cord is tough and can withstand a good jerk. The place where the cord enters the headphones seems unprotected and likely to pull out – there is a picture on the Amazon page where this has happened to a buyer. The headband wraps around my head and doesn’t get in the way. There is a small reflective stripe for visibility on the back for those that prefer outdoor activities on public roadways while wearing dark clothing.


The headphones are not perfect. The single cord comes out of the headphones at a weird angle and ends up being annoying. It rubs against my chin requiring the use of the collar clip. The volume control module bumps back and forth against me when I run forcing me to run it under my shirt, the module is detachable but the headphone cord without the module isn’t long enough to reach my pocket where I keep my mp3 player. I think Sennheiser believes that we need volume control if we are going to put our music player in our pocket – as if sound normalization technology doesn’t exist. These two things, the cord and the volume module, make the headphones annoying to use and are a distraction in the gym.

The sound is typical Sennheiser – flat with good reproduction. There is no detectable excessive base like Bose or high trebles like Polk. The speaker sound is not full and has a slightly tinny quality, this is probably because of the small speakers. I’m guessing the speaker size is constrained by the size of the earbuds which have to fit inside the average person’s ear. Making the headphones in the traditional style where they cup or go over the year would help with the tinny sound except that this would make the headphones annoying and prone to shifting. I think that the sound quality could have been improved by using stronger magnets or better magnets but they were probably nixed to save money.

I’ve had no issues as I mentioned earlier. The PMX680 is advertised as sweat and water resistant and it has lived up to that promise. Unlike my previous pair of headphones which died due to excessive sweatiness, the 680s are still going strong. The foam around the speakers is starting to show wear but that is expected from regular use. I tend to baby them which may account for them still working. I try to keep them dry and carry them separately instead of just throwing them into my gym bag. However these headphones are rated 3.6 out of 5 on Amazon’s page with many of the reviews noting that they stop working after a while and that the volume control knob is annoying.

Overall these are decent headphones with ok sound. The tinny quality of the sound, the cord rubbing against my chin, and the volume module are annoying. And the headphones are not very durable as reviews on Amazon indicate. I wouldn’t buy these headphones again – there is a lot of competition in this space and I feel that we are paying more than necessary for much less quality for the Sennheiser-Adidas brand.
Another annoyance is that you have to purchase the headphones from an authorized retailer in order to get the “generous” 2-year Sennheiser guarantee. Naturally these authorized retailers charge more so if you care about the warranty then you’ll end up paying more. What bothers me is that ‘non-authorized’ dealers are also selling the same headphones. If they are not authorized then how do they get this headphones? My guess is that we end up paying for the guarantee thorugh the higher prices that the ‘authorized’ retailers charge.
While we are on the topic of annoyances, the price of the PMX680s (a.k.a the PMX680i) with the microphone is $65! Really another $30 for a microphone?!

Please support this site by using this link for your Amazon purchases!


Sennheiser PMX-680 High Resolution

Written by M Kapoor

April 1, 2013 at 11:59 pm

Posted in review

Tagged with , ,

ArduiNIX review

with one comment


According to the ArduiNIX website, the “ArduiNIX shield is a user programmable platform for driving multiplexed Nixie tube or other high voltage displays.”  I bought the ArduiNIX shield after I read about Nixie tubes and wanted to try them out.  Nixie tubes are old-school tube based character displays that require voltages in the range of 150-200V to run.  The ArduiNIX board has an on-board SMPS power supply that generates these voltages and it has the correct interface to drive Nixie tubes from a Arduino board.  However, in my case I’m using a Netduino board to do the driving.ArduiNIX

The ArduiNIX is open source – the CAD layout files for the board and parts list are available on the site.  In addition, there is a forum where users can ask questions and discuss issues.


Once you consider the cost of acquiring all the parts and putting them together, the prices in their store are reasonable.  You can buy a complete kit for $45 including shipping.  The kit doesn’t include the NIXIE tubes.  This seems reasonable because a user may want to use a different type of tube than the one they supply.  You can get a fully assembled board for $94.  Based on the ease of assembly, I think that purchasing a fully assembled board is not worth the price.


Assembling the board took me about 2 hours and is straightforward.  They have a excellent step-by-step tutorial on their site.  All the parts are through-hole and are marked clearly on the PCB.  Since there are many different value resistors, double check the resistances and be careful when soldering them into the board because it is easy to get them confused.


Using the board is straightforward.  You write your code, plug it into your Arduino or Netduino, and apply power.


Looking at the layout of the  ArduiNIX I see some definite areas for improvement.  Based on the Nixie supply design and analysis posted on Nick Smith’s website, the ground plane is run under the switching supply inductor which causes energy loss.  In addition, the ArduiNIX design uses very small traces.  This does not provide the necessary low impedance paths between components.  Despite these drawbacks, the ArduiNIX works well and is able to adequately power the IN-17 nixie tubes for which it was designed.

Written by M Kapoor

March 12, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Herman Miller Mirra Chair Review

leave a comment »

I spend a lot of time sitting.  I sit after I wake up, I sit all day at work and then when I get home, I sit for few more hours. Over time I’ve found that my chair, the Verksam from Ikea, wasn’t too comfortable for long periods of sitting.  This was a top of the line Verksam with the armrests and orange suede leather chair for which I paid close to $300 about five and a half years ago.  I have long arms and legs and the Verksam’s armrests never went down far enough for me to be comfortable.  The seat didn’t push out far enough to support my legs, adjusting the armrests was a pain, and the chair was to damn hard.


I read about the Herman Miller Mirra chair while reading Jeff Atwood’s blog a while ago.  It seemed nice but it was pretty expensive so I forgot about. Eventually, I got tired of the Verksam and got tired of being tired.  So, after reading a few more reviews I decided to purchase the Mirra chair.

In my research I found out that Herman Miller has two yearly sales in which it cuts the price of if its furniture by 15%.  The sales appear to occur at the beginning of June and around Christmas.  I purchased a new fully adjustable Mirra chair with the tilt limiter and forward tilt during one of those sales from Amazon for $679.  I highly recommend waiting for a sale if you are thinking of purchasing a Herman Miller chair, the regular price on the chair is $799 so you’ll save over $100 by waiting a few months.

Personal Impression

I received the chair a couple days after I ordered it.  it comes in a huge box that weighs around 50lbs.  It comes almost fully assembled, the only assembly required is to attach the back to the base using two bolts.  One small annoyance is that you need a socket wrench to properly install the bolts – the bolts don’t tighten well enough and the back starts to wiggle if you use a monkey wrench like first I did.

The Mirra has a suspended mesh bottom that supports the user very well.  It has a slight give and molds to the shape of your bottom instead of forcing your bottom flat like a regular chair.  The arms are soft and filled with a kind of a gel and are very comfortable unlike the hard or soft plastic most other chair use.  In addition to adjusting up and down, the armrests also twist inward as well as move in and out.

The material that comprises the back is very flexible.  Unlike a traditional chair that usually has a hard or soft back, the Mirra’s back is flexible and molds to your back. In addition, the adjustable lumbar support lets you target the small of your back.

The recline feature is very well built.  As advertised, the seat tilts along with the back.  However, unlike cheaper chairs where the back and seat feel bolted together, the Mirra seat tilts back at a different rate than the back so your whole body feels supported.  The recline is so comfortable that I even like to relax in the chair.  The tilt tensioner and limiter lets you dial the tilt to whatever you feel like for that day!

One disappointment is the forward tilt feature.   From the description you would imagine that the seat and back would tilt forward and support your body when you leaned forward but that is not the case.  The forward tilt is just that – it is a lever that tilts the seat forward at a set angle and is not adjustable.  It actually ends up being uncomfortable and is a useless feature.


The chair has a several annoyances that I would not expect on a product at this price.  The armrests wiggle within the in-out setting you chose even under light pressure.  I would expect the mechanism to move the armrests in and out to hold the arms tighter.  The arms don’t always lock at the height you select, the steps for the locking mechanism need to be tighter.  In addition, the armrests don’t move in and out very smoothly, it takes a disproportionate amount of force to get them moving and you have a tendency to slam the armrest because of the force you use.  Overall, once the chair is adjusted to your workspace these annoyances fade and you you don’t notice them as much.


Overall, I like the Mirra.  It is a great improvement over my Ikea Verksam chair.  The Mirra is very comfortable and is highly adjustable.  I can work in it for hours and thanks to the recline features is a great chair to relax in.  It has some annoyances that I wouldn’t want to see in a chair at this price but they are unnoticeable once you properly adjust the chair.

Made in the USA
Highly adjustable

Some features poorly implemented
Lame forward tilt feature

Written by M Kapoor

December 25, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Posted in review

Tagged with , , ,

CrystalTech Web Hosting Review

leave a comment »

I was looking for ASP.NET hosting for the project I built to learn C#/ASP.NET.  CrystalTech isn’t the cheapest host or gives the most features for your dollar but I decided to sign up because it is the host used and recommended by Jeff Atwood.


I signed up for the .NET Value plan at $7.95/month.  I got the following for my $7.95/month:

  • Hosting for 1 site only
  • 500 MB disk space
  • 50 GB bandwidth
  • 2 GB mail disk space
  • 10 mail accounts
  • 100 MB MySQL database

I paid for 3 months in advance so I didn’t have to pay the setup fee.  I was a member from July 2008 through February 2009.


Signing up was easy.  I filled out the online form, entered my credit card number, and they started on setting up my account.    I finished applying at 8:18PM and had my account information at 8:58PM on the same day.

Control Panel

CrystalTech’s control panel is the worst I have used.  They make you log in with a hard to remember customer number instead of a easy to remember user ID.  Instead of giving you a overview of your site, the main control panel page is a massive advertisement for their services.  I am logged in now and I see ads for Paypal and virtual servers – and this is for a service that I’ve paid for!  Even worse, the control panel has poor support for non-IE browsers, I cannot access any of the settings in the control panel with my daily browser – Opera.


Visual Studio has a great GUI for transferring websites and I was easily able to use it to upload my files after I managed to set up a FTP account.  Their uptime isn’t too great, I get maintenance notifications 1-2 times a month alerting me that my site will be down for a couple hours.  Their last downtime notification was about 2 weeks ago, compare this with my linode virtual server that has been up for 46 days!

Account Cancellation

Unlike all the other hosting companies I have used, CrystalTech makes you call in to cancel your account.  Canceling online is not allowed.

Final Thoughts

I was very disappointed with CrystalTech’s hosting experience.  Their constant downtime, poorly designed control panel, and ads are a pain.  In addition, they’ve graciously decided to spam me with their monthly newsletters.  Their poor service is apparent when a little while after I signed up, they lost all the data that Jeff Atwood had stored on their servers.

Since then, I’ve moved my site to Linode and set it up to serve ASP.NET pages using Mono.  For about $12 more (1.5x more), I get a shell account, dedicated memory, 4x more bandwidth, 32x more disk space, and the ability to host unlimited websites.  I would not recommend CrystalTech as a host.

Written by M Kapoor

February 18, 2010 at 5:34 am

Railsplayground 1 1/2 year review

leave a comment »

I wrote a review about Railsplayground about 1 1/2 years ago.  I’m writing this as a follow-up to my last review since I’ve noticed that there are very few long term reviews for webhosts our there. I was very interested in Ruby and Rails when I first signed up with Railsplayground. Since then I have lost interest in Ruby for various reasons. Despite my loss of interest in Ruby, I kept my Railsplayground account.

They have been a great host over the last 1 1/2 year and I’ve had no problem with uptime or resources. My cron jobs always run on time and I’ve never had any complaints about being unable to download files. I now use then to host pictures and files I want to share with others. I’ve also set up s3sync so I can easily transfer files to and from my backups in Amazon AWS from within my Railsplayground shell account.

Besides Ruby, they also have great support for Perl.  I’ve written several perl scripts and run them reguarly via cron, no problems there either.

My only complaint is that despite the fact that hard-drive space is getting cheaper, they have not increased their account quotas.  I am still at their base $5/month plan and am stuck with 3GB of storage – the same amount that I started with more than 18 months ago.  In addition, the storage space they offer for their source control hosting has been dropping.  They started out offering 1GB of SVN hosting when I first started, this later dropped to 200MB, and is now down to 100MB. This is very developer un-friendly trend from a developer friendly host.

In terms of value, I feel that Railsplayground is still a fair deal.  They have great customer support and respond in minutes whenever I have a question.  However, VPS prices are at the point you can get a small VPS, be your own boss and run whatever you feel for about the same price or a couple bucks more.

Written by M Kapoor

December 22, 2009 at 2:34 am

Posted in review

Tagged with , ,

Fenix Digital LD10 Premium Q5

leave a comment »

While researching the NiteCore SmartPD EX10 R2 I was also looking for a 2nd flashlight that took AA batteries.  The AA battery form factor is bulkier than the CR123 batteries that the NiteCore uses but the advantage is that AA batteries are far cheaper and easier to find.  The low cost and easy availability of AA batteries makes a AA light an excellent companion for traveling.  After some research I found a light I felt was perfect, the Fenix LD10, and decided to purchase it from Outfitter Country on

The Fenix LD10 is a follow-on to the popular Fenix L1D, the LD10 features a redesigned exterior and improved reflector.  I don’t have a L1D so I cannot compare the change in the reflector. However, looking at pictures of the L1D I can see that the exterior has been updated to put a multi-sided surface around the head of the flashlight.  The surface makes the flashlight easier to hold and it prevents the light from rolling around when you put it down on a flat surface.

The LD10 still uses the Cree Q5 LED that the L1D used and doesn’t come with the R2 version used in the NiteCore EX10.  I can see a definite but not significant difference in brightness between my NiteCore EX10 and the LD10.

A really cool feature of the Fenix L series  is that the heads and bodies are swappable with other L series lights and most of the P series lights.  So, I can use the head of my LD10 with the body of a 2xCR123 Fenix P3D or PD30.  This will give me longer runtime and up to 220 lumens out of my LD10 head because the CR123 battery can source more current than a single AA.  So I can pack different bodies and carry what I need based on my plans.

Features of the LD10 include:

Conventional push button switch.
Durable aluminum body.
Access to 6 light levels – min, med, max, turbo, S.O.S, and strobe.

The strobe mode only works at the turbo light level. This video shows off the different modes available on the Fenix LD and L1D series of lights.

Personal Impressions:
I’ve have the LD10 for for a few weeks now, almost as long as I’ve had my NiteCore EX10, and I’m happy with it.  Just like the EX10, the LD10 is solid, well built, and gives me loads of light on a single battery.  However, unlike the EX10, the LD10’s controls are easier to use and are much more reliable.  I always know where the light is going to start and I can easily switch between modes by soft-clicking the tailcap switch.

The fact that AA batteries don’t store as much power as CR123 batteries is readily apparent in this light.  I can get barely 20 minutes of light out at turbo mode before turbo mode is dims down to be just as bright as the high light mode.  The battery type doesn’t seem to matter, I’ve seen the same result using both lithum and eneloop brand rechargable batteries.  I don’t think we’ll see an improvements in the duration of light output until large gains are made in LED efficiency.

The low mode is great for getting around the house and the high/turbo mode is good for night walks and general outdoor night tasks. In addition, The strobe mode is great for biking or walking at night – it really grabs attention which ensures drivers will notice you. For hands free operation, Fenix sells both a bike mount and headband that you can use to attach the light to your bike or body.  Strobe mode is also great for alerting other drivers when you have to pull off the road in your car – the anti-roll design means that you can just turn the light on and put it on your car trunk or roof to alert fellow drivers.

I really like the fact that Fenix offers a variety of acceseories to modify their lights to fit your needs. Besides the interchangable bodies, headband, and bike mount I mentioned earlier; Fenix also has diffuser tips for general lighting, filters for night vision, and a pressure switch for remote activation.  It would be nice if they had a magnetic mount I could use to attach the light to my car or other metallic surfaces for when I need both hands free and don’t have a flat surface for the light.

While a little bulky to use as a everyday carry light, the Fenix LD10 is great for travel and general use around the house and outdoors.  The AA form factor makes it cheap to operate but it also means that the maximum light output is unsustainable for long. I really like the strobe mode and available acesseories – I plan on at least getting the bike mount or headband for night biking during the winter.


  • Variety of accessories – headband, bike mount, bodies, and diffusers.
  • Uses easily available AA batteries.
  • Amazing light output for a 1xAA battery light.
  • Reverse polarity protection.


  • Expensive!
  • Very short lived turbo mode.

Written by M Kapoor

June 26, 2009 at 2:29 am

Posted in Flashlight, review

Tagged with , ,

Komodo 5.0 Review

leave a comment »

I’ve been using Komodo ever since version 3.5 came out several years ago. I first found out about it while looking for a Windows Perl distribution and happened upon the Activestate website. So, what is Komodo? Komodo is a IDE geared towards dynamic languages like Python/Perl/Tcl/Ruby that runs on all 3 major OS platforms (Windows, Linux, and OSX). It is put out by Activestate, the same company that puts out the most widely used Windows Perl distribution –Main Window showing debugger and variable viewers Activestate Perl.  I bought Komodo because I liked the built in Perl debugger and syntax highlighting. I purchased the upgrade to version 4.0 because it added VI keybindings. Version 5.0 didn’t have any features I thought were compelling, but I purchased the upgrade anyway because I wanted to support Activestate.

Komodo is a feature rich editor. Besides the required syntax highlighting, it has editing of remote files over FTP and SFTP, version control integration, VI emulation mode, a very nifty graphical debugger, http request and response inspector and editor (HTTP inspector), source control integration, a regex constructor (RX toolkit), and an interactive shell that lets you try out commands on the fly. These are just the features I use on a regular basis! Komodo is also extensible via scripts, supports macros, customizable keyboard shortcuts, and much more.

Komodo is very user friendly.  Besides the VI keybindings, you can also customize the menu by assigning your own key combinations to the commands you use the most.  The interface stays out of your way until you need it, the main typing window takes up most of the screen with the quick link buttons  listed along the top.  You can bring up the debugger or your source control windows at the bottom and there are side tabs to let you quickly access files in your project, variables, and functions.  One area that is lacking is the help – it is sparse in some areas, especially on how to access the API and so sometimes I have to resort to trial and error.

The syntax highlighting is great, it makes the code readable and there are little red squiggles show you where you have errors in your code.  A little drop down pops up when you access member variables, however it is not as comprehensive as Microsoft’s intellisense in that it doesn’t perform the drop-down for every variable.

A great feature I use regularly but is not found in most IDEs is the ability to edit remote files over FTP and SFTP.  This allows me to get syntax highlighting, code folding, code completion and all the other nifty features of the IDE on files that can only be accessed via SSH or telnet.  This is great because a lot of my work is done on UNIX machines that don’t come with fancy editors but allow access via SSH and telnet.

Komodo Regular Expression Editor

Komodo Regular Expression Editor

I mainly use Komodo for Perl and C/C++ development but I have dabbled with Ruby on Rails using Komodo and it also shines in this area.  It has shortcuts to automatically generate scaffolding items and you can watch your site execute using the built in debugger.

I’ve discussed the features I use the most and like the best but Komodo has many more features that will interest others who work with different languages or with different needs.  Check out their features page for a full list of everything Komodo can do.  Activestate also offers a trial version and has a lite version of their IDE in Komodo Edit.

Overall, Komodo is great software and I would highly recommend it to anyone who works with dynamic languages.  I don’t regret buying it since it has paid me back many times in saving me time and reducing the frustration of debugging code.


  • Versatile and feature rich
  • Easy to modify to suit your tastes
  • Advanced debugging support
  • Great code editing features
  • Works on all major platforms – Windows, Mac, Linux


  • Expensive!
  • Only supports dynamic languages

Checking out Slashdot with HTTP Inspector

Written by M Kapoor

June 12, 2009 at 3:09 am

NiteCore SmartPD EX10 R2

leave a comment »

I have been looking for a small flashlight I can carry with me at night and use to light up dark areas.  After doing some research, I decided to purchase a NiteCore SmartPD flashlight from about two weeks ago.

The PD in SmartPD stands for Piston Drive.  Piston drive is a new switching technology that uses a piston to drive a switch on the flashlight head to communicate with the flashlight microcontroller.  The Piston Drive technology is supposed outlast the push button switches used on  conventional flashlights.  However, I don’t see why it would last longer since the Piston Drive also uses a switch that is built into the head to drive the flashlight.

NiteCore makes two flashlights with the PD technology, the D10 which uses 1 AA-battery and the EX10 uses a CR123 battery.  I chose the EX10 over the D10 because it is smaller and has a longer run time.

The exact model I got was the SmartPD EX10 R2.  The EX10 indicates that it takes CR123 batteries and R2 means that it uses a CREE R2 type LED.  The CREE R2 type LED in the EX10 is rated at 145 lumens which makes this one of the brightest small flashlights I could find.  This light has several advanced features including:

  • Instantly jump to max or min brightness.
  • Ramp to 100 light levels between min and max.
  • Light turns on at the last light level.
  • Waterproof.

The light can also be used in momentary or intermittent mode where the light is only lit when you push the piston down.  This video shows off the interface.

Personal Impressions:
The flashlight is is well built and feels solid in my hands.  I feel that I could drop it and it would still keep working.  The flashlight is unbelievably small, I can carry it around in the change pocket of my jeans and it will fit entirely in my palm.  The piston drive is stiff and has very little travel so it takes a while to get used to it. The max mode is very bright and will illuminate pretty much any room.  Does it outshine a 3-D LED maglight? No.  But is it bright enough to replace a 3-D maglight in most situations? Yes.  Likewise, the min mode is really dim and will really squeeze out every erg of energy out of a battery.  4sevens claims that the light is good for 90 minutes of illumination at max light mode – however, the 90 minutes counts till it is at 50% brightness.  In reality, the light is good for about 20-30 minutes of bright light on a fresh battery, after which it starts to noticeably dim.  This means that you have to use the bright mode sparingly and instead rely on a dimmer setting for most of your work unless you plan to replace your battery often.  Or, use the bright mode and then end up working with just a dim light until your battery runs out.

Occasionally, the light refuses to go into high/low mode using the shortcuts.  I think this is because the processor gets confused and needs to be reset.  This seems to be the case because it can be fixed by unscrewing till the light turns off to cut off power to the CPU and then screwing it back in.   Another annoyance is that the light is prone to roll around if placed on a flat surface which makes it unsuitable for any kind of work where you can’t hold it in your hand.  In addition, the black anodizing looks like it will easily wear off – I’ve already noticed a couple worn off specks just from carrying the light around in my jean’s change pocket.

Another caveat is that the microprocessor is always on so it draws current from the battery even when the light is turned off.  I’ve read that a new battery will power the microcontroller for ~400 days while the light is in standby.  I couldn’t find a statement on how much light I would get from the light after ~400 days or even ~200 days, I imagine it wouldn’t be much.  This makes the light unsuitable to use as an emergency light. Some say that you should store the battery separately, but do you want to be fumbling around for a battery in the dark when the light goes out or if you are in an emergency situation?  They may also tell me to unscrew the head a couple turns so that the head doesn’t make contact with the battery, but I think that should be unnecessary in a $60+ flashlight.  Just look at Fenix (a NiteCore competitor) which makes great flashlights that don’t drain batteries when turned off.

The NiteCore EX10 is a nice small flashlight that is useful if you plan to use and carry it daily and don’t mind keeping it at low/medium most of the time in order to be able to access max mode when needed.  I wouldn’t recommend it for non-handheld uses since it has a tendency to roll around, or for long term storage in an emergency kit.  I like it because it is solid, tough, and has min/max brightness modes.  I don’t like it because the PD switch isn’t as great as it is made out to be – it is stiff and relies on a mechanical switch despite NiteCore’s hype about PD being superior to mechanical switches – and it will drain your battery if you are not careful.  Overall, I feel that this is an overly hyped light and I would recommend against purchasing it.


  • Small, tough, and waterproof.
  • Extra bright when you need it.


  • Expensive!
  • anodizing is prone  to wear off.
  • Short lived max mode.
  • Poor candidate for long term storage.
  • Unknown long term reliability of piston drive.
  • No reverse polarity protection.

There is an extensive review of the D10 (AA-battery version of the EX10) and EX10 over at CandlePowerForums.  I consulted this review before choosing the EX10 over the D10.

Written by M Kapoor

May 29, 2009 at 4:06 am

Deck Keyboard Review

leave a comment »

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.

I bought my Green Deck keyboard more than 4 years ago on April 10th, 2005 from 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Written by M Kapoor

January 24, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Posted in keyboard, review

Tagged with , ,