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You are a programmer. That probably means that you have sore fingers but love the thing which gives you that pain: your keyboard. Where would a programmer be without an excellent keyboard for coding on?
But, what is that you say? You don’t have a great keyboard?
Well, we are here to help.
With a great keyboard, you can improve your productivity and make typing something to look forward to. An ergonomic mechanical keyboard can protect your digits while giving you a tactile and responsive experience. A quiet keyboard can keep the annoyance of your key taps to a minimum. A quality keyboard can reduce strain, noise, and fuss. So, which is the best keyboard?
Let’s take a look at what you should be looking for in a keyboard before checking out five of the best.
When it comes to keyboard size, there are three main options: full, tenkeyless (TKL), and compact.
- A full-size keyboard has everything: all the keys, the functions keys, and the number pad on the right-hand side.
- A TKL keyboard has no number pad.
- A compact keyboard has no function keys, and the arrow keys have been moved underneath the ‘shift’ key.
So, which is right for you?
It mainly comes down to personal preference. If you want to have the number keys, then go for a full-sized keyboard. If you never use the number keys, then a TKL may be better for you. If you find that you do not have a lot of desk space, then a compact keyboard can help to solve that problem. The smaller keyboards are also lighter too.
Think about the buttons you use and the ones you don’t. In our experience, the smaller you can go while keeping the functionality, the better.
With the amount of typing you have to do, you need to protect your hands and wrists. Repetitive strain injuries are common among programmers, but does that mean that you should get an ergonomic keyboard?
I have some experience using an ergonomic keyboard, and I am split on the use. What I mainly boil it down to is that if you have wrist pain, you should invest in one, and if you do not, then you do not need to. If you type a lot, you should include a routine of wrist, hand, and finger stretches. This will prevent or help to manage RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury). Here’s how to do it:
Ergonomic keyboards are great for helping to reduce strain on your wrists and fingers, and you will often find it hard to switch back to a regular keyboard after using it for some time, but the tactile nature of the keys is not usually as high. You will also find that ergonomic keyboards do not use mechanical switches.
Wait, what are mechanical switches?
Types Of Mechanical Switches
A switch refers to what is going on under the key which you are pressing. There are many differ-ent technologies which take your keypress and translate it to an electrical signal which then regis-ters that a key has been hit. Most keyboards will either use mechanical or membrane switches.
Mechanical vs. Membrane
With a membrane switch, you have a one-piece plastic plunger which is pressed down to create contact with the electrical switch below.
With a mechanical keyboard, there are separate switches under each key. Each switch has a base, spring, and stem. When you press down on the key, electrical contact is made.
The thing which we like about mechanical keyboards is that you have an actuation force when you press the key and often a beautiful clicking sound. If you are typing a lot, it is nice to be able to feel and hear each key press. It is also easier to replace an individual key on a mechanical system than it is on a membrane system.
Which Key Switch Should You Choose?
Unfortunately, there is no right answer to this question. The best way to get to know a keyboard is to try it out. The only problem is that you need to try it out for an extended period of time before you know if it is the one for you.
One of the main problems is actuate force.
If you try a keyboard out in a store, you may not notice much difference between different mechanical switches. But there is!
There are two main manufacturers of mechanical switches: Cherry and Topre. Both make great switches, but they all come with different actuation forces. For example, Cherry has the MX Brown which has an actuation force of 45g and the MX black which has an actuation force of 60g. With a few seconds of typing, you will not notice a lot of difference. After an hour, the 60g could get painful.
The three mechanical switches which we recommend are MX Blue (audible clicks), MX Brown (light with no clicks), and the Topre standard (light with no clicks). Do you want a quiet keyboard, or do you not mind the noise?
There is not a lot between the three, so choose the one which feels the best.
Layout & Position
You want a Qwerty keyboard, right? Maybe you do, and maybe you don’t.
There are choices out there, and if you can bear to relearn the layout of a keyboard, you may end up being quicker and more accurate. Take a look at the Dvorak and Colemak keyboards and find something which is more intuitive (after all, the qwerty keyboard was developed to stop type-writers from becoming stuck).
The position of a keyboard can be key, and many ergonomic mechanical keyboards are explicitly built for coders. The primary way in which you can change the position of your keyboard is by tilting it. This lets you alter the angle of the keyboard and reduce the risk of injury.
You will also find some keyboards for coders which have the backspace or control keys under your thumb instead of under your pinky. You should also be looking at the position of the number pad, function keys, and arrow keys.
Wireless vs. Wired
More and more of our devices are becoming wireless so it should come as no surprise that many keyboards are now wireless. So, is that something which will benefit you as a programmer?
Wireless keyboards can definitely minimize the clutter on your desk and, if you are a professional programmer, then there is a good chance that your desk is cluttered. Fewer cords coming and going from your equipment can only be seen as a good thing.
The only main problem with wireless keyboards is the risk of the signal becoming lost.
Wireless keyboards for coders are becoming more and more robust, so that is not usually an issue. What you should be looking at, though, is the battery life. If the battery runs out, the keyboard will die.
When you are looking at wireless keyboards, look at ones which have a long battery life, and keep the keyboard charged. Wired keyboards are more robust and will not lag, but wireless key-boards are great for when you are on the go or using multiple devices.
What Else Should You Look For?
What material are the keys crafted from? You are going to be hitting the keycaps (the top of the physical key) a lot as a programmer, so you need then to be durable and crafted from robust materials. ABS plastic is the most commonly used and will hold up for a long time. If you want your keyboard to be backlit, then you might want to opt for transparent keys. Some keys have a texture on the top, which can give a great tactile experience while some can be distracting.
Some keyboards come with layers. This means that keys can have more than one function. Think the number keys at the top of your keyboard but spread over more keys. You don’t want to complicate your keyboard, but you also want to get as much from your keyboard as you can. Most keyboards will come with some sort of layers while more functional ones will be programmable.
Talking of programmability, there are also keyboards out there which can be completed remapped, with software downloadable to support your keyboard remapping. You can completely change the layout and even add macros to the keys. Some software allows you to download pre-mapped layouts while others allow you to create your own completely.
The best advice that we can give you is to find a keyboard which is comfortable for you and provides you with the ergonomics to protect your hands and wrists. Great keyboards make happy programmers.
Our Top Picks
So, which keyboards do we recommend?
Das Keyboard 4 Professional Mechanical Keyboard
This keyboard comes with Cherry MX Brown technical keys which boast best-in-class when it comes to the tactile and audio feedback. The accuracy of these keys are astounding, and you are able to type at a lightning-fast speed. If you do not like the Cherry MX Brown, then you can also opt for the Cherry MX Blue.
Both the MX Blue and Brown have a similar tactile feel and actuation force. The main difference is that the Blue has clicks while the Brown does not.
One feature which sets this keyboard apart from others is the oversized volume knob. The knob may look bulky, but it is positioned so that it does not take up valuable real estate space. The benefit of a large knob is that you can finely tune the volume, going up and down in tiny increments.
This rugged German keyboard is built to last. The materials and construction are so good that it can withstand 50 million keypresses and still be going strong. As programmers, you probably come close to that in a 24-hour coding sprint (or, maybe not). You also have quick access to mute, play, pause, next, and previous controls.
Transferring large files is easy with the two USB 3.0 ports. This gives you lightning-fast transfer speeds, and they are backward compatible, though, with ten times the speed of USB 2.0, it will be hard to go back.
The top panel of the keyboard is solid aluminum, bringing a robust and reliable look to the key-board, and there are laser-etched keys which will prevent the inscriptions from fading. With so many keypresses available to you, that is going to keep the keys looking great even after fifty million keypresses.
With an extra-long cable and a detailed look, this is an excellent keyboard for coders. It is robust and durable and makes for rapid typing.
- Cherry MX Brown mechanical switches
- Withstands 50 million keystrokes
- Two-port USB
- N-key rollover
USA Filco Ninja Majestouch-2
One look at the keyboard and you can tell that it is as rugged as they come. The keys protrude well from the top of the keyboard, giving a large surface to type on, and have the inscriptions on the side instead of on the top. This stops the inscriptions from wearing after typing, meaning that you never lose letters from the keyboard, and always know what key you are pressing.
Under the keycaps, there are Cherry MX Brown switches. These switches give a tactile feel without having a lot of actuation force, saving your fingers from becoming sore after a long day of typing. The MX Brown switches are also silent when you are typing, great for any environment where you need to keep quiet.
This is the tenkeyless version of the Ninja keyboard, with 87 keys. With the number pad removed, the keyboard takes up less space on your desk. One thing which we like about this keyboard is the amount of typing space you have for such a compact device, and how great the tactile keys feel.
The keyboard comes with two sets of Windows keys, so is great if you are running a Windows operating system. Two keys are front-printed, and two are side-printed. You also get a key puller so that you can switch between the two, or change any of the other keys.
The case is rigid and brings durability to the keyboard. The keys feel great when typing, and the font on which the keys are printed gives optimum readability. Another excellent keyboard for coders which looks and feels great.
- Cherry MX Brown
- Windows key
Happy Hacking Professional Keyboard Type-S
The Happy Hacking keyboard is designed for programmers. The design is ultra-minimalist, taking up less desk space, and only features 60 keys when many keyboards would have over a hundred. Under those keys, you have Topre switches which are silent and only have 45g of actuation force (you really cannot get much lower). The result is hands and fingers which are not sore at the end of the day.
The design of the keyboard is very ergonomic, with the keyboard having a distinct curve from top to bottom. The result is a more comfortable hand position and less strain on your fingers. You do not need to move your hands as much to reach the keys, especially with the keyboard being so compact, and you get less strain than almost every other keyboard out there.
The intelligent layout, using only 60 keys, means that you can type faster. You can get that code written and debugged in record time while others are still working out where they forgot to put that colon. The keys are crafted from high-quality PBT with a silky matte finish. They feel good, and they will last. Instead of having the letters etched on the keys, they are dyed. This creates keycaps which will not fade over time.
If you find that you are ending the day with strained hands or wrists, then this keyboard will protect you. It has a great tactile feel, and compact enough for you to type quickly — a great keyboard for coders.
- Topre switches
- Compact keyboard
- Reduces hand fatigue
Koolertron Programmable Split Mechanical Keyboard
You have probably never seen a keyboard like this before. One look at it and you will wonder if the thing is broken. After using it, you will wonder if the thing has been sent back from the future. It features a split design with completely programmable keys. What more could you ask for?
Let’s start with the keys. Under each key, you have a choice of mechanical switch. You can opt for Cherry MX Black, Red, or Brown. The Red and the Brown have the lowest actuation numbers, so we would recommend them if you are going to be doing a lot of programming. The Black is great for gaming.
The most noteworthy thing about this keyboard is the split-level design. What you have, looks like a keyboard split in two and then joined together with a cable. The great thing about this is that you get a completely ergonomic mechanical keyboard. You can position each half to give the perfect position for each hand.
Once you have the correct position, you can completely map out the location of the keys. You can set up the keyboard layout and then download the software to store the design of the keyboard. All 89 keys are programmable, and you also have 8 macros keys which can be programmed too.
The keyboard is configured to be used with almost any operating system, including Windows, MacOS, and Linux. A wonderful keyboard which gives something different to programmers. A lot of power in a compact keyboard (or two keyboards).
- Cherry MX Brown
- Split design
Unicomp Ultra Classic Model M
This keyboard was created by IBM in the 80s and has continued to be popular today. The main reason for this is the tactile feel of the keys and the amazing clicking sound. Today, it is still one of the best keyboards on the market for coders.
There is a buckling spring in each key which pushes back and strives to improve your typing accuracy. As a coder, the better your efficiency, the cleaner your code. The difference with these keys and the springs inside is that the keystroke is registered at the precise moment that you feel the tactile response. When you have pressed a key, you will know that it has been pressed and the exact moment that it has been pressed.
The keyboard is crafted with a steel baseplate, creating robustness and reliability. The keys are stepped, like stairs, to provide an ergonomic position for your hands, reducing the strain on your fingers and wrists. When this is combined with the tactile response of the keys, you get a keyboard which will protect you as you work long into the night.
A commitment to the environment has also been made and, when you compare it to the previous model, its carbon footprint has been reduced by 20%, and almost half a pound of plastic has been eliminated. That can only be a good thing.
This keyboard has the full set of keys, so you need to make sure that you have enough space on your desk, but there is a 2m cable, so you have some flexibility with the positioning of it. It is compatible with PCs and has USB functionality.
The retro look of this keyboard is excellent and will have coders yearning for simpler times.
- 104 keys
- Retro look
- Classic design