Aug 112012

Things in the laptop industry seem to be following sort of a “fashion” – just like the shiny screen totally dominated the consumer market before anti-glare laptops started to reappear,  now it is really hard to find a laptop with a nice, full-size keyboard without the chiclet junk that doesn’t register keystrokes or makes you miss keys.  I am tall and I have big hands, so just like having issues with all cars being made for people shorter than 6 feet (about 1.83 m), it’s already challenging enough for me to type on keyboards sized for an average person, but chiclet keyboards make it worse with their smaller keys and less real estate for your fingertips.

Few years ago I used to enjoy typing on HP Elitebook and Probook series laptops, but now it seems they replaced their “standard” keyboards with same chiclet junk most other laptop manufacturers use. I had and loved their Elitebook 2530p and 2540p, but it seems that both Elitebook 2560p with Sandy Bridge CPU and more recent Elitebook 2570p with Ivy Bridge CPU are impaired with the chiclet joke of a keyboard.

Desperate for the right typing feel, I went to see new lower end 15.6″ Lenovos, ready to give away my chiclet piece of junk Toshiba Portege to my wife, remembering that the Lenovo B560 I helped choose for my in-laws last year has a keyboard that felt absolutely great while I was typing its own review on it.  But no, even new Lenovo models have chiclet keyboards.  Sheesh!   Like many other average consumers, the person I recently helped choose a new laptop wasn’t bothered by the Lenovo’s new chiclet keyboard because they don’t do as much typing, but to me it’s a shame to see this brand follow the “fashion lemmings” and throw away what distinguished them most from competition.  They were so well known for their keyboards inherited from IBM, but since it seems they decided to cut the cord, I believe that may hurt them in the long run.

So now with both HP and Lenovo out of the game, I’m stuck and I blame Apple for starting this worthless chiclet junk fashion.  Instead of following only good Apple solutions and leaving it to Apple fanboys to suffer with bad ones, the PC laptop industry blindly follows mostly everything Apple does, regardless of how useless it may be.  Copycats everywhere, just as I mentioned in my Steve Jobs farewell article.  This really stinks and I currently have no laptop of choice, so I keep suffering when mobile or using the desktop keyboard and monitor when at home.  I was right in my why laptops are like shoes post – it didn’t take laptop manufacturers long to mess things up. All I can do now is to crave absolutely accurate speech recognition, so I can avoid the frustrating experience of having to use a keyboard on these new, “fancy” laptops.  Meanwhile, I’ll either search for the yesteryear models and hopefully find some with decent keyboards, or wait for some manufacturers to fill the void in the niche of writers, executives and coders who do a lot of typing on their laptops and care for great quality keyboards.

  5 Responses to “I Hate Chiclet Keyboards!”

  1. Yup, I freakin’ hate those things too. What was so bad about the old-style scissor switches? Too expensive to keep making them that way, so they decided to stabilize the flat keys by using the housing around each switch as a guide? They’re terrible to type on. When I type on my laptop, I hook up a Unicomp Customizer 104 USB buckling-spring keyboard (a Model M remake) just so I can get stuff done.

    I’d give anything for a laptop with a full Cherry ML (the low-profile, reduced-travel version of the Cherry MX switches) keyboard built right into it.

    • Model M? That was a professional precision instrument, unlike today’s rubbish keyboards. That’s from the times when computers were something other than the cheapo tablet wannabes. You know why the model M keyboards are out and why only one manufacturer still makes them (your comment made me look it up and to my surprise it’s still being made)? Because they last forever, so they’re not profitable. I have a friend who still uses an old IBM model M at work because no modern keyboard can take his two-finger pounding (nor can my ear when we’re on the phone). My laptops at home get plugged into Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, which makes me type much better and faster and has healed my both pinky fingers RSI that I suppose was caused by the prolonged use of the chiclet keyboard on my Toshiba laptop. I’ve done a lot of research before selecting the 4000 and I’m reasonably happy with it being quite comfy and making me type faster and with less errors. It still feels a bit cheap though and I’d give anything for an ergonomic split model M with a negative tilt, if there were such a thing.

      • The Unicomp Customizer 104 is built on the same tooling that Lexmark used to manufacture the original Model M under contract with IBM. The build quality isn’t as good as the original Model M, but I suppose it’s decent.

        It is lighter than the original and lacks the steel back plate, it creaks a bit if you twist the housing, a few of the keycaps tend to oddly rotate a few degrees out of position, the throw of the keyswitches feels a little tiny bit gummier than the original and the label that goes over the LEDs is peeling up. It works great, just not as great as the original, sadly.

        I also had an original Model M 1391401 that I got off eBay for about $20 while they were still cheap about four or five years ago, before the mechanical keyboard craze kicked in. I use a Metadot Das Keyboard Ultimate on my desktop machine, and gave the Model M to my dad who loves typing on it. He ditched his awful membrane keyboard as soon as he got his hands on it. That thing is basically indestructible. It’s 20 years old and still functions perfectly. In a zombie apocalypse scenario, you could use it as a cudgel to defend your home and then write a novel with it.

        I really, really like Cherry MX blue keyswitches, like the kind found in the Das or Filco keyboards. They’ve got a nice, crisp feel to them, and they take substantially less force to actuate than buckling-spring keyswitches. Then again, I like typing on buckling-spring keyboards, too, but they wear out my dainty fingers after a few days of solid typing. Each one of your fingers needs to be as strong as a grown man’s arm to use one of those things comfortably 24/7.

        I used to type on an MS Natural way back in the day, but I vastly prefer regular straight keyboards with a conventional layout nowadays.

        • Being a hobby piano player (and for those who didn’t know, the piano belongs to both strings and percussion instruments), I enjoy keyboards that put up a nice amount of resistance. I was worried when I was buying the above mentioned Microsoft 4000 because some reviews say that the space bar is way too hard to press, but to me it’s just perfect.

          Back to the magnificent M models: we discarded many hundreds of them at work when I was still a PC technician. It would have been a good investment to store them in a basement and wait for them to ‘age’ and the price to jump, perhaps better than making a wine cellar, but who would have imagined then that newer keyboards would keep getting worse.

          Thanks for sharing your great subject competence here. Very few people understand and appreciate the importance of such a cheap peripheral, capable of making the best computer in the world feel like a piece of junk, or making a cheap machine a great tool for those of us who type a lot. Sometimes I connect our super slow netbook to the external keyboard and monitor and typing on it feels so much better than on a $1,000+ ultraportable.

    • Cherry MX Red Type Speed 115%, chiclet on deathstalker 105%, low profile membrane on lycosa 100%, Gaming, Deathstalker 150%, lycosa 140%, cherry mx red 100%, in terms of effectiveness, low profile is better for gaming imo. ive tried each for over a month and have been pc gaming since 1993

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