Nothing interrupts the flow of work like a misbehaving keyboard. When pressing a key doesn’t result in a character appearing on the screen, it puts a serious dent in one’s typing accuracy. So when my Microsoft wireless keyboard started acting up and replacing the batteries didn’t help, I started looking at alternatives to the $30-$80 cheap plastic keyboard. I quickly stumbled into the world of mechanical keyboards, where there was lots of talk of linear switches, tactile switches, actuation force (measured in centi-Newtons) and a mysterious color code having to do with the level of clickty-clack noise that a keyboard makes.
After spending several hours online trying to absorb all of this, I ended up ordering a Max Keyboard Nighthawk X7, with green back lit keys. Except for those green LEDs (one under each keycap), it’s a throwback in almost every way to first generation PC keyboards, circa 1982. First, it’s heavy. Weighing in at about 3 pounds, it doesn’t slide around on the desk. Second, it’s got a cord; a big, thick, 6′ braided cord that carries the signal for the keyboard, plus 2 USB ports and a headphone/microphone pass-through. Finally, there are the keys themselves. The X7 model uses Cherry MX “Blue” switches which, according to the keyboardco.com website:
…is the most common clicky switch, and was first made available in Filco keyboards in 2007. Blue switches are favoured by typists due to their tactile bump and audible click, but can be less suitable for gaming as the weighting is relatively high – 50 cN – and it is a bit harder to double tap, as the release point is above the actuation point. Blue switches are noticeably louder than other mechanical switches, which are already louder than rubber domes, so these switches can be a bit disruptive in close working conditions.
For many years, I’ve used Microsoft’s “ergonomic” keyboards, which are angled to help keep your wrists straight while typing. So it’s been a bit of an adjustment going back to a straight keyboard. After four days, I’ve made the adjustment and my touch typing is getting back to normal. I can also feel myself speeding up due to the tactile feedback from the keys, as well as the overall sturdiness of the keyboard as a whole. The keys are slightly sculpted, with raised indicators on the “F” and “J” to help keep your fingers where they belong. Since I work by myself, there’s no one to complain about the noise and to me it’s a very satisfying sound.
The LED back lighting, while it looks cool, is not an essential feature in my book. I had originally wanted white LEDs to mimic printed letters but this model would have cost more and I’m cheap. So I ordered blue and was sent green by mistake. I decided to keep it because it reminds me of the characters on an old green monochrome monitor, which seems appropriate. My only complaint is that the number lock and scroll lock LEDs are much brighter than those under the keys, almost to the point of being distracting. I might end up covering over part of them with a bit of electrical tape. All of the LEDs can be adjusted for brightness or turned off.
The keyboard comes with a gel-filled wrist rest and adjustable back legs. I find my wrist position is quite neutral with the legs folded up and the wrist rest in place. One issue with the wrist rest is that right out of the package it smelled horrible. Like, eye watering horrible. It’s gotten better but it was bad enough that I sent customer support an email about it. They suggested an open window for the first few days.
Is it worth it?
All in, this was a $140 keyboard, which is 3 times the cost of the keyboard it replaced. For someone like me, who spends much of the day typing, this seems like a reasonable investment, provided that it lasts several years and improves my productivity. For a casual user, it’s not a must-have device but I believe that anyone will enjoy their time in front of their computer much more with a high quality keyboard such as this one.