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Ilai Fallach
Ilai Fallach

Posted on • Updated on • Originally published at buildstupidstuff.com

A 60% keyboard is good for you

(The cover photo was generated using MidJourney)

A few years ago, at one of the companies I've worked for, I came across a proliferation of mechanical keyboards and in particular, 60% keyboards, and I bought one for myself.

Since then, I've used that 60% mechanical keyboard, and I can't go back. However, I've noticed that like many other practices in software development, it's easy to stay in the comfort zone of what we already know, since there are so many things to learn.

As I wrote in my introductory blog post, developers are lifelong learners. Therefore, I hope that sharing my own experience will encourage you to try something completely different. This might seem difficult at first but will improve your typing experience and productivity over time.

Let's start with the basics.

What's a mechanical keyboard?

A physical keyboard that uses an individual spring and switch for each key (PCMac)

Wait, so what isn't a mechanical keyboard?

The most widely produced keyboard type is called Membrane (although there are other types as well):

A physical keyboard whose "keys" are not separate, but rather are pressure pads that have only outlines and symbols printed on a flat, flexible surface.

Some history

Initially, when keyboards were first produced, they were mechanical. As computers began getting cheaper, manufacturers looked for ways to make keyboards cheaper as well, and thus the membrane keyboard was created.

However, membrane keyboards have downsides to mechanical keyboards, and so in recent years, users with high requirements from keyboards (Gamers, Typers, Programmers, etc..) began using them again.

Here's a comparison by wepc.com:
chanical vs Membrane

Back to mechanical keyboards

The most important part of a mechanical keyboard is the switch type. There are 3 types: linear, tactile and clicky:

  • Linear (red, yellow, black) - are the quietest of all and the fastest to click on which makes them popular among gamers.
  • Tactile (brown, orange) - have a tactile bump that is felt on each key press.
  • Clicky (blue, green) - are the noisiest and produce a clicky sound when actuated.

switch-types.gif

(Source: steelseries.com)

Keycaps (the actual plastic above the switch), board type, and form (size) are also important factors of mechanical keyboards.

Let's talk about the form, then.

What's a 60% keyboard?

Keyboards have many custom forms as can be seen in the following graphic that shows some of them:

full-size-keyboard.png

tenkeyless-keyboard.png

75-keyboard.png

65-keyboard.png

60-keyboard.png

(Source and a great forms guide from keychron.com)

The full-sized is probably the "classic" keyboard, while a variation of 75% is roughly what we see on most laptops. From my personal experience, I'd say that most of us are comfortable with keyboards in the range of 75% to full-sized.

If we go down to 65%, usually the first thing that we lose is the function keys (F1, F2, ...).

But function keys are useful, and so an Fn key usually exists, that when held, will "switch" the functionality of the top row to the function keys:

  • ESC -> `
  • 1 -> F1
  • 2 -> F2
  • ...

This is all still pretty sane since F keys are not very commonly used, so pressing an additional key from time to time to use the F keys is still within the "comfortable" zone.

When we go below 65%, though, things are starting to get "less comfortable" (and more interesting 😬). Perhaps the biggest change is the removal of arrow keys. These keys are so common, that it sounds insane to be able to work properly without them.

Today we're going to discuss the benefits of 60% keyboards, and why I think they are good for you :)

My 60% Keyboard

(My 60% keyboard)

Why is a 60% keyboard good for you?

TL;DR:

  1. Faster switch from using the mouse to typing
  2. For most people it's ergonomically better
  3. Faster reach to all navigational keys
  4. More compact
  5. Cheaper

(1) Keyboard and mouse

Whenever we're typing, our neutral position of both hands is on what is called the home row keys, which are A, S, D, F for the right hand, and J, K, L, ; for the left.

Assuming you're right-handed, whenever you want to use your mouse, you need to move your hand from the home row keys to the mouse, as seen in the following graphic:

keyboard-full-size-mouse.png

As we can, when working with a full-size keyboard, the distance is quite large. With a 60% keyboard, it looks like this:

keyboard-60-mouse.png

This means that with a 60% keyboard, switching between 2-hand typing and the mouse is much faster (~half the distance!).

(2) Ergonomics

While it depends on your shoulder length, the average person needs to bend his hands outwards from their neutral resting position when using a full-size keyboard. A 60% or tenkeyless keyboard is almost always more ergonomic.

The following article seems to go really deep into choosing the right keyboard form for you: Keyboard Form Factor Guide / Ctrl.blog.

(3) Use navigational keys faster

A common feature in mechanical keyboards is the key mapping programmability. We can program keys to behave differently.

A specific capability is the "temporary layer switch", which allows a held key to change the entire keyboard's key mapping temporarily (as long as it's being held).

The following visualization shows my personal temporary layer key mapping. I chose the Caps Lock key as my layer switch key, as I rarely use this functionality anyway, and it's positioned nicely on the home row.

my-keyboard-caps-layer.png

As you can see, all the navigational and Fn keys (+bonus media keys!) are now much closer to the home row, which keeps your hands in the same place even when using the arrow keys!

Note: It takes some time to get used to a new key mapping such as this. It took me 3 weeks to reach my regular working speed, and since then it had gotten better ^^

(4) More compact

Not much to add here really, it's just smaller, and therefore allows for more desk space and is much more portable.

(5) Cheaper

Fewer keys == Fewer materials == Cheaper (Assuming all the rest of the factors of the keyboard are the same).

When used at work

We've already covered that one of the characteristics of mechanical keyboards is that they are usually louder than their membrane counterparts.

While this can be considered an advantage if you like the sound of the typing, when working alongside others, it can become a life-threatening event (A few co-workers not-so-secretly expressed the desire to murder me when I used a clicky-switch keyboard for long enough periods).

However, there are insanely quiet switches that are even quieter than membrane keyboards.

We are now going to cover my current mechanical keyboard setup that I personally like (and is also very quiet).

My 60% keyboard setup

Prebuilt keyboard

My own keyboard setup is pretty simple. I originally bought a prebuilt budget keyboard that is quite customizable.

igk61 keyboard

Let's breakdown the long title description of this keyboard:

  1. 60% - We know this one already ;)
  2. RGB - Full Red-Green-Blue lighting on each of the keys, and is fully programmable with animations, etc...
  3. hotswap switch - This means that the board allows you to pull out existing switches and replace them with others easily.
  4. pbt keycaps - The type of the keycaps. This is a whole topic in and of itself, here's an overview.
  5. programmable - There's software that allows configuring everything from keymapping and lighting to macros.
  6. 61 key poker layout - The keyboard has exactly 61 keys. "Poker" stands for an unofficial name of all 60% keyboards.
  7. SmartMonkey iGK61 set2b - The exact model of the keyboard.

There are two customization options: the color of the keyboard and the switch model.

Purchase link

My first switches were the Kailh Box Whites. These switches are very clicky and while I absolutely loved the typing feeling they had (one of the best I ever tried), I needed something else for the office.

Silent Switches

After some research, I came across Gazzew's Boba U4 Silents switches.

It's magical how quiet these switches are!

I also really liked their typing feeling, and they are my current favorite switches for typing at the office.

GSA Keycaps

Next, I wanted to give some color to my keycaps. While I don't think they're the nicest looking keycaps out there, their "same-height" GSA profile (Yes, Keycaps layout is another thing you should be aware of 🙈) is really nice:

my-keyboard-cropped.png

Purchase link

Programming the temporary layer

This keyboard has software that allows remapping the keys to enable the temporary layer as seen in the Use navigational keys faster section to improve productivity.

Download link

If you need any help with defining the mapping, then try this youtube video. Also, feel free to reach out!


That's it, folks! I hope that you've enjoyed this blog post. If you have any questions about mechanical keyboards or decided to learn more after reading this, please let me know by commenting here or reaching me directly at @ @ilai

Disclaimer: I'm a rather noob in the vast world of mechanical keyboards. There are awesome resources out there to further learn about mechanical keyboards. Youtube is a great starting point, just write "Getting started with mechanical keyboards" and get started (Just remember to open a stopwatch to stop you from a never-ending video wormhole 😉).


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Originally published at https://buildstupidstuff.com.

Top comments (73)

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spiropoulos94 profile image
NikosSp

I strongly disagree with this.

Shorter keyboards seem to have taken the programming world by storm, but I just can't bear with it. Keyboards are supposed to make our lives easier, why ditching a handfull of keys to do so?

I personally use a TKL keyboard, an 80% one to be exact, which seems to provide a more ergonomic position for my hands. But 60% ? Like really? What is the future of this? 10-key keyboards?

I think that modern e-commerce has the power to implement "fashions" in the consumers, but let's be honest, is a smaller than 80% keyboard it REALLY worth it? Are there any productivity benefits in forcing yourself to memorize dozens of shortcuts apart from the existing ones?

Personally I believe that this "fashion" benefits only one group: the companies selling more keyboards.

Anyway, that's my two cents on the topic.

Take care

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ilaif profile image
Ilai Fallach Author • Edited on

@spiropoulos94 you might be on to something here! I'm not affiliated with any keyboard manufacturer, and it's certainly a hobby as well. You can say the same about cars, or vim and remembering a ton of shortcuts.

More than fashion, I think it's about style ❤️

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vitalipom profile image
Vitali Pomanitski

Hey 😅 I’m developing a soft keyboard (software keyboard is one that goes as an app for phones touch screens) and it’s in its advanced stages (speaking of competitiveness, I mean it’s not a just released app or something I’m about to release for the first time). Your article and this whole talk here is like…:🤤.
I mean, you do your best to grab attention of people over the course of development and really fight everyone while with a screwdriver you try to nail it. And then you come across a blog acciddntally, that’s basically… About a thing someone likes. And it explodes….
You rock buddy. I have no words. Thank you. I have no better leasson to learn but from you, to follow my guts - my heart and my deepest feelings.
Thank you!
You made my day.
Literally. I mean really!
Thanks,
vitalipom

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ilaif profile image
Ilai Fallach Author

Hi @vitalipom, thanks a lot for the kind words!
Although I've only wrote 3 articles so far in my personal blog post - This is the #1 reason to write: To inspire and get inspired from the amazing people in the dev.to community.

Please do share the keyboard link, it sounds interesting!

If I can be of any further help, let me know, and have a great day! ❤️

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vitalipom profile image
Vitali Pomanitski • Edited on

Yeah, you kinda write what you think. You don’t try to sell something, you speak from emotions. Btw, it’s 0% planned, but how about writing writing and publishing an article about my keyboard? Something honest, that you can reflect on? I mean I can really pay, because for me the technical part is much easier and what You do — for me is a tremendous effort.
At first I thought, it won’t be nice pushing my links into my comments of something such sincere (out of respect to dev.to community, the guys here are really great), but then you offered and while writing this comment I came up with this idea. What do you say?

[Edit: OMG I’ve just checked your profile, dude we’re neighbors 😂 you’re also from Israel, I’m from Raanana - I live 20 minutes from you. We definitely need to meet for a cup of coffee at the weekend!]

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ilaif profile image
Ilai Fallach Author

As you've said, it's writing about something that I felt that I learned a lot from, and that others can learn from or teach me more about.

Can you DM me with the link to the app you developed and I'll try it out? 🤩 - that way, you won't have to sponsor anything here. I'm not saying that I'll write about it - But I am truly interested in what you developed :)

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vitalipom profile image
Vitali Pomanitski

I’ll DM you now, check out my edit above. We’re neighbors!!! I want to jump to TLV to meet you alive if you're up to :)

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vitalipom profile image
Vitali Pomanitski

@ilaif erghhhhhhh sorry for spamming you here in the comments, I didn’t find the chat on the mobile version of dev.to.
Could you drop me an email? It’s vitali.pom -> gmail ~> com

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saniyusuf profile image
Sani Yusuf • Edited on

Hi Vitali,
Looks like you are building a very interesting project. Have you seen Fleksy SDK ? Its a keyboard SDK that might be very useful to you and shorten development time significantly.
I work with the Devrel team and ill be happy to answer any questions that you might have about the Fleksy SDK.

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waylonwalker profile image
Waylon Walker

As someone who just went from 60% to 40%, I can confirm smaller is not cheaper. In fact the weirder it is the smaller the audience the less bulk production.

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ilaif profile image
Ilai Fallach Author

@waylonwalker - Indeed, the more the niche, the more expensive things are. Mechanical keyboards in general are more expensive, but I think that usually when a company produces multiple keyboard forms, then the 60% will be cheaper than the larger forms (less key caps, less switches, less materials in general), but it might not be true for all cases - And certainly less probable for 40% and down 😛

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ozdanet profile image
francis

hi Waylon. Do you plan to write about this? I would be interested to hear your initial, 1 month, 3 months, experiences with a 40%.

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waylonwalker profile image
Waylon Walker

I've been using a split ergo 40% for a year now. I will say that day one on a split ergo it tough, but me and the few people I have converted got over that hump aftr a few days. 40% it quite a bit harder. I'd say a month in I was "ok", but not great. It takes time to set up your config the way that works for you. In a way it's kinda like vim, were trying to change few keys at a time is good, but to get in you have to change a whole bunch all at once. numbers weren't too bad for me, it was all the symbols, brackets, parens, etc that got me, but now I know where I have everything laid out very well, I never got to this point and always was looking at a normal keeb for symbols and stuff.

Also a split ergo feels soooo comfy when you get into it, It just feels like your fingers are twisted on anything else. that said you pay the price of a few wpm. I think part of this is that there are a few overlap keys that you can no longer hit with both hands.

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ilaif profile image
Ilai Fallach Author

Thanks for this personal experience. I believe a split keeb or an Alice layout is my next experience. 40% later ☺️

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ozdanet profile image
francis

Thanks. Great info. The split ergo 40%s look really nice. Tempting...

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waylonwalker profile image
Waylon Walker

I way under estimated how hard 40% would be and how easy split ergo would be

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ilaif profile image
Ilai Fallach Author

@waylonwalker I'd like to see such a blog post as well! It might push me further down the size ❤️

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andypiper profile image
Andy Piper • Edited on

I've recently fallen into the mechanical keyboard rabbithole! Nice post, thanks for sharing. I prefer to use something like QMK or VIA for programming the keyboard layers, though.

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andypiper profile image
Andy Piper

Reading about that keyboard (the iGK61) it doesn't sound like it supports QMK or any of the open software tools for configuring the key layouts, which is a shame. If you continue along the path of checking out mechanical keyboards, I'd recommend looking for those options next time.

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ilaif profile image
Ilai Fallach Author

@andypiper thank you! It indeed does not 😞. However, I've found the software to be usable, and the price point of the iGK61 to be low enough to make it easy for beginners to get started with!

I'm only a beginner in the mechanical keebs world - So i'll sure continue along the path. Do you have any QMK keyboard to recommend? 😬

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andypiper profile image
Andy Piper

Well... it depends. I do have a smaller VIA/QMK keyboard which works OK, but I haven't been able to build replacement firmware, just edit the keyboard layout in VIA - I made a repo for it, and that one is only a 40 key option. I also have a Reviung 41 which is a different type of layout completely, it also runs QMK though. My day-to-day is currently a mechanical TKL that doesn't have software configuration.

So no, I don't have a 60 key QMK-compatible keyboard to suggest, but there are plenty out there :-)

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ilaif profile image
Ilai Fallach Author

Thanks! I didn't find it so easy to find a list of QMK recommended keyboards. I would expect to find such a list more easily. The smaller layout keeb is really cool!

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drazik profile image
drazik

Thanks for sharing. Do you have further informations about temporarily switch keyboard layout and making custom keyboard layouts on linux? I would be interested to use a custom alternative layout to temporarily remap HJKL to left / bottom / up / right arrows, so I don't have to leave the home row when I can't use vim bindings but still need to navigate in some text.

Thanks!

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ilaif profile image
Ilai Fallach Author

Do you have an igk61 keyboard? If so, they unfortunately don't have a Linux compatible software. However, you can always spin up a vm of mac or windows, connect the keyboard, configure it, and go back to your beloved Linux. Lmk if that helps 🙏🏽

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drazik profile image
drazik

No, I have my laptop keyboard only

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ilaif profile image
Ilai Fallach Author

I'm sure there is software that does that in Linux, but I can't recommend of any - I never tried doing that. Do share if you get it working, though!

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pengeszikra profile image
Peter Vivo • Edited on

Thanks Ilai for this post, especial the temporary layer switch solution seems very useful.

My keyboard preferences is a bit of out of these scope, because I am one of the few touchbar fanatic. Because touch bar give a great flexiblity and visual feedback to my keyboard. Especial I like the language switching on touchbar because my default settings is internatianal english but time to time I also use hungarian keyboards too and current language indicator is on right end of my touch bar.

Touch pad also great on MacBook pro M1 14 ( all mac ), so I do not need to use mouse. This gesture great help, include wheel gesture, is much more nicer compare with mouse wheel.

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ilaif profile image
Ilai Fallach Author

Thanks @pengeszikra! Macs are indeed great as well, and I'm typing from one as we speak. Regarding the touchpad - Personally I feel much more in control with a mouse, not sure if that's just me. 🤔

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pengeszikra profile image
Peter Vivo

Few years ago I use PC with mouse and seems touch pad is anoing, but Mac touchpad is whole diferent world. Even I can drawing with them much controll than mouse.

By the way in mouse I prefered the iron whell equiped, which one also have capability to give momentum to wheeling.

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ilaif profile image
Ilai Fallach Author

Yep. When you use an external screen though, it's not so comfortable to use the macbook directly. Then, a separate keyboard and mouse become more important.

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turowski profile image
Kacper Turowski

I know some Blender users might have issues switching to compacts, as they use numpad pretty extensively. Before someone says "just remape the keys, duh", there's so many bindings in Blender, it pays to learn the default keybinds rather than try to work around existing ones. Most keys already have something assigned.

Which is where the dark side of this hobby comes in, haha. You can own more than one keeb, different sizes and all.

Myself, I use 75% keeb and I'm using arrows rather extensively. It's just a single extra column of keys, so not much of space. Editing keys are good to have too, Ctrl+Shift+End is complicated enough, I don't need to toss in Fn or Capslock into the mix. And the function row doesn't affect anything anyway, so switching to 60% is useless in terms of ergonomics. More of a cool factor or portability thing, which is what makes 50% really fun.

A pretty interesting keyboard size is one without editing keys. I haven't seen mechanical one like that, but my Logitech K780 is of this size. It's noticeably larger than compacts (about the size of TKL, I'd say), but it offers the best of two worlds - you can use either the numpad or the editing keys (Pgup, Insert, etc), depending on whether numlock is on or off.

With that said, I'll leave you with something to brighten up your day 😉

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ilaif profile image
Ilai Fallach Author

@turowski Thanks for the different perspective!

75% keyboards are indeed a great compromise. For some reason I had a slight feeling of "claustrophobia" when using that (all of the keys were very condensed, if that makes sense 🤔).

You killed me with the video 😂

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turowski profile image
Kacper Turowski

Did you see 40% and 30% keebs? Now these are certified smol. Also, obviously key spacing is exact same on all keebs unless you get something more exotic. I like my 75% but it does feel like it's bit crowded in there 😉 I getchu

And then there's the world of the fully custom mades.

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eelstork profile image
Tea

You also don't want to remap these keys in Blender cause travel from mouse to keyboard, one hazardous journey filled with imaginary beasts.
Multiple keyboards is okay but can be pretty jarring if the layout / size doesn't match.

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ninhnd profile image
Dang Ninh

I use arrow keys sometimes in coding so losing them is something that I'm not willing to do. I have a laptop so every time I go out I just bring the laptop only (there's no space left for the keyboard even if it's in 60% form anyway). That's why I bought myself a full size keyboard and left it at home. I mean, why not? I have plenty of desk space at home, more acquainted to full size and the most important thing is that I won't bring my keyboard outside.

With all that being said, 60% keyboard may be good for you but it may not be for everyone. This is also a message for everyone who is looking to buy a mechanical keyboard: Research your needs carefully to choose the right one

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ilaif profile image
Ilai Fallach Author

I completely agree with you @ninhnd! I wrote about my own journey and experience, and shared many links along the way with ways to check what's the best for you.

As I wrote in the ergonomics section, most of us humans do not have "wide enough shoulders" for a full-sized keyboard + mouse to be ergonomically "good", so it is based on your size, but I'd argue that most people will be better off with at most 80% (TKL).

Anyhow, it's all very subjective and your points are very important - Do your own research and choose what's right for you.

Thanks again for this important note that I probably should have mentioned in the post.

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bias profile image
Tobias Nickel

hey, my favorite keyboard is the Lenovo Thinkpad keyboads. i use a wired one, but there is also wireless. some of them, you can seemlessly switch between different devices.

that is very good to me, as I have a personal PC (windows)and a work computer (mac) and the keyboard works good with both.

and it has all the feature keys, for audio and wifi.

when using it, it also feels professional and efficient.

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ilaif profile image
Ilai Fallach Author

That's awesome, @bias! I haven't heard of this keyboard. BTW - If you're interested in a 60% wireless keyboard, that obviously exists as well from many manufacturers.
From the type that I've shown in the post, here's the link to the wireless version: epathbuy.com/product/minimalist-me...

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ashtonsnapp profile image
Ashton Scott Snapp

My laptop has a 75% layout (or close to it anyways). While I am a programmer, I also play a lot of games - specifically with mods. One thing about game mods is that you end up having a lot of keybinds, and there will inevitably be some sort of conflict. Fewer keys means you have to do more work to get non-conflicting keybinds, and those keybinds will have more modifier keys (since games don't really support chording keybinds). And sometimes mods will just assume you have a numpad by default, like Place Anywhere for Fallout 4.

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rytis profile image
Rytis

Hey, another step would be to switch to stenotype. Even less keys, you don't need to move your hands at all, and the learning curve is out of this world! Imagine the mad props from the observers when you can type a sentence in 2 seconds.

Jokes aside, I can see how 60% keyboards might be nice for gamers who have small desks and need real estate for their mice. For productivity, however, I absolutely hate anything smaller than 100%.

Here are some points to consider:

  • Some languages replace the top row number keys with more letters. Therefore it is more convenient to have a numpad.
  • I strongly disagree that function keys are rarely used. Shift + F6 is the rename shortcut in my IDE, and that gets used hundreds of times per day. Also some people use F9 (or other function keys) to build and run the projects.
  • I heavily use the numpad enter with my thumb, while not moving my hand away from the mouse.
  • I think the ergonomics points are totally moot when comparing 60% vs 100% keyboards. The overall type surface is the same when using the normal letters. I have my keyboard aligned in a way where G and H keys are aligned with the center line of my monitor, thus making a 100% keyboard a bit off center overall, but for 60% it would be centered.
  • Talking about ergonomics, keyboards in your picture seem to not have wrist rests, and those mechanical keyboards being quite tall definitely require a wrist rest, in my opinion.
  • Numpad is almost a requirement when working with Excel. And my job requires me to use Excel on a daily basis.
  • And final point – media keys, how can one tolerate work without them? Especially being a lead developer and having to constantly pause and play media in order to answer questions from colleagues.

These points are of course completely subjective and based on my experience. Everyone should use the tools that find convenient for them.

I've been rocking a Corsair K70 for almost 8 years now. Blue switches at work, and Red switches at home. I especially love the USB passthrough for Yubikey. It's a near perfect keyboard, but I'll probably look into something more craft and hipster in the near future, if I ever find a keyboard that matches my requirements. But it sure as hell won't be anything smaller than 100% 🙂

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nicolus profile image
Nicolas Bailly

I really like how tiny a 60% keyboard looks, but for me it's just not worth the tradeoff. The distance from mouse to home keys is a good argument, but a 75% keyboard gives you most of that advantage without sacrificing functionality.

Now my only gripe with 75% is that very few of them have the "home" and "end" key directly above the left and right arrow like you have on yourr layout, and that's something I just can't live without. So I'm basically stuck using a Typematrix 2030 for the foreseeable future.

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ilaif profile image
Ilai Fallach Author

@nicolus First time I've come across a Typematrix 2030 🤩 - Seems like a hell of an experience :)

Just pasting the layout here for reference:
Typematrix 2030

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mikiqex profile image
Michal Novák

I noticed the wrong ergonomics years ago and I LOVE my old Microsoft SideWinder X6 Keyboard with detachable keypad, which you can magnetically connect to either side. So, at home, where I don't use the keypad that much, I have keypad on the left side. And if I do heavy number works, I can simply click it to the right side and it's business as usual.

Microsoft SideWinder X6(photo stolen from merrjep.com)

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jeremymoorecom profile image
Jeremy Moore

programmable layers QMK/VIA are the biggest benifit for myself as a programmer.

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gmarziou profile image
Gaël Marziou

Even better than a 60% keyboard: a 60% split keyboard.
It has the main advantage to let you align your hands with your shoulders which is putting less stress in your shoulders and elbows especially for tall guys.
Mine is a Dygma Raise

🌚 Browsing with dark mode makes you a better developer by a factor of exactly 40.

It's a scientific fact.