A clone of the famous, old Northgate Omnikey keyboard.

The one work-day review: Here are a few first impressions that I wanted to write down before I forgot them. This is after using the keyboard for one full work day.

  • Switch feel: So far, they feel very nice. They feel almost the same as the Tactile pro, but maybe just a tad more stiff (it’s a very small difference). It could be the difference between the white-stemmed and the grey-stemmed ALPS switches.
  • Programmability: This is extremely handy. I’ve already moved escape to the tilde position, tilde to the right windows key position, and replaced caps lock with control. Having this much control really makes it easy to experiment with different key layouts and find the optimum configuration. The only limitations I’ve run into so far are that a) you can’t generate scan codes that are not generated by one of the other keys (so no emulating mac volume keys), and the keycaps on the bottom rows have a different shape from those at the top. While I was able to swap the escape and tilde keys just fine, swaping tilde and the right windows key didn’t work (it made the tilde key stick out above the other keys.)
  • Wrist pain: It’s probably not much to do with this keyboard in particular, but after using a MS Natural Elite for a long time at work, using a normal layout again seems to strain my wrists a bit. I ended up re-arranging my desk so I could keep the keyboard on the desk instead of on a keyboard tray. With the current setup, it seems ok, but I feel like the Natural Elite was still a tad more comfortable. I have an el cheapo beanbag wrist rest, but it doesn’t seem to help much. Maybe I need to get a real one.
  • Power: the weird power problems I was having when I had it connected to my mac through a PS/2 to USB adapter completely disappeared when I hooked it into my ps/2 KVM switch at work.
  • Typing speed: I feel like my typing speed has already improved somewhat. The lightness of the keys is really helpful here.
  • N-key rollover: Seems to have the same characteristics as when I used it at home. It can support up to maybe 8-10 keys being pressed simultaneously, but if I mash my palm down on the thing then none of the keys get registered. Maybe this is actually a feature (since, when do you actually mean to input 30 keys at once?).
  • Looks: It looks decidedly old school. But you should never actually be looking at your keyboard when you type right? But for home setups where looks are important.. this could be a limiting factor.

White-stemmed ALPS mechanical switch.

The one work-week review: I think this is probably the best standard layout PC-keyboard I’ve tried so far. Yea, it’s expensive, but the feel + the N-key rollover is completely worth it.
My only complaints are the following:

  • My hands hurt after a while. This is probably mostly my fault for having bad posture when I type, but when I’m sitting at my desk all day, it’s harder to maintain correct posture. If I try to keep my hands floating above the keyboard, then my shoulders start to hurt. At the end of the day, my wrists hurt a lot less with the MS Natural Elite. Maybe I just really need a built in wrist rest to be comfortable.
  • There seems to be a small bug in the keyboards firmware that causes a very occasional spurious key repeat. I’d say it happens for maybe half a second once every few days, so it’s really not that big of a deal, and certainly not a reason to stop using this keyboard. This symptom seems to be more finicky when the keyboard may not be getting enough power. It happens the least frequently when I have it plugged directly in to the PS/2 port.
  • The ‘up arrow’ key has a different type of switch that doesn’t have a tactile click. Sometimes this can be annoying while you’re trying to scroll up or move the cursor to a specific line in a text editor.

If you like ALPS switches, this keyboard is difficult to pass up. I’ve already ordered a wrist pad out of the hope that I can use it to make my hands feel more comfortable.

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