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Pretty Good Hat

Tag: keyboards

Keyboard Week!

What a great hobby week. A few days ago I built a keyboard with my kiddo, and yesterday I got started on a build for myself. We built the KBD67Lite from kbdfans. While I’ve had a couple of mechanical keyboards, these were the first that I’ve built up from parts – fortunately, the kbdlite comes as a nice kit which made for a gentle introduction to lubricating stabilizers. (Which, by the way, makes a tremendous difference.)

close-up view of a hotswap PCB

Kiddo picked out keycaps that make this lovely gradient, and they feel really nice.

side view of a purple keyboard case with keycaps that run from vivid to pale pink and orange

I went with gray keycaps on a white case. So far this board is a real pleasure to type on. Now that I have a good point of comparison with my Q1 board I can start to get a feel for how qualitatively different switches and keys can feel. By comparison, the Q1 is indeed a little pingy, for example, so I’m even more curious to see how some modifications to its components could feel.

top-down view of a white keyboard case with gray and dark gray accent keycaps

After the build, I did some work in QMK to program a couple of MacOS specific layers for the KBD67Lite. Unlike the Q1, it doesn’t have a hardware mode switch, so I have to make a virtual one that lets me toggle Mac and Windows layers with a key combination. Fortunately I was familiar with working in QMK from all the screwing around I did with the vim mode I built, so it didn’t take too long to figure this out – and I’m happily typing away!

A blue plastic keyboard case without switches or caps installed, showing the bare switch sockets, held in my hand

Building this kbd67lite with kiddo was a good Christmas day project. (I got one for myself, too – caps and switches should arrive tomorrow!)

screenshot showing the QMK configuration of a keyboard layer, with the RESET command highlighted

The hardware flash mode on the Q1 requires removing the space bar and pushing a tiny button while plugging in the keyboard. But you can program a key to do this instead. This is a massive improvement! Fiddling/Learning QMK would be terribly cumbersome otherwise.

Keyboard programming with QMK update: Adding more vim keys to a new layer on my Q1! After a long time idly thinking it would be neat to have vim-style navigation in, for example, an Outlook compose window, I can now toggle layers and do exactly that. It’s pretty slick.

A plastic bag containing grey and blue keyboard switches. The bag is labeled T167g.

Oh, this keyboard hobby is going to be a Thing, I can tell. I got some alternative switches to try in my Q1. These are quiet tactile switches, slightly stiffer than the stock Gateron browns. I swapped them in for ESC and return, and got a nice, just stronger feel with less ping.

Too Many Words About Two Keyboards

In the span of three weeks I’ve somehow accumulated not one but two mechanical keyboards: A Keychron K2, and a Ducky One 2 SF. I had ordered the Ducky first, but it was out of stock and after about a week it appeared that its shipping date had been pushed back even further – several more weeks out from my reading of the inventory update at In a fit of impulsive work-at-home consumerism (in which I see I am in good company, I also ordered the Keychron, which arrived in just two days, and I’ve cheerfully been banging away on it for the last couple of weeks.

Well. The Ducky turned out to ship much sooner than I expected based on the order number I had, and it arrived last night.

Comparing the two isn’t quite apples to apples because they have different switches: The Ducky has Cherry MX Browns, and the Keychron has Gateron Blues. My logic with the K2 decision was that I would use it mostly for work, and would appreciate the tactility for day-in typing, while I would mostly use the Ducky with our gaming PC and would prefer a little less key pressure there. Note that this is one hundred percent a ridiculous post-hoc rationalization. I figured, if I’m going to have two of these things, I might as well try a different style. We’ll see how that bears out! I’m swapping back and forth between the two while typing up these thoughts.

I have come to really like the tactility and sound of the blues on the Keychron. I’m a little self-conscious of it when I’m on a work call, and will try out some of the tweaks that Phil describes in his notes. A few keys are a little wobbly or scratchy in their travel, which I don’t notice at all so far on the Ducky. True to the way they’re described, the slightly more positive tactile feel of the blues does make them feel more accurate for doing lots of straightaway typing.

Agreeing emphatically with Phil, I sure think Keychron put the del key in the wrong place. But I do prefer the true top row of F keys on the K2, in part because it means that Esc is a dedicated key and doesn’t share functionality with backtick and tilde; I use all three of those a lot, and I don’t like needing to use modifiers. The Keychron also has a surprise dedicated screen-capture key on that F row, which I find I use way more than I realized for work. It’s really nice to not need to fiddle with multiple modifer keys to find that one. The Ducky has one accessible with the fn key, but I’m never going to remember where it is.

Among other things to really like about the Keychron: The Windows/Mac switch and the three toggle-able bluetooth connections are really good! I won’t actually swap keycaps every time I swap PC modes, but the keyboard comes with both sets of Win and Mac modifiers keys, and my muscle memory with both systems is juuust about good enough to simply change modes and be pretty effective. 1 Three bluetooth settings lets me swap easily between my work PC, my MacBook, and an iPad. This is great for my current home office setup, where I can bring the MacBook over at the end of the work-work day and hook it up to the monitor; then I toggle to Mac mode and tap fn-1 to activate the bluetooth connection to it. It’s really slick, and is a great capability. I haven’t noticed latency as an issue. Both keyboards use USB-C so I don’t need to fiddle with anything to swap between them. The K2 thoughtfully includes a right-angled plug so the cable connection is really low profile.

the stylish rat design on the space bar

There’s no disupting that the PBT keycaps with the Ducky are better. The texture is subtly more pronounced, while the ABS keys on the K2 can feel a little slick – and they definitely show fingerprints more readily. The slightly thicker cap of the Ducky is nicer to feel and to strike. Ducky is also really fun because they throw a few bonus spare keys with different colors or print styles into the box; my Ducky came with a super cool year of the rat space bar, and I’m absolutely rocking that thing. While I’m not a big LED fiddler, both keyboards have lots of light modes, though the Ducky’s LED is a full RGB while the Keychron’s is white. I’m a simple man and go for a steady glow. The shine-through of both key sets is nice and sharp. I’m really thinking about a PBT keycap upgrade for the K2.

If every app were vim, the location of the page up/down and home/end keys wouldn’t matter as much, but, alas. Two weeks in, I haven’t gotten used to the location of those keys on the K2. In addition to the misplaced del key, the Keychron has those four keys in what I think is just the wrong place. Ideally, I would swap the two sets – putting page up/down immediately above the right arrow key. That would make it easier to grab with muscle memory. The Ducky also has a small gap between that column and the main set of keys, which serves muscle memory better, even in just a very short time of use; it also has the Del key in the proper location, and because it uses modifiers to turn page up/down into home/end, there are two fewer keys in the column to confuse my fingers. It’s almost immediately feeling natural to hit fn+ one of those keys to modify it to home/end, and I can locate the correct key much more quickly while touch-typing. This is a really well thought-out design on the part of the Ducky folks.

The height of the Ducky is better – by comparison, the front edge of the Keychron is like the Cliffs of Insanity. This hasn’t actually bothered me in the couple of weeks I’ve used the Keychron, but I can certainly see it being a problem. Trying out a wrist rest is probably a good idea.

Notes on swapping between the two: Having played some Destiny 2 with the K2 and felt the push-back of the stiffer switches, I’m definitely looking forward to the experience of playing with the brown switches on the Ducky. I think the blue switches do win for solid typing feel, but whenever I change between these boards, my first thought is, “wow, the K2 is loud!” It’s probably good that I mostly share my home office (it’s the dining room) with a lab/border collie mix. Phil is 100% on the right track to suggest some modifications to dampen the case noise a little. But both feel similarly robust; neither feels flexy or cheap and nothing makes me sense that the Gaterons are any lower quality than the Cherry switches.

Time will tell if I migrate to one or the other more full-time for work and/or for fun. For now, to finish a way too long and self-indulgent post, I’ll just say I’m a happy convert to these keyboards. They’re fun and feel good to use, and I will take anything I can get that helps me look forward to sitting down to work at this particular moment. Good tools matter; these are both good tools.

  1. What I could really use is a keycap with both modifiers printed on it; that would be an even better solution for the Keychron, and would eliminate the occasional “waaait, which is cmd again?” moment. I’m almost tempted to use a white paint marker to scribble a tiny cmd and whatever-Apple-calls-that-alt-symbol on the K2’s modifier keys. But I’m not there. Yet. ↩︎