It is a hard task to pick up the best thing nowadays because the market provides us multiple options. The same statement fits well for the best form factor for the programming keyboards. There are full-size keyboards, tenkeyless (TKL), seventy-five percent, sixty-five percent, sixty percent, and even forty percent, ortholinear keyboards, and so on.
I would like to introduce the criteria to simplify the final choice:
- Ergonomics. It should be comfortable to use the keyboard because programmers spend a huge amount of their work time interacting with it.
- Text editing. It should be easy to move through the text (requires the availability of the arrow keys, Pg Up, Pg Dn, Home, End), highlight it, insert and delete it.
- Debugging and refactoring. It should be easy to use combinations of the keys because some of the most used operations require 2 or 3 simultaneous button presses.
- Comfort or the overall pleasure of use. It should be comfortable to reach all the keys, button press should give you joy. The shape and form of the keys should eliminate misprints. High-quality keycaps are a plus as well.
Marks: From 1 to 5, where 1 is the worst and 5 is the best mark.
Throughout my programming career, I had a couple of full-size keyboards. These keyboards had all required keys and even some extra, so it was easy to work with text and work in IDE. But it was one big downside for me — wrist pain. It developed over time. I even tried Logitech Wave — ergo keyboard with the shape of wave and attached wrist rest. It did not help me and got even worse. The reason was the big size (50x26.51x7.84 cm) of the board. Numpad occupied a lot of the space on the desk but wasn’t in use for me at all. It led to the unnatural position of my right hand when I used the mouse. It was far more right, than the usual hand position, which caused wrist pain and then — tunnel syndrome. The final score for the full-size boards is 16 (5 for text editing and programming, 3 for ergonomics and comfort). The mark for comfort is 3 because most of the full-size keyboards are mass-market boards with mediocre keycaps, switches (most likely membrane), and low case quality.
The smallest keyboards format I possessed is 60%. It has no Numpad which is a big plus for me but has no arrows, Pg Up, Pg Dn, Home, End, and also F raw which is a big downside for me. I haven’t realized how crucial are keys related to navigation before use Ducky One 2 Mini. All these keys and even more are available on the function layer and to access it you need to press Fn + appropriate key. So to move the cursor 2 buttons have to be pressed. And it is really hard to use it for text editing because you should constantly press Fn for highlighting, cursor movements. As for programming, most of the debug and refactoring combinations require F raw, so we have the same issue as for text editing. But the ergonomics of the board worked well for me. The small footprint of the Ducky (30x10x4 cм) led to the more natural right-hand position, which reduced wrist pain. Brown Cherry switches and OEM PBT keycaps brought back the joy of typing for me. The final score for the 60% boards is 16 (3 for text editing and programming, 5 for ergonomics and comfort).
Because of the same and not perfect scores for the form factors above I continue my search for the best keyboard format for the programming.
Slightly bigger keyboards are 65%. I like my Ducky One 2 Mini, that is why I picked up 65% version — One 2 SF (32,5x10,8x4 cм). It has the same layout as 60 plus arrow keys and Del, Pg Up, Pg Dn. It simplifies text editing because I am no longer required to use the Fn key to access all the needed keys. Also, it keeps all the strength of the One 2 Mini, so the comfort and ergonomics are on the same high level. An additional 2,5 cm in length doesn’t make any difference at all. SF still lacks F raw, which was a big downside for the previous board but is not so big a thing for this one. Because you should not pay much attention to text editing, which takes more time than debugging and refactoring. The final score for the 65% boards is 19 (4 for text editing and programming, 5 for ergonomics, comfort, and text editing).
A bit bigger form factor is 75%. I have bought Keychron K2 (32x13x3.85 см). In addition to the 65% layout, it has also a functional row and Home, End, Print Screen keys. This means, that there is no need to use the Fn button to access any keys neither for programming nor text editing. As for comfort, the width is even smaller than Ducky one 2 SF and only one more row on the top gives the keyboard an additional 2,2cm. It means that it is still a compact board, so the wrist pain is not an issue for me with K2. The quality of ABS keycaps is the only downside of this board but it could be easily improved by replacing it with the PBT set. The final score is 20 (5 for all criteria because it has no cons for me).
One more thing: there is also a TKL layout with almost the same amount of keys but it is a bit bigger, f.e. Ducky One 2 TKL is 36.5x13.5x4 см, which is 4 cm wider but doesn’t bring more valuable keys. I rarely use the Ins key and do not know a person who uses Screen Lock and Pause buttons. So I decided to skip this format as well as exotic form factors like ortholinear and 40%.
For me, it was a long journey to understand what is wrong with the mass market of full-size keyboards for programmers and how to replace them. I have found for myself, that 65% and 75% form factor boards are the best choice for programming because they could provide exceptional comfort and pleasure of use without sacrificing the board functionality.