Best keyboard formats for programming Pt. 2

Mykola Lytvynchuk
6 min readJan 16, 2022

In the first part of the article, I tried to compare popular keyboard formats and pick up the best suited in my opinion for programming. I checked full size, 75%, 65%, and 60% formats. 75% format was the best for me. But I haven’t tried more exotic formats like ortholinear, 40%, 50%, and split keyboards.

I wanted to start from the smallest keyboard: Drop + OLKB Planck keyboard. This is 40% ortholinear KB with dimensions 23.4x8.1x3.3 cm. Orholinear means all the keys are perfectly aligned in a grid. It supposes to simplify the reachability of all keys on the board and speed up typing. A big plus in comparison to 60% board from the first part was arrow keys. And one more thing, which I haven’t faced before — QMK support. It allows to program and changes all layers, including default.

Custom arrows position

As for me, this feature is a gamechanger for each keyboard. The reason why I think so is the default layer of the Planck: it has all the arrows in a line plus the key in the left corner is changing something related to the secondary RGB config. So for me, it was really hard to use it at first.

Default arrows position

When I changed the layout to the one in the first picture, then I started to enjoy the board. Anyway, I lack numbers row a lot and mistyped some keys from time to time as well due to the ortholinear nature of the board. So I decided to try the 50% version of this board. Overall Planck is a great toy but not a great tool, so I won’t access it. But it revealed for me one more criterion to value a keyboard: reprogramming default layout with QMK or analogs.

Let’s reintroduce criteria once again:

  1. Ergonomics. It should be comfortable to use the keyboard because programmers spend a huge amount of their work time interacting with it.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Reprogramming default layout. It should allow changing useless keys to required.

Marks: From 1 to 5, where 1 is the worst and 5 is the best mark.

Ergodone split keyboard. This is a kit, which should be built. The kit consists of two PCBs, switches of your choice, which should be soldered, case, and keycaps. Ergodone is also ortholinear but keys in the middle of each part are moved a bit up to make it more ergonomic. It supports reprogramming of the default layout, so it helped to configure all the keys, to fit my needs.

As far as this KB has even more keys than usual 65% (It lacks only F-raw), so it is easy to program on Ergodone. Also, the split design allows putting hands into a more natural position. That is why I enjoyed it and the learning curve was not difficult for me. I haven’t had too many misprints as it was for the previous board due to bigger keycaps and less dense layout. Unfortunately, Ergodone appeared to be a really big board due to the big distance between the 2 parts. So the mouse has to be used either in between like in the first photo or at the right, which I wanted to avoid in the first place. The picture below highlights the size differential between the first two boards.

Ergodone vs Drop + OLKB Planck

Overall score: 23 points. All the aspects were exceptionally good for me, so I give 5 for all except one: I enjoyed the build process, which included soldering and picking up all parts. Programming and text editing were good as well plus the learning curve was easy for me. The ergonomics of the board are interesting but it is too big, so it is harder to find a place for a mouse. That is why I give 3 for ergonomics.

The next keyboard is the Drop + OLKB Preonic keyboard, which is a 50% version of the first keyboard plus numbers raw. Dimensions: 23.1x10.4x2.3 cm. It required keys remapping as well as the first two keyboards. And it has the same pros and cons as a 40% Planck. But a number raw for me moved it from the toys category to the tools. I was able to type and program more comfortably on it because only F raw and some minor symbols were on extra layers. But I haven’t fully mastered it due to the dense layout. All special keys like backspace, delete, escape, shift is single-size keys. So misprints happen too often to me.

So overall I could give a Preonic 23 points: 5 for ergonomics, comfort, and reprogramming. And 4 points for typing and text editing due to single-size keys for special function keys.

KBD67 Lite R3 is the next step forward from the 65% boards from the first part of this article. This is a DIY kit with extra foam layers that requires buying additional switches and keycaps by your own preference. It helps dramatically improve the sound and feel of the board. Programming and text editing becomes a big pleasure, so it is really hard to stop typing on KBD67. Also, it supports reprogramming of the default layer, so it is possible to remap keys if needed and ease typing.

KBD67 Lite R3

The size is still perfect, so it is still not taking a lot of place on the table and it is easy to reach all the keys.

KBD67 Lite R3 + OLKB Planck

In general, it is hard to find any cons here. So the final score for KBD67 Lite R3 is 25.

And part 1 winner: 75% Keychron K2. It is still good but not as good due to lacking programmability. So it is only 20 points this time. Anyway, I’m not planning on selling it because for the 75% percent keyboard reprogramming layout is not critical but I'd change some keys here if I could.

Keychron K2

Overall I’m happy with my keyboard formats experience and now I could say, that 65% and 75% keyboard formats are perfect for me for professional programming. Also, I got, that custom keyboards will sound and fill way better than mass-market boards and also support reprogramming of all layers, so in my view, it is a must-have option.