hardware

Surface Book keyboard review

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I prefer chiclet keyboards. In my opinion, they are more suited to a long days worth of typing and programming than a mechanical keyboard, or a more conventional keyboard.

The Surface Book keyboard is the second chiclet keyboard that I’ve purchased in the last month, with the previous one being the Cherry KC 6000. I bought the Surface Book keyboard to be a replacement for my home setup, where I was previously using an ageing and horribly tatty Microsoft Ergonomic USB natural keyboard.

The requirements

My requirements for my home keyboard were slightly different to my workplace keyboard requirements:

  • Must have chiclet keys
  • Must not look too garish. Whilst this is for my home setup, I like having a neat desk, and a luminous keyboard with fancy lighting just wouldn’t fit into this
  • Must not be a natural keyboard. I had previously used an ergonomic natural keyboard for a good few years. It was good in the sense that I didn’t get any discomfort using it, but I don’t think my typing style was every completely suited to it. My left hand in particular liked to travel into the right hand section of the keyboard during some keypress combos. I also found some aspects about the key layout to be jarring – such as the double spaced “n” key.
  • Must be bluetooth. Like I say, I keep a neat desk and the fewer wires, the better.
  • Must have a numeric keypad
  • Must not have any keys in strange places. As a developer, I use the ctrl, alt, super, home, end and paging keys a lot. Any re-arrangement of these keys would probably impact my productivity, so these must firmly stay where they would normally be

The matching keyboards

I found two keyboard that matched my needs. The first was the Logitech Craft, which also has the added bonuses of being able to pair with multiple devices, and also has a big wheel that can be used for additional control, although this sounds like it does not typically stretch beyond volume control:

However, there are two downsides to this keyboard:

1 – it’s expensive, priced at about £160. Whilst I think that as a developer I need the best tooling, this just feels like a stretch.

2 – It’s hard to get hold of. When I was trying to purchase this keyboard, I struggled to find anyone that actually had it in stock, including Amazon. I eventually found it in stock on very.co.uk, but it wasn’t really in stock and they sat on my order for over a week before I lost my patience and cancelled.

This left one other keyboard – the Surface Book Keyboard.

Surface Book Keyboard Pros

The keyboard is aesthetically very pleasing, with a small bezel and a simple and tasteful grey and white colour scheme used. The Bluetooth connection helps with the appearance of the keyboard as it means you don’t have any wires to try and hide or make neat. I’d describe the footprint of the keyboard as low profile, as it has such small bezels and looks discreet yet impressive in the middle of your desk in complete isolation from any sort of cabling.

It is super comfortable to type on, with the key presses feeling light yet satisfying to depress, with a sufficient level of feedback delivered to your finger tips. Typing on it is pleasurable and fast.

The general typing comfort is helped along by a healthy level of banking on the keyboard towards the user, which is something that the Cherry KC 6000 fails at. The brilliant thing about this banking is that it’s a stroke of smart design – the bank towards the user comes from the battery compartment:

The keyboard layout is sensible, and doesn’t try to be too clever in this area by re-stacking keys or jigging around the layout of anything. It very much is laid out like you would find a laptop keyboard – with the Function lock key placed between the Ctrl and Super keys. This probably is a big plus for you if you tend to dock your laptop and work off of it, or if you’re used to working on a laptop keyboard. Plus points for me on both – when I’m at home, I work off of my laptop on a stand.

Availability wise, this keyboard is very easy to get hold of. I ordered this online at about 4pm through PC World’s website, and was able to collect it the next day at 11am from my local store. It’s also well stocked elsewhere around the web, which is a marked departure from my experience when trying to purchase the Logitech Craft.

Cost wise, the Surface Book keyboard can be yours for £79.99. This appears to be a fixed price, much in the way that Apple price their hardware. It’s the same price everywhere, unless you look at used items. Here are some links:

Surface Book keyboard cons

The only real downside for me (and this is a nitpick) with the Surface Book keyboard is that it can only be paired to one device at a time. I often switch between my desktop PC for gaming, and my Xubuntu laptop for everything else. This means that every time I do this, I need to pair the keyboard again. Luckily, this isn’t much more than a slight inconvenience, as the pairing is a quick and painless experience on both Windows and Ubuntu based operating systems from version 18 onwards.

Protip – don’t throw away your USB keyboard

USB keyboards have two big advantages. They don’t need batteries, and they will work as soon as they have a physical connection, even whilst your machine is still booting up. If you need to do anything in the BIOS, for example, you will not be able to do this with a Bluetooth keyboard as the drivers for it will not have been loaded. So, keep your dusty old USB keyboard for the day when you run out of power and have no batteries, or for when you need to jump into your BIOS.

Conclusion

On the whole, this keyboard is fantastic, and I’ve give it a 9 out of 10. I’d highly recommend this keyboard for general typing, programming, and some gaming.

hardware, Xubuntu

Does the Surface Keyboard work with Ubuntu? Yes, but only with Ubuntu 18 onwards

The other keyboard that I’ve recently purchased as well as the Cherry KC 6000 is the Microsoft Surface Keyboard. After reading a few reviews online and watching a few videos, I decided on getting this bluetooth keyboard for my home setup.

My main concern however, was whether this keyboard would work with my Xubuntu laptop. Some googling revealed mixed answers – someone running Linux Mint, which is based on Ubuntu, had no luck. Whereas a separate thread on Reddit seemed to indicate that it worked without any problems.

After purchasing the keyboard and using it, here is what I found: In order to successfully pair the keyboard with any PC, the keyboard will ask the PC to present the user with a passcode challenge. On Windows, when pairing, a dialogue will pop up that contains a 6 digit number. It will prompt you to enter a 6 digit passcode on the keyboard. One this is entered on the Surface Keyboard, it will be paired and will work as expected. When pairing the keyboard with my Xubuntu laptop, here’s what I found:

The Surface Keyboard will not work with Ubuntu 16 or any derivatives

This is because of a few bugs in the bluetooth stack in Ubuntu 16. The passcode dialogue will never appear, meaning that you will not be able to successfully pair the keyboard to a machine running Ubuntu 16 or below. This problem also happens when attempting to pair in the terminal using bluetoothctl.

The Surface Keyboard will work with Ubuntu 18 upwards

Luckily, I have a spare laptop, and was able to use that to test out the pairing on Ubuntu 18 before committing myself to upgrading my main work laptop. Using the spare, I was able to successfully pair on Ubuntu 18.04 through the bluetooth gui as the passcode prompt was now appearing. I took the plunge and updated my main Xubuntu laptop and can confirm that the pairing with the Surface Book keyboard fully works on Ubuntu 18.04 and any derivatives.

hardware, Technical

Keyboard: Cherry KC 6000 review

Cherry KC 6000 Keyboard

I prefer chiclet keyboards. I haven’t done any scientific analysis, but I’m confident that my words per minute typing is higher wen I’m using a keyboard that has chiclet keys. Amongst developers this in an unpopular opinion, with many developers preferring mechanical keyboards (don’t be that guy smashing a mechanical keyboard in an open plan office!)

Chiclet keyboards have keys that do not need to depress as far in order to register. They also have an evenly sized gap between each key, making it more difficult for you to fumble the keyboard and hit the wrong key. They are typically found on laptop keyboards.

With that in mind, I needed a new keyboard to replace the one I take into client offices and leave there whilst on a contract. I was previously using an old, fairly standard Dell USB keyboard that was becoming embarrassingly tatty – most of the key letters were completely worn off. It also seemed to be forever caked in a layer of dirt that no amount of cleaning could remove.

My requirements were fairly simple:

  • It must be comfortable. This will be used for long periods of time (6+ hours a day) and I’ve found myself experiencing some discomfort in the later hours when using my bog standard keyboard.
  • It must be USB – I understand the need for a wireless mouse, but a wireless keyboard is an unnecessary luxury for my day to day desk based work. Also, the less interacting with bluetooth, the better.
  • It must not be garish – I don’t want to demo things to clients and my keyboard be a huge distraction because it is letting off a luminous glow.
  • It must have chiclet keys for the productivity and preferences outlined above.
  • It must have a numeric keypad (it does make me wonder how developers and other creatives work for large amounts of time without a numeric keypad)

The keyboard I found that fits the above is the Cherry KC 6000, which is priced nicely at £35 on Amazon (The linked product incorrectly claims the product is the Cherry KC 600, but this is just a typo – the Cherry KC 600 does not exist and having taken delivery of this item, can confirm that it is indeed the Cherry KC 6000).

On the whole, I am very happy with this keyboard, and would give it 4 out 5 stars:

Pro: Super comfortable to type on

Cherry KC 6000 Keyboard

This is by far the most important factor on any keyboard! The keys have a really nice weight and feel to them, and typing for a long amount of time on this keyboard is comfortable and does not result in any straining pains that I would sometimes get on my previous bog standard keyboard.

Cherry KC 6000 Keyboard Chiclet keys
Cherry KC 6000 Keyboard Chiclet keys

Pro: It is aesthetically pleasing and not too garish

This keyboard has no crazy backlighting and comes in two fairly neutral colours – a silver body with white keys, or a black body with black keys. Some may view the lack of backlighting as a negative, but this isn’t a problem for me. I don’t type in the dark as I don’t have the eyes for it, and I touchtype.

Pro: It has a slim, low profile

This helps with having a general feel of neatness on your desk. The keyboard has only moderate bezels and has no ridges where dust and other crap can get stuck.

Con: The F11 and F12 keys are not directly above the backspace button

Cherry KC 6000 Keyboard function keys

This is a small irritation as it just takes some getting used to. On most keyboards, the function keys are laid out in banks of 4, with a bigger space between every 4th function key. This space is gone on the Cherry KC 6000, and the saved space is given to two additional buttons – one to open your default browser, and another to lock your machine. I don’t mind having these extra buttons, but annoyingly they are right above the backspace key, so it will take some getting used to not being able to naturally travel to the F11 key to go fullscreen, or the F12 key to open my Guake terminal.

Con: There is a backspace key in the numeric keypad

Cherry KC 6000 Keyboard numeric pad

Again, this is another one of those small things that will take you a day or so to get used to. You’d normally only find one backspace key on a keyboard and would not expect to have one on the numeric pad. This one is positioned where the minus key normally is, so I’ve found myself accidentally deleting characters rather than putting in the minus character a few times.

Other reviews online think that the keyboard is not banked enough towards the user (the way most keyboards have legs that you can have up or down. The keyboard did initially look a little flat on my desk when I first set it up, but I’ve found that it has not impacted my typing at all.

Conclusion – a productivity win!

To conclude, I’m happy with the Cherry KC 6000 keyboard. I t has made me more productive, and is comfortable to use for long typing stints (think 6+ hours of programming!)