Keyboards and Mice

I’m the type of person who is learning things the hard way. This is also true for the purchase of computer equipment and peripherals. I cannot even recall how many times I have replaced my computer mouse and keyboard in the last decade.

One should think that a mouse or a computer keyboard aren’t exactly rocket science – well they aren’t! Yet many popular mice or keyboards are either bad by design, or fall to pieces within a relatively short time.

Below is a list of things you should be checking when purchasing a computer mouse or keyboard. It is based on my personal experience – your experiences may be different, though.

Purchasing a Mouse  – Checklist

  1. Ergonomics – size and fit: This is by far the most important criteria! The mouse must fit comfortably in the palm of your hand. If your hand is large (like mine – I got long fingers), the mouse must be large. If you buy too small a mouse, you run a good chance to get RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury), which renders your hand/arm useless for months.
    If you already suffer from RSI, or feel pain when using the mouse over a prolonged period, consider getting a trackball. It will take some time getting used to, but in my case it allowed me to once again use a computer. In any case, if operating a mouse/trackball causes you pain, see a doctor!
  2. Mouse buttons: The mouse buttons should provide just the right amount of resistance to the press of a finger. That means while the hand and fingers rest on the mouse, the fingers should not accidentally depress the buttons.
    During some hours of computer use you will have clicked the mouse buttons a few thousand times, depending on what you are doing. This repetitive task is what can cause RSI (see above). This is also the reason you should be looking for a good mouse that is comfortable and offers the right resistance to the press of the buttons.
    Not related to the purchase of a mouse, but very important: Find ways to reduce the number of mouse clicks. For example, in Linux you can select  “single click to open items” in your file browser – make sure to select that setting! You will soon like the “single click” feature.
    When playing games, try to replace the mouse for other controls: keyboard, joystick, game controllers, etc. This can greatly reduce the strain you put on your index and middle fingers while using a mouse.
  3. Wireless / wired: I much prefer the wireless type, less clutter on the desk. But the choice is yours.
  4. Laser type: The regular red laser used in most mice is not very good on smooth surfaces such as Formica. The blue laser offered in some Microsoft mice is an improvement, but to my opinion, nothing beats the darkfield laser technology inside some Logitech mice which even works on glass. For those using mouse pads, the choice of the laser may not mean much.
  5. Mouse settings / software / programmable buttons: Most modern mice come with utilities that allow you to set the pointer speed (in DPI) and the mouse sensitivity, as well as program the mouse buttons. Make sure the mouse you choose is suitable for your needs (e.g. gaming, office work, etc.). Gamers in particular will want to have a mouse with adjustable DPI and extra buttons that a programmable as per application.
  6. Quality: When Microsoft released the blue laser technology, I settled on these Microsoft mice for their reliable tracking and the low cost. Unfortunately most of them came with a flimsy, rubber covered mouse wheel which wouldn’t last a year. The rubber either disintegrated, or became sticky, or dirt, dust and fibers would collect inside and prevent a smooth turning of the wheel. I don’t want to think about how much money I wasted on this “cheap” garbage. Make sure to stay clear of this idiotic design choice.
    Today I use a Logitech MX Master mouse, at around $100 more than 3 times the price of a Microsoft Wireless Mouse 900. After having used it for about half a year, I can’t see how I could ever downgrade.
  7. Multi-device: The mouse (and keyboard) I use can connect to more than one computer or device. Logitech supplies a USB wireless dongle with each multi-device peripheral. Each wireless dongle can be paired with multiple peripherals.
    I share my keyboard and mouse with a Linux host and a Windows 10 guest – all that I need to do is press a button on the mouse and the keyboard to switch between Linux and Windows.
    Each peripheral can work with up to 3 different devices/computers, via dongle or bluetooth. I paired the mouse to my Macbook Air laptop which is more comfortable than using the touch pad.
    If – like me – you have multiple devices that can use bluetooth or wireless peripherals, the multi-device feature is hard to beat.

Make sure you choose the mouse that fits your needs. Pay attention to the ergonomic factors, as they are crucial. Improper fit or use of a mouse can cause serious physical injury (this is no joke – I have lived through it and you don’t want to get there). Don’t cheapskate.

Purchasing a Keyboard  – Checklist

Remember the mechanical keyboards that came with the IBM PCs of yesteryear? Not everything that’s old is good, but in the case of the keyboards, they actually were great. Today you can get the same feel, but instead of paying $ you pay $$$. Popular Mechanics published a great article on the subject – see The Surprisingly Sophisticated Science of Making a Keyboard Feel Great.

  1. Size: There are full-size (104 keys) keyboards, Tenkeyless keyboards, 60% and so on – see www.keychatter.com for a list of common form factors. Make sure the keyboard has the keys you need for the tasks. For example, I can’t do without the numeric keypad – your mileage may vary.
    Pay attention to the proper distance (pitch) between the keys (18-19mm or 0.71-0.75 inches, measured from the center of the keys).
  2. Feel: The article mentioned in the beginning describes the different factors that together make the keyboard feel right. It starts with the shape and size of the keys, the travel (distance between key released and key depressed), and the resistance to depressing the key.
    Today the very best keyboards are often mechanical keyboards, yes, those that were used more than 30 years ago. Just that the new ones usually come with a hefty price. Are they worth the extra money? Many users say yes.
    However, I’m typing this on a Logitech K780 keyboard that uses scissor-type membrane keys employing what the manufacturer terms “PerfectStroke” technology. In my humble opinion, they are close enough to the feel of some mechanical switch types and you may want to consider this option, too.
  3. Keyboard layout: Some keyboard designs, while at first glance nice, are a nightmare to use. Why? Because of the size and placement of important keys. The “Enter” key should be large, so should the “Shift” key and the “Space” bar and “Backspace”, and each of these keys should be at the right place. It’s easy to overlook a special key placement, only to discover it when it’s too late and you already bought it.
  4. Quality: Mechanical keyboards are considered to be better and more reliable than membrane-types. Aside from the switches or membranes deployed under the key caps, the key caps themselves can be of different shape and quality. First of all, the letters should be engraved, else they will become illegible after a short time. A concave key cap shape will help to better position the fingers. Make sure the keys aren’t too close together, there should be a distance of 2-3mm between the edges of the keys so as to not inadvertently depress two adjacent keys at once.
  5. Wireless or wired: With keyboards, a wire is less of an issue as you don’t need to move it around. However, I prefer wireless.
  6. Multi-device: To me, this feature matters (see under “Purchasing a Mouse” above). I use my K780 keyboard for the Linux host and Windows VM, and sometimes with my Android phone, when I need to type a mail or reply to WhatsApp and I don’t feel like turning on the PC.

A lot more information can be found in Nathan Edwards article You Should Use A Mechanical Keyboard, and in the overclock.net Mechanical Keyboard Guide. For a list of mechanical keyboards and buying guides, look at Mechanical Keyboard Buyer’s Guide, Reddit Mechanical Keyboard Buying Guide, and – last not least – the overclock.net Recommended Mechanical Keyboards.

Most people tend to recommend the mechanical keyboard, although I did find exceptions in techradar The best keyboards of 2018: top 10 keyboards compared and in an older Macworld article. The best thing to do is to try it out.

Important note regarding wireless keyboards / mice: When deploying wireless peripherals, make sure to update the firmware to the latest release. As described in Flaws in Wireless Mice and Keyboards Let Hackers Type on Your PC, hackers may take control of your PC via wireless. Some vendors have responded to this by issuing new firmware for their devices that helps prevent this attack.

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