|Professional Mechanical Keyboard Comparison|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Input Devices|
|Written by David Ramsey - Edited by Olin Coles|
|Sunday, 27 September 2009|
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Dell SK-8115 keyboard
Expensive mechanical keyboards are all well and good; but let's take a look at some examples of what most people are actually using to see how they compare. We'll start with the Dell SK-8115, a keyboard included with many Dell computers sold to business and industry. You'll see in almost any business that uses Dell computers (in fact I saw two of them recently at the local Round Table Pizza). Dell refers to it on their web site as "USB keyboard for select Dell systems", whereas other sites refer to it as the "Dell compact USB keyboard". It's a standard 104-key layout with a very narrow bezel (thus the "compact" designation); the only oddity in the design is that the Windows key, alt key, space bar, and menu key are all about half again as deep as you'd expect, with the bottom edge of the keyboard bulging out to accommodate them. This surprising design touch actually does make a difference; using these keys felt easier and more natural.
If the IBM Model M defined the computer keyboard of the 80s, this represents the standard computer keyboard of the 21st century. Constructed of thin, lightweight black plastic, with absolutely nothing that could be construed as an "extra feature", it's a pure typing keyboard, and Dell sells it new for $21.99. There are two customer reviews of the keyboard on Dell's web site and they both give it five out of five stars. There are no macros, media keys, backlighting, et cetera; it's just a very basic keyboard. So how does it compare to a mechanical keyboard for feel and usability?
After spending an hour or so typing on this keyboard, I was surprised to find that it's not as sublimely horrible as I'd expected. The keys are full-stroke desktop-style keys rather than the laptop style keys that are becoming more common on desktop keyboards, the key layout is nicely sculpted, and the rubber domes are assertive enough to imbue this keyboard with as much "key feel" as you'll ever get using this technology. The compact size is a plus if your desk space is at a premium. I couldn't type as fast and accurately on this keyboard as I could any of the mechanical models, but it's entirely usable. In fact, my wife, who's a professional programmer, thinks it's one of the best keyboards she's ever used.
Durability is an unknown, although it's likely to be far less than a mechanical keyboard. But durability wasn't a design criteria with this keyboard: it was designed to be cheap yet usable; just enough to keep a typical consumer going for a year or two, and if it dies, who cares? A new one is only $21.99!
EDITORS NOTE: It cost me less than $8 per unit to buy a 25-pack case of Dell SK-8115 keyboards, making them disposable.