I've been a computer geek for 27 years now! Yikes! And during that time, I've gone through many computer keyboards... from IBM mainframe terminals to fold-outs for Pocket PCs... and everything in between. Honestly, I've probably owned three or four dozen keyboards or computers by now. My current favorites in terms of feel and layout are the keyboards on Toshiba and Fujitsu laptops. My least favorite are on Mac laptops; not only do I hate the not-so-precise feel, but I dislike how you need to use fingers from both your left and right hands for home, end, and page up/down. And in general, I'm not a fan of full-sized 107-key keyboards that come standard with every desktop; these force my mousing hand too far to the right. Unfortunately, some applications, like Pro Tools, are easier to use if you have the full keyset, including the numeric keys on the right. And in WinXP, while I'm editing documents, I often find myself having to use special characters that are best accessed by typing in obscure character codes on the numeric keypad. Plus, it's nice to have a full complement of function keys. So a smaller, laptop-style keyboard is at a disadvantage. Well, I found a compact keyboard recently that is as near to a perfect keyboard as I've ever come across: the SPOS G86-61410 from Cherry, manufacturers of top-quality switches, sensors, and keyboards.
The SPOS is like a laptop keyboard except with a numeric keypad jammed right up against the main keys; unlike a regular desktop keyboard, there's no wasted space. Also, the page/home keys are placed above the numeric keypad instead of between the numeric and main keys, saving even more space. The Cherry keyboard ends up being less than 2.5" wider than the keyboard on my Toshiba ultraportable laptop-with standard key pitch and a full complement of keys, no less!
But wait, it's even cooler than that. All the function keys as well as the page/home keys are part of an 18x3 grid of keys (above all the "normal" keys) that have clear, removable keycaps, so you can place any label or image on the key... which hints at why this keyboard is so cool. It's fully programmable. You've got 54 keys that you can label and then program to output any keycode, key combination, or sequence of keys that you prefer (up to 10 keycodes each)! And you've got three virtual layers (standard, shift, control) of programmability. Plus, any of the "normal" keys can be reprogrammed the same way (but of course, you can't physically re-label their keycaps). Awesome!
And the best part? You can store your settings directly in the keyboard! Yup, that means that after you program your keyboard, you can take it with you, plug it into the USB port of any computer, and that computer will recognize your fully tweaked keyboard without any special drivers. You do have the option of using SPOS-specific drivers along with an application that allows even more complex programming (longer keycode sequences, software macros, etc.), but the special drivers and programming application are only Windows compatible. Moreover, a Windows machine is required even to do basic in-the-keyboard programming. No biggie for me, because I can program the keyboard on my PC and then move it to my Mac, no problem. (Also, there are Java components available for use of the keyboard on Linux.)
The SPOS is intended for Point Of Sale use (i.e., retail station). It even includes a credit-card reader. (Hey, you can charge your clients with it!) I bought mine from Provantage.com. There are a number of different models in the line, so check out Cherry's website for details.
($134 street; www.cherrycorp.com)
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