The CODE mechanical keyboard was first brought to my attention when I went Googling around for a good “programming keyboard”. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for exactly, I just knew that I wanted something that could make my endless days of banging out source code a little bit easier and more efficient. I also knew that as much as I liked the Apple Keyboard, my hands/fingers/wrists would end up hurting after a day of typing, and while my speed was reasonable, my accuracy suffered quite a bit, mostly because of ‘mis-strikes’ where my finger would slide over the key, but not actually actuate it.
Thus, after I read up about mechanical keyboards in general, and the CODE keyboard in particular, I decided to give it a shot. I also figured that since most mechanical keyboards came in at around the same price-point, if I was going to spend the money not knowing much about mechanical keyboards or their differences, my best first purchase would be a keyboard created “by a coder, for coders”.
I’m not a mechanical keyboard aficionado. As I said, the CODE is my first mechanical keyboard ever. Having said that, after just two weeks of using it on a daily basis, I know that I will never, ever be going back. There are quite a few good reviews for the CODE keyboard online if you should care to Google for them, but I thought I’d add my voice to the mix as a recent “convert”.
I opted for the 104-key version since I happen to use the 10-key quite a bit. There’s an 87-key version for those of you that don’t like the extra real-estate. I also went for the Cherry MX-Clear switches. As I mentioned, I don’t have any experience with mechanical keyboards or their switches, so I opted for the ones that seemed like they’d be quietest, (I didn’t want my co-workers to hate me). The sell-point on the Clear switches was that they were relatively quiet, while still retaining the ‘tactile bump’ which alerts you that the key press has been registered before you press the key all the way down.
I’m going to try to give as detailed a review as I can, so that I can help any of you out there that might be on the fence as to whether or not to drop the coin on a CODE keyboard.
Look & Feel
Before you even begin typing on the CODE, if you’ve got an appreciation for aesthetics at all, you’re going to like this keyboard. The font on the labels is clear and easy to read, and the multi-level backlighting makes it even more so. There’s no extraneous decoration or styling here, no obnoxious logos. It’s a clean, simple looking keyboard that gives you the immediate impression that it’s here to work, not look pretty. The “OS-key” is OS agnostic, so you won’t be sporting a Windows logo if you happen to use your keyboard on a Mac. It’s a tiny detail, but still a nice touch.
This keyboard is heavy. Easily the heaviest keyboard I’ve ever handled. I’m sure it has something to do with the steel backplate that the switches in this thing are mounted to, but you could seriously use this keyboard as a weapon if you needed to. In fact, given how solid the construction is, in the event of a zombie apocalypse, you could use the CODE to defend yourself against hordes of brain-eaters, then probably plug the sucker in and start blogging about your experience without losing a beat.
Speaking of plugging in, it’s got a detachable mini USB cable, which means that if you absolutely needed to, you could interchange the one that comes in the box with any other you happen to have lying around. With that said, the one that comes with the CODE seems to be slightly lower gauge, (and is therefore thicker), than your average cord. Routing channels along the bottom of the keyboard let you string the cord either out the left or right side, or right down the middle back. It’s a nice touch, but practically speaking, I think 99% of users will just opt for going out the back.
Bells & Whistles
The CODE keyboard is intentionally minimalist. You’re not really meant to play with this keyboard, you’re meant to work with it, so you don’t get a lot of extra keys for messing with setting that you might never use. That doesn’t mean that the features aren’t there for those that do use them though. There’s a full set of media controls embedded in the block of keys normally used for Insert, Delete, Home, End, etc. You can access these secondary functions by holding down the Fn key, which is also located on the right side of the keyboard. Using your right thumb to hold the Fn key makes it easy to reach for the media keys. The one thing missing for those that find it valuable is USB ports on the keyboard itself. I for one rarely used those ports on my Apple keyboard, so I didn’t find myself missing them here.
You can’t really talk about the Bells & Whistles of this keyboard without mentioning the dip switches though. In fact, there’s a high level of configurability built in to the CODE keyboard, all of it accessible by manipulating the dip switches. Some key features:
- Enabling the function key. (If you don’t, the Fn key acts like the “Menu”
- key). Swapping the position of the Command and Option keys, (so called “Mac
- Mode”, useful, naturally, if you’re on a Mac). Switching to Dvorak or
- Colemak keyboard layouts. Remapping the Caps Lock key to CTRL (A godsend if
- you’re a programmer..especially one that uses Vim/Emacs).
There are other options, all of which are spelled out on the little square of paper that comes in the box, and all of which, (I’m sure), can be found online with a little bit of Googling.
Now that we’ve gone over some of the ancillary features, it’s time to talk about the bread-and-butter of all keyboards — what it feels like to type on the damned thing. You’ll remember that one of my main motivations for switching in the first place was a desire to be faster/more accurate, as well as noticeable pain being caused by my use of the chiclet-key Apple Keyboard.
Before I get in to some real metrics, I can’t help but to want to talk about the fact that it just feels good to type on the CODE. It takes a bit of punch to actuate the keys, and I’ve heard it said that the Clear switches are particularly “stiff” compared to others, but I love them. It’s not super noisy, but there’s enough audible feedback for it to be ‘satisfying’ if you’re in to that kind of thing, without it completely drowning out all other sound. I’m lucky enough to have my own office space, but even when others have been working relatively close to me, they’ve said that sound isn’t distracting at all, which was a key reason I got the Clear switches in the first place. The backspace, space, and return keys are all a little bit squeaky and don’t feel quite as solid as the other keys, but that’s a relatively minor annoyance, and as I understand it, a little bit of lubricant on the switch should take care of that if it should happen to really start getting on my nerves.
Most importantly from a ‘typing feel’ perspective, I’ve noticed that my RSI issues seem to have completely disappeared with the CODE. I can type all day long, actually enjoy the experience, (typing on a mechanical keyboard is just kind of fun, what can I say?), and end the day with no pain.
With regards to speed and accuracy. My average speed on the Apple keyboard was around 88-90 WPM, with anywhere between 95-98% accuracy, as measured by TypeRacer.com. I took those measurements over the course of a week or so in preparation for comparing those results against my results on the CODE keyboard.
When I first got the CODE keyboard, it took a couple of days of adjusting to the new keyboard before I found my stride, but as of now, my speed is at around 98-100 WPM, and my accuracy has actually crept up to around 98% consistently. All in all, I’m totally satisfied with the measurable results…every bit as much as I am satisfied with the “aesthetic” ones.
So…should you buy this keyboard? My parting thought on this is that the CODE is not actually for everyone. I think the average user isn’t going to notice much difference between this and your run-of-the-mill keyboard, aside from the fact that the keys are noisier and a little harder to press down. Unless you spend a substantial portion of your day keying in a substantial amount of text, (in other words, if you’re a programmer, writer, blogger, etc.), you’d probably be wasting your money to drop the $170+ that the CODE is going to run you.
If, however, you make your living doing something that primarily involves typing a lot, and especially if that thing you do happens to be programming, I couldn’t do better than to highly recommend the CODE keyboard. If you’re a mechanical-keyboard geek, you’ve probably got a more nuanced opinion than I do, so your mileage may vary, but if you’re like me and you’re just dipping your toe in to the mechanical keyboard pool — go buy the CODE keyboard…you won’t be disappointed.