The Ultimate Keyboard for Coding in 2021

Keyboard and coding on desktop.
Icons from www.flaticon.com.

Programmers spend long days in front of the screen, doing a combination of resource investigation and typing… lots of typing. Coders are a medium to high risk group for carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as other repetitive stress injuries.

So it’s important to look for a keyboard that does three things well: Ergonomics, programmability, and flexibility. This article will cover the importance of these three factors to coders, and then make a recommendation that answers the following question: Which piece of hardware is the ultimate keyboard for coding in 2021?

Coding Ergonomics

Ergonomics has to be the primary factor when considering the ultimate keyboard for coding. Comfort and health concerns rank above other ‘nice to have’ features. Avoiding pain and the potential need for long term health care or physical rehabilitation is paramount. With that in mind, we’ll examine the best ergonomic aspects of a coding keyboard.

Negative Tilt: In any upright or slightly reclined sitting position, the experts say that a negative tilt keyboard is the way to go. A relaxed wrist tends to droop a bit, and the angle of the keyboard should match that relaxed posture.

Mechanical Actuation Point: This is a fancy way of saying that a mechanical keyboard will allow the user to determine how hard they press, and how far a key needs to be depressed before it registers as a real keystroke. Some people have lighter touches than others. Some prefer tactile feedback at the actuation point. Whatever the case may be, a mechanical keyboard with the right switches will make the coding experience far more comfortable.

Split Keyboard: Though it can take some getting used to, a split keyboard provides coders with the most protection against wrist and forearm injury. Wrists should be bent slightly inward, not straight or outward. And the ‘tent’ of a split keyboard will help relieve the forearm stress caused by pronation. A split keyboard is the best of both worlds.

Once these three critical factors are met, the other two aspects of choosing the ultimate coding keyboard can come into play.

Keyboard Programmability

The ability to change the layout of a keyboard can save a programmer a lot of time and heaps of stress. Three key combinations and shortcuts that involve the arrow keys or the keypad can break flow and cause undue finger stress, particularly if the coder needs to repeat it hundreds of times a day. Looking at some of the more useful shortcuts, many of them fit these criteria.

Remapping complex key combinations to unused keys is one way to take advantage of a keyboard with programmable features. Even better, some keyboards will have software controlled profiles, allowing the user to switch between ‘coding mode’ and the standard layout at will. That way the keys are normal for other programs and games.

Going back to the advantages of mechanical keyboards, some of them allow the user to replace the keycaps. This means the ultimate keyboard for coding can also have the ultimate keycaps for remapped functions! By swapping the keycaps of remapped keys with custom ones, there is a visual reminder that an alteration has been made to the setup.

Keyboard Flexibility

If one is investing in a good keyboard for coding, they should be able to take it anywhere. A rigid, full sized keyboard can be difficult to lug around if all one has is a backpack or briefcase.

But a split keyboard is much more portable, fitting into spots that a full length 104 key keyboard wouldn’t dream of going. Being able to use the same keyboard at home, at work, and on the road is a real boon.

One of the other advantages comes into play when the coding day is over, and it’s time to do some gaming. A nice trait that plays to the strengths of split mechanical keyboards: A lot of first person shooters and tactical games only use the left half of the keyboard, which means there’s more desk space available for a bigger mousepad, or just a drink and some snacks.

Backlighting is vital when coding at all hours of the day and night. While most coders are touch typists, a quick glance down at the home keys to orient the fingers with the mind is something that most users do unconsciously. Typing in dark places without backlit keys can be a disturbing experience.

Finally, wires are a real limitation in some circumstances. If one is doing a live demonstration, teaching session, or presentation, they don’t want to be messing around with wires. Similarly, cross-platform use cases are more readily solved wirelessly. That way if standards change, the keyboard remains useful and functional without any additional adaptors. It also solves issues such as having a Mac at work and a PC at home, or wanting a better keyboard for a work laptop on the road.

For true flexibility, including cross platform compatibility, wireless functionality is a must. As long as the battery life and charging method are acceptable, its all upside.

The Recommendation

To recap, the key features that provide the best balance of health and usability benefits can be found on one type of device: A wireless, negative tilt mechanical split keyboard with software programmable profiles that the user can easily switch between.

With that in mind, the keyboard that best fits all of the criteria is the Hakkei HX-S Series. It has excellent ergonomic benefits, and one of the best web based configurators on the market.

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