Computer Keyboards – 3

In Gadgets, General by JohnLeave a Comment

It’s now two weeks since I bought the Corsair Gaming K95 RGB mechanical keyboard and I’m very happy with it.  It’s a keeper.  However, I must add that two weeks is not long in the expected useful life of a keyboard, and only the passing of time will tell whether the K95 proves to be reliable.  And that not only includes the reliability of the keyboard’s Cherry MX Red Switches but also the lighting, with a diode under every key on the keyboard.

It is too early yet for me to comment on whether the mechanical keys have improved my typing speed and accuracy, but I can say without a doubt that typing is a lot more enjoyable with the mechanical keyboard.  I really do enjoy it now, and I try to take extra care when typing, to think about what keys I am aiming for and not just typing away as if I were a touch typist but really only just hoping for the best.  I find that paying more attention to what I’m typing does improve my accuracy and better still, reduces the time I have to spend making tiresome corrections.

But, with all that in mind, I do find that the Cherry MX Red Switches not only make it very easy to type (buttery smooth is a term many owners use in the forums). but they also make it very easy to accidentally double tap a key or, if hitting the intended key a bit off-centre, to slightly hit an adjoining key and sometimes enough to activate it.  I’d be interested to try the rare Cherry MX Green Switches which require double the pressure to activate a key, to see if this would make a difference to the number of this type of error that I make.  In the end, I am trying to improve my typing accuracy, as mentioned above, and enjoy the keyboard.  After all, the K95 has a roller volume control knob, and DasKeyboard is the only other brand I have found with a physical control knob (as opposed to up and down volume buttons).

Corsair-and-PC-0N9A3449

In the photo immediately above you can see the Windows 10 screen. It shows that I have booted up but not yet logged in.  If I press a key the login screen will come up and I can then log in.  One thing I like about the K95 is that at this stage it shows the default colours for the keyboard until I log in and the Corsair software finishes loading.  In the featured photo I have already logged in and the desktop is showing, but the Corsair software is still loading.  Once the software is loaded the keyboard colours change to my custom settings.  I like even better that when I put my PC to sleep (Windows+x u s) or shut it down (Windows+x u u) the keyboard lighting (unless at the off setting) immediately changes to the default lighting thus indicating that the sleep or shut down procedure has commenced.  The lighting stays on until the procedure has completed and the computer goes to sleep or shuts down.  The small light on the far right in the photo is the SteelSeries Rival mouse – so now I have a corded keyboard and mouse.

Corsair-my-lights---0N9A3452

My lighting.  It looks a bit over the top, but the reality is that when typing all I notice are the white keys – the ones I use.  The other colours were selected to discourage me from noticing those keys during normal typing.  I can change to other lighting simply by selecting the M2 or M3 mode buttons, next to the currently selected M1 button (top right of the keyboard, white key marking).  The lighting is very easy and fast to change in the software.  If I were doing a lot of number pad entry I could very easily change the number pad block of 17 keys to white, by dragging around the block in the software and clicking on the white patch.  However, it would be easier to simply press the M2 mode button which is already set up with the number pad in white.

Corsair Cue lighting M2

In M2 mode above the red keys are not as good for typing, especially at night.  I might make them all white for this mode.  By the way, this is what my main M1 lighting looks like in the software:

Corsair Cue lighting M2

I think the lighting is so good that I once found myself hoping the easy to read white characters on the black keys would not fade or get rubbed off with use.  Then I realized the white is not printed on the key at all, so it can’t wear off.

K95---Fuji-DSCF1502

December 30th, 2014

I have read quite a number of reviews of the K70 and K95 that are very critical of the CUE software (Corsair Utility Engine) and state that it is too complicated and buggy.  It may have been buggy in the beginning, but I haven’t had a problem with it so far.  As for it being complicated, my opinion as a non-gamer is that it is has a short learning curve of only a couple of days and is not complicated or difficult.  However, that might be relative to my long experience with computers and software.  About 15 years ago I found it very difficult to understand MIDI music software; and 12 years ago I struggled for months trying to understand video editing – how come I deleted part of a video track and it was still there afterwards?  Eventually I got a book that made it all clear – I was used to the world of word processing where delete deletes, but video editing is non-destructive, which is a concept that was new to me.   I also had a lot of trouble understanding 3D modelling in software such as Carrara, Cinema 4D and Adobe After Effects until the penny eventually dropped.  And I’m still not great with bezier curves.  So, given with what I’ve been through with computers since my first one in 1981 (a Wang OIS), the Corsair software seems quite straight forward, because many of its features are along similar lines to features familiar to me from other software.

Where I think the problem for some users might lie, is that the Corsair K95 can do complicated lighting effects and create complicate macros and do it all in unlimited modes to suit various users and games and situations.  I think it does it well.  The software to control this has therefore to provide for all these features, and for someone just wanting a simple keyboard to play games, it might require more time spent and effort spent learning than they wish to devote to it.  For some gamers, recording and making changes to macros might be more intuitive with some other keyboard software.  I don’t know.

As the regards the lighting, I find that the software section to set up the lighting is much the same as a paint program.  You simply select an individual key or group of keys that you want paint, then select the colour.  As in a paint program you can select a colour from a range of swatches or click on a colour wheel to create your own colour.  You can adjust the brightness of the colours.

As regards the macros, in my opinion you have to be very watchful and think about what you are doing and what it will record, and whether it can usefully record an action.  For example, I could record a macro where I grab the mouse and move the cursor to the top of this page and click on something.  The K95 can record this, and can record it on the fly if I wish.  But what will it do if I replay the macro?  The macro cannot repeat the action AND get the same results unless the cursor is in exactly the same position and orientation as it was when I recorded the action.  Best not to record the mouse movement in that particular case.

The K95 (and any keyboard) can only record keystrokes, mouse clicks and cursor movements as physical occurrences.  They cannot record such movements as the intended defined action such as “Open Outlook” or “Move from cell A5 to cell C12” or Öpen the Images menu, select Image Size and change “the Width to 1920 px.  You have to perform keystrokes and mouse clicks and movements that can give reasonably predictable and repeatable results, provided the first keystroke or mouse movement is from the same starting position.  As always, with recording macros by any means, you have to decide whether getting the macro right will cost you more time and trouble than performing the task manually.  With the K05, macros can be recorded and assigned to a key on the fly, or assigned to a key afterwards in CUE.  They can also be created. named or edited in CUE.  Recording a macro of text is simple.  You can record it as you type; or copy text and paste it into a text macro in CUE.

It took me quite a while to work out how to record a macro on the fly.  I couldn’t find it in the manual.  It’s simple.  Press the MR button (it then starts flashing red).  Press the keyboard key to which you want to assign the macro.  Then perform all the actions that you want recorded.  When finished, press the MR button again.  That’s it.   You can later rename the macro in CUE to a more useful name so that you know what it odes; you can edit the step in CUE; and you can reassign the macro to a different key (you have 18 macro keys and 3 modes – 54 keys in all).

One macro feature that CUE seems to lack is the ability to add delays or change delay times to a macro that has already been recorded.   It can record delays as you record and it can clear delays.  I know that some other keyboard software makes it easy to add or change delays.  If you wonder why it could be desirable to add delays, then check the opening to my previous paragraph.  I refrained from writing that recording keystrokes always gives predictable results.  If you have a long series that fire away instantaneously there is a chance the computer will miss at least one action and this can give a completely unexpected result.  Therefore, it can be a good idea to add a delay, say 0.09 of a second between each action.  Some software allows you to select all the actions (or whichever ones you wish) and apply your delay to all those selected.

In Corsair CUE macros can record keystrokes, cursor movements and mouse clicks and the time between these actions.  As part of this it records the lift off of a keystroke or mouse click – or whether the key or mouse click is held down while actions take place (eg, CTRL + C).  Cursor movements are plotted pixel by pixel across the screen, so they take up a lot of lines as you can see in the screen grab below where only a few seconds of moving the mouse cursor brought up over 1,400 lines of macro recording.

K95 - Macros

I am unable to comment on macros for gamers, but I gather you have great flexibility in the way you do it on the K95.  I think this is where some other keyboards such as SteelSeries or Razer may offer software that is simpler and more intuitive.   However, I understand that one such keyboard is really only set up well for playing three particular games, so I suppose it’s a matter of buyer beware.

If you are wondering whether I actually use the macro facility on the keyboard, the answer is that I do.   So far, I mostly use it for simple actions that I have to do often and which thus annoy me.  I create a macro on the fly and keep it for a while to see if it is reliable and useful.  However, I have found that some of the macros I have tried do not what they are meant to do reliably.  I suspect this is because I recorded them without delays and the PC can miss a step or two if it has to execute a large number of directional movements at once.

As regards the total of 54 macro keys (I’ve read there are actually 108), as a non-gamer, I think I would be just as happy with the 5 0r 6 macro keys that some gaming keyboards have.  I have no wish to set up a list showing what each macro keys does and then spend more time looking for the macro I want when I could perform the task quicker and more reliably manually.  I think the advantage of macros for day to day use is when you one day find you have a large repetitive task to do and an easily recorded on-the-fly macro can save you a large amount of time and effort.

Summary

All in all, I’m very happy with the Corsair Gaming K95 RGB mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX Red Switches, and I have no desire to change it.

However, coming back to Part 1, if I were a touch typist I would give the DasKeyboard with Cherry MX Blue Switches a serious look.  Apart from the tactile feel of typing on the keys, I like its rotary volume control and that it has two USB 3 outlets at the top of the keyboard.  But I’m not a touch typist and I needed to see the markings on all its keys clearly,  but I couldn’t, so I found typing on it was too difficult and frustrating to live with on a daily basis.

Today the temperature is forecast to be a scorcher, so I have the curtains closed to keep the heat out, and this is where the illuminated keyboard is a particular blessing as I can type away without a room light on.

Could I happily go back to a non-mechanical keyboard?  The answer is Yes and No.

No, if it was the keyboard supplied with my new PC.  After only a month or so using that keyboard I looked around for one more to my liking and bought the Logitech K520r.

Yes, if it was the Logitech K520r or similar.  I have to say that I enjoy typing on the K520r for a change, and it is easy to put out of the way because it is light and wireless.  It has separate buttons for volume controls, and is battery powered.  I’m not yet sure about this, but I might actually prefer typing on the K520r with its shallow activation point and low key profile.  The top of the Logitech keys are about 2 mm at most above the keyboard facia, and the top of every key is close to the tops of the adjoining keys.  By contrast, the top of the Corsair keys are about 15 mm above the keyboard facia, and each key is widely separated (relatively speaking) from any other key.   I am wondering if the close spacing and shallow activation point of the Logitech K520r keys might actually help me to type faster and more accurately, including hitting more keys accurately without looking at them, than the mechanical keyboard does.  Perhaps it is only be the novelty of the mechanical keys and their retro feel that I like when it comes to typing – but there is no doubt that I like the illuminated keys and being able to see them so easily and clearly in any room lighting conditions.  And no doubt the mechanical keys are more fun to type on.  The macro features of the K95 are a bonus, but not essential for me, as I’ve done without macros since the Wang VS days ended around the early 1990’s; and if it were really necessary, there is macro software available for Windows and Mac which not only follow keystrokes and mouse movement, but perform specific actions and add a delay until that action is complete..

Perhaps one day in 2016, I’ll have a look around to see what other keyboards are available then.  Currently, the Logitech K800 could be interesting – it looks like it might have the same keys as the K520r, but illuminated and the keyboard is wireless (rechargeable AA batteries).  Oddly, the K800 is cheaper when packaged as the MX800 with mouse.

Finally, if you are wondering why all this fuss about keyboards?   Well, I spend quite a bit of my day typing at a keyboard, and if I can make it more enjoyable and less frustrating (correcting typing errors) with a better keyboard experience then it’s worth the effort.

And the bottom line – the illuminated K95 looks great in a darkened room on a scorching hot day, or at night, and regardless of what keys are the best for typing, mechanical keys are definitely a joy to use in a therapeutic kind of way.  And for some, the tinkle of Cherry MX Blue keys adds to the typing pleasure.

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