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Why I love my crazy keyboard and trackball.

I am a firm believer in the idea that you should not cheap out on things that you use very often. When it comes to sitting at a computer for 8+ hours per day, this means I like to have a nice keyboard and trackball to use.

Keyboard: WASD Code Keyboard

I love this keyboard. For years at work, I just used my MacBook Pro with no external keyboard or mouse. That keyboard is still phenomenal and that trackpad is still the best I’ve ever used. Then I got assigned to a project that put me on-site at a client and I was required to use a machine they provided. It was a nice ThinkPad, sturdy and reliable, but the keyboard on it wasn’t that great.

They did provide a docking station for me to use with it, which was kind of a revelation. I’d never used docks before and I liked that I could keep everything on my desk and just take the laptop with me for meetings and such. Then when I got back, just popped the machine in the dock and I’m all set to start working again.

Side note: I later got the Surface Dock and I love it.

The one problem was the keyboard they provided with the dock was some no-name piece of junk. I was already using my own trackball with it, but the keyboard was mushy and the keys were hard to hit accurately since there was almost no space between them. I decided then I needed something nicer to use every day.

So I found the Code Keyboard. I got the 104 key, Cherry MX Clear model.

It’s a wonderful mechanical keyboard with a full layout, nice feel, and a clean design. At around $150, it’s pricey, but I’ve been using it for over two years now, it’s moved to a new client with me, and I wouldn’t go for another keyboard until this one has completely broken.

The backlighting on it is nice and configurable. The media keys are kind of weird (they require a modifier), but I’ve gotten used to that. The feel is very nice, and while it’s not a quiet keyboard by any stretch of the imagination, it’s not all that loud. It’s also very configurable, with DIP switches on the back to reverse some of the modifier keys (so you can make it use Mac-style layout), disable the media keys, and turn the caps-lock key into another control key (my favorite).

Side note on laptop keyboards: What is so bad about half-height arrow keys that nobody (meaning Apple or Microsoft) seems to want to put them on their laptop keyboards anymore? Having empty spaces above the left and right arrow keys is essential to being able to find them and anchor my fingers around the arrows.

Trackball: Logitech MX Ergo

For years, when I wasn’t using the MacBook’s trackpad, I’ve been using M570‘s. They are wonderful trackballs and can be found for way less than full price almost anywhere. At one point, I had two of them, one for home and one for work.

But a few months ago, the one I used at work died on me. It just wouldn’t connect at all. I tried with different receiver and new batteries and got nothing. So the one from home got a promotion and came to work, leaving me with an old wired mouse at home.

Within a week, though, Logitech announced the MX Ergo: an updated trackball!

See, I could have easily just bought another M570. They are cheap and easy to come by, but they are getting pretty old. They weren’t new when I started using them more than 5 years ago. The software to customize the buttons is buggy and annoying to use.

So yesterday I bought an MX Ergo. I love it so far. It’s an improvement in basically every way over the M570. The materials are nicer, it feels more solid and not cheap, and the software isn’t nearly as buggy (though annoying to use in a whole new way, because the world isn’t perfect).

I hasn’t been without it’s downsides, though. While I was excited at the idea of a Bluetooth trackball, it just sort of sucks in practice. I’m not sure if it’s a problem with the mouse, Windows, or my Surface, but it’s super laggy and jumpy. Luckily it can also use the venerable Unifying Receiver and it works perfectly with it.

But it is a huge improvement over the M570. Side-scrolling is very nice to have, and the two customizable buttons seem to work more reliably than before (though that may be the newer software). Plus there is a new button. By default it toggles Precision Mode which drops the pointer speed and makes the mouse, well, more precise. I don’t see a huge need for that, so I’m trying to figure out what else I could use it for. I’m sure I’ll figure out something.

Overall, it’s a nice upgrade. It’s pricey, but as I said at the top, it’s worth spending for things that I am constantly using every day. Plus I can use a trackball at home again.