Alright so this is really programming-adjacent, and not fully about programming. That’s fine, I’ll allow it. It is my blog after all.
So: since January of 2021 I’ve been doing the vast majority of my writing and programming on an OLKB Preonic.
Full disclosure – it originally arrived in September 2020 and I assembled it, realized I did it wrong, took it apart, and re-assembled it correctly. Since I’d never put a keyboard together from a kit before I was somewhat puzzled about things like where stabilizers might go or how to visualize the proper switch layout. Some sore fingers and an hour later, I had the keyboard up and running.
Then I put it on a shelf and forgot about it for about three months.
That’s not totally fair – I did try to use it in late December and had a hard time getting into it, but I did find some useful information for updating the software running on it so that the key intended for changing the board’s light pattern would actually cycle through them. If that is moderately interesting, I can probably retrace my steps and provide an article on that. But only if it’s interesting.
In the spirit of arbitrary new beginnings in January, I hauled it into the office and started the year typing on it. Initially I had to use the little provided cheat sheet to understand just where some of the characters I desperately needed to type were located. Predictably, my typing speed suffered greatly. Additionally, I noticed that my accuracy was just awful when it came to certain letters because I was constantly either overlapping and pressing two keys at once or simply missing the intended key altogether as I subconsciously tried to adjust for the stagger on a normal keyboard layout.
Those struggles did not last long. By the end of the first week I was reasonably proficient on the Preonic, and by the end of the second I couldn’t tell the difference in speed between using the Preonic versus using a standard layout keyboard. I also do not have any trouble going back to the standard layout, which was also a fear of mine. Well, no real trouble. There is a caveat to that statement and I’ll discuss it in just a bit.
I don’t really have anything bad to say about the provided material with regards to getting this thing assembled. I’m willing to chalk up the problems that I ran into to inexperience with keyboards that come as a kit. I can say that a really nice switch puller would have made my life significantly easier, though I don’t expect them to provide that. I didn’t have one, so I coaxed every switch back up out of the board with a strange combination of tools and the utmost care, since I don’t really know what it takes to ruin a switch and I’m not itching to find out.
This keyboard is positively miniscule compared to even a tenkeyless keyboard. I had no idea how much desktop real estate was dedicated to a bunch of keys I barely ever use. It was disconcerting, at first, to have a wide open space where a bunch of stuff used to be, but I came to appreciate the stripped down, space-saving look. It also means that I don’t have to reach as far for the mouse, which doesn’t really seem like that far but it’s just a few inches less awkward than it was before and I appreciate that.
One of the biggest things I noticed is small. That is, the Preonic’s keys. A bunch of keys on normal keyboards are huge for some reason. I thought that I might experience some inaccuracy while trying to use keys like Backspace, Enter, Tab, Shift, and the like. This did not happen, even while I was still trying to get used to the keyboard (well that’s not entirely true, I did continually hit the Fn key when I was shooting for Control but that just meant I got to see a new light pattern once I got that thing working properly.) Since layouts are customizable, I presume there is some layout that would also make the spacebar area uniform with the rest of the keys. I’m not really interested in that because I’m perfectly happy with my current layout.
Because the typing position of my wrists is pretty much the same, I can’t really say that I experienced an ergonomic benefit in that sense. I also don’t really notice the purported benefit of having everything only 2 keys away from any finger at any given time, or any benefit from having the keys arranged linearly instead of staggered. This is because I float all over the place while typing – a result of gradual adaptations to whatever is most comfortable for me. But this is where I have a caveat that I mentioned above: the Raise and Lower keys to access other characters are so helpful that I look for those subconsciously when on a standard layout. I have noticed the greatest benefit to those because hitting the collection of symbols normally located around Backspace on a normal keyboard* is actually a bit of an awkward stretch. I only noticed this when I didn’t have to make that awkward stretch anymore. It’s actually been the largest benefit to this keyboard and one I certainly didn’t see coming. I believe a lot of the benefit stems from using my thumbs and index/middle/ring fingers instead of my little fingers to hit those keys, and I hit those keys pretty often in the course of programming.
(*: “Normal keyboard” for me is something with a US English layout and I have no experience with what a normal keyboard might look like for you if you are elsewhere in the world, so your mileage may vary.)
It’s a pleasantly weighty keyboard with the aluminum case. This doesn’t matter all that much, but it’s worth mentioning because the weight, in conjunction with the helpful little sticky dots that you can place on the underside of the case, really prevents this thing from accidentally scooting around the desk if I should bump it.
I don’t mind having numbers arranged in a row, but if you type a lot of numbers all day long this thing might not be suitable for you. Or you may wish to acquire a number pad and have that floating around separately. This hasn’t come up for me, and I don’t foresee that changing.
I mentioned that I tried to use this in December, briefly, and had a hard time getting into it. At the time, I was playing a bit of WoW Classic and, though the thing was perfectly functional for that, I was having difficulty with using my standard push-to-talk keybind on Discord. Additionally, the linear WASD layout felt a little strange. I could have overcome this by getting used to it, much the same way I eventually did for typing, and by rebinding my push-to-talk key. I didn’t do that because it was easier to just switch back to the other keyboard. Unsurprisingly, it’s easy to choose the easy thing.
The case lighting exists. Occasionally, I can see it. I opted for an aluminum case so that probably limits the amount of it that I can see. It’s kind of pleasant to see it when I go looking for it though.
Also, with the right combination of keystrokes, you can turn it into a little synthesizer and make harmonious beeps. Monophonic harmonious beeps, specifically. No chords for you. It’s a pretty minor thing but it sure is fun for a bit.
Over this longer term use, my typing accuracy has improved greatly. I attribute this to something mysterious because I can’t really say where that benefit is coming from. All I can really say is that in the past, the Backspace key got a lot of use, and I find that I have to use it way less often now. Maybe learning a new layout made me a better typist? This benefit does not appear to carry over to the standard, staggered layout though.
Overall, I like the Preonic enough that I’m considering trying out a Planck EZ as well. I would consider a second Preonic for home use but I opted to get a fancy little carrying case when I bought this one and I’d probably just carry this back and forth for a while first. A Planck would be sufficiently different to be interesting and the Planck EZ, specifically, has lights that I might be able to enjoy. I am a sucker for RGB lighting, as it turns out.
The biggest takeaway? Switching to this layout was not nearly as hard as I anticipated and it was well worth it, if only for the desk space I reclaimed.
If you are at all interested in alternative keyboard layouts, or if the Preonic just looks neat, I can totally recommend you give one a try.