Long and rambling review of the Ducky DK2108 computer keyboard

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Ducky Zero DK2108

Abstract: buy it if you want to try it, or not, it’s all good.

I wanted to own a real keyboard.

The currents of modernity sweep into curious directions. For instance there is a strong tendency among manufacturers to make things that break easily. This forces consumers into buying the same thing—or a slight up- or downgrade of that thing—over and over again. (See: planned obsolescence.)

Also the desktop PC seems to be on its way out. Plumbers and archdukes alike seem to perform the majority of their computing tasks on ever shrinking devices. I’ve even seen programmers switch to tablets. I do not belong to that group of people. Big and fast devices make my job (I am a web developer) significantly easier.

These days if you want to buy a keyboard, you buy a plastic affair for 10 bucks that starts to disintegrate almost the moment you join the queue at the computer store’s check-out.

I moved the other way and went for a 100 euro mechanical keyboard, the Ducky DK2108.

This is a review of that keyboard. It is unnecessarily long and rambling, because I wrote it twice and then haphazardly merged the two reviews, and then I failed to reach a solid conclusion. Go figure. I post this because I think it can still be useful, but you may have to bear with me a bit.

My starting point was the Microsoft Natural Keyboard Pro that I bought in 2000 and have owned and used ever since. The Natural Keyboard Pro uses membranes instead of mechanical switches but is otherwise pretty much everything you’d want from a keyboard. They are a bit of an acquired taste because of their shape which is intended to suggest ergonomic bliss, but celebrity programmers like Jamie Zawinski and Jeff Atwood like them, and so do I.

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The problem with membranes is that they wear much faster than mechanical switches. The Microsoft Natural Keyboard Pro had a couple of features though that made it practically un-throw-outable:

– The dome shape I mentioned.

– A sleep key that would put Microsoft Windows in sleep mode. Sometimes these keys are too easy to press, but this one was placed away from most other keys and could only be activated by pressing straight down on it.

– It had all the keys you’d expect for a PC including a separate full-sized numeric pad, a separate full-sized cursor key block and so on.

– It had a cable with dual USB and PS/2 connectors.

– It doubled as a (slow) USB hub.

You’d think a keyboard with a short list of features like that would be easy to replace, but you’d be wrong. Other manufacturers have tried the ergonomic shape too, but sleep keys are hard to find and often you have to accept other ‘innovations’ that actually increase the number of ways your keyboard can break down, such as a wireless connection to your PC.

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In the end typing got too difficult because of the ageing membranes and I decided to replace the Microsoft. The company produces an heir to their Natural line, the Natural Keyboard 4000, but that one was dropped from my list of candidates when I still considered a sleep key to be a deal-breaker.

Having looked at loads of keyboards for some time I decided to either get the cheapest I could find and keep replacing it every 2 years or so, or get one with mechanical switches that would last me several decades.

Although keyboards with mechanical switches used to be the standard type, these days they are practically only sold to gamers. That means you can get them in all colours you want as long as that is black.

I decided to take a chance on a mechanical keyboard because I’d never owned one and I wanted to see what it was like. I chose the cheapest I could find, the Ducky DK2108 with so-called Cherry MX Blue switches (which I understand are the best switches for typists), which was about 90 euro.

That’s a thing by the way. If you buy a mechanical keyboard, you typically get to choose the type of switches they use. Different types of games have different types of switches and there are switches for hybrid use and switches for typing. The MX Blues activate after they click, which is apparently the bees knees for typists.

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My other requirements were that it needed to be a full US-international lay-out and that it needed to have separate blocks of full-sized:

– Cursor keys.

– Numeric keys.

– Document navigation keys.

– Function keys.

By then I had dropped the requirement of a power key (Sleep) but added the one that the keyboard should not require dedicated software to run. I do not want to have to ‘agree’ to EULAs just to be able to use a keyboard. This ruled out keyboards from the brand Razer.

Although the DK2108 is the cheapest mechanical keyboard I could find, Ducky appears to be a reputable brand.

I posted an unboxing video to YouTube the day my keyboard arrived. Highlights from the video:

– The keyboard feels very sturdy, like it’s got loads of metal inside.

– It comes with almost nothing else. You get a warranty card, a key removal tool (for the times you want to clean or repair it?) and four coloured keys (W, A, S and D) for gamers.

The thing that struck me most is the lack of a manual. There isn’t one on Ducky’s website either. Maybe the DK2108 doesn’t need one, but I am left with one or two questions.

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The keys are noisy. This is apparently to be expected with Cherry MX Blue switches but it’s definitely something you should know. If your boss equates typing with productivity, don’t bring the DK2108 into the office. If your friend equates typing with not paying attention, don’t use the keyboard when you are on the phone. And so on.

I cannot stress enough how everything you do happens with a click. At first I found this incredibly unnerving when web browsing. I use the space bar and Page Up and Page Down keys to scroll through long web pages, and at first I was all like, OMG, you can hear me surf!

Passwords go right the first time, though. That’s a nice change.

(My system for keeping my passwords safe from people looking over my shoulder consisted of embracing the many typos I used to make. I will have to think of something new. I am considering an elbow to the groin.)

When comparing The Click to that of other keyboards I am most reminded of a second hand Nikon F3, an analogue photo camera, that I once held in my hands at the Waterloo Square outdoor market in Amsterdam. The satisfying chunk of the shutter made the camera entirely impossible to use for candid photography, but did produce a great sense of a photo that would stay took.

After a while I find I don’t hear the clicks any more.

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There are four special keys, three of them for controlling the volume of your computer’s sound system and one for starting the calculator tool. I like having them, but I would have preferred programmable keys. Maybe they are programmable? That is one of those great questions that a manual could have answered.

Under Windows 7 the volume control lacks a visual feedback. Apparently Microsoft doesn’t include that functionality. There’s a utility on-line called 3RVX that will provide this functionality, though it takes some setting up.

The Ducky sits like a brick on the table. It’s heavy and its rubber feet are grippy. This takes some getting used to. I am used to shoving lighter keyboards around as I change my position behind my desk but it looks like from now on I will have to start maintaining a single position throughout the day. Doesn’t sound like the RSI killer that mechanical keyboards promised to be, but who knows? Maybe sitting up straight will work for me!

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White print on black keys is not nearly as clear in the dark as black print on beige keys. The F and the J keys have nubbins so that you can find the centre of the keyboard by touch.

Was this purchase a good choice? It wasn’t a bad choice. There are, to my knowledge, not many keyboards out there that push all my buttons. Will it work for at least a decade without breaking down? That is the million dollar question, but a question I am afraid I cannot answer in a review like this. (Check back in a couple of years, I say.)

As I am wrapping up this rather rambling review, I surf the web to find out that Das, another reputable brand, produces keyboards that do push almost all my buttons. I am certain I looked at their products before, so I am not clear why I did not consider buying one of theirs. Both their previous (‘Model S’) and their current generation (‘4’) have power keys and USB hubs. The only reason I can think of was that maybe the prices were higher back then or maybe the older model wasn’t available in the Netherlands. So if you are considering the Ducky, which goes for about 95 euro, also consider the older Das, which goes for about 130 euro.

(All images in this review are of the Ducky DK2108. If you click them, you get slightly larger versions.)

Rating by brankl: 3.0 stars
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