Building The Virtual Keyboard From TRON Legacy

tron_keyboard_500I’ve become a bit of a keyboard geek (proof here and here), so when I re-watched TRON: Legacy recently and saw Sam use that very cool blue-green virtual keyboard, I decided I had to try it for myself. I built one using two iPads and discovered it’s much more difficult to use than it looked in the movie. Below is an explanation of the project as well as my conclusions.

If you’re interested in the code I used to build the prototype, it’s all available on GitHub.

My Current Keyboard Configuration

my_keyboard_configurationThe picture above is one of my home workstations where I think I’ve finally gotten the right keyboard/pointer configuration. Here’s what you’re looking at:

  • The black keyboard on the bottom is a Filco Majestouch mechanical keyboard with MX Cherry Brown switches (review with video here). This is what I use for most of my typing. The Alt and Windows keys have been swapped and Alt and Command remapped in software to make it more Mac friendly.
  • The keyboard above it is an Apple bluetooth keyboard. I use it for typing when I’m in virtual meetings in order to keep the noise down (it’s very quiet while the mechanical keyboard is way too loud for meetings), and for its media keys (volume up, volume down, and mute). (If you want media keys on your non-Apple keyboard, see this post by Grant Skinner.)
  • The mouse is an Apple Magic Mouse. Mice are very personal objects which people feel strongly about, so I’m not going to claim that it’s the best. In fact, I have a few Logitech mice which are equally good if not better. But I enjoy the accuracy and the gestures of the Magic Mouse enough that I’ve stuck with it. (In my opinion, this is the first mouse Apple has ever made that’s usable.)
  • The trackpad beside the top keyboard is the Apple Magic Trackpad. I use it for gestures and sometimes for scrolling. I also sometimes connect the bluetooth keyboard and trackpad or mouse to my phone.
  • The phone is a Galaxy Nexus. I usually have my iPhone 4S beside it, but I used it to take the photo. I rely on them for notifications. Rather than having alerts pop up on my monitor all the time and distract me, I use my phones for email, calendar, and text notifications. (I have two phones because I do mobile development — and because I love them both.)
  • I have an Energizer family sized battery charger off to the side to keep the keyboard and pointing devices powered. I find I’m swapping out batteries about every two weeks.

I have two other workstations: one for Windows, and one at the office. They’re both different just to mix things up a bit, so maybe I’ll get pictures of them at some point, as well.

Mechanical Keyboard Roundup

mx_keyswitchesUpdate (2/11/2013): Added a review of the Realforce 87U with Topre switches.

Update (1/14/2013): Added a review of the Filco Majestouch-2 with Cherry MX Red switches.

Update (2/1/2012): Filcos (my favorite mechanical keyboards at this point) are now available on Amazon!

Update (1/27/2012): Added a review of the Leopold Tactile Touch.

After sensing something profoundly lacking from the modern typing experience, I decided to delve into the world of mechanical keyboards. As is the case with most fetishes, I discovered that there are entire online communities, cultures, and movements surrounding the magic of the mechanical keyswitch. I could have easily spent many months and several thousands of dollars acquiring, experimenting with, and reviewing all of the mechanical options out there, but with both time and money in short supply, I decided to focus on five specific models: the Das Keyboard Model S Professional, Filco Majestouch-2, DSI Modular, Matias Tactile Pro 3, and the Unicomp SpaceSaver M.

There is a lot of personal preference involved in picking a mechanical keyboard. Factors like key travel, clickiness, tactile feedback, weight, force, build quality and more all contribute to the typing experience, and all of these things mean different things to different people. Keep in mind that the reviews below represent my own opinions, and I tried to differentiate between things that personally appeal to me (clickiness, for example), and more objective characteristics (like build quality). The upshot is that there is no clear winner, and you will probably just need to try a few of these out to see which ones inspire you to get out of bed in the mornings and begin your day of typing.

If you know you want a mechanical keyboard and you’re just here to see and hear about some different models, skip on down to the video reviews. But if you’re wondering why in the world someone would buy a relative expensive mechanical keyboard when you can get a membrane or scissor-switch keyboard for far less (and sometimes for free), read on.

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