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◄ My review: LC-Power TKL wireless mechanical 'gaming' keyboard

2024-01-12 📌 My review: Logitech G413 SE TKL mechanical 'gaming' keyboard

Tags All Tech Personal

New year’s resolution: treat my body better. I spend a lot time typing and whilst I don’t think I’ve done permanent damage yet if I’ve already overloaded joints with weight or the same positions too much I feel it in my elbows and shoulders more these days. I was also curious about mechanical keyboards but not prepared to spend much investigating. So, time for a rushed deep dive on a new purchase and keyboards in general.

Most reviews of the Logitech G413 SE TKL aren’t particularly positive. It’s an entry-level mechanical keyboard marketed to gamers and disappointing to gamer review sites for a variety of reasons: cost vs features, limited configurability, etc. The keys stick straight up from a metal plate in a way that reminds me of an old-fashioned typewriter, which I like and should make cleaning easy. The whole thing is more bling than I'd look for in a peripheral device, I just wanted a keyboard without a numpad so that the mouse isn’t forced over as far to the right as it would otherwise be (I can use a USB wireless numpad if needed) but needed the arrow key section, and this has the exact same key layout otherwise as other keyboards I use. The only real ‘gaming’ feature seems to be the option to lock the Windows key to prevent unintended exits from games.

People also complain about the lack of reinforcement on the wire going into the back of the keyboard, so I got some rubberised spiral reinforcers that are intended for charging cables and stuck one on. It’d be really annoying to damage a relatively expensive (for what it is) piece of equipment because Logitech cheaped out on the basics and also cheaped out on building this with a removable cable. Incidentally, people further complain about various models of G413 having common faults on certain key lights or key caps wearing, although I’m not sure how much of that is criticism of the earlier non SE editions. Logitech have bad habits when it comes to reusing model numbers on fundamentally different kit. This model supposedly offers tougher PBT plastic and double shot moulding to prevent key tops from rubbing off.

It's certainly going to take a while to get used to, even having had Dell and Logitech keyboards with the same UK layouts for well over ten years. You don’t realise how automatically your hands position themselves. I also can’t stand wireless mice due to the weight a battery adds. Keyboards yes, Logitech do various decent wireless ones, although I’ve previously written up the sorry saga of Logitech switching the K270 model from unifying receiver to a model specific one that experiences interference from Bluetooth signals. The K400 (it's an older K400r I've got) is smaller and more cramped and really intended for media PCs as it includes a trackpad plus the keys are narrow chiclets so not really ideal for doing much typing.

As a bit of background, there are variations between manufacturers but standalone laptop style keyboards tend to be referred to as 60% or 65% width and may or may not have separate PgUp/PgDn keys. TKL (standing for Ten Less Keys, although obviously this isn't literal) acknowledge that a separate 'navigation' block is necessary but dispense with a numpad. Logitech's UK site doesn't seem to list any TKL options at all at present, nor most of their mechanical models that are all over Amazon and other retailers. As a general observation, most wireless TKL keyboards annoyingly seem marketed to gamers and have LEDs and rechargeable internal batteries plus they're usually US layout.

The keys aren’t hugely louder or more resistant (having more operating/actuation force) than a Dell SK-8115, which is a cheap, venerable and very robust membrane type keyboard I like a lot, and they have about the same amount of sideways wiggle which apparently is bad to find in mechanical keyboards. The right Windows key is replaced with a Fn that works with other keys to replace missing ones so the Ins/Home/PgUp row equals PrtScrn/ScrLk/Break, even if the Break substitute (which is important in some programming contexts) isn’t mentioned in the manual. Those are fine and because of the position easy to find without seeing the labels. So far so good. I suspect that in a test versus other mechnical keyboards I’d prefer key switches modelled on Cherry reds which have even less tactile feedback. The G413 SE keyboards use an equivalent of browns which confirm a keypress at the midpoint of being pressed and don’t have to be fully pressed to fire, so you can type more lightly than it seems at first unless you feel like hammering the keys. Blues are very clicky and resistant. Some people put O rings on the back of the mechanical keyboard keys to dampen the sound, but using the audible feedback to register when hitting too hard might not be a bad idea. Plus unlike Cherry switches the ones in this aren’t round underneath, although people mention having used 41160 synthetic grease to lubricate them as an alternative. The switches apparently aren’t replaceable without soldering expertise, which could be costly if only one or two start misbehaving at some point, and there are also reports that individual LEDs can fail in ways that make them go off-white. Basically mechanical keyboards add a ton of complexity and points of failure, but in exchange you can usually replace parts easily. Logitech haven't really provided the benefits of that in this keyboard.

The backlight might be what sinks this for me. It has four levels, controlled by Fn+F1/F2: off, bright, brighter, stupidly bright. It also has effects accessible via Fn+F12: static max brightness, ‘serpent’, ‘reactive’, 'random blinking', and ‘breathing’. Fn+Up/Down controls pattern speed. At lower user brightness 'serpent' makes the keyboard look faulty and 'breathing' is barely noticeable. 'Reactive' saves things – it reduces the normal brightness a bit more, and makes it so that key presses activate the user-selected brightness. This makes the whole backlit thing far less distracting and I’ll see how I get on with it. Failing that I can either finish learning to touch type thirty or so years late by turning off the LEDs entirely like the blank version of the Das Keyboard that the internet was raving about years ago, or get some matte key stickers (although it’d be a shame to lose the feel of the keys, which are pretty nice compared to smoother ABS plastic that wears down to shiny fast). For context I loathed the first generation backlit Kindle e-readers and avoid cars with lit up nav computers, as I can be very light and sound sensitive in terms of sensory processing. But the reactive brightness forces it to be more subtle in your peripheral vision, and I find that I only really look at the keyboard for a split second when putting my hands back onto it to get the positioning right, or when entering complex passwords. Other than that once I’m going I do more or less touch type, at least on the most commonly used 90%+ of keys. I've put the keyboard through a hub with switches to cat-proof the desk more, since the laptop stays on. Even if doesn't remember the light setting when powered off (another design failure) it's a few key presses to set it and it also goes through what's effectively an LED self test when powered on.

Update: I've replaced the key caps with Asus RoG ones that don't have the same excessive light bleed issue.

I still think this was probably the best choice for key layout if not the fact it’s backlit. If I had a magic wand I'd saw off part of a Dell keyboard and persuade the circuit on it to work, but that wouldn't work not least because the board inside an SK-8115 overhangs into the area occupied by numpad keys. It’d add complexity to using the missing keys even if it did work and though most laptop keyboards that omit certain keys have alternatives I don’t think Windows itself does. I wouldn't want to have to use AutoHotkey or the dubious workaround of the Microsoft powertoys keyboard manager, which seems to need to stay resident to work properly and use a very high process priority that can interfere with other things.

I haven’t quite worked out when I naturally go to use a numpad. When typing single digits I usually don’t, when typing some combinations of digits I do, when using a calculator application I do. But as mentioned above, I’ve got a wireless one if I need to do lots of numeric data entry, I don’t think it’s a constant enough need to justify twisting my arm another few inches all of the time or batting a keyboard around on the desk a lot. This keyboard doesn’t bat left or right by the way, the rubber feet and weight of the metal plate plant it solidly on whatever hard surface it’s on.

If you’re a typist who uses cap lock or scroll lock (I don’t) be aware the notification lights for those are very bright and can’t be modified apart from the standard approach to annoying LEDs of sticking electrical tape over them. Lastly, if you're hoping a keyboard will cure RSI it probably won't. It's just one factor in preventative care. Let your arms rest in comfortable positions, avoid wrist wrests that compress tendons, etc.

Rushing into getting one probably isn't the best strategy. Amazon had the RRP at 70 and list price as 60, but were out of stock. It seems to fluctuate a lot. At the moment they're 45 and Warehouse stock cheaper, which is a lot more acceptable for a device you can't just plug another standard cable into if it becomes damaged. Although you can get third party cables for other Logitech mechanical keyboards such as the G610/G810 for under a tenner and they look pretty generic, so I've put one to one side as possible insurance.

I've also decided to take a punt on an LC-Power TKL keyboard because they're marked down to half the price of this one right now. German company, the layout is specifically claimed to be UK on an official LC listing on Amazon but all of the images are QWERTZ and ditto all of the reviews I can find. In theory it's more flexible than the G413... more configurable, red mechanical switches, and wireless. Reviews do seem to indicate that whatever software comes with it is Windows only but hopefully the key aspects can be controlled on the device itself. If it pans out, it'll be for use with my own PC rather than the K400r I'm typing on now.