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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Well rounded: The Lofree Bluetooth mechanical keyboard

I love mechanical keyboards. I own… let’s just say more than I can actually use. For more than a year now, my primary keyboard has been a “80 percent” style mechanical model, and I can’t imagine going back to the softer laptop-style keyboard I used to use.

So when Lofree offered to let me take a test drive of their new Bluetooth mechanical keyboard, I jumped at the chance. My current keyboard, though I love it, is wired and not wireless, not particularly Mac friendly, and lacks a function row.

The Lofree keyboard, on the other hand, offers Mac keyboard shortcuts, a full function row, and backlighting while keeping an extremely small footprint. And most importantly, it combines real mechanical switches with Bluetooth, so you can type on responsive, clicky keys without a single wire, on a Mac, iPad, iPhone, whatever. In other words, this keyboard addresses my biggest complaints about my existing keyboard.

Fans of mechanical keyboards know that there are several different switch styles, each of which offer different sounds and tactile feedback. The Lofree keyboard uses Gaterone Blue switches, which feel and sound very similar to the clicky Cherry MX Blue switches I used in the first mechanical keyboard I bought last year. If you appreciate feeling a light snap and hearing a clear click when you press a key, this is the style for you.1

In the end, the most important feature of a keyboard is how well you can type on it. (Okay, maybe the most important feature is if it ruins your wrists and hands if you use it—ergonomics are important.) And the Lofree keyboard’s key design and layout, while quirky and fun, also make me a little dubious about how practical it is.

The round keycaps are cute, but I couldn’t get past the small modifier keys.

First, the keycaps themselves: They’re round. “Inspired by typewriters,” the company says, and I totally see that. The round keycaps are adorable, and after a little use, I found that I was able to get used to the different feel of round keycaps underneath my fingertips. But everyone’s touch-typing journey is going to be different; if you’ve never used round keycaps before, you may find it unnerving.

Unfortunately, the biggest problem I had when trying to use the Lofree keyboard was not the keycaps, but the unfortunate choices that were made in order to fit all the other keys into a keyboard that’s quite a bit narrower even than my current 80-percent model. There are only two double-wide keys on the entire keyboard: the left Shift key and the Return key. Every other key—including Command, Tab, Backspace, and the right Shift key—are the same size as the regular keycaps. In contrast, on my 80-percent keyboard, both Shift keys are dramatically wider—2.25 times standard width—and the command key is 1.25 times standard width. The Delete/Backspace key is also 2.25 times standard.

I suppose with enough time, I might get used to tiny Tab and Backspace keys, but I really shouldn’t have to. These keys aren’t just larger because of their importance, though that’s part of it; their sizes also help me orient my keys on the keyboard so I don’t lose my place. I could get used to them being tiny, but I’m not sure I’d ever enjoy it.

The placement of the arrow keys on the Lofree is also lacking. Because the keys are a tight grid all the way across, the up arrow key can’t be placed directly above the down arrow key, but is shifted slightly over to the right. The tiny shift key sits right next to it. I don’t want to talk about the number of times I moved my cursor when I was trying to type a capital letter.

So I have to say, my time with the Lofree keyboard was a mixed bag. It’s an attractive keyboard with a Mac focus that brings mechanical keyswitches to a small, wireless design. I love small keyboards like this. But for me, the key layout—especially the lack of space given to important modifier keys—was just too big a hurdle for me to get over. If Lofree made a version of this keyboard with a more traditional layout, I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

If you’re not as bothered by the quirks of the key layout as I am, check out Lofree’s Indiegogo campaign, which launches today. Early orders will cost $74, while later orders—the product is designed and will be shipping in a couple of months—will be $99. (To put that in perspective, I paid $130 for my wired Leopold FC660M keyboard.)

  1. I switched to a keyboard with Cherry MX Brown switches, which bring more of a thump and less of a click. ↩

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