"Floating" switches — why?

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Daniel Beardsmore

06 May 2017, 23:48

OK, so what's the deal with "floating" switches? Keyboards where half the case is missing and all the switches are on show. They seem to be all the rage now, and the only conceivable value they seem to offer is a saving on metal.

I can't tell if everyone's been brainwashed into accepting this gimmick or whether people do truly all crave this design.

User avatar
j0d1

06 May 2017, 23:55

If you're building your own keyboard, you will probably make a "sandwich-style" case (made of acrylic, for example) and letting the switches float on the top plate is the most easy way to go.

User avatar
Daniel Beardsmore

07 May 2017, 00:14

Adding a bit more acrylic shouldn't be a concern, but adding more metal is a bigger deal. For a major brand commercial keyboard though, especially one with a plastic case, it just seems to be an ugly, pointless new gimmick to make it harder to get a sensible keyboard.

RGB LEDs have some advantages, such as static two-tone colour schemes and being able to toggle the LED colour to indicate lock status (something horribly bodged with the Poker II which is utterly inconsistent with displaying status for its various modes) but super high speed flashing migraine-inducing acid trip colour is absurdly over the top — if I wanted a large grid of coloured lights I'd simply keep my eyes on the vast 1.9 million coloured light grid in front of me, the one where the stuff I'm typing shows up.

User avatar
paecific.jr

07 May 2017, 01:10

@Daniel Beardsmore I do definitely agree with you on the RGB's. But, back to the floating switches (or maybe floating caps?) I personally think it looks more minimalistic. The material doesn't really serve much of a purpose, so just get rid of it.

Sankart

07 May 2017, 01:39

Personally I like both and it depends on the layout of the keyboard.
For example I don't mind a floating keys 60% keyboard, but a floating keys MX HHKB just looks silly to me.
The reason they're popular in general is that they're easier to clean (at least that's what's my impression, reading on normie communities). Just blow over it a little and it's as good as new, don't even need a vacuum.
I guess it's popular with companies due to reduced manufacturing costs, a simpler construction and they can slap the gamer tag on it.

User avatar
Daniel Beardsmore

07 May 2017, 01:44

paecific.jr wrote: @Daniel Beardsmore I do definitely agree with you on the RGB's. But, back to the floating switches (or maybe floating caps?) I personally think it looks more minimalistic.
Except that by having switches on view, you've actually added visual clutter, making it less minimalist in effect.

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Game Theory
Mr. Despair

07 May 2017, 05:56

That its most likely just the aesthetics, its easier to clean if you have a bad habit of eating at the keyboard. I'm guilt of this at work due to being there wayyyy too much.

Findecanor

07 May 2017, 07:58

Why Corsair and some other mass-produced keyboards have it is because having the metal mounting-plate exposed as the top gives the impression of a more well-built keyboard: "Ooh, it is made of metal and not cheap plastic".
I have seen this misconception many times on other forums: people who ask "I want a keyboard with a metal case like the Corsair K-whatever". They don't know that most other mechanical keyboards also have the same kind of metal plate inside of it. Other people, even some professional reviewers have also had the misconception about some Cherry MX boards that they would have had a metal "backplate" under the switches.

Personally, I like "floating keys" only when it means that there is no bezel: when the edge of the key is the edge of the keyboard. A low bezel around floating keys is ugly.
Last edited by Findecanor on 07 May 2017, 16:34, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Menuhin

07 May 2017, 13:07

Daniel Beardsmore wrote: OK, so what's the deal with "floating" switches? Keyboards where half the case is missing and all the switches are on show. They seem to be all the rage now, and the only conceivable value they seem to offer is a saving on metal.

I can't tell if everyone's been brainwashed into accepting this gimmick or whether people do truly all crave this design.
As far as I can tell from reading posts in GH and /r/mk, "floating keys" were the trend like 1, 1.5 to 2 years ago, and this "design" is 'out' and no longer trendy now, as you can see FJELL new design and the new group buys by Sentaq are now all "high-profile" which is actually normal profile.

There is no reason to expose switches to potential side impact unless the "side-switch" is super good looking and you want to expose the sexy "side-switches" - which can be the case for some transparent led builds and some colorful switch top designs.

I once asked Jack the designer and programmer behind this massive Planck keyboard trend and QMK, for the reason of such a "floating-key" design. He said the "floating-key" trend is out and the original reason to design such a case is to cut cost. Any aluminum case especially created by CNC has to use a lot more material when they're in "high-profile" which is actually normal profile case when one look at all keyboard cases, mostly created from plastic, in history.

Another group of design that claims to have "floating keys" design are those keyboards assembled from multiple layers of materials, e.g. acrylic, aluminum, wood, bamaboo. For example, Korean GON's cases, and XMIT's latest Chinese Hall-effect keyboard makes use of this construction. They can actually make their profile normal instead of having "floating keys" by including 1-3 layers of thin bezel materials on top and changing the screw sizes accordingly. However they just go with the simpler design decision.

User avatar
drakche

07 May 2017, 13:31

I have both types of keyboards.
A classical (even retro looking with white case) keyboard and a floating caps keyboard.

The floating one has a massive thick backplate for the switches and it does make they keyboard quite sturdy since the backplate is screwed directly to the case and case is quite thick plastic. While the regular one feels burly is a different way. It has a thick dense plastic case and it feels sturdy like the older keyboards did. Even if the case is a snap on case like the Realforces, it doesn't feel hollow at all. And the backplate is screwed into the PCB and then sandwiched between the case making it quite snug.

I find them both appealing. They also differ in sound a lot.

To be honest, I don't pay that much attention to if it's floating or otherwise.

User avatar
Menuhin

07 May 2017, 14:01

Daniel Beardsmore wrote:
paecific.jr wrote: @Daniel Beardsmore I do definitely agree with you on the RGB's. But, back to the floating switches (or maybe floating caps?) I personally think it looks more minimalistic.
Except that by having switches on view, you've actually added visual clutter, making it less minimalist in effect.
Imagine the SGI or IBM button box with an switch-top exposed design / "floating keys" design.
Spoiler:
Image

Image

Image

It will be just right, just for my taste, to have the bezel height reaching not too much higher than the lower edge of keycaps.

User avatar
fohat
Elder Messenger

07 May 2017, 15:09

Daniel Beardsmore wrote:
you've actually added visual clutter
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User avatar
Stabilized

07 May 2017, 15:51

Findecanor wrote: The way Corsair and other mass-produced keyboards have it is because having the metal mounting-plate exposed as the top gives the impression of a more well-built keyboard: "Ooh, it is made of metal and not cheap plastic".
I have seen this misconception many times on other forums: people who ask "I want a keyboard with a metal case like the Corsair K-whatever". They don't know that most other mechanical keyboards also have the same kind of metal plate inside of it. Other people, even some professional reviewers have had the misconception about some Cherry MX boards that they would have had a metal "backplate" behind the switches.
I have heard this so often with keyboard reviews on Youtube and the internet. In fact the aluminium they use for the floating key design is less 'solid' then a traditional steel plate. This does not stop people from imagining that a keyboard with an aluminium top plate is more sturdy, or solid, than a plastic cased keyboard with a steel plate.

User avatar
Daniel Beardsmore

07 May 2017, 16:11

Strangely enough, most of the BBC Micro keyboard mounting plates were aluminium (keyboards from Philips (?) and Wong's):

http://wouter.bbcmicro.net/pictures/com ... index.html

Wouter Scholten considers the use of aluminium to be superior; his reasoning (in answer to me, not on the page above) is: "Aluminium is more expensive and this already tells you everything. Using an aluminium plate noticeably makes the keyboard and entire machine lighter. For stiffness steel is also not really needed, so all you have is additional weight."

Findecanor

07 May 2017, 16:52

When it comes to aluminium and steel, stiffness is a question of using the right alloy of aluminium or steel, tempered to the right stiffness.
I have taken some steel plates out of vintage keyboards and found that I could bend them more easily than I could sheet-grade aluminium, but they were still much tougher to saw through.

Another thing that makes plates more rigid is to have bent edges.

User avatar
Menuhin

07 May 2017, 17:05

fohat wrote:
Daniel Beardsmore wrote:
you've actually added visual clutter
Image

When people just look at their minimalistic keyboard setup, perhaps they would imagine they have a cluster-free futuristic home like this.

Image

User avatar
Stabilized

07 May 2017, 17:14

Findecanor wrote: When it comes to aluminium and steel, stiffness is a question of using the right alloy of aluminium or steel, tempered to the right stiffness.
I have taken some steel plates out of vintage keyboards and found that I could bend them more easily than I could sheet-grade aluminium, but they were still much tougher to saw through.

Another thing that makes plates more rigid is to have bent edges.
Yup, totally agree with your points here too, my comparison was between plates used in DIY kits and the aluminium top plates found on cheaper keyboards. I can definitely feel a difference between aluminium and steel when it comes to plates for building 60% keyboards, and that's what I was really basing my previous post on. But you're right, if I compare something like a Magicforce with a aluminium top plate with bent corners and something like a Filco, I can't notice any difference in torsion flex. Typing feel is very different, but that's a whole different matter as so many things can change that!

So, good points well argued! I was under a similarly wrong impression as the reviews I was criticising :lol:

User avatar
zslane

07 May 2017, 18:26

Menuhin wrote: ...the original reason to design such a case is to cut cost.
This is the heart of it, I feel.

Production managers simply wanted to cut costs, and leaving off the case top was just an easy way to do that. Convincing the buying public that such a design looked "cool" became a necessary marketing step, and it worked for a while, primarily because it was novel. But in the end it was just a way to make something cheaper.

It's the story of keyboards in general, really. Look a all the sophisticated, but expensive switch designs and keycap styles that have been lost to history. Hall Effect switches (until very recently), beam spring switches, complicated Alps switches, super thick double-shot keycaps, curved steel backplates, etc. All these things were replaced with inferior substitutes simply to make keyboards more affordable, not better. I see the elimination of case tops as just another step in this process.
Last edited by zslane on 07 May 2017, 19:06, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Menuhin

07 May 2017, 18:32

Stabilized wrote:
Findecanor wrote: When it comes to aluminium and steel, stiffness is a question of using the right alloy of aluminium or steel, tempered to the right stiffness.
I have taken some steel plates out of vintage keyboards and found that I could bend them more easily than I could sheet-grade aluminium, but they were still much tougher to saw through.

Another thing that makes plates more rigid is to have bent edges.
Yup, totally agree with your points here too, my comparison was between plates used in DIY kits and the aluminium top plates found on cheaper keyboards. I can definitely feel a difference between aluminium and steel when it comes to plates for building 60% keyboards, and that's what I was really basing my previous post on. But you're right, if I compare something like a Magicforce with a aluminium top plate with bent corners and something like a Filco, I can't notice any difference in torsion flex. Typing feel is very different, but that's a whole different matter as so many things can change that!

So, good points well argued! I was under a similarly wrong impression as the reviews I was criticising :lol:
Can assure from a vintage bicycle point of view: people prefer vintage steel frames than Aluminium frames because they are strong yet more springy, and less rigid than aluminium, but the major problem is rust for steel bicycle frame. The next very strong yet forgiving material for bicycle frame is Titanium, even stronger and have similar springy properties and doesn't even scratch easily, however, much more expensive.

Agree about the bent edge: strength and flexing properties is a lot about the structure than just the material.

User avatar
Daniel Beardsmore

08 May 2017, 20:35

Menuhin wrote: As far as I can tell from reading posts in GH and /r/mk, "floating keys" were the trend like 1, 1.5 to 2 years ago, and this "design" is 'out' and no longer trendy now, as you can see FJELL new design and the new group buys by Sentaq are now all "high-profile" which is actually normal profile.
I just popped over to the MK website, and their promotional slidy thing includes the Ducky Shine 6 Special Edition which is an abominable mess (pseudo-not-floating with tiny keycaps to sear your retinas with a visual cacophony of backlighting) and the MK Fission that is a weird floating thing.

However, most of what's new in their store is drab old-school, except for the bit about being desperate to get as much light out from around the keys as possible.

The Logitech G810 looks nice — if I liked full-size it would be tempting. One of the few keyboards designed to make just the legends light up! However, I'd never want to go above TKL, and the space at the top for the LEDs and media controls would not be suitable for a TKL and smaller.

Findecanor

08 May 2017, 22:26

BTW, There is a TKL version of the G810 version with Romer-G switches: the Logitech G Pro.
Tenkeyless, bezel around the keys and backlighting in the centre of each key with no backlight bleed.

User avatar
chuckdee

08 May 2017, 22:53

Seems like personal preference, just like RGB key lighting and underlighting. Some people get their keyboards for something other than utility, and those non-essential functions might make it more appealing when in pictures, on their desktop, or when on display.

User avatar
seebart
Offtopicthority Instigator

08 May 2017, 23:00

chuckdee wrote: Seems like personal preference, just like RGB key lighting and underlighting. Some people get their keyboards for something other than utility, and those non-essential functions might make it more appealing when in pictures, on their desktop, or when on display.
Right, I can't really picture it with any of my keyboards but fohat's example is a good one. He's even got decoration.

User avatar
Daniel Beardsmore

08 May 2017, 23:18

Findecanor wrote: BTW, There is a TKL version of the G810 version with Romer-G switches …
Promising, but they need to get rid of the largely empty space above the function keys. Having read the Romer-G patent, I discovered that it's a damped switch. Instead of rubber, it's damped using plastic prongs — these in theory could give a compromise between being too loud and being too muffled. Certainly it does have a good sound, so this may be the case.
seebart wrote: Seems like personal preference …
Any industry will gravitate towards specific characteristics: you simply can't buy a product of your choice. Vortex make 75% keyboards, but they never seem to have gained the interest level required to bring out an ISO version. If you want a design that's immune to backlight bleed, you're restricted largely to a company that won't sell their switches to other brands. Actual options are extremely limited; they only appear to be wide because of the vast number of ways that you can choose the same thing as everyone else.

User avatar
chuckdee

09 May 2017, 00:01

Daniel Beardsmore wrote: Any industry will gravitate towards specific characteristics: you simply can't buy a product of your choice. Vortex make 75% keyboards, but they never seem to have gained the interest level required to bring out an ISO version. If you want a design that's immune to backlight bleed, you're restricted largely to a company that won't sell their switches to other brands. Actual options are extremely limited; they only appear to be wide because of the vast number of ways that you can choose the same thing as everyone else.
So you say. There's a different perspective, that if all gravitate towards those characteristics, the one that doesn't is avant garde, and many design towards that end. It's all personal opinion (whether of one, or the masses), and indeed in an industry like this, that becomes more likely, as people tout Korean Kustoms that take different routes to make themselves stand out.

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XMIT
[ XMIT ]

09 May 2017, 06:15

Findecanor wrote: BTW, There is a TKL version of the G810 version with Romer-G switches: the Logitech G Pro.
Tenkeyless, bezel around the keys and backlighting in the centre of each key with no backlight bleed.
So it replaces the G410 then?

I'd love to get rid of my G410. Anyone want it? PM me. I'll post it to Classifieds eventually.

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Mr.Nobody

12 May 2017, 16:03

I don't like floating design either, but it is easier to clean.

User avatar
richfiles

12 May 2017, 18:35

For me, exposing the switches was actually a design choice, because I disassembled all the switches when I lubed them up, and dyed all my top housings blue to match my blue anodized plate. Furthermore, I'm aiming for a keyboard with an absolutely minimal footprint, since it will optionally slot into a custom made in-desk Kerbal Space Program Instrument/Control panel, and I wanted joysticks to fit comfortably on either side of the keyboard, without sacrificing any keys. Trim or a bezel of any kind surrounding the keys is just wasted space for me. All it would do is cover up the custom plate I had manufactured. I spent the cash to get it made, how I wanted, so of course I'd want to show it off.

I could add pics when I get home, but honestly, I have a build thread. Anyone with the desire to see it should have no problem finding it.

g3rain1

12 May 2017, 20:27

I don't like bezels, on anything, ever. That's why.

davkol

13 May 2017, 15:40

I use both my Phantom and QFR without the upper half of the case, i.e., it technically has the 'floating keys' design now. Do I like it this way? Nope, but it saves me some hassle with physically accessing to the controller and stuff like that.

Anyway, I have to call bullshit on the claim that it's "easier to clean". It's easier for dust and hairs to get there in the first place. You can blow out some of it easily, but the most significant dirt is on keycap tops anyway, because ones fingertips come into contact with them—that matters, not some dirt below the keycaps. And if you remove keycaps for proper cleaning, it's easy to clean the plate/PCB and switch covers too.

The biggest downside of such bezel-less design, IMHO, is lack of switch protection in the corners, though. The switches are much more prone to having their stems with keycaps snapped off on impact/torque.

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