Qwerkywriter Keyboard First Impressions

For my birthday my excellent friend Regan procured for me a Qwerkywriter keyboard, which is designed to mimic the look and clicky-clicky feel of an old school typewriter keyboard while still giving you the functionality of a modern computer keyboard. People have asked me to give a report on the thing, and I’ve been using it for a day now, which is enough time for me to give you some first impressions of it.

First off, you should all know that I am not the best person to vouch for how it feels compared to an actual typewriter, since the last time I used an actual typewriter for anything was freshman year in high school, when I typed just fast enough on a manual typewriter (25 words a minute) to be excused from a compulsory typing class. Since then all my writing, creative or otherwise, has been done on a computer. So while I can appreciate the old-school aesthetic of the Qwerkywriter, which is indeed endearing as promised, for those of you who were hoping for a report on whether this would offer a 1:1 experience to a Smith-Corona or IBM Selectric, I’m afraid I can’t help you there.

That said, I do have a frame of reference with manual computer keyboards, i.e., the older keyboards where there was a full and distinct “click” with each key depression. And as for those, well, yeah, this does the trick. The keys are clicky and clattery and for the folks who really get off on that sort of sensuously tactile experience when they type, this is probably going to ping their pleasure centers pretty hard.

For the record, I’m not someone who needs my keyboard to make a huge amount of noise, nor do I really care too much about the tactility and travel of the keys — I’ve spent too much time on laptops for that. But I do find the travel and clackery of the keys pleasant enough, and the noise does vaguely remind me of my days in a newsroom, which is a nice sense memory.

In terms of the physical aspects of the keyboard, it’s reasonably solidly built; the chassis of the keyboard is metal, as are the keytops (the mechanical aspects of the keys appear to be plastic). The keys are slightly wiggly at the top but the underportions are solidly placed into the base. The height of the base and of the keys put them at a substantial height off your desk, so if you’re used to a low profile keyboard, as I am, this will take a little getting used to and you should probably make adjustments to how you sit and type to make sure your wrists don’t suffer any undue strain (note this would be the case with any keyboard different from what you usually use; this is not a specific complaint against the Qwerkywriter). The keys are not backlit, so if that’s an important thing to you — and it is for me — be aware of that.

I type reasonably quickly (and idiosyncratically) and the keyboard had no problems keeping up with me; at the moment I’m typing slower on it than on my usual keyboard, and making more errors, but that seems more to do with me having to get used to the keyboard than anything with the keyboard itself. The Qwerkywriter connects via Bluetooth and does a pretty good job with it. I was able to connect with my Android tablet (shown in the picture above) and also to my desktop computer without any problems at all, and haven’t had any connectivity issues of note. The makers of the keyboard say that once it’s charged it can type for months before recharging, which I can’t speak to yet. Obviously it seems to be chugging along just fine.

Criticisms? A couple. One, the return bar is functional (whack it and your cursor drops a line, or you can program it for other functionality), but it really is an affectation, especially if like me you’ve never really spent any time on a typewriter. Also, because I’m not used to a metal bar being on my keyboard, my hand runs into it a lot, which I find vaguely annoying. If you’re a true touch typist who puts your hands like you’re supposed to, maybe this won’t be a problem. The base also has a fake roller bar in it, which is cute but otherwise inessential.

There’s a slot in the back for you to place a tablet or phone in, which is great (see above), but leads me to another complaint, which is not about the Qwerkywriter but is about mobile word processing apps, namely, that at this point they still don’t have some basic functionality (for example, neither Microsoft’s Office online version or Google’s Docs mobile app have the option to set a ruler on your document; Apple’s Pages does but I’m not usually working on the Apple side of things), which for me right now limits the usefulness of the tablet/keyboard setup. Your mileage, quite obviously, may vary on this (you may not have the need/desire to very specifically format as I do).

Also, for gamers, I’m not entirely sure that this is a fantastic keyboard for that. On one hand it is mechanical, which many gamers like, but on the other hand it is Bluetooth rather than directly wired, which introduces lag, and also given the key shapes, I sense a lot of opportunity for flubbed key presses.

Finally, and this is just me, but I sort of question whether I would take it out into public. It’s certainly portable (the keyboard is just under three pounds) but it’s also a little… I don’t know, precious? It’s one thing to bring a laptop into a coffee shop. It’s another thing to bring your Qwerkywriter, chunk it down, slip your tablet into the back, and clack away while you chug your soy latte. I feel like the hipster police will burst through the door in their skinny jeans and haul you away.

At home, it feels indulgent and (yes) just quirky enough to be fun. Out in the world, it might come across as oh my God look at me I am a really real writer as you can tell by my important clicky sounds. Again, I’m fully willing to admit this is a personal hang-up; I have a well-known bias against writing in public areas anyway. So take this as you will. You might be happy to be out in public with this, you shameless hipster, you.

My personal neuroses notwithstanding, the Qwerkywriter seems like a solid, pretty and enjoyable mechanical keyboard which I can recommend if you like the basic feature set of mechanical keyboards and also enjoy the old-school typewriter aesthetic. Be aware that you will be paying a premium for that aesthetic — these things are currently going for $350 — but if you’re down with that, go for it and have a ball.

(A link to the Qwerkywriter site, by the way; the other links above were to the ThinkGeek sales page.)

51 thoughts on “Qwerkywriter Keyboard First Impressions

  1. Thank you for the review! I adore devices (and have mild manual typewriter nostalgia) so this was fun to read about. I probably wouldn’t drop money on one, alas, but if someone magically gave me one I would use the heck out of it.

  2. This looks like a fun keyboard, but yowza you failed to mention the price. At $350 I can’t justify paying more for just a keyboard than I paid for my 2 most recent tablets, combined.

  3. Thanks, John! I’m old enough to remember living with a Selectric day in, day out. I still have an old manual in the closet, though I haven’t had to use it to complete a paper form in many years. The nostalgia factor of looking at the doodad is great, but that said, your experience helps quantify the value of “cute” and “nostalgia” against “investment of cash and time.”

    I suppose there are those contemplating purchase of a separate Bluetooth keyboard for whom the cute/nostalgia factor is an attraction sufficient to outweigh the notion of spending >$300 for such a doodad.

    But, absent any overwhelming advantage in functionality, I’m not one of them.

  4. I thought typewriters always stuck once you got above a certain wpm level? Is this one a bit better in that area? I love my Mac keyboard because the keys don’t jam or purposely get in the way of fast typing.

  5. I’d love to have one but someone would have to give it to me free. So maybe Qwerkywriter wants more reviews out there in the wild or something; I dunno. My keyboard on my main desktop is a Das Keyboard, chosen for maximum clicky, and I love it to death, but I’m typing this on my Macbook right now and I have no real complaints about the keyboard. I don’t do enough writing on my iPad for it to need its own keyboard, and on the rare occasions when it does the original teeny keyboard that came with my iMac works just fine.

    So, yeah, it’d be fun, but I can’t see ever buying one.

  6. But does it go “ding”? Or make other olde tyme noises?

    I totally think you should go to the coffee shop with it. The hipsters will be crushed (cities afire, lamentation of women) when a balding middle-aged dad shows up with something EVEN MORE hipster than they are. The Hipster Police will bow down before you as their new god.

    Also, geez… your friend spent that much moolah to get you one, you need to amortize that by showing it off in public.

    I know it would be a pain to carry on an airplane, but you totally need to go to coffee shops in cities with more pretention and more hipsters. People you’ll never see again. Who maybe need to snap out of it.

  7. Since the ‘hipster police’ don’t seem to turn up to drag away the “writeurs” who chunk down their actual, ancient, noisy, mechanical typewriters, I think you’d get away with this one. It certainly looks like fun but for that price you can get a proper ergonomic keyboard (even bluetooth ones) and this one looks a nightmare for that!

  8. My internal retro-hipster believes a tablet dock grafted onto an honest to $DEITY IBM Model M or Model F would be so much more cooler-than-thou. One could even do the electrical connection pretty easily with a USB converter, and it would be at least as clackily obnoxious and attention seeking at the coffee shop.

  9. Just the other day I was at a friend’s place, and I admired the vintage Underwood portable typewriter on a side table in the friend’s living room. “It’s actually a USB keyboard,” the friend told me. He also had a Qwerkywriter on the same side table, but I didn’t know what it was when I saw this post.

    Back in the day, another friend had modified an IBM Selectric II to be a printer/terminal for an S100-bus computer.

  10. Reminds me of the ancient Underwood I learned to type on back in school. Solid cast iron body you could kill a charging moose with, and be careful of those tiny round keys… miss one and your fingers to right between with the resultant pile up of keys in the well. Mr. Munson didn’t believe in any of that electric nonsense. LOL.

    The only thing missing is that Aztec/Mayan pyramid stair slant from one row to the next.

  11. Speaking of protecting your hands whilst using a keyboard, many of the folks in this group are writers or earn their living at the keyboard. If so, you’ll benefit from the ergonomics advice in this old article:
    http://www.geoff-hart.com/articles/2004/avoidrsi.htm

    Many of the links are dead, some of the information is slightly outdated, and there are other glitches, but it’s still a very useful article for computer users. An updated and more polished version will appear in three parts in Corrigo, the newsletter of STC’s technical editing SIG at the start of July, August, and September. I usually give them 1 month first publication rights, so the revised versions will appear on my own site (open to the public) in early August, September, and October. Stay tuned!

  12. Followed the link down the rabbit hole and learned what “Cherry MX Blue switches” are for the first time, and all the colors of the Cherry MX rainbow. Now I know something keyboard snobs care about! 20 minutes well spent. Back to that work thing, with my generic office keyboard…

  13. Softmaker (from Germany) makes a full-featured office suite for Android. You should check it out.

  14. Umm, why is the carriage return on the left?

    I learned to (touch)type on manual typewriters, we had to master those before moving up to the hallowed Selectrics in the next room over. Carriage return levers should be on the right, so you can smack them with gay abandon while setting up your next line of “aaaa dddd gggg zzzz cccc bbbb”

    Shudder…

  15. Oops, just realized I had that entirely backwards. Shows how long ago I actually had to type on one of those things. Probably also the effects of growing up in the southern hemisphere, or something. I sheepishly retract that last comment.

  16. I get enough of the clickity-clacktey sound and feeling when I have to use one of the ancient computers we have the student aides use. I’ll keep my low-profile, easily depressed, low angle, nearly silent Mac keyboard. Thanks.

  17. You can get a bit of the same experience in iOS with the HanxWriter, which is a . . . I dunno, a keyboard extension? . . . for iOS. After I installed it, it gave me three optiona for old typewriter-like keyboards, with accompanying sound effects. If you mate a bluetooth keybord to you iPad, the on-screen kb disappearrs, but you can still get the nice clickety old-school sounds as you type.

    For whatever that’s worth.

  18. Give me an replica IBM keyboard circa 1980 and I’d be happier. I’m not hankering for good olde days of manual typewriters. I used one in high school exactly once.

    Come to think of it, I have an ancient IBM PC keyboard in my garage. Time to introduce it to bluetooth perhaps.

  19. I’m flabbergasted by this; sentimentality aside, I don’t understand it. And @craigruaux, yes, I remember carriage returns only on the right too. I had 3 manual typewriters and then a Selectric. My favorite was this cute “laptop” manual typewriter (what 4 pounds total?) that I got for $35 in a Portland Ore pawn shop, which I used to compose poetry with under trees (mid ‘70s). About that only thing I’d say about manuals now was that if you really banged a key your type came out bolder; & the mysteries from those times often got solved by the unique signatures coming from manual typewriters. I guess also you could also re-bend keys that interfered with each other, too; but I can’t see going back.

  20. oh my God look at me I am a really real writer as you can tell by my important clicky sounds

    This sounds like the hipster version of talking loudly and at length on your mobile phone in public, getting work done while annoying everyone else within earshot. Win-win!

  21. I’m holding off spending that kind of money until they release the iKwill-Pro, which is a large, bluetooth-enabled goose feather that syncs up with my MacBook (not available for Windows).

  22. Hmmmm.. so many comments about carriage return being on the right. All the old manuals I used had it on the left.

  23. Apart from the carriage return bar, this sounds a lot like the mechanical keyboards I use all the time (I have 3 on my desk right now). I like the ergo ones, like the Kinesis or the Ergodox, but the action of the keys is what sold me on them. It’s the kind of thing you miss when it’s gone.

  24. Anyone who wants to reproduce the look and feel of a solid mechanical keyboard, without the overhead of hipsterish pretension, would do well to look at Das Keyboard. They are beautifully engineered, completely robust – and very clicky. I bought one for my wife a couple of years back (who up to then was wearing a keyboard into the ground every year or so) and she hasn’t looked back. It wasn’t cheap, but it’s excellent value if you do heavy duty typing. This is sounding too much like a sales pitch, so perhaps I should say that I have no connection with the company whatsoever – other than as a very happy (if vicarious) customer.

    And if you do want a hipster feature, you can get models in which the key caps are completely blank and so spook everyone you know who isn’t a touch typist.

  25. My dad was a journalist so seeing the picture and reading the comments has triggered off so many memories of listening to him type on his Olympus! And, you have a friend prepared to spend $350 on a present? – wow… :)

  26. Regardless of how I feel about the device, your comment about the Hipster Police bursting in wearing skinny jeans and hauling you away is probably one of the greatest sentences I’ve ever read.

  27. I am 54. I wrote my first local newspaper articles on my parents’ mechanical typewriter. Then I would get on my bicycle and bring it to the office of the one man owner/printer/journo. I was sixteen when I started.

    So I should like the idea of faux-mechanical keyboards?
    Sorry but fuck no. Remembrance is the true opposite of nostalgia.

  28. I backed the Kickstarter for it… discovered it with 3 hours to go and someone had backed out of the last early-bird slot… I work in an open office environment so I don’t like to use it at my desk… but on my lunch break I enjoy sneaking off to a nook and popping my iPad in and going to town on whatever project I’m currently writing. It gives a little bit of a “I’m working here, so please don’t interrupt” vibe, which is sometimes needed.

    Basically, I only use it when I’m writing novels, but that feels fine by me for the earlybird investment.

  29. I have fond memories of using typewriters, and the only reason I’m not collecting them is lack of space (well, and the shade my wife throws me whenever I mention the impulse). But actually using them? For real work? No friggin’ way. I’m glad this exists, but I’ll keep my Logitech.

  30. Does it come with some sort of case or cover?

    There’s no mention of one on either the ThinkGeek or Qwerky sites, but the first thing I thought of when I saw it was how easy it would be to accidentally pop off one of those removable keys while carrying it around.

    My first typewriter — which I still have, though I haven’t turned it on in twenty years, so I’m not sure it’s still in working order — was a Brother with a special port in back next to the power cord. This allowed one to plug in an adapter so that the typewriter could double as a printer for my computer, a TI99-4A. I even got a second daisy-wheel so I could type with 2 (TWO!) different fonts ( although I think in this case “typefaces” would be the more accurate term ).

  31. @spywholoved: I have a Corsair RGBK70 with Cherry MX Red switches. :) I also type >100wpm and am a gamer.. this keyboard is a beautiful tool for both functions. I’ll never go back to a non-mechanical keyboard.

  32. I admit to having spent $300 for my main keyboard, but it’s a Kinesis Advantage (ergonomic with split keyboard wells for the left and right hands and reprogrammable layout–not for everyone due to the learning curve). I love it to pieces and it helps a lot with my RSI if I use it carefully, but I really don’t need a *second* ~$300 keyboard in my life, as fun as it’d be!

  33. @Kevin & Miles Archer and others with fond memories of Selectric or original PC (model M) keyboards:

    The original PC model M keyboard is still being made! But now you can get them with the FN keys at the top, and the other new keys you expect on a modern keyboard, and with a USB interface. But they still use the classic “buckling spring” mechanism that made the original PC keyboards so pleasant to use. And they’re still virtually indestructible. And they still weigh a ton! :D

    I don’t want to look spammish, but if you google “model M keyboard”, you should see how to buy one listed fairly prominently. The company in question licensed the technology years back. If you really want one, they are not hard to get!

    They’re not cheap compared to your typical throwaway keyboard, but they’re a whole lot cheaper than the gimmicky Quirkywriter. (Which costs more than the computer I’m typing this on did.) :)

  34. Compulsory typing class? Really? I was the only boy in mine, and lasted only one day, because the establishment re-did the school timetable overnight so that the class no longer fit for me.

    I finally learned to touch-type at night school in a class for future secretaries, using massive selectrics, while at home I practised on cute little portable manual. I had to count characters to get my title centred. Of course the return key was on the left, as the platen (roller) went to the left as the type went across the page to the right. I quickly learned to touch-hit the return.

    As I recall, the earliest word processors (and computers?) had a dial for you to control the volume of the artificial clacking noise. Some found the noise helpful, and a few writers liked the power hum because it meant money was being spent on electricity, so no time for writer’s block.

    I suppose it’s OK how the latest (now normal) Mac keyboard does not have beveled keys, but I still don’t like it.

    I couldn’t use a manual now because I have set my keyboard from QWERTY to Dvorak, (vowels on home row) with no loss in typing speed, but a gain if I ever get arthritis. I learned Dvorak off the web.

  35. What a great present! I love the look of it, and your review does make it sound awfully attractive. Maybe some years down the line…

  36. Wanted to correct myself and say, yes, carriage returns ARE on the left. Geez, I remember them on the right but there’s nary a pic; and then I thought, hey, maybe I’d had to learn with some effort to use my LEFT hand to hit returns.. Is this memory-fart because I’m right handed? Fascinating. All that being said, I feel no need to re-experience manual clackity typers and wonder what kind of market you’d have for such … OK, maybe now I’d actually like to try it for a bit, just maybe a little.

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