Review: Design flaw mars my support for Mac-centric mechanical keyboard

Lofree keyboard Mac mechanical

As longtime readers may already know, I’m a big fan of mechanical-style keyboards for computers. The haptic feedback I get on them, the “clickety-clackety” noise they make (the ability to annoy my cubicle neighbors is often worth the price of admission) and the accuracy make this a preferred peripheral for me.

My current favorite keyboard is from Das Keyboard, and I’ve seen other manufacturers make mechanical keyboards, often designed for PC gamers, who often love the response, accuracy and general look and feel.

With that in mind, I was sent the new Lofree mechanical Bluetooth keyboard, which is currently undergoing a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. The keyboard costs $74 with free shipping for U.S. customers, with retail pricing about $99 and coming later this year.

The keyboard features round, concave buttons, designed to emulate a classic typewriter look and feel. This is also fully designed for the Mac, as opposed to keyboards that work with Macs but are clearly aimed at Windows users. The Lofree does support Windows and Android users via a switch on the side of the keyboard. If you are of a certain age and can remember mechanical keyboards, the round keycaps will induce a wave of nostalgia. The design is also much smaller than other external mechanical keyboards, so if you’re a fan of the Mac style of “less is more”, you’ll appreciate the size.

The design and feel of the keyboard alone would merit a 5-star, thumbs-up review from me, but unfortunately this design has one MAJOR flaw for me that brings the final grade tumbling down. If you’re a touch-typist – and a fast one at that – this flaw should cause you to skip buying this altogether.

LoFree keyboard closeup LoFree

The design of the keyboard rows are nice to look at, but the shift on the row for the numbers make it tougher for touch typists.

The number row on the keyboard – the one with the 1, 2, 3, 4, etc., is not positioned correctly compared with how those keys are set up on a regular keyboard. Looking at a regular keyboard on either a desktop or notebook, the Q key sits below the 1 and 2 keys. On the Lofree keyboard, the Q key sits below the ` and 1 key. This means touch typists will always be slightly off whenever they’re trying to type a number, or use punctuation symbols like ! or @. Or they will have to pause to look down at their keyboard to make the correct keypunch, slowing them down.

This shift also affects the right side of the key row – the backspace key is now too far to the right, which means when you make a mistake, you end up hitting the wrong button when deleting/backspacing. The “Return/Enter” key is also slightly off, but this is not as bad as the backspace key and top row of numbers.

I asked someone from the company about the flaw, and got this answer in response: “It may seem unpractical from a functional point of view, as we’ve chosen design over functionality. It is the same feeling as if you were to switch from an 11-inch laptop to a 15-inch laptop-keyboard. It takes some time to get used to it, and due to our unique design a little bit more than other keyboards.”

This may not bother you if you are a hunt-an-peck typist, or if you like looking down when typing. If so, at least you know about this ahead of time.

LoFree keyboard MacBook keyboard LoFree

The size of the LoFree keyboard matches up nicely with the size of a MacBook notebook (look at positioning of number key rows to spot the differences)

One other quick thing I noticed – pairing the keyboard to my notebook required a special key combination – there’s a slider bar that says “Bluetooth”, which I assumed would launch pairing mode, but that just activates the Bluetooth radio. In order to pair, you need to hit the FN key and the number 1 key, wait for the keyboard to blink, then pair it with your computer. Hopefully the final instructions will explain this better. The keyboard does support multiple devices, so you can hit the FN and 2 key to pair to a tablet/phone, etc., if you want.

The campaign has currently raised more than $200,000, surpassing its $10,000 goal, so in the end it probably won’t matter that I don’t like it. But maybe they’ll make a future version with the upper key row in the right place, at least to appease touch typists.

Grade: 1.5 stars (out of five)

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.
Take IDG’s 2020 IT Salary Survey: You’ll provide important data and have a chance to win $500.