Mechanical Keyboards, Apple Keyboards, GMK Phosphorous — A Brief History of My Keyboard Hobby


Ever since I got my 2016 MacBook Pro, I have had a love/hate relationship with its keyboard. Yes, it’s pretty good to type on. No, it doesn’t offer much feedback and the travel is extremely shallow. There was the one (well, two actually) with the Touch Bar, which I got rid of because of its mediocre battery life and being unable to live with Apple’s latest “innovation”. Then I had to have one on my MacBook Pro Escape replaced.

Now, over 20 years ago, I used to be an avid fan of mechanical keyboards but I eventually ditched them because I switch to laptops full-time. Thanks to Apple’s current keyboard offering, Jason Snell, and John Gruber, I got back into mechanical keyboards.

My first keyboard of choice was the Vortex Race 3. It offered close to full programmability, which I wanted for the iPad, since iOS lacks anything resembling Karabiner Elements. I quickly learned that there is a huge market of custom keycaps, usually made and sold as limited-run group buys.

That led me to getting my hands on XDA Oblique, which is probably one of the most beautiful keycap sets every made, complete with retro Apple novelty keys.

Yes, I even have a “Courage” ESC key, in honour of the Touch Bar which I hate so much.

As Jason Snell, John Gruber, and Apple led me further and further down this rabbit hole, I joined a group buy for a custom keyboard called “Doro67” (a 65% keyboard) — as far as I know, only 175 of them were ever made. I went for “pearl white” but it was also available in many other colours. This was my first custom mechanical keyboard build — I put the PCB inside the case, added stabilizers, and soldered the switches (I decided to go with linear switches — Gateron Yellows) to the PCB.

I have now had my Doro for close to 2 months and the typing experience is unreal. Since the keyboard is programmable via QMK, I have a completely custom setup, tailored to my needs.

Since I started treating this as a hobby, my journey will probably never be complete. I have since participated in two more group buys and ordered two more keyboards.

My third keyboard will be the Think6.5°, designed by Oldcat (also QMK programmable). It also has a 65% layout, which is probably my favourite one, but the case is made from frosted polycarbonate and since the PCB has underglow LEDs, these should nicely illuminate that case in any of the millions of available colours. It should arrive in around 3-4 months, pending any production delays.

In the meantime, I also went all in on a RAMA WORKS M60-A SEQ2 Moon Stealth, complete with a phosphor-filled enamel product code and RAMA logo on the back weight.

The M60-A is a 60% board with a HHKB layout, which lacks arrow keys (these are on a separate layer). Please also note the lack of the third modifier keys on the bottom row — the Control key is placed on Row 3 instead of the Caps Lock key. This is actually surprisingly comfortable and ergonomically superior to use (my pinky has less work to do).

Keyboards are one thing but these are many keycap sets, in many colourways, which can be purchased to cover a keyboard, to customize it as anyone sees fit. Well, I currently have two keycap sets. GMK’s White-on-Black resides on my Doro67, while I use XDA Oblique on my Race 3 (I use both keyboards daily — the Doro for typing, the Race 3 for gaming). These sets have led me to explore completely alternating the look of my keyboards, so I have placed orders for XDA Canvas R3 (it should arrive in August 2019), GMK Oblivion (October 2019), and PBT Heavy Industry SEQ2 (hopefully this year).

Anyway, when I was deciding which RAMA M60-A I should go for, I noticed that they had rendered a grey keycap set on the Moon Stealth model (see two images above). This led me to expanding my hobby into designing my own set…

GMK Phosphorous was born a few days ago — I detailed everything on Geekhack:

One day, not long ago, I was browsing RAMA WORKS’ website, contemplating the M60-A in Moon, and I took a closer look at their renders. It had a simple grey and blueish-cyan keycap set, which I immediately fancied. Since RAMA and I were DM-ing back and forth about my M60-A Moon pre-order, I asked about the set. Turned out that it was just a render, and they suggested I just go make it myself. I started mocking up the set that same evening.

The Moon colour on the M60-A from RAMA WORKS is a cool grey which I really fancy but the icing on the cake was the phosphor filled enamel product code and RAMA logo. These two colours inspired my own colour choices.

This has been a fantastic journey so far and I just regret that I did not get back into mechanical keyboards sooner. My only hope now is that GMK Phosphorous garners enough interest to go to group buy stage and that it proceeds to meet MOQ1. Keep your fingers crossed!

P.S. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people from the mechanical keyboard community — you’re all wonderful! ❤️

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