Planck Keyboard Review
Hello everyone; welcome to Rhinofeed! Today I'm going to be reviewing the Planck keyboard. This keyboard is designed by Jack Humbert of Ortholinear Keyboards (OLKB), and is produced by Massdrop. I want to thank Massdrop for sending this to me for a review!
This keyboard is a DIY kit! Included in your kit is an anodized CNC aluminum case (Black, Green, Gunmetal, Silver), a steel plate (Cherry or Matias), a PCB, a Mini-B USB cable, and your choice of keycaps and switches.
All surface components on the PCB are pre-soldered except for the switches and LEDs, which makes things a lot easier for those who haven't had a lot of experience soldering before. If you need some tips, I highly recommend this video.
Cherry: Blue, Brown, Clear, Green, and Red.
Gateron: Blue, Brown, Clear, Green, Red, and Yellow.
Zealios: 65g Tactile and 78g Tactile.
Matias: Click, Quiet Click, and Linear.
Matias switches require a different plate and keycap set, which you can select when configuring the Planck.
The keycaps available in the Massdrop are the following: Beige XDA PBT blanks (with or without black mods); black, white, or mixed ABS OEM blanks; black, white, or mixed Matias OEM blanks.
The keycaps included in this review are white DSA PBT blanks. DSA Profile keycaps are spherical, shallow, and spaced out evenly. The only thing missing is a home row bump.
The Planck has a compact 40% layout with only 47 keys. The Massdrop offering uses the MIT layout with a 2U key for spacebar. OLKB also sells a grid layout, which removes the 2U key to have 48 keys. In both layouts, the keys are on an ortholinear grid instead of a standard staggered layout.
The 2U key does not come with a stabilizer, although it's unnecessary (but optional) at this key-size. I tried using a plate mounted Cherry stabilizer of my own, but ended up removing it.
With a keyboard this small, you'll need layers to get to the functions you need. The default keymap has 4 layers, but these layers are not set in stone. Everything can be programmed using the QMK firmware.
The two keys that flank the spacebar allow you to switch between layers, and you can easily hit them with your thumbs. Here is the .pdf of the default keymap.
What are the benefits of a tiny ortholinear 40% layout? A keyboard this small will certainly reduce finger travel, and therefore make typing more efficient and possibly reduce RSI. However, any 40% keyboard could make the same claim, even without an ortholinear layout. There are no studies proving an alignment of keys in a grid formation reduces RSI. However, a grid does make things easier if you are designing custom keymaps or macros.
The only reason we have staggered layouts on modern keyboards is because of typewriters in the past. Conceptually, this keyboard makes a lot of sense, but habits are hard to break. I would highly recommend getting a keycap set that isn't blank if you're not used to the ortholinear layout and plan to use this keyboard for typing.
The case is sharp. It's matte black anodized CNC aluminum with clean, square edges. Maybe I'm boring, but I love simple cases like this. No fluff, just a nice enclosure to keep your PCB safe. I will admit, I'd love to see the green and gunmetal cases in person.
A Mini-B USB connector is used instead of a Micro-USB connector, and I'm happy they went this route (Micro-USB is the enemy). Type-C would have been nice, but that would have added unnecessary cost.
The PCB included in the Massdrop will be matte white not black as shown.
This keyboard has a built-in, programmable speaker! You can't get much cooler than that.
The Planck's plate is top notch, and possibly my favorite. The material used is 16 gauge 304 stainless steel. The right plate enhances the sound and feel of the switches in the best way possible, and the plate used on the Planck is just right (Thanks Jack!).
In my opinion: In all of the keyboards I've tested, the best keyboards use steel. Once a manufacturer switches to an aluminum plate (or worse, no plate), the keyboard doesn't feel as high quality anymore. I think it's even more important than the case, which I don't think every manufacturer realizes.
Some keyboards mention programming and don't really mean it. The Planck is true to the definition of the word, so get ready to do some reading. You will need to have some free time and some knowledge (or patience to learn) about the terminal and Objective-C. If you're willing to learn, you can program this keyboard to do virtually anything you want.
The information you'll need is not on one web page or file, and that's the biggest hurdle when it comes to programming this keyboard. I really hope that I can find the time to sift through the information, learn it myself, and share it in a future video or written review.
I'll be honest. Typing on this keyboard is incredibly challenging for me. I've learned to type on staggered key layouts my entire life, and the ortholinear layout isn't helping my words per minute. I might be able to relearn how to type if I spent a lot of time, but I won't be able to properly type for quite awhile. Because I switch between so many different keyboards, all of which have staggered layouts, I don't see myself using this as my main keyboard.
All that being said, I do see this keyboard as a fantastic macro board for Premiere, Photoshop, or any other shortcut thirsty applications. With the QMK firmware, the programming possibilities are endless. Because it's so small, I can keep it with me while on the go or just on my desk as a second keyboard strictly for this purpose. I could see this keyboard filled with DSA Relegendable keycaps, such as these.
The DIY nature of the Planck kit is just cool, and I loved assembling the keyboard, soldering the components together, and typing (or attempting to type) on something that I put together. When it comes time to learn the code, I think I'll find that I love keeping a place for it on my desk.
Thanks again to Massdrop for sending this to me to review! If you're interested in purchasing the Planck you can find it here.