What is a Planck Keyboard?


what is a planck keyboard on the switch and click

Question and Answer

Hey Switch and Click, I’ve been hearing the term Ortholinear and Planck around the communities such as Reddit or GeekHack, but what is it? How is it different than a regular keyboard?

This is something I’ve been wondering as well, since there are so many different keyboard layouts within the mechanical keyboard community. Let’s dive into some research.

A Planck keyboard has a 40% layout with 47 or 48 keys. It has 4 rows of 12 keys each. However, you can choose to make the spacebar key take up two keys’ worth of space, therefore making it a 47-key keyboard. It’s like a block of cheese that you cut into 48 even pieces, 4 blocks up and down and 12 blocks across.

It was initially created by a man named Jack Humbert. Ortholinear keyboards are keyboards that have keys that are not staggered. Jack took this idea and made a compact keyboard that is designed to reduce finger movement and fatigue when typing.

planck keyboard
Planck keyboard with MIT layout

Basics of a Planck Keyboard

Size

A Planck is a 40% keyboard. The Drop + OLKB Planck Mechanical Keyboard Kit V6 is 9.2 x 3.2 x 1.3 inches. You can hold it with one hand and put it in your bag easily.

Fully assembled, it weighs 18oz, a little bit over one pound. That’s like a block of butter or a new bag of fresh coffee beans.

A Planck EZ designed by OLKB (Ortholinear Keyboards by Jack Humbert) measures in at 9.2 x 3.2 x 1.1 inches. This is the size that you can expect if you decide to build your own or not.

Are there enough keys?

Are 47 or 48 keys enough for your use?

Here is the basic layout of a Planck keyboard.

Grid Layout Vs MIT Layout

The Grid layout on a Planck has 48 keys. It is a 4×12 keyboard where the spacebar only takes up one key rather than two.

Many people recommend using the Grid Layout because when you’re typing you usually have a preference hand that will press the space button.

For myself (which I’ve just realized right now), it is my left hand that primarily hits the space bar.

So, for a person that prefers one side over the other, it would be easy to put the space key on the side that they use most often. Most space bars are too big, and the entire key isn’t pressed anyways.

The MIT layout on a Planck has 47 keys. It is a 3×12 keyboard followed by a row with 11 keys (the middle two keys are combined to make a 2u(2 times the length of one keycap) spacebar.

A standard key is about 18mm wide, so the spacebar here would be 36mm wide.

A benefit to doing this is that it doesn’t take more than half a second to orient your keyboard. The big key goes on the bottom. Whereas, the Grid layout, you must read the legends (labels, markings, or engravings) on the keyboard and then say, “Oh this side goes up.”

For many, they choose to go Grid and then program the bottom two buttons to be space if need both thumbs to be able to press space.

The board’s programming can be modified through QMK firmware, which is free to use. This will allow you to add more layers to the keyboard and not limiting yourself to only 48 things.

soldering a planck pcb with switches
Planck PCB, photo by Damien Pollet

Planck Layout

There is a base layer, this is the layer that you press regularly, without having to press any modifier keys at all. On your keyboard right now, this is the QWERTY keyboard.

Below is an example of a Planck base layer layout.

TabQWERTYIOUPBcksp
EscASDFGHJKL;
ShiftZXCVBNM,./Enter
LightCtrlAltCmdLowerSpaceSpaceRaiseLeftDownUpRight
Base layer

As you can see, the central area is where the alphabet letters are.  The purpose of this keyboard is to be able to type with as little movement as possible. On a regular keyboard, a person with short fingers might be jumping around.

But on here, their hand stays relatively still or moves ever so slightly to reach a certain key.

The outer part includes all the function and modifier keys such as tab, backspace, shift, lighting effects if you have that.

The bottom right has the 4 arrow keys. Learning that down and up are next to each other instead of being on top or below each other will be a difficult switch at first, but those keys are rarely used. Also, it’s unlikely this will be your daily gaming keyboard.

A Planck keyboard is more for people who would like a portable keyboard to bring to and from work as a daily driver.

Note: All the layers are entirely customizable. For programmers, they may choose to include frequently used keys such as < > { } ( ) and [ ]. Don’t forget the double and single quotes too.  

By using the lower or raise buttons, you can access different layers of the programming.

An example of a Top layer of a Planck keyboard

`1234567890Bcksp
DelF1F2F3F4F5F6=[]\
ShiftF7F8F9F10F11F12    Enter
            
Potential top layer

Other options are instead of making the numbers be across the top row, you can make it into its own number pad on the top layer. Very convenient for a lot of number entries.

For the bottom layer, it’s possible to add all the punctuation that usually comes with pressing Shift + a number such as ~ ! @ # $ % ^ & * (  ). It’s also possible to add media keys such as next, pause/play, vol+, vol-.

The possibilities are endless.

size comparison of planck keyboard vs macbook
Size comparison of Planck vs Macbook, photo by Doug Mcgauhan

Where Do You Get One?

Planck EZ

For a fully assembled Planck, OLKB designed the Planck EZ that goes for about $180.

It has an MIT layout. It’s available in black or white for the keycaps. You get to pick to buy it without keycaps for a savings of $10 if you have your own keycap preferences.

For an extra $15, you can get the Planck EZ with RGB lighting. If you game a lot in the dark, this might be good for you. Recently, I’ve come to like the clean look without lighting.

The switch options have the following Cherry MX switches: brown, blue, clear, red, silent red, black, white, speed silver. They also offer the following Kailh switches: brown, thick gold, gold, silver, copper, box brown, box red, box white, and box blacks.

Drop (formerly known as Massdrop)

Note: The above is an affiliate link at no extra cost to you.

Drop occasionally has orders for OLKB-designed Planck keyboard kits such as the Drop + OLKB Planck Mechanical Keyboard Kit V6.

This keyboard has 4.25 stars with 67 ratings. The reviews are possible.

It has an MIT layout. The kit comes with the PCB, steel plate, aluminum case, USB cable, and choice of keycaps. You’ll have to provide your own switches and stabilizers.

The PCB options are Matias or MX, depending on what switches you’re planning on using.

Their default keymap is linked to here. It has pretty graphics, but like the other keyboard, this one is also programming using QMK firmware.

They also get Planck cases and keycaps, which are limited group buys.

The above Drop may have changed or be out of stock, so be sure to check on it regularly for updates.

Should You Make the Switch?

Get it? Switch? Haha…

There are mixed feelings on whether a Planck keyboard would help or not.

Xah Lee has reviewed a Planck keyboard. However, he states that he doesn’t like small keyboards or ergonomic keyboards.

Words to note, he used a Planck keyboard with blank keycaps and 48 keys. It was difficult for him to orient the keyboard, let alone know what keys what were.

Despite his critical review, if given a keyboard with legends and a MIT layout, his experience would’ve been exponentially better. If you do watch the associated video review he has, you’ll notice that his hands are too big for the keyboard he is using, and he has not practiced using the keyboard enough prior to typing on it.

Callum Oakley also wrote a review after using a Planck keyboard for 3 years.

He specifically programmed his layout to suit his needs because he is a software developer. He uses a lot of symbols. On regular keyboards, it takes more time to press shift and then reach over to ( ) or [ ] or < > or { }. I just did it, and it required my entire hand to move right.

With the QMK firmware, the possibilities are endless. You can pick and choose where you want your keys. It’ll also let you learn how you type very well.

Callum writes, “I don’t think this board is for everyone…”

It’s important to give things a try and to think deeply about how you type and how you can make it a more efficient process. If you type for a living, it wouldn’t hurt to give something new a try if you’re worried about repetitive stress problems.

Anyways, I would love to try a Planck keyboard in the future if I can get my hands on one.

I have small hands and probably would benefit from typing on something like that. Hope this answers any questions you had over the Planck keyboard.

If you have any additional questions that we can answer for you, comments, or concerns, feel free to leave a comment down below! Happy typing!

Sources:

The Planck Keyboard Noah Frederick

Planck OLKB

48 keys are plenty Callum Oakley

Planck Keyboard Xah Lee

Jake Harrington

Jake has been an avid mechanical keyboard user for the past six years. He has a background in Mechanical Engineering and wants to apply his expertise to break down how mechanical keyboards work and show the world all of the cool aspects of the mechanical keyboard hobby.

Recent Content

%d bloggers like this: