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WASD's Code keyboard with Cherry MX clear switches reviewed

The white whale surfaces

For the past little while, Cherry's MX clear key switch has been my white whale—not because it can use echolocation to find breathing holes under sea ice, but because I keep meaning to try it out, and it's weirdly hard to come by. Like, unreasonably so. Even when keyboards based on it show up in online listings, they have a strange propensity for being out of stock.

Thankfully, WASD Keyboards, one of the few companies to offer this switch in North America, recently sent me one of its Code keyboards with Cherry MX clears. I've spent the past couple of weeks testing out these exotic switches. I've also spent some time getting acquainted with the Code keyboard itself, which is an excellent and well thought-out piece of hardware.

The Code keyboard is available in both full-sized and tenkeyless models. Pictured above is the tenkeyless variant I tested. While I'm an Excel junkie, I like tenkeyless keyboards for one simple reason: they leave more room for right-handed mousing. The extra space makes day-to-day PC use more comfortable, and it's less likely to aggravate my RSI-induced shoulder problems. (Turns out sitting in front of a computer all day, every day is bad for you. Who knew?) The downside is that, obviously, keying in numbers and entering special characters is a little harder.

Tenkeyless-ness aside, the most immediately obvious feature of the Code keyboard is its build quality. The Code feels dense and sturdy, with a thick frame and a smudge-proof textured finish. I've used plenty of Cherry MX-based keyboards over the years, and aside from Corsair's aluminum-clad Vengeance offerings, this is easily the toughest of the bunch.

The Code keyboard also happens to be LED-backlit. There are seven brightness levels, from dim to blindingly bright. Only one color, white, is on the menu, but that's probably okay. This thing is geared toward programmers and serious typists. Those types of folks don't strike me as ones who would willingly let their input peripherals engage in any kind of technicolor nonsense.

(Speaking of backlighting, the Code keyboard strays from the tenkeyless norm by featuring toggle lights for Caps Lock and Num Lock. The lights are basically little pin pricks just behind the paging block, but they're there, and their presence is oftentimes helpful.)

To use the Code keyboard's backlighting, one must first enable the Fn key. See those DIP switches on the underside of the keyboard? Flipping DIP switch number six turns the Menu key into Fn. The other switches do things like disable the Windows key, switch Ctrl and Caps Lock around, and toggle alternative layouts, including Mac, Dvorak, and Colemak. A full listing of these settings can be found in the official user guide.

Also pictured above: the included key cap extractor, the USB to PS/2 adapter (for full n-key rollover support instead of six-key rollover via USB), and the Micro-USB to USB cable, which can be run through one of five gutters under the keyboard. Those gutters emerge behind the F1 key, behind F7, behind Print Screen, to the left of Esc, and to the right of Pause. That should cover just about any setup imaginable—although I noticed that the cable tends to pop out of those gutters a little too easily when tugged.

Once the Fn key is enabled via the requisite DIP switch, the backlight can be toggled on and off with Fn+F12, and backlight brightness levels can be cycled by hitting Fn+F11 repeatedly. The separate toggle is a nice touch. It means you can turn off the backlight when it's not needed without losing your preferred brightness level.

The Fn key can also team up with the paging block to control media playback and audio volume. Hitting Fn+Pause mutes all audio, as well. Plenty of other keyboards offer similar shortcuts, but they often rely on the F keys, which can force some pretty unwieldy maneuvers (e.g. Fn+F5 for play/pause on Cooler Master's NovaTouch TKL). On the Code keyboard, all of these shortcuts can be triggered comfortably with one hand. Nifty.

Anyway, that's the Code keyboard in a nutshell. Next, let's talk about those exotic Cherry MX clear key switches.