Image: Jack Wallen

I’m going to preface this by offering up my usual warning when I review keyboards. The Ultimate Hacking Keyboard has set the bar so high, it’s almost unfair for other manufacturers. Setting aside my UHK, System76 has created what might we be the best keyboard on the market. The Launch is a tank of a little device that packs so much goodness into a surprisingly small form factor without risking your wrists in the doing. It’s comfortable, it’s configurable and it’s beautiful.

SEE: Change control policy (TechRepublic Premium)

But then, what else would you expect from System76? After all, it is the maker of the greatest desktop machine on the market. Why wouldn’t it follow that up by adding a keyboard worthy of the Thelio?

And that’s what the company has done, by launching the Launch. System76 created what many will consider to be the perfect computer interface. Not only have they squeezed a ton of keys and functionality into a tiny footprint, but they’ve also made it highly configurable, open-source, brilliantly lit, and even turned the thing into a high-speed USB hub.

Here’s a quick rundown of the features:

  • Two different switches to choose from (Royal for a muted click and Jades for a most-satisfying click).
  • Cyclable RGB color spectrum backlighting.
  • Solid milled aluminum body.
  • Attachable magnetic foot for a 15-degree incline.
  • Split space bar (so you can use either for a different function).
  • Two high-speed USB-C and USB-A ports.
  • Custom key layouts with a handy Keyboard Configurator (available for Linux, macOS and Windows).
  • Easy key swapping (with included key puller).
  • Four layers of customization (including personalized app shortcuts and hardware functionality).
  • Tenkeyless layout.

That alone should sell you on the Launch. If you’re one who likes to tweak every aspect of your computer, why not extend that to the keyboard? With the Launch, the sky’s the limit to customization.

But in truth, the mark of a good keyboard isn’t the customization, but how it feels beneath your fingers. For me, that’s where the Launch really shines. Granted, I’m used to a keyboard that offers resistance and an audible click. But consider this: I type more than a million words a year, so a good keyboard is an absolute must for me. I’ve tried keyboards that include silent keys with next to no travel. I work with Apple keyboards that feel as if, any second, the keys will get stuck or simply stop functioning. In short, I’ve run the gamut of keyboards, and the Launch immediately rose to the top of my list at first click.

SEE: Dorm essentials: Set students up for success with these 9 tech items (TechRepublic)

That’s how good this keyboard is. And the ability to tweak the hardware to meet your exact needs is icing on an already performant and efficient cake.

Longevity built-in

After pounding away on this keyboard for a week, it became clear the Launch is a keyboard built for the future. Because you can customize it to perfectly suit your environment (be it based on an operating system, a task or a location), you can be sure this keyboard will evolve with you. But that’s not the only reason the Launch is here to stay. This keyboard is a tank. The switches are rock solid, and the chassis is milled from a solid piece of aluminum. In other words, it’s going to last … and last … and last.

Space bar genius

My Ultimate Hacking Keyboard has a split space bar. However, that is due to the split nature of the keyboard. Thing is, that left spacebar goes completely unused. System76 saw potential in this, split that key in half (Figure A), and made it such that you could remap it to another function.

Figure A

Top view of the System76 Launch keyboard.

If you’re as into efficiency as I am, you know wasted keys have no place on a keyboard. System76 splitting that space bar into two configurable keys was a stroke of genius.

None of this should come as a surprise, given how much care and effort the company puts into everything it produces. System76 has a heart, and it beats strong for open-source and its customers. And if you’re looking for your next forever keyboard, do not overlook the Launch. Although you might cringe at the $285 price tag, given this could be the last keyboard you ever buy, the price is well worth it.

Subscribe to TechRepublic’s How To Make Tech Work on YouTube for all the latest tech advice for business pros from Jack Wallen.