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LDLC AZERTY + keyboard: Results after one month of use


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The new improved AZERTY standard is now available through a first LDLC signed keyboard. She's eyeing you, but you're afraid to take the plunge? We tried the experience for you. At the beginning of 2019, after several years of work, AFNOR (French Association for Standardization) published the NF Z71-300 standard on French keyboards, which is divided into two parts: bépo and improved AZERTY.

The first is almost a "revolution" with big changes in key layouts (including letters), while the second is a smooth evolution of the AZERTY we know. 93% of the character positions do not change, but we gain in comfort and direct access to certain characters. 

  1. Improved “azerty” and bépo keyboards: detailed review of the AFNOR voluntary standard
  2. LDLC keyboards: towards more improved AZERTY models, bépo and a solar version

LDLC was the first to draw a product compatible with its AZERTY + keyboard at  13 euros. The reseller has opted for simplicity, taking the basis of his BW10. Only the marking changes, which explains why the price has not been revised upwards. As a reminder, it was already available in AZERTY (French, Belgian, Switzerland) and QWERTZ (Switzerland). 

Enough to try the experience at a lower price. Be careful though to take into account the shipping costs if you place an order online: 4 euros for a withdrawal in store, 6 to 13 euros for delivery in relay or at home. We therefore opted for a purchase from a franchisee at no additional cost.

LDLC has already told us that other more high-end keyboards - which won't be difficult - are in the works, but without specifying a timetable for the moment. Enough to give time to get a first idea of the interest of the improved AZERTY. But for this, a test of a few days is not enough. We therefore spent a month on the AZERTY + of LDLC. Here is our verdict.

Step one: install the new key layout
From the unpacking, we have the confirmation: we are facing a first price product. This is a plastic model, made in China and without any frills. It measures 456 x 156 x 24 mm for 534 grams on the scale, plugs in via a USB Type-A connector (1.5 meter cable), has 105 keys, a numeric keypad and that's it. 

Inside the box, there is nothing other than the keyboard, not the slightest CD or manual. When you log on to your machine for the first time, if you start typing text, you will certainly be surprised: some characters displayed on the screen do not correspond to the keys pressed on the keyboard: the “. "Becomes a", ", the" @ "a" ² ", and so on.

The reason is simple: Windows does not support the new, improved AZERTY key layout. It is therefore necessary to make it known, not via a driver but a "keymap". LDLC specifies this and refers to  this page, only mentioned on the back of the packaging.

The software layer is not provided by LDLC, which relies on third-party work around the enhanced AZERTY. This is the case of Maxime Labelle's keymap, created via Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator. The installation procedure for Windows is detailed here. Other projects posted on GitHub are featured for Linux and macOS.

Get ready to have a hard time at the start
We ran our tests on Windows 10, without any unpleasant surprises. The installation only takes a few tens of seconds and, once the machine has restarted, our AZERTY + keyboard was perfectly functional; so all we had to do was get started.

Here, it should be remembered that typing habits are above all a personal experience. The feelings of some will not necessarily be that of others. It could also depend on the keyboard formats you are used to, whether you often switch from one model to another, etc.

It is the same for the transition to the improved AZERTY (or even to bépo). You have to want to take the plunge in order to benefit from the advantages of the new arrangement or quite simply to try the adventure. Here, we regret LDLC's shipping policy, which represents 30 to 100% of the price displayed on such a product.

You also need to be able to take the time available to adapt, which will initially impact your typing speed, the deadlines for returning documents, etc. In any case, plan to deal with a drop in productivity - the extent of which will depend on each individual - lasting at least several days. It's the price to pay.

But where did this # @ & × # ± $ go!" Character?
For this test, I decided to impose a strict rule on myself: no possibility of going back too easily to the first difficulty. My old-fashioned Logitech Internet Keyboard, a version that still connects to PS / 2 and not to USB - was therefore stored in a cupboard at the back of the garage.

So I found myself on a Monday morning alone in front of my screens with an improved AZERTY keyboard, in great shape to attack #LeBrief. The shock was greater than expected at the start. To be honest, the first half day was relatively painful with the impression of not moving forward.

I was spending a lot of time looking at the keys (although I almost never type normally) wondering where the "%" sign, the "$", the "to", and so on. I sometimes had the impression of seeing a neophyte in front of his first keyboard trying to find a key; there are more pleasant situations.

With the improved AZERTY standard, it is normally easy to do accentuated capitals, but I couldn't find any trace of an "É" or "À" on the keyboard. The afternoon was not much more. productive, but at least I didn't spend too much time playing hide-and-seek with certain characters. I roughly knew where to look for them.

After a day, the results were mixed: I felt like I had wasted quite a bit of time, but I also realized that the improved QWERTY layout was interesting.

Endorse the logic of improved AZERTY
The experience was repeated for the next day and the following days. The advantages gradually appeared to me: the double chevrons "widely used in the French language, the "@", the ". “And“ ê ”are for example directly accessible, without combining several keys.

Over the days, I even came to understand the logic of the improved AZERTY: when looking for a quirk of the French language, there is a good chance that it is accessible via the key combination Alt Gr + the first letter in question. This accessory touch then becomes essential.

Some examples: Alt Gr + o gives “œ”, with Alt Gr + u we get “ù”, Alt Gr + c returns a “ç” and Alt Gr + a gives an “æ”. Better yet, to obtain the equivalent capitals, it suffices to press in addition on Shift. Shift + Alt Gr + o results in an "Œ", and so on for "Ù", "Ç" and "Æ".

Although the letters "À", "É", "È" and "Ê" are not engraved on the keyboard keys, they are accessible via the following combinations: Alt Gr + Shift + à, é, è, and ê . We find the same principle on currency symbols: the “€” does not change place (Alt Gr + e), but the “$” is now obtained with Alt Gr + d. Of course, there is an exception: the pound "£" is not obtained with Alt Gr + l but Alt Gr + z (maybe for "zinzin" who knows).

After having searched for a long time for the numbers by exposing on the keyboard - or at least the “²” - I finally looked at the “solution” on the (unofficial) Norme-Azerty.fr site , while regretting not to have done it before: click on the circumflex accent (to the left of the Back Arr key) and then the desired number.

You can easily write “¹”, “²”, “³” up to “⁹” with the combination of two keys. We can even make a "⁰" (power 0), a character that must be taken care not to confuse with "°" (degree) and "˚" (chief circle of the Scandinavian and Czech languages). You follow ?

LDLC's lack of involvement is felt
It is here that the almost total absence of support from LDLC can be felt when faced with this product. It is sold as is, without any real documentation, whereas it deserves the reseller to explain to his customers how to use it. Especially for those who make this purchase in store who will not look for a specific page of the site, not very detailed.

Changing the branding of a Chinese product is one thing, but better is expected from a "Premium" reseller / importer. The Lyonnais would have every interest here in making his support for the conversion to AZERTY + a marker of his difference, an added value. Playing the "cocorico" card is only valid if you go to the end of the process.

We could have imagined a real manual detailing more than a few keys. With the reseller getting more and more involved in video, he could also have offered a detailed guide in this format, highlighted by a QR Code for example. Here, none of that. We rather have the impression of rediscovering the attitude of a marketplace seller contenting himself with the bare minimum, surfing a trend at lower cost. 

After the first few days, the situation improves
After several days, I start to take my bearings, but a few characters still remind me that it is not so easy to get rid of several (decades) of typing on an AZERTY keyboard.

This is particularly the case with “. ", " , " or " ; ". Yet it's simple: they are all three aligned at the bottom right and accessible without needing to use the Shift key in addition, while this is the case for the “. On the AZERTY layout. Even today, the “. "And", "are the characters I am most mistaken about.

After several weeks of "forced" immersion in the improved AZERTY standard, my habits have gradually changed and I now think that I am at least as fast as before. However, it is difficult to establish a strict protocol to measure this kind of performance.

I imagined I could do this, but after talking to David about it, he started drawing blueprints that would turn me into Cyberman so that I could repeat the protocol a few times to confirm the results accurately, so I quickly abandoned the idea.

Today, I must admit that I am finally convinced and think of staying on an improved AZERTY keyboard in the future (this test is also written on the AZERTY + of LDLC). While I was a bit apprehensive about having to go back to a classic layout on the laptop or other keyboards / computers.

This passage turns out to be very simple and the reflexes quickly return. I just hope this will still be the case after several months / years on an upgraded AZERTY keyboard. Of course, we can also hope that this standard will spread across the various products on the market over time.

AZERTY +: a perfectible keyboard
Finally, the only downside of this experience comes from the AZERTY + keyboard from LDLC. It costs only 13 euros, but even at this price you hardly get what you pay for. It is not particularly pleasant to use on a daily basis. If I stay on it - for now - it's only because the new and improved QWERTY layout suits me. I am now waiting to have more choices in order to be able to switch to a model where typing on a daily basis is pleasant, whether at LDLC or elsewhere.

A little competition could only be beneficial, let's hope that the many players in the sector will eventually get started. Anyway, if you have had the opportunity to try the experience (more than five minutes on a piece of table), do not hesitate to share it with the community via the comments.

One more thing: management of Windows keyboard layouts
Let's finish with a point that caused us some problems at startup, but which does not directly depend on the LDLC keyboard: the management of language settings under Windows.

Once the improved AZERTY key layout is installed, it will be added to the classic AZERTY present by default, without replacing it. You will therefore have to look in the taskbar to find out which one is in use and change it if necessary. But when we first got started, we regularly had to deal with untimely changes between the basic and improved AZERTY layouts.

It happened when we were typing text, not really understanding why. The fault was quickly identified: "Ctrl + Shift", which is the default Windows shortcut for changing the keyboard layout. We used it regularly with the "v" key to paste unformatted text.

One solution is to disable this shortcut: go to Settings> Time & Language> Language, click the Choose default input method link, and finally click Input language shortcut keys. A new window opens with Advanced Key Settings, select Between input languages and click Edit.

In the right part of the pop-up, you have the list of possible shortcuts to Change the keyboard layout. Change this setting to Unassigned, click OK, then Apply Changes. Ctrl + Shift no longer has any effect on the keyboard layout.

Via this method, another shortcut giving the same result continues to function: Windows + Space. It is on the other hand much less likely to be activated by default (but this must also depend on the uses of each one) and can be practical if you have connected two keyboards on your computer.

This can for example allow you to work in improved AZERTY with another operator using the classic layout (for the rest of the family?). If necessary, it is anyway possible to remove the basic AZERTY layout from Windows, avoiding any risk of ending up with it inadvertently. We can anyway reinstall it if necessary.

To do this, go back to Settings> Time and language> Language and click on the French (France) line. An Options button appears, click on it. At the bottom of the window that has just opened, in the Keyboards section, click on French (not to be confused with French - AZERTY NF Z71-300 which is the improved AZERTY) and finally on delete. You should then only have the improved QWERTY layout in Windows.

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