App & Software Review

HHKB Studio review: you have to want the trackpoint

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The HHKB Studio raises plenty of questions. Questions like “is {that a} trackpoint?” and “how do you even sort on it?” from individuals who aren’t conversant in the Completely satisfied Hacking Keyboard (HHKB) and completely different questions from people who find themselves.

The quickest technique to clarify the HHKB Studio is that it’s the Bluetooth model of the cult-favorite Completely satisfied Hacking Keyboard, plus a ThinkPad-esque touchpoint, plus 4 touch-sensitive gesture management areas, minus electrocapacitive Topre switches, all for $329, or in regards to the value of the HHKB Skilled Hybrid Sort-S. It’s accessible for preorder with an ETA of November.

This isn’t an everyone taste.

How we price and evaluation merchandise

The idea

The pitch for the HHKB Studio is that it’s a transportable, high-quality all-in-one laptop enter gadget that you just by no means must take your fingers off of. You possibly can toss it in your bag and use it with no matter laptop you’re on. That is the fundamental philosophy behind the Happy Hacking Keyboard basically; the Studio simply takes it somewhat additional for these of us who don’t navigate completely by keyboard shortcuts.

It’s important to actually need a trackpoint for this to make any form of sense

The trackpoint means you don’t want a mouse, and the 4 touch-sensitive gesture pads can act as arrow keys, scrub by way of footage, management quantity, swap between apps or digital desktops, scroll by way of web sites, or extra. The keyboard is totally remappable, and you may have as much as 4 keymapping profiles within the inner reminiscence. So you may have one setup for video modifying and separate ones for Mac or Home windows or whatnot. It will probably pair with as much as 4 Bluetooth gadgets, has a USB-C port for a wired connection, and — for the primary time in an HHKB — it makes use of normal MX-compatible switches versus the legendary Topre electrocapacitive dome switches within the Skilled fashions.

Hello, I’m the goal. It’s me.

That is actually not an everyone taste.

First off, it’s 300 and thirty US {dollars}. Second, the Completely satisfied Hacking Keyboard, whereas perfect, is fairly area of interest, and individuals who adore it are inclined to need Topre. The concept of an HHKB with MX switches is borderline sacrilege. There are many cheaper boards with the HHKB format and higher keycap compatibility. It’s important to actually need a trackpoint for this to make any form of sense.

If anybody on this planet is the audience, although, it’s me. I love compact mechanical keyboards. I’m already used to the HHKB format. I really like Topre however not completely. I would spend $330 on a keyboard — not that I would like one other one. And I’ve severely thought of shopping for one with a trackpoint besides it didn’t have cut up backspace.

Which is all to say: I’m completely offered on the idea.

The HHKB Studio comes with 45g silenced linear switches made by Kailh. The board is hot-swappable and appropriate with three- and five-pin MX-style switches.
Photograph: Nathan Edwards / The Verge

Most(ly) wonderful

The keyboard a part of the HHKB Studio is gorgeous to sort on. I’ve [an embarrassing number of] mechanical keyboards in my workplace, and I like this one one of the best. I acquired used to the keyboard and trackpoint inside minutes — I haven’t touched my mouse in per week — and the gesture bars are the one factor I’m not completely on board with. The keymapping software program is sweet for a inventory keyboard and principally simple to understand, although it has a few bizarre quirks and omissions. Switching between gadgets and between keymap profiles is form of counterintuitive, however it’s manageable. Battery life is nice.

I haven’t touched my mouse in per week

I’ve used it with my work MacBook, my Home windows desktop, my Chromebook, and — god assist me — a Samsung telephone in DeX mode. There are at all times bizarre points that crop up working cross-platform, however the HHKB Studio has carried out what it’s presupposed to do. The keyboard feels wonderful, the trackpoint works. The gesture pads… exist.

Keyboard, trackpoint, and gesture pads

I didn’t anticipate the keyboard to really feel pretty much as good to sort on because it does. As a substitute of Topre switches, it comes with MX-compatible 45g silenced linears made by Kailh. Topre switches are famously tactile — it’s form of their entire deal — so linears appear to be a bizarre alternative at first, however it works. Between these switches, the thick PBT keycaps, and the metal change plate, it sounds and feels proper for an HHKB, with a deep, pleasantly thocky sound and snappy return. It’s not the identical as Topre, however the vibes are proper.

Should you don’t like the texture of the inventory switches, you may change them for any of 1000’s of appropriate switches. The board helps each three-pin and five-pin MX switches. That is good! Sizzling-swappable sockets are desk stakes for mechanical keyboards lately, and it softens the blow of shedding Topre. (You can swap out the domes on a Topre board, however it’s a way more finicky process, and there are far fewer choices.)

The keycaps are thick PBT and really feel nice below your fingers, which is sweet, since you’re form of caught with them. Though the keyboard accepts MX-compatible keycaps, the G, H, and B keys are sculpted to make room for the trackpoint, and normal keycaps gained’t match on these keys except you bust out a Dremel. And the 6u house bar makes use of 6.25u stabilizer spacing, which implies you may’t swap that out simply, both. Chase Gutierrez, the HHKB product supervisor at PFU America — the US department of the corporate that makes the Completely satisfied Hacking Keyboard — advised me PFU thought of different choices however mentioned this was one of the best compromise after consulting with “many keyboard fans globally” because it’s extra appropriate with normal aftermarket keycap units. PFU does not less than plan to launch the 3D information for its 6u house bar so individuals could make their very own.

Oh, and in the event you can’t contact sort: good luck! The Studio’s black-on-charcoal keycaps are true to HHKB tradition in that it’s very onerous to learn the legends in most lighting. Granted, utterly clean keycaps are additionally an HHKB custom, they usually might have gone that approach, however it’d be good if the Studio got here in classic HHKB white, too.

The G, H, and B keys are lower away to make room for the trackpoint, which limits keycap compatibility.
Pictures by Nathan Edwards / The Verge

The trackpoint works similar to the traditional ThinkPad trackpoint, and it took me no time in any respect to adapt to it. You possibly can swap sensitivity ranges on the fly with a set of perform key combos, which is good for working with bigger screens. I acquired so used to utilizing it in only a few days that after I switched again to a distinct keyboard, I stored reaching for a trackpoint that wasn’t there.

The gesture bars will take some getting used to. They’re remappable, like the remainder of the keys, and that features perform layers, supplying you with as much as 4 units of contact controls per profile. By default, the left facet and entrance pads simulate the arrow keys, the fitting sidewall is a scroll wheel, and the fitting entrance pad alt-tabs by way of your purposes. On my Mac, I put quantity controls on the left facet pad, below a perform layer.

There are 4 gesture bars: one on either side and two on the entrance. The little bars point out their location so yow will discover them by really feel.
Photograph by Nathan Edwards / The Verge

These are the weakest a part of the HHKB Studio. There’s no suggestions in anyway, and stroking the facet or entrance of the keyboard body shouldn’t be a approach I often work together with a pc. Within the keymap instrument, you may toggle them off individually and per profile — so in the event you solely need them on if you’re modifying video or working with a selected laptop, you are able to do that. I haven’t fairly gotten to the purpose of disabling them, however I don’t actually use them a lot, both.

Stray observations

  • The trackpoint on my first evaluation unit had frequent jitters over Bluetooth on each laptop I attempted it with. PFU despatched me a second unit, which solely jittered as soon as on my MacBook after I turned on my Bluetooth headphones, however it’s been in any other case secure. The Studio has a two-year guarantee.
  • The keyboard remapping instrument (for each Mac and Home windows) is surprisingly complete, nearly VIA-esque, although there are specific keys combos it gained’t allow you to remap, like Fn + Q (which it makes use of for Bluetooth pairing), and it weirdly omits widespread media management keys like play / pause, ahead, and again. There’s no on-the-fly remapping, and it’s important to have the keyboard linked by way of USB with a view to write new keymaps.
  • On my work MacBook, the perform keys (Fn + quantity row keys) defaulted to perform keys relatively than the default Mac controls and shortcuts. I had to make use of Karabiner-Elements to repair this.

The HHKB Studio keymap instrument offers you 4 keyboard profiles with as much as 4 layers every. You possibly can remap the gesture bars or flip them off individually.
Picture: PFU

  • The keyboard can retailer as much as 4 layers per profile (the bottom layer and three perform layers) and 4 profiles. However the instrument doesn’t carry over keymap modifications between layers or between profiles, which leads to some busy work. After I’m engaged on a Mac, I swap Cmd and Ctrl; I had to do this on each the usual layer and every perform layer to ensure that it to stay. Most key remapping software program doesn’t require that.
  • The Studio doesn’t robotically change keymap profiles if you change gadgets. So switching from Mac to Home windows entails, for instance, hitting Fn + Ctrl + 1 to modify computer systems and Fn + C + 1 to modify keymaps. That is foolish!
  • The case, sadly, is butt ugly useful relatively than stunning. The elegant strains of the HHKB Skilled have gone proper out the rattling window. The entrance bezel is gigantic to accommodate the mouse keys. The underside body is house grey and juts out a few millimeters on either side to assist information your fingers to the touch-sensitive areas on the highest body, and the entire thing appears fairly dated.
  • The body is all plastic, however that isn’t an issue. The HHKB Skilled has been all plastic for years, and these items are designed to be transportable.

The elegant strains of the HHKB Skilled have gone proper out the rattling window

  • The keyboard is powered by 4 AA batteries; PFU Restricted says it will possibly go as much as three months on a cost.
  • Plugging the HHKB Studio into USB doesn’t cost the batteries, and it doesn’t robotically change the keyboard’s connection to USB, both. It’s important to try this manually. It does cease the keyboard from utilizing battery energy, although, which signifies that if you wish to change it again to Bluetooth mode, you have to try this earlier than you unplug it. In any other case, it shuts off, and it’s important to toggle the ability change to show it again on once more.
  • After I requested why it wasn’t Topre, PFU despatched a protracted reply that boiled right down to: we needed to make one thing quieter than the HHKB Skilled collection, therefore the silent linear switches, but additionally needed to provide individuals the liberty to alter them out in the event that they needed to. The Studio is quieter than my “silenced” Leopold FC660C with Topre switches. It’s additionally certainly simpler to cram a trackpoint onto an MX-style PCB than a Topre one. These domes are fidgety to align.
  • The Studio’s Kailh switches aren’t only a recolor. They’re most just like Deep Sea Islets, however they’ve completely different springs. The Islets really feel somewhat heavier and a bit smoother. Each switches have very lengthy springs (round 20mm) in comparison with their journey size (about 3.8mm). I actually just like the Studio’s switches and was contemplating getting a set, however I don’t like them sufficient to pay $2.50 a pop when the Islets are about 70 cents.

Actual reward for the Fauxpres

All of it comes right down to the trackpoint. If you need the trackpoint, the entire HHKB Studio’s quirks and limitations can fade into the background. It really works, and it really works very well, and if I nonetheless traveled for work, I’d purchase one final week.

Should you aren’t already offered on the trackpoint, the HHKB Studio is a more durable promote. It’s a actually, actually good keyboard. I really like the format. I really like the way in which it feels and sounds after I sort on it. It has higher keycaps than any off-the-shelf board I’ve ever used, and the switches are nice, too.

I don’t love that it’s $330, makes use of a nonstandard house bar (who does that?!), and solely is available in one coloration. The gesture pads? Eh. I can take ’em or depart ’em. Should you don’t need the trackpoint, you’ve got many higher choices, together with the HHKB Professional Hybrid Type-S, for much less cash.

However in the event you do need a very nice keyboard with a trackpoint and the right format, the HHKB Studio is an actual pleasure.

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