Ultimate Hacking Keyboard

A surprise new keyboard arrived in the mail a few days ago, the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard. I had completely forgotten that I had ordered this over two years ago (March 2016)!

It took me a little while to get used to it, but after using it for a couple of days, I think I've decided that I like the Kinesis Gaming Freestyle Edge more.

Here's it's layout:

And the Kinesis, for comparison:

The good:

  • It's really solid, and heavier than it looks. It's a very nice build.

  • Key switches are... ok. They say they are "Cherry MX-style", which I gather means "Kailh Brown", but they are definitely mushier than the real Cherry MX Brown switches that I have in the Kinesis.

  • Ctrl, Opt and Cmd on both sides! Finally! Why do manufacturers always omit some on the right?

  • After attaching the tenting legs, it was at exactly the angle that I like, and the default connecting cable is long enough, after giving it a good stretch.

The bad:

Most of my complaints stem from, I'm guessing, that their top priorities in designing this thing were:

  • Make it as physically small as possible;
  • Make it dock together into a square keyboard;
  • Control the mouse.

I literally could not care less about any of those things, but those decisions forced most of the bad stuff to happen.

  • It's is 5 rows tall instead of 6. This means that there is no Function / Media row, and most critically, no Escape key.

  • I'm going to say that again to let it sink in. There is no Esc key. You type Esc by holding Mod and typing tilde. (Just a hunch, but their "ultimate hacking" probably doesn't happen in vi.)

  • There's no arrow cluster, and no right navigation column (Home, PgUp, etc.) You type arrows by holding Mod and typing IJKL.

    So because of the Esc and arrows thing, I find it damned near impossible to use Photoshop or Illustrator at any speed. It's a horror.

  • As if that wasn't bad enough, the weird little half-height Mod and Space keys that are beneath the "real" keys (so that you have both Mod and Space on both sides) are not real keys, they're microswitches. They require a lot of pressure, and you have to hit them way over at the end. I hate them. Hate.

  • So, that Mod key. There's no spacebar on the left side, because you need to use Mod all the time to get at navigation and function keys. You can only type Space with your right hand, or, under duress, you can type it using the horrible microswitch on the left.

  • The chord keys in the bottom row are Ctrl, Opt, Cmd, Fn. The "Fn" key is how you get to the Media keys (which is weird, because it seems like those could have been added to the Mod layer, but whatever.) Anyway, the very presence of this key is a problem, because it means the Opt and Cmd keys are too far to the left. It's hard to type singled-handed Cmd/Opt keystrokes without contorting your hand into an uncomfortable claw.

    At least, I think that's what going on? I'm not sure. I just know that typing single-hand chords is uncomfortable.

  • There's a big 3 character 9-segment LED display on the keyboard that tells you which keymap you are using (Mac QWERTY, Windows EBCDIC). I don't know about you, but the frequency with which I change my keymap is: exactly once ever. So I don't really need this thing glowing at me. You can turn the light off, but even when unlit it's still ugly as sin. It begs for a piece of electrical tape over it. Also, I'm baffled that they chose to devote so much physical space to such a useless indicator.

  • The 6 is on the left only. There should be one on each side.

  • No USB ports, so nowhere to plug in your mouse.

  • While fumbing around trying to figure out how to type a function key, I accidentally put it into EBCDIC. This is a time bomb that I do not need. (I then remapped that key away, but still.)

  • I might like to have palm rests, but the ones that they sell are woodgrain. Ew ew ew, no no no.

What would make me like this keyboard would be:

  • Arrow cluster at bottom right;
  • Add top Esc/Fn row and navigation column;
  • Fix the bottom row layout by omitting Fn and Mod.

As is, this keyboard would be good for you if you:

  • Can't quite commit to switching from a rectangular keyboard to a split keyboard;
  • Want it to fit into a small bag;
  • Have some weird fetish about moving your mouse with IJKL;
  • Don't use arrow keys or ESC.

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