Maybe I should try to find another good mini keyboard

September 29, 2015

As I've mentioned a few times before, I've been using one particular mini keyboard for a very long time now and I've become very attached to it. It's thoroughly out of production (although I have spares) and worse, it uses a PS/2 interface which presents problems in the modern world. One solution is certainly to go to a lot of work to keep on using it anyways, but I've been considering if perhaps I shouldn't try to find a modern replacement instead.

Some people are very attached to very specific keyboards for hard to replicate reasons; just ask any strong fan of the IBM Model M. But I'm not really one of them. I'm attached to having a mini keyboard that's not too mimimal (the Happy Hacking keyboard is too far) and has a reasonably sensible key layout, and I'd like to not have space eaten up by a Windows key that I have no use for, but I'm not attached to the BTC-5100C itself. It just happened to be the best mini keyboard we found back fifteen or more years ago when we looked around for them, or at least the best one that was reasonably widely available and written about.

The keyboard world has come a long way in the past fifteen years or so. The Internet has really enabled enthusiasts to connect with each other and for specialist manufacturers to serve them and to spread awareness of their products, making niche products much more viable and thus available. And while I like the BTC-5100C, I suspect that it is not the ultimate keyboard in terms of key feel and niceness for typing; even at the time it was new, it was not really a premium keyboard. In specific, plenty of people feel that mechanical keyboards are the best way to go and there are certainly any number of mechanical mini keyboards (as I've seen on the periodic occasions when I do Internet searches about this).

So I've been considering trying USB mechanical mini keyboard, just as I've sometimes toyed with getting a three button mouse with a scroll wheel. So far what's been stopping me has been the same thing in both cases, namely how much these things cost. I think I'm willing to pay $100 for a good keyboard I like that'll probably last the near side of forever, but it's hard to nerve myself up to spending that much money without being certain first.

(Of course, some or many places offer N-day money back guarantees. While shipping things back is likely to be kind of a pain, perhaps I should bite the bullet and just do it. Especially since I have a definite history of hesitating on hardware upgrades that turn out to be significant. One of the possible keyboards is even Canadian.)

(Of course there's a Reddit board for mechanical keyboards. I'll have to read through their pages.)

Sidebar: What I want in a mini keyboard layout

Based on my experiences with trying out a Happy Hacking keyboard once (and a few other mini keyboards), my basic requirements are:

  • a separate row of function keys for F1 through F10. I simply use function keys too much to be satisfied with a very-mini layout that only has a four row layout with numbers and then the Q/A/Z letter rows (and gets at function keys via a 'FN' modifier key).

  • actual cursor keys; again, I use them too much to be happy having to shift with something to get them.

  • Backspace and Delete as separate keys. I can live with shifted Insert.
  • Esc as a real (unshifted) key. Vi people know why.

  • A SysRq key being available somehow, as I want to keep on being able to use Linux's magic SysRq key combos. This implies that I actually have to be able to use Alt + SysRq + letters and numbers.

    (I may have to give this up.)

(I think this is called a '75%' layout on Reddit.)

A sensible location for Esc would be nice but frankly I've given up on that; people have been moving Esc off to the outer edges of the keyboard for decades. The last keyboard I saw with a good layout there was the NCD Unix keyboard (which I now consider too big).

The good thing about having these basic requirements is that I can actually rule out a lot of keyboards based purely on looking at pictures of them, without having to hunt down reviews or commentary or the like.

Comments on this page:

By mqa at 2015-09-29 07:50:55:

There are several "gaming" keyboards that meet everything except the no windows key requirement. The Razer BlackWidow Tournament is one example. Many of them might have some extras that make annoy you, like programmable backlighting.

By Pete at 2015-09-29 14:49:11:

Oh goodie, that 75% requirement is going to be a pain to satisfy. If you could use the 87-key keyboard, then CODE 87 or one of its CM knock-offs would do nicely according to the bulleted requirements.

By cks at 2015-09-29 17:48:58:

I really like not having extra space consumed on the right by a large block of cursor arrows and other special keys, since that's space I have to reach over to get to the mouse, but I may wind up giving in on it in the end. There certainly seem to be a lot more 'tenkeyless' keyboards than there are smaller ones (and many of the smaller ones are too small).

Written on 29 September 2015.
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Last modified: Tue Sep 29 02:14:35 2015
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