Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional Review

If it were not for the price, I wholeheartedly would recommend the HHKB Pro. It's everything you could ask for in such a compact keyboard.
Daily Use

When you first use the HHKB Pro, the first thing you notice is the lack of dedicated arrow keys. Anytime you need an arrow key, you have to press a Fn-<key> combination. What's worse is the arrow keys are not immediately obvious; you need to take your hand off the keyboard, look at it, press the combination and then put your hand back for more typing. If you use the HHKB Pro long enough, though, you probably can learn to press the Fn combinations for the arrow keys without looking. But this simply is not as convenient as having dedicated arrow keys.

However, Linux builds on a long UNIX tradition, and UNIX was developed on many different terminals that had many different keyboards. As a result, both Emacs and vi are designed to be usable with only standard ASCII keys. In my college days, I used to write Pascal programs on ADM3A terminals that didn't even have a dedicated Backspace key; you had to press Ctrl-H when you wanted a backspace. If you can learn to use Emacs or vi keystrokes, you can get by fine without using arrow keys, and there are many programs in Linux that use these keystrokes.

I configured my bash shell to use vi keystrokes for command-line editing and quickly became comfortable with it. See the sidebar for notes on using vi or Emacs mode in the shell.

Actually, I'm kicking myself now that I didn't set my shell for vi mode long ago. Because I'm expert with vi, I can edit command lines much better in vi mode, without taking my hands from the home row keys. If you have spent time mastering either vi or Emacs, try them in the shell!

If you have a small laptop or a tablet PC, the HHKB Pro makes an excellent carry-along keyboard. If you pack the HHKB Pro into a bag, I recommend you fully unplug the USB cable. The HHKB Pro's cable is a standard USB cable with an A connector on one end and a mini-B connector on the other.

Price

Unfortunately, the HHKB Pro is rather expensive. The Web site lists the regular price as $269. I searched the Web and was able to find the HHKB Pro for as little as $249, which is still much more than I am willing to pay for a keyboard.

The Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite 2 model, in USB or in PS/2, is available for a regular price of $69.

Conclusion

If it were not for the price, I wholeheartedly would recommend the HHKB Pro. It's everything you could ask for in such a compact keyboard. Of course I'm using it to type this article, and I'm enjoying the smooth feel of the keys. It is nicer than my usual keyboard, but alas it costs more than six times as much.

Steve R. Hastings first used UNIX on actual paper teletypes. He enjoys bicycling with his wife, listening to music, petting his cat and making his Linux computers do new things.

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5yrs later and still reading this?

naisanza's picture

yes yes! I've been searching weeks for this keyboard for a good price. I havent wanted something so badly as the hhkb pro 2 since I got parts for my custom water-cooled system. I love this keyboard so much I want to get one!

HHKB Lite vs. Pro

Anonymous's picture

In case anyone is still reading this 5 years after the post; my personal experience is that the Pro is in a different class than the lite version with much more comfortable typing. Whatever "leap" you feel in going from a regular keyboard to a HHKB lite, you will feel more-so going from the lite to the pro version. It's expensive but now I actually don't use my lite anymore, it's just too awful after getting used to the pro version.

new guru board

Anonymous's picture

This looks interesting too:

http://www.guru-board.com/

No idea on price though.

arrow key

ht's picture

"Anytime you need an arrow key, you have to press a Fn- combination. "

It has dedicated arrow keys but no dedicated page up and down keys.

arrow keys

xyzzy's picture

@ht:
"Anytime you need an arrow key, you have to press a Fn- combination. "
It has dedicated arrow keys but no dedicated page up and down keys.

No, the Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2 doesn't have dedicated arrow keys.
The models with dedicated arrow keys are the HHKB Pro 2-JP (with japanese layout) and the HHKB Lite (which is a cheaper version with totally different key actuation mechanism)

Like it, but still not the ultimate keyboard for me

EricB's picture

I've had the Lite 2 for a year or so now and I like it. However, I miss having traditional function keys more than I thought. As for the compactness (no number-pad), I've changed my mind -- it doesn't matter to me either way; and as for caps/ctrl location, I use UNIX Xorg config to reprogram that anyway. So in the end ... having been a hacker (mostly sysadmin) for 20+ years, and therefore having typed lots on lots of different keyboards ... what it all comes down to for me is just key-action/feel, and that's pretty much it. (Well okay, two things ... the location and size of the escape key is important too 'cause I'm a vim user). Here's the funny thing though ... I have an micro innovations RF keyboard I got at walmart on a whim to use with my mythbox (a DIY DVR), and it has a key-action feel I really like for some reason! I think it has to do with the short key travel (flat) design. Something I guess, after all these years, I have a strong preference for. So when it's time to replace my HH Lite2, I suppose I'll look elsewhere.

Another Not So Expensive Alternative

Ken Jennings's picture

Also in the category of "space saving" USB keyboards is the Mighty Mouse from www.pckeyboard.com. http://www.pckeyboard.com/surfer.html

The keyboard is somewhat minimized with the removal of the numeric keypad. However, it's not nearly as downsized as the Deck or HHK. It is 13 inches wide, has the top row of function keys, and various dedicated cursor movement keys.

One model of the keyboard includes the IBM laptop type of "eraser" mouse controller built into the keyboard with the mouse buttons below the spacebar.

It is basically a laptop style keyboard dropped into a case. As such, the keyboard has a very short travel compared to a full-stroke keyboard like the Deck.

Unfortunately, the tactile feedback isn't spectacular. (It also isn't horrible, but the keyboard is very light and it does feel cheaper than necessary.) To me, the key travel feels a tad "grabby" as the keys are depressed. The feedback is remarkably stiff if the key is not depressed close to vertical. So, when I'm typing fast I sometimes miss completely depressing a letter when I "felt" I did do it correctly.

I have two of these keyboards (without the built-in eraser mouse). They're both used with identical docking stations at work and at home for my laptop. Lacking a numeric keypad, the keyboard is narrow enough to permit placing a trackball in a convenient location to the right of the keyboard. The simple removal of a few inches of numeric keypad makes this arrangement noticable less tiring.

This keyboard is also about $100.

I'm a happy h4x0r

UNIXgod's picture

I just picked up a HHKB PRO 2 from ebay for $150. After returning a unicomp "Model M" keyboard due to the fact that the unicomp simply did not feel like a real IBM model m keyboard. In fact it felt like a junky toy keyboard.

The HHKB is the way to go if your a programmer. The feel is great and it is not junky like the unicomp marketed modern day IBM model m which is nothing like what they claim it to be. Don't get me wrong. There is a price difference between the two. But you get what you pay for in this case. The sad fact that I've seen 'free' dell keyboards that feel better than UNICOMPS garbage.

If your a programmer you want the HHKB. It's portable and works with all the Operating Systems on the market. If your not interested in the HHKB then look at some of the other nicer keyboards out there. kinesis, Optimus, TactilePro, Sun's full sized keyboard. You could even find a real model m on ebay for next to nothing or garbage pick them from any local school throwing them away. Avoid UNICOMP though. They simply do not make a quality product.

A not so expensive alternative...

Ken Jennings's picture

I have a few Deck USB keyboards for my linux systems and they work really great. ( www.deckkeyboards.com )

While marketed as "gamer" keyboards, the Deck also happen to be a really great hacking/coding keyboard.

The Deck is built for "gamer" abuse, so they're extremely durable. The keyboard is mounted on a diamond deck, metal plate (hence the name.)

The Deck is a minimized, compact keyboard (somewhat like the HHK) without the numeric keypad that is mostly useless for coding. (The Deck is just under 12 inches wide). On the plus side the Deck still includes the important cursor movement and editing keys. (On the minus side for those wanting a really minimized keyboard the Deck still has the row of dedicated Fn keys F1-F12.)

The Deck is backlit in your choice of one of four colors: red, blue, green, and gold, so you can see what you're hacking on even with the lights off at 2AM in the morning. The keyboard has 8 levels of brightness (including off) selectable with a key combination.

The Deck is only $100 which is less than half the price of the HHK Pro.

My personal preference is the Gold Deck with the opaque black case.

HHK Pro >>The Deck

Anonymous's picture

HHK Pro is WAY better than The Deck.

There is no substitute for superior keyfeel and keyswitches.

HHK > Deck

Anonymous's picture

HHKs are way better than Deck keyboards (I had a Deck and sent it back after a week) ... the keys on the Deck are just linear mechanical switches and they take way too much for force to use comfortably for any extended length of the time.

The HHK Pro keys are electronic capacitance keys and have perfect key-feel. They have just the right amount of resistance to type accurately with zero finger fatigue. And it is these superior quality keys that make the keyboard cost so much.

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