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.

The Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional (HHKB Pro) is a compact USB keyboard with an excellent feel, some intriguing features and a hefty price tag. It's made by PFU, part of the Fujitsu Corporation.

The most important thing about any keyboard is this: how well does it work for typing? Although the HHKB Pro has fewer keys than a normal keyboard has, the keys it does have are full size and are mostly where your fingers expect to find them. The keys have an excellent feel too, clicking gently when you type but not clacking loudly. I find that I can touch-type at full speed with this keyboard. In fact, I wish my full-size keyboard had keys this nice.

Earlier keyboards in the Happy Hacking keyboard line have membrane keys with rubber caps. The HHKB Pro, however, has a circular cone spring system. According to the Happy Hacking Web site, this system provides softer keystrokes and a longer keyboard life.

As with many laptop keyboards, the HHKB Pro has a Fn key (for Function) that can combine with other keys to make a keystroke that is not otherwise available. The HHKB Pro, with only 60 keys, doesn't have dedicated function keys; but you can get an F1 keystroke with Fn-1, F12 with Fn-= and so on. This keyboard doesn't even have dedicated arrow keys; up, down, left and right are, respectively, Fn-[, Fn-/, Fn-; and Fn-'.

The HHKB Pro has the Esc and Ctrl keys in the traditional places. The most common keyboard layout today is the 104-key layout, based on the 101-key layout that IBM introduced in 1986. 104-key keyboards have a Caps Lock key to the left of the ASDF home row of keys and have two Ctrl keys, on opposite sides of the keyboard. The HHKB Pro has a single Ctrl key instead of a Caps Lock key; Fn-Tab serves as the Caps Lock key. A 104-key layout keyboard has the Esc key widely separated from the rest of the keyboard, at the extreme upper left. The HHKB Pro places the Esc key immediately above the Tab key and to the left of the 1 key.

The HHKB Pro also has a set of DIP switches that can be used to customize the way the keyboard works. These are located behind a small cover on the back side of the keyboard.

The SW1 and SW2 DIP switches select among three modes: default or HHK mode, HHK Lite mode and Macintosh mode. The only difference between the default mode and HHK Lite mode is some additional key combinations become available in HHK Lite mode. For example, you cannot use the Fn-Tab combination for Caps Lock in default mode; HHK Lite mode enables it. I can see no reason why anyone would prefer the default mode to the HHK Lite mode, and I recommend you use HHK Lite mode if you use an HHKB Pro keyboard.

Immediately above the Return key is a key labeled Delete. The SW3 DIP switch, when on, changes this to make it work as a Backspace key. Whether or not SW3 is on, Fn-Delete always works as a Backspace key, and Fn-` always works as a Delete key.

Two Alt keys are present, to the left and right of the spacebar. There also are two keys labeled with diamonds; these can be used as the logo keys from a 104-key keyboard. The SW5 DIP switches can be used to swap the functions of Alt and diamond keys. If you frequently use Alt keys—for example, if you use Emacs and Alt is your meta key—you probably will prefer this. The diamond keys are bigger and easier to press.

The SW4 DIP switch controls whether the left diamond key works as a logo key or as a second Fn key. If SW5 is enabled, making the left Alt key work as a logo key, the left Alt key becomes be the second Fn key.

The last DIP switch, SW6, controls whether the keyboard goes to sleep when the computer does. Fn-Esc makes a keystroke called Power that can be used to control a PC's sleep mode. I didn't test this feature, though.

The HHKB Pro also has a few multimedia key combinations: volume down, volume up, mute and eject are, respectively, Fn-A, Fn-S, Fn-D and Fn-F. However, these are supported only when the HHKB Pro is in Macintosh mode. In the other two modes, holding down the Fn key does not change the keystrokes these keys make. If you want the multimedia keys to work, you could try setting the keyboard to Macintosh mode, and in your desktop environment's keyboard preferences set your keyboard type to Macintosh. I tried this and it worked for me. The HHKB Pro even generated the same multimedia keystrokes as my other keyboard, so both keyboards could be used to adjust the volume of my speakers.

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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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