This is a bit of a strange one: a keyboard review on a video game website. Who would have known? But in my time at Destructoid, I have spoken to just as many developers who are fans of the site as I have general readership. They even put us in their games sometimes. And as someone who not only writes a lot myself, but is also a web developer by trade, a good keyboard is essential in my daily workflow. And while I do like some of the more standard mechanical keyboards built for gaming, there is an absolute sea of options out there, some better for games, some better for code, with every ergonomic and mechanical switch variation out there just to make it even more blessedly confusing.
So of course, here is one more: notable by the fact that it has a long reputation among keyboard enthusiasts, not only because it has been around since the late nineties in one variation or another, but also because modders have been doing some insane things to these things over the years, paying a premium to import them from overseas.
Now the Happy Hacking Keyboard by Fujitsu has an official North American release, and I was able to get my hands on the Pro 2 model – the white one with no key labels. After over forty hours with it, I am pleased to share my overall thoughts about this coveted piece of hardware…because what a fat man living in Canada thinks about a keyboard matters so, so much obviously.
Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2
Input: USB 2.0
The first thing I want to point out is how this feels loosely like an “American” release. The box and manuals are written in Japanese. And by manual, I mean “vague sheet of paper that tells me almost nothing about this thing.” I had to piece just about every vital piece of information about this thing together myself from forum posts, and online documentation to figure out just how the heck this thing works. The Happy Hacking Keyboard makes you bust your ass to “get” it. But seeing as this is a minimalist keyboard meant almost exclusively for Unix work, I guess that shouldn’t be surprising.
The big elephant in the room is what this keyboard lacks, and the answer is “just about everything you could imagine” or, “nothing at all” depending on what sort of user you are. Specifically, there are no arrow keys, no caps lock, no numpad, no page up, page down, home, or end keys, and the entire layout is initially frustrating to get used to since things are not where you would typically expect them. The backspace key is just a delete key, but this can be changed by the use of a physical dipswitch on the spine of the unit, hidden underneath a removable protective plate. There are six of these dipswitches in fact, and they control a range of functionality, including several different default modes which change how the function keys operate. If you want a caps lock, for example, choosing the HHK Lite setting will add this, as well as several Windows-specific hotkeys. If you are using a Mac, there is a setting for that, which will also add some media keys.
What I found very annoying was that the function key is actually tied to a dipswitch (as is my understanding), so before activating it, I had literally zero arrow key/home/end/page up/page down functions at all. Once I figured this out though, and realized I rarely use delete and certainly don’t use caps lock, my entire experience with the keyboard dramatically changed.
The Topre keyswitches are insanely comfortable. I was an IBM Model M user, I have a Logitech gaming keyboard, and have played with cherry reds and browns before, so I have tried a few different styles. These blow them out of the water for me. As for gaming, well, I am sure it’s possible – I played DOOM with it okay – but it is my least preferred keyboard for that. (He says, writing an article on a gaming website.) For coding, it’s really nice.
I like the small form factor now that I am used to it, but I lament the lack of a numpad. I do a lot of general data entry, so that annoys me. Having no labels on the keys makes this worse, but I haven’t found it to be an issue with the rest of the keyboard, and I don’t even type home row. I am a pecker. I know this because people have said to me, “Joel, you are a real pecker.” Somehow I can still type close to 100 words per minute, but it looks like the Jerry Lewis typewriter sketch when I’m doing it. Or similarly, the Animaniacs riff on that same sketch.
As far as work is concerned, this is my favorite keyboard to use, bar none. I don’t know if I can honestly say the ridiculously high price point for these units is justifiable, just considering the fact that there are SO many options out there today for mechanical keyboards. It’s a tiny, niche little novelty item, one I’d be hesitant to shell out for myself, but which is an unarguably great way to type.
If Mavis Beacon were a real person, I’m sure she would approve.
…I still refuse to believe that’s true, by the way.
[This review is based on a retail build of the hardware provided by the publisher.]