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Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2 Review

By Christopher Coke on January 05, 2019 | Hardware Reviews | Comments

Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2 Review

In the world of enthusiast keyboards, few are better known than the Happy Hacking Keyboard from PFU. They were hard to come across in the United States - until now. Thanks to Fujitsu, this iconic keyboard can now be found on Amazon. Featuring genuine Topre electrostatic capacitive key switches, Japanese build quality, and a unique layout all it’s own, join us as we dig into this keyboard classic and decide whether it’s worth your hard earned dollars.

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Specifications

  • Current Pricing: $241 (Amazon, Fujitsu)
  • Number of Keys: 60 (Compact)
  • Key Switch Type: Electrostatic Capacitive Switch (Topre)
  • Actuation Force (Key Weight): 45g
  • Key Pitch: 19.05mm
  • Key Travel: 4.0 mm
  • N-Key Rollover (NKRO): Yes
  • Interface: USB
  • USB-HUB Function Available
  • Dimensions (W x D x H): 11.5 x 4.3 x 1.5
  • Weight: 1.6 lbs.

The Happy Hacking Keyboard isn’t a gaming keyboard; we should get that out of the way first. You won’t find alien-like designs or fancy RGB lights. Instead, the HHKB, as the community calls it, is about function, quality, and customization. In the 22 years since the original released, it has achieved almost legendary status. As you explore the world of premium keyboards, it doesn’t take long before someone mentions the HHKB and how much they love it.

The idea here is spelled out in the name. The Happy Hacking Keyboard is designed for coders, people who spend hours hacking away at their keyboards and want a compact layout that caters to them. It gets rid of the extras, like the number pad and send the editing cluster and media keys onto the secondary layer like punctuation. It moves core keys. Control is now Caps Lock. Backspace is now delete. Along the rear are a row of DIP switches to customize that layout so it’s the most comfortable for you. It even does away with the heavy metal plate so it’s easy to travel with.

All of this makes for a truly unique keyboard that’s made even more special through its use of genuine Topre key switches. Topre’s are an electrocapacitive key switch, which you could be forgiven for never having heard of. In the West, when most of us think of premium keyboards, we think of mechanical key switches like those produced by Cherry in Germany. Topres, on the other hand, are something else entirely.

Rather than rely on mechanical contacts, Topre key switches rely on electro-capacitance. Underneath each key is a plastic slide that sits atop a high-end, specially weighted rubber dome. Under that dome is a spring that triggers a contact-less response, resulting in a key press. As a result, there is less wear and tear on the switch and, more importantly, typing has a unique, softer feel mechanical key switches just can’t emulate. Unlike the Realforce R2 we reviewed last month, the keys on the HHKB all have a uniform weight of 45g, which is lightweight and familiar to those of us who have used the most popular Cherry switches.

Pulling back a bit, the first thing I noticed about this keyboard was how lightweight it was. At only 1.6lbs (a little over 700g), it’s lighter than most mechanical keyboards which use heavy mounting plates as a means to convey quality. With a price of $241, that light weight was more than a little concerning. Thankfully, its case is high quality ABS and doesn’t flex at all  in normal use. Even under the completely unrealistic “twist test” the board barely moved. It’s a good reminder that weight doesn’t always mean quality and, in day to day use, I’d much rather throw the HHKB in my bag than one of my other 60-percents in a heavy metal case.

The keycaps are equally high quality. They’re made from a ~1.4mm thick PBT, so they’ll never shine like cheaper ABS caps and create a different, lower pitched sound when typed on. They’re also lightly textured to further ensure their long-term durability. The legends are dye sublimated, which means they’ll never chip or fade away. Interesting, on the black models here, you have the option of blank caps or charcoal which makes them seem almost invisible in low light. It gives the keyboard a very stealthy look, especially with the stylish logo stamp. If you’re not a touch typist, though, it can make things difficult.

Around the back, we have support for two low-power USB 2.0 devices. This actually turns out to be quite a limitation for modern enthusiast devices. I was able to connect my Logitech Master MX Master 2S just fine but anything with LEDs would exceed the power limits. USB headsets are also out, and even though it didn’t bring up an error message on the PC, trying to charge my Samsung Note 9 resulted in a message about an incomplete connection on my cell phone. In the future, PFU really needs to look at boosting the voltage limits on these ports or, even better, bumping them up to USB 3.0.

 Hidden behind its own door, we have a series of DIP switches. These are fairly uncommon on mainstream keyboards but each one enables an option on the keyboard by turning them off or on in combination. The first two swap between traditional HHKB Mode, Lite Mode, and Mac Mode. The other four handle key swaps. Turning your left-alt into a second Fn button, turning delete into backspace, swapping alt and meta. These are designed to make the keyboard custom to your tastes and, since there’s no software, allows you to keep your customizations on any machine. You get a good degree of control but I still wish for more. I’m a caps lock user, so not being able to restore that key (which is Control by default) made the learning curve a little longer than it needed to be.

Usage Impressions and Final Thoughts

Actually using the HHKB Pro 2 was very enjoyable, once I got used to the layout. Topres are a divisive key switch. Some people love them and others just can’t understand the hype. One thing is for sure, though: these keys are all about the feel. There’s a fun “pop” as each key depressed which also means there’s a good tactility. I make fewer typos on Topre switches than same-weighted mechanicals. Likewise, the use of a rubber mat underneath also makes typing softer, both in feel and sound. In an office or shared room, a Topre is a much more considerate switch that still feels waves better than a membrane keyboard.

The layout is purpose-driven. I suspect the average gamer will find it cumbersome. If you’re a gamer who also codes, however, that may be another story. They’ve made some interesting choices in key placement and, as someone who does a lot of writing, I can see how they would speed up your workflow. In the interim, though, you’ll be slowed down while you memorize your new keystrokes.

So the big question: is it worth $241? For the majority of people, no, probably not, but for some of you it just may. This is a very specialized product for a very specialized audience. If you’re considering this 60-percent, it’s probably because you’re already deep into the world of enthusiast keyboards and have a good idea of what you’re buying. If you’re one of those people, I probably don’t need to tell you that it feels great to use and has an oh-so-satisfying sound and feel. For Topre newcomers, however, I would recommend the Realforce R2 which has also has Topre switches but keeps the standard layout and may even have some extra features.

Pros

  • Feels great to use
  • Compact and easy to travel with
  • DIP Switch customization, changes carry between computers
  • PBT, dye sub key caps
  • Unique layout for code writers

Cons

  • Quite expensive
  • Has a bit of a learning curve

The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purpose of review.

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.

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