A typist's review of an Anko Gaming mechanical-switch keyboard

Will it be any good for a touch-typist?  So far, so good.  This won't be a review about their suitablity for gaming, this is about using keyboards for typing (a surprisingly overlooked aspect of computing).

Overhead view of the keyboard, with a pretty but distracting, and permanent, rainbow illumination pattern

Underneath the keyboard was the following label to decribe the model:
Keycode:  42959588 (JLR-74945)
Factory code:  F100678

I've also looked at one its smaller cousins, Anko's Mini Mechanical Gaming keyboard.  I don't know what it'd be really good for, but it might be less painful to use than the infra-red remote control on my smart TV.


Over the years I've tried various computer keyboards, none of which were particularly fantastic to type on, some reasonably good but they don't last forever, and some awful from the get-go.  I don't play games, I do lot of typing, and that's what I want a keyboard for:  Being reliable, accurate, comfortable for touch typing, and longevity.

I learnt to type on manual typewriters, eventually ending up using the famous IBM Selectric typewriter with the golf-ball (WikiPedia link).  To this day, it's always been the best keyboard to type on that I've ever used.  The feel of how the keys move, the amount of force, the distance of travel (a bit short, but still quite useable), the sound (the keys have some audible feedback, but not to an annoying degree; though the typing mechanism did sound very chunky, and after the fact if you were a fast typist), and it's ability to keep up with a fast typist and not drop characters, not type the wrong characters, nor produce them out of sequence (you could type faster than it could print, but it always got it right).

Most computer keyboards fail in all those areas and trying to find a decent one is a nightmare.  Most are just plain awful.  Rarely can you try before you buy, because they're either sealed in a box, or you're buying on-line.  If you try looking for better keyboards you get shown one with extra features (that you don't really need), but rarely one with a better keyboard for typing on, mostly it's ones aimed at gamers (with gaming functions, flashy styling, and sharp edges everywhere that looks like it was designed for a Klingon spaceship prop from Star Trek).

I've tried cheap keyboards, reasonable priced ones, but no expensive ones, ergonomically curved ones (though I think most of them curve the wrong way, trying to make you reach even further with your shortest fingers), and many ordinary ones.  I've had ones with painfully sharp corners on every key (a late 1980s HP Pavillion keyboard), ones where the legends rubbed off, where the plastic deteriorated in a very short time (fingernails wore grooves into them, and the plastic feels like it's been abandoned at the the beach for a few years), ones with a rough texture that gets absolutely filthy and are virtually uncleanable, ones that required too much force to press, ones that had so little spring resistance that you accidentally typed things just resting your fingers in position, ones that felt like you're typing onto a sponge, ones with the keys over a bubble that dents-in when depressed but has the wrong amount of give in them, and incredibly noisy buckling spring keyboards.  I've encountered the full gamut of everything wrong with keyboards.

Most of them left a lot to be desired, and the best personal computer keyboard I'd used were the ones that came with my 1980–90s Amigas.  With one the models of the BBC microcomputer being a close contender.  The Amiga's were a bit like the old-school design of keyboards before personal computers:  They had helical metal springs in the mechanisms, and the keys came to a hard stop when typed.  Similar to one of the better professional keyboards I'd used, ones on a the terminals for a Data General mainframe computer system.

Yesterday I thought I'd try out one of these so-called gaming keyboards to see how I felt about them.

The review

This is a Kmart cheapie ($39AU, in September 2022).  I bought it on a whim, and since it wasn't too expensive I won't feel too let down if it simply ends up being used as a spare keyboard.  It was a similar price I'd paid for ordinary decent keyboards in the past.  Virtually all my keyboards were average reasonable quality models, and I might expect to get a decade, or so, out of the good ones.  I'd only ever bought super-cheap crappy keyboards for experimentation, and as a spare to use when servicing other people's computers.  And I've never bought any expensive ones (the only expensive keyboards I've ever actually been able to touch were over-priced ordinary keyboards, price-gouging based on their brand name, and didn't actually feel good to type on).

I bought this for having mechanical switches (to see if I liked that), not for any of its flashy features.  While they're pretty, about the only use (to me) of illuminated keys is to quickly find the homekeys in a dimly lit room (something that used to be easy enough to do without illuminated keys, before they started making most keyboards black with dull legends printed on them).  I think most of the LED animation effects are only of use to attract attention in a salesroom.  Simple backlighting, without the extra effects would be more than adequate.

I'm not quite sure why this is a “gaming” keyboard, other than it has LED illumination under every key, and noisy mechanically switched keys.  Though I'd hazard a guess that the thing that really elevates this keyboard to the status of being a “gaming keyboard,” rather than just being another run-of-the-mill keyboard, are the less obvious typing features (anti-ghosting, chording, key rollover), which I'll get around to further below.  It doesn't seem to have any special functions (no macros, nor auto-repeat on certain keys, unless they're undocumented features), nor any extra keys.  There are some of the common multimedia keys as second functions on the function keys (play, stop, track skip) and other hotkey shortcuts (for example, press the Fn hotkey and the F6 function key to open your home page), but I never use them.  Hotkeys that are comprised of multi-key combinations are not convenient, and they're nearly always jammed in wherever there's some free space, rather than being laid out in a logical or memorable manner.

My system recognises some of these key combinations already, but not all of them.  And therein lies a problem; having to configure things (either your system, or several individual applications) to make use of them, instead of them already doing what you'd expect them to.  It makes little difference whether they're second functions added to certain keys, or if there are extra keys on the keyboard especially for those functions, there's still far too many different ways that multimedia keys are implemented so that everything could be expected to “just work” without any user-intervention.  My system already has a pile of presets for lots of different keyboards, but that still leaves masses more variations that aren't preset, and I don't think it can auto-detect the ones it already knows about (while some keyboard identifications do appear in the system logs, the keyboard preferences doesn't seem to pay attention to them).  For what it's worth, the keyboard identifies itself as a “SINO WEALTH Wired Gaming Keyboard.”  Whether they custom-make this for Kmart, or Kmart just re-badges one of their existing models, as “Anko,” I do not know.

As far as multimedia keys go, I think I'd only really appreciate a dedicated mute/unmute key to quickly deal with loud adverts on YouTube.  There's too many different things that play audio or video to want to customise each one to recognise my keyboards (stop, play, track skip, etc) hotkeys, so I simply remapped the Fn + F12 speaker mute/unmute hotkey combo, to just use the F12 key by itself, in my OS's keyboard preferences.  I don't ever recall using the F12 key for anything, so I expect this won't cause me any problems.

The mostly useless PAUSE key (if you don't play pauseable games that use it, or extensively work on command line terminals in an old-fashioned manner) is also a good candidate for repurposing.  I find it's a logical candidate for activating the screensaver when you step away from your computer.  You can go further, make SHIFT + PAUSE a logout hotkey, and CONTROL + PAUSE a suspend key.  Though it gets harder to remember what key sequence to use the more options you add (that's why we have menus—you can see a set of choices).  And keyboards with masses of extra dedicated keys soon become a cluttered nightmare, never mind the configuration headaches.  There's sanity in keyboards being kind-of basic, although I often wish that keyboards had a few more keys for proper punctuation, instead of having to remember cryptic keycodes or rely on auto-correction features that often make things worse.

It's surprisingly good for a cheapie.  The plastic doesn't feel like that hideous smelly rough recycled junk they made replacement black DVD boxes from.  It's a USB corded keyboard, with a reasonable length of cable, and the standard USB type A connector that every mouse and keyboard has had since USB took over from PS/2 peripherals.  The cable is captive, it can't be disconnected from the keyboard, and I prefer that.  USB connectors are not robust, things smacking into them make them unreliable (which will happen when they stick out the back of a keyboard, unless you have an unusually clutter-free desk), and unplugging and replugging them does, too.  It's a standard-sized keyboard in a compact body, with the usual layout of most keyboards for the last couple of decades.  It has a metal top-plate, which adds a little bit of rigidity and weight.  It doesn't feel heavy, too light, nor flimsy.

Typing on it isn't too bad.  Surprisingly good, since I didn't really have high expectations.  The shape of the keycaps feels quite good under the fingertips, time will tell how long the plastic lasts for.  But they are removeable keycaps, so hopefully you could buy new ones that would fit.  The amount of effort required is about right, the depth of travel is good, the tactile feedback quite good, it feels better than the keyboard I was using (being a silicon dome thing, the end of travel was a bit of a firm squish rather than a thwock), though the clicky noise is a bit too loud for my liking, but nowhere near as bad as the buckling-spring PS/2 keyboard I still have stashed somewhere (even though other people like their racket), and the keys are a bit rattly (particularly the wider ones).

Travel depth is important to a touch typist, if it's too shallow (like laptop and Apple keyboards) you're going to be typing by making very tiny movements which cramps the muscles, or every strike feels like you're bashing your fingers into solid objects (as every key comes to a stop too soon), and you get the sensation that the key has not gone in far enough and has jammed.  And you do strike the keys, not just press them.  Too much depth, and it'd be as tiring as a mechanical typewriter, though I've never encountered a computer keyboard that had that problem.  This keyboard has the right amount of depth to it.

The amount of resistance is tied in with that.  There has to be sufficient resistance so that resting your fingers in position doesn't accidentally type something.  Sufficient resistance so that when the key finally reaches the end of travel you've decelerated just enough that it doesn't feel like you've stabbed your fingers into a solid object.  But not so strongly sprung that it's tiring to type.  This keyboard is about right, perhaps it's just a wee bit light to touch, but I think if the tension had been increased any more there's a good chance that it might have been too much.

A certain amount of tactile feedback is required.  You need to know that you've actually typed something, not just pressed the key in by some amount that mightn't be sufficient, so you can finish typing that key and type the next thing.  Generally, you strike the key and press until it stops moving.  And if it hits the bottom with a sufficient thwack, you know you've finished striking that key.  That's usually enough for me.  Some people like keys that have an added click, to announce they've gone past the trigger point, some like keyboards that make a hell of a racket.  Some people like keys that have a sudden change in resistance, like you've gone over a bump, when you've gone past the trigger point.  These keys have both (when it clicks, there's a reduction in resistance to pressure).  I'd prefer less of both of them, perhaps none, definitely less clicking, maybe just the key reaching the end of its travel.

The klang of all the other springs resonating at the end of every key strike is annoying, made louder by the empty cavity underneath the keyboard with a thin plastic backshell.  This isn't tactile feedback (of switch operation), this is just noise.  It's quieter with the keyboard laying flat on a mousepad, but a flat keyboard is a typing strain (it could be sat on a wedge shaped pad, if you could find one).  A flat keyboard is only practical if you have to type while standing up (and don't want to have to lift your fingers up painfully high (essentially trying to bend them backwards).  I will be trying some modifications to dampen it.

I did open it up and add some squishy foam padding.  And that made it just a wee bit quieter.  Then I stuffed in another layer (no more will fit), and make it a little bit quieter, again.  It muffles a bit of the after-resonance of the springs that the empty cavity amplified, and wadding it in braces the back against the circuit board dampens resonant parts, a bit.  I think if were to try to cram in more foam it probably wouldn't make much of a difference, unless I had something denser.  Most of the noise comes directly from the clicking of the switches, and the keycaps above them make it a lot louder.  But thick adhesive foam, or rubber sheets, stuck to the back plate might be an improvement (as used in speaker cabinets), stopping the backplate, itself, from resonating so much (it's very thin plastic with not much in the way of bracing struts).  At the moment, the squishy foam is just filling up the air space inside, so sounds reflect around a bit less.  If I rest the keyboard on a mousepad, or press against the back with my fingers, it dampens the resonance.  So sticking on some heavy adhesive sound dampening material of some kind could even be tried on the outside, without having to open up the keyboard.  And I notice that pressing on the switches without a keycap is a lot quieter, too.  So some more solid (or less hollow) keycaps would be another way to make it quieter.

Later on, I did try thicker adhesive foam inside a second keyboard.  There's not a great deal of difference between either method.  Both dampen the noises of the keyboard, a bit, and make it more tolerable.  Though the thinker foam was slightly better.  And adding some all the way across underneath the keyboard, to rake the keyboard up at an angle instead of using the flip down legs, helped a bit more, too (and this would allow you to type on a raked keyboard if you had it resting on your lap).  What the keyboard really needs, though, is a more rigid back panel, and different keycaps.

It says it has “blue” switches, but that's a meaningless description without knowing what brand of switches they are (I pulled off some keycaps, and discovered the switches have “Jixian” written on them, a brand that gets little love).  Time will tell if I don't mind the amount of noise, or whether I'll relegate the keyboard to a machine I don't do a lot of typing on.  But I do think it makes too much noise for a keyboard that would be used in a quiet room along with other people.

Sound of casual touch-typing on this keyboard
(stereo mikes halfway between my face and it)

So why is having real switches on a keyboard an advantage?  Apart from being able to construct switches to behave with various different kinds of tactile features, as I've discussed above, versus keyboards with silicon rubber domes over contacts on membrane sheets which have more limited tactile design options, it's possible to replace a broken/failing switch without having replace the entire keyboard.  Of course you need to be able to find a replacement switch, or you'd have to swap a dud one with an unused switch from elsewhere on the keyboard, so it can be worth while sourcing some spare switches when you buy a keyboard.

Being able to repair equipment is important if your keyboard is expensive, or one that you really like.  Over the years I've had to replace several membrane type of keyboards because one or two keys have gone bad (tracks have worn off, grit has got in, contact pads have deteriorated), and they weren't fixable.  Yes, I could fix some of them with careful cleaning, but it was often a short-lived repair.  And sometimes it was a nice keyboard that had to be replaced, and I really couldn't find another one as good.  These days, I have a tendency to buy more than one keyboard when I find a good one.

Theoretically, a mechanical switch keyboard should last longer than a membrane keyboard, anyway.  With mechanical switches, as you press the button the switch kicks over part way through the travel.  And by the time you hit the end-stop, the switch has done its trick and you're just slamming into the end-stop, you're not straining the electronics part of the switch (though the soldering of the switch to the board still has to handle the overall impact from your typing).  With a membrane keyboard the membrane contacts are squished together at the end of the key travel, and all the force you hit the key with is applied to its contacts.  And, if there is any sidewise movement, or twist, the contacts will grind against each other, too.  For what it's worth, much of the clicky sound you hear with these keyboards is not the electrical contacts in the switch clicking together, but an added clicky noise triggered by the mechanism, as feedback for your ears.

There are other kinds of switches, as well:  A very old, and no-longer available, technology had the keys insert a conductive pin into a tiny pool of mercury (the mercury is why they don't exist any more).  As the pin entered the liquid it made a connection without any switch bounce, also there's virtually no wearing out of the switch contacts (so long as they weren't constructed with any contamination on the metal).  Another rarity is the hall-effect switch, using magnetics.  Pressing the keys thrusts a magnet into a sensor.  This was also a technology that has no switch bounce to contend with, nor moving electrical contacts that wear out.  And still another technology uses optical switches, where pressing the key mechanically interrupts a light beam between a LED and a photosensor, or could aim a light beem into a sensor.  Again, this technique has no switch bounce, nor any moving electrical contacts to wear out.

While mechanical switches are cheap, and were cheaper than these techniques, and may still be, they have electrical contacts which touch or slide against each other, so they are subject to wear and tear, and switch bouncing.  This limits their lifespan, and require techniques to ignore the bouncing.  More about debouncing, below.  But even with switch types that don't need debouncing, you still need some kind of sample-and-hold system, because the keyboard is continuously scanned as a matrix (a grid of where the switch is across the keyboard versus up and down it, as a simplistic explanation).  There has to be some way to tell the difference between you holding down a key that gets scanned many times, verses you repeatedly typing the same key.

The keyboard legends are a bit tiny, some malformed (such as the ampersand on the 7 key), and wierdly laid out on the number and symbol keys (the ' and " key has the double quotes printed low, at comma height).  Usually, the dual-function keys, like the 4 and $ key, have the main glyph (4) on the main legend and the extra symbol ($) in a position shifted above the number (indicating that you use SHIFT and 4 to type $).  Instead, they have them both printed at the top of the keycap, with the unshifted glyph on the left, and the shifted symbol on the right.  Likewise with the punctuation keys.  And some of them are quite a bit indistinct, thanks to the size and styling of the legends.  That's not much of a problem for touch typists who know where all the keys are, but can be a bit of a pest for someone who has to work between various keyboards that are not identically laid out.  Better printing of the legends on the keycaps would help quite a lot.  Although you can look at the keys and figure out the symbol on the 3 key is a hash, and the symbol on the 7 is an ampersand, doing the converse of trying to find the # or & keys, by looking for the symbol that you want, is made difficult by them being not very recogisable.

Something that I hadn't really paid attention to until much later was that the legends for the keys you use with the Fn key aren't illuminated at all, so they're always going to be dark grey on black, and nearly invisible in the dark.  That's things like the multimedia controls on the function keys (which I don't use), and (amusingly) all the keys you use for controlling the illumination functions.  While that keeps the look of the thing less cluttered, one of the uses of illuminated keyboards is in dim lighting, and not being able to see what some keys do is a bit of a hindrance.  Particularly as they're different on each keyboard.  They could have had them illuminated, but low key, by printing smaller, thinner or less transparent legends.

It claims to have anti-ghosting (without saying which technique it uses), but makes no claims about N-key rollover (NKRO), jamming, or chording.  My brief tests show that the keyboard does what you'd hope it would:

N-Key rollover:  If I press a key without letting it go, then press further keys without letting any of them go (until I run out of fingers), each key that I pressed was typed.  The “N” (in that term) can be a placeholder for the number of keys this works for.  Since I only tried this with 10 fingers, it has 10-key rollover, at least.  If I lift some fingers and release some keys, then press further keys, it continues to type them accordingly.  And if I hold down a key, or several keys, and continuing on typing (without letting go of one or more keys), it types all the keys I subsequently pressed without stuffing up (I typed a whole sentence that way).  For these kinds of tests the only problem you have to contend with is your computer's operating system settings for auto-repeat (which will repeat the last key held down), and you can switch that off, or increase the delay time before it starts repeating.

Multi-key rollover:  Similar to the above test, but where you press more than one key together at a time, continue to hold them down, and press another series of keys together.  I tested up to four keys at a time, and it worked without any stuff-ups; only the keys I pressed were typed.

Chording:  If I mash a bunch of keys down together, it consistently types all of the keys that I pressed.  Basically, it works like a musical keyboard, where it notices each key that's pressed as it's pressed, likewise for when they're released, and behaves appropriately.

Ghosting:  During the above tests, it only typed the keys I actually pressed.  There weren't any spurious extra characters typed, nor any wrong characters, the keyboard always managed to properly detect which keys were actually being pressed.

Jamming:  During the above tests, it always typed the keys that I pressed.  I didn't encounter any times when the keyboard ignored a key that I had pressed.  I couldn't find any combinations of keys that would cause other key presses to be ignored.

I haven't tested this exhaustively, yet.  But its done the job all the times I've tested it, so far.  I've typed out whole sentences under these conditions, without any errors.

One application I have a lot of trouble with is MuseScore, when typing lyrics into the score.  As you use the shift key to type capital letters, a common problem is overlap when space-barring between words and then hitting SHIFT for the start of the next word.  Frequently, it'll react as if you'd typed SHIFT + SPACE, and suddenly it's gone back one word (or syllable), and you're overwriting it, creating lyrics with missing words, words out of order, and dyslexic spelling when syllables are typed across several notes.

MuseScore appears to have a timing problem regarding its special use of the space bar.  I'm a reasonably fast typist, but nowhere near the speed of a professional secretary.  If you have a listen to the sound file above, on this page, I can type a bit faster than that, but I don't type a great deal quicker, so my typing shouldn't be too hard for any program to handle.  I know of no other program where SHIFT + SPACE moves backwards when editing text.  Many applications do nothing more than print an ordinary space character with that key sequence, some print a non-breaking space.  Though I notice that LibreOffice uses CTRL + SHIFT + SPACE for a non-breaking space, by default.

Time will tell if this keyboard helps avoid that problem (which I would have classed as possibly involving rollover and ghosting issues), but it didn't rear its ugly head during a brief test.  This has been an on-going problem that happens very frequently, so I don't expect it'll take too long to discover if this keyboard improves things.  And after a few more days trial, I can say that the problem is still there, but to a lesser degree.  So, I think that MuseScore has its own problem.  One that's exacerbated by some keyboards.

So why are key-rollover, anti-ghosting, chording, and anti-jamming important issues to care about?  For a typist, it's mostly down to speed of typing.  You want the keyboard to keep up with your typing speed, and not miss anything that you've typed, nor get it wrong.  If you're typing very fast, the moment between when you release one key and strike the next can be very close, some keyboards don't handle that well.  But with good rollover handling, it can even overlap (you can press the next key before the prior one has been released), and the keyboard will correctly accept the sequence of keys that you pressed.  Gaming has those same situations to contend with, plus some games may depend on you being able to press several keys simultaneously (chording), and some keyboards can't handle that properly.

Debouncing is another keyboard issue unmentioned by the manufacturer.  All mechanical switches bounce several when switched, and something has to be done to turn all those quick bounces into just the single switch action that was intended.  The usual method is to have the first switch contact that was noticed fire off a brief timer that ignores all subsequent switches for a few milli-seconds, so that only the first switch contact is acknowledged, and all the bounces will have stopped by the time the timer has timed out.  And then the system is ready to listen for the next switch press.  But if you make that time period too short, you risk having one keypress get misinterpreted as several key presses.  And if you make that time period too long, you risk missing the next keypress, and force the typist to type slower.

Thus far, I've not noticed it missing anything that I've typed, but my casual typing speed is around 45 WPM, up to around 55 WPM if I'm typing fast (any quicker and I make too many mistakes).  So I'm not really taxing the keyboard's abilities very much.  A good typist should be able to manage 60 WPM easily, and a really good one might do 80 WPM.  A stenographer may have to handle well over 200 WPM (to follow live speech that doesn't wait for them), but they won't use a QWERTY keyboard.

One unusual peculiarity I noticed is that this is the first keyboard that fails when two are plugged in at the same time (the second one jammed while it was starting up).  Using two keyboards at the same time is not a normal operating condition for a home PC, but can be if you're using special input devices (though they'd probably be two different kinds of keyboards—I do this with a custom editing-keyboard for Final Cut Pro).  But when comparing keyboards it's a common enough thing to plug both into the same computer and swap between each one without unplugging them.  I've never had that go wrong before.  You can even do funny things like hold the shift key down on one keyboard, and type capital letters on the other.

Side view of the keyboard

The illumination is completely optional, and completely controlled from the keyboard via hotkeys.  This means no driver installation on the computer (neither required, nor available), and it should work on any computer system, but you'll need to retain the manual to figure out how to configure them (unless all you care about is turning them on and off, or randomly trying options until you find one you care about), and there's no way you could automate configuration changes (such as bright lighting during the daytime, then dimmer lighting at night, or different schemes when you run different programs on your computer).

They can be all lit, all off, or some on and others off.  There's several dimming levels.  There's several built-in presets with variations of which keys are lit, and you can customise which are on or off, saving three of your own presets.  There's animations which are influenced by what you type, and others which aren't.  You can control the animation speeds.  The keyboard is useable with the lighting off, though some key legends will be a bit too dark grey for some people in low ambient lighting.

Personally, I think the animations are generally useless and just a sales gimmick.  Now, if the computer could control the individual key lighting, there could be some actual uses.  I've already mentioned some automation possibilities, but the most obvious possibility would be with an application for teaching touch-typing.  It could prompt you on-screen and on-keyboard.  And could switch all the lights off for touch typing tests.

“Touch typing” means typing by touch, you don't look at your fingers while you type.  Nor do you look for a key to press before you start typing.  Though, on modern keyboards, there are some little studs poking out on the F and J keys to help you get your fingers into place without looking.  You don't always look at the output of what you're typing, either, as you may be typing while reading from some notes.  Some typists listening to dictation will even type with their eyes shut, for less distractions while typing.

Another thought is any program that wants to prompt a response (e.g. press Y or N to respond), could dim the ignored keys, and blink the ones awaiting your command.  Of course this would require not only some method to do it, but some standardised way for programs to request highlighted and dimmed keycaps.  And that's not likely to happen for general applications, but nothing stops specialised apps from doing whatever they want, such as for interactive displays with the public, where you might expect people might need extra help to use them, and to make them more interesting.  Though, these days, that kind of thing nearly always uses a touch screen display.

But what you can't control (in any way) is the colour, the keyboard is lit up in 6 different sections, each has their own colour, and they're always that colour.  While some of the divisions are logical (the whole number pad is purple, the whole cursor key section is blue), the other bits are just the keyboard devided up into 4 sections under the function key sections.  I would have done the whole alphabet section as one colour, or divided the keyboard into stripes according to the typist's home row (A S D F and J K L ;), the letters different from the numbers, the symbols different, with the modifier and cursor keys each grouped (and I'm seriously considering buying some more LEDs to do that, if I can find ones that'll fit well).  While gamers would probably have arranged colour sections around the typical gaming keys.  Another issue with coloured lighting is that some colours can be a blur to people with eyesight problems.  For me, blue is blurry.  To the camera that took the picture above, the red was blurry.  And the yellow is barely noticeable in bright lighting.

One thing that particularly peeves me with just about all keyboards is that the CAPS LOCK tally light is rarely ever next to the CAPS LOCK key, and this one is no exception.  An illuminated keyboard is completely capable of putting the indicator light for the key so that it illuminates the actual key, but this one doesn't have the foresight to do that.  On my last keyboard I replaced its indicator LED with a super-bright one, so there was no mistaking when you hit it by accident.  I may do something similar on this one, but put a bright flashing LED behind the CAPS LOCK key.  Or, perhaps, a beeper.

While I know you can disable the CAPS LOCK function on various OSs, I don't want to do that.  Sometimes it's a very handy feature for typing headings, titles, and long acronyms.  I have turned on my OSs' feature to ring a bell when the CAPS LOCK is hit, but it often only makes the quietest noise the first time around, likewise after a short time since the sound card was last made use of, so it's a useless warning.  It would be nice if the OS, or the keyboard, had an option to require SHIFT + CAPS LOCK to activate the CAPS LOCK, or pressing the SHIFT key would unlock the CAPS LOCK when you let go of the shift key (ND wOULD fIX tHIS cOMMON tYPING pROBLEM), but neither has that feature.  I can disable the CAPS LOCK key and transfer the function to elsewhere on the keyboard (such as hitting both SHIFT keys together to enable it, and either of them to disable it).  If I were designing a clicky keyboard from scratch, I would make the CAPS LOCK and ENTER keys louder than the rest.  One of the early computer keyboards I used had a CAPS LOCK key that mechanically latched down, you felt it was different as you pressed it, and you could see what position it was in.  It was clunky, but it worked well.  I may try fitting a spring under the CAPS LOCK keycap, which will make it harder to press, but still useable.

The NUM LOCK key is another one I've never seen any purpose for on a full keyboard.  Why would I want to turn the numberpad into a duplicate of the cursor keys that are right next to them?  Nor do I see it being of great value on a condensed laptop keyboard without a numberpad, the repurposed alphabet keys being switched over to a numberpad are not laid out in a great manner, the legends are tiny, you lose the ability to type the alphabet, having to switch modes back and forth.

A potential problem with an illuminated keyboard is that it will use more power than an unilluminated keyboard.  This may be a problem with some PCs which have an inadequate power supply shared between their USB ports (I have one like that, things fail very badly when they draw more power from its USB ports than it likes).  You may have to ensure your keyboard is plugged into a port that doesn't share power with other devices needing a fair amount of power, or may have to turn off the illumination.  It could certainly be an unwanted drain on battery powered equipment.

Some people will be pleased to know that the keyboard can disable the Windows LOGO key (it only has one on the left side), since accidentally hitting that key often interrupts gameplay.  Simply press the Fn key and the Windows LOGO key, and it will be disabled (and its light will go out).  Do the same thing again to re-enable it.  It's a shame that they didn't do something similar about providing some configuration options for the CAPS LOCK key, too.

The LOGO key is a key added to new keyboards (somewhere over 20 years ago), to add extra hotkey features.  It's what's known as a “modifier key,” modifying what another key usually does.  Though it can provide a function as key by itself, depending on your OS.

Very early keyboards only had the SHIFT key to allow something like the A key to do more than one thing (lower-case and upper-case letters), and number keys to type numbers and symbols.  Then the CTRL (control) key was added to give a second function to various keys.  And ALT (alternate) keys were added to give yet a third and fourth modifiers (the left ALT and right AltGr (alternate graphic) keys may do the same functions as each other, but can be separate modifier keys, each having different functions (program control and/or printing alternate characters).  The Mac calling the ALT keys the Option keys.  Other non-personal computer system keyboards had META, SUPER, and HYPER keys as yet more modifier keys.  And let's not forget the ESC key, it's old use was for typing escape-code sequences of keys (such as printing controls, for things like bold text, cursor movement), not just the very basic “abort“ control that it's commonly used for, these days.

By now you need phenonemal memory to remember all the possible key combinations you might use, or had to consult printed-out look-up charts.  And had to deal with the consequences of having to undo something that caught you by surprise when you accidentally did the wrong sequence.  But that wasn't the end of it, keyboards would gain even more keys, still.

Apple added their Apple, or Command, logo keys (chiefly used for menu shortcuts), and finally a Windows logo key was added for Windows OS keyboards, as yet another modifier key (yet, Windows users seem to make very little use of it, probably because it's too much mental gymnastics to remember loads of [often illogical] hotkeys when you have a mouse and menus to read your choices from).  Linux can make use of it, too, often as the SUPER or META key, though it's configurable to use it for various different functions.

Since many keyboards can be used on Windows, Mac, or Linux, the LOGO key(s) may or may not have an Apple or Windows legend on it, and may just have a generic symbol or manufacturer's logo on it (it's the same key, whatever legend is printed on it).

When it comes to programmable keyboards, of any kind, you've got several ways to manage that:  There could be a program that runs on your computer, that talks to the keyboard.  This would probably only be released for one two OS releases, then you lose that feature, assuming that one was even made for your particular OS.  They could put a program in the keyboard firmware that looks for you pressing a special key combination to go into programming mode, though that risks being falsely triggered when something else makes use of the same sequence.  The keyboard could add an extra key for going into a self-reconfiguration mode, there's plenty of space available to do that.  Or you could replace one of the existing keyboard keys with their own function key for going into a self-configuration mode.  Of course that means losing a key, and this keyboard has gone that way, removing the right LOGO logo key and putting its own function key in its place.  That probably won't upset most people, I don't think I've ever seen anybody use that LOGO key, and for many uses of that key it doesn't matter whether you use the one on the left or the right of the space bar.  But it would be an issue for anyone who did want it.

View of cursor key “Jixian” brand of switches and some keycaps

There is a keycap puller tool included in the package, though I don't know if this is the kind of keyboard compatible with any other readily available keycaps.  It claims to use “blue” switches, but didn't say which manufacturer (different brands of keyboard switches are not all the same as each other, in physical form, as well as their tactile feedback).  So I pulled off some keycaps to reveal they're a “Jixian” brand, which gets a quite a few bad reviews (but I don't know if that's because they're really bad, and everyone would dislike them, or if that's just mechanical keyswitch snobbery).  And as much I'd appreciate a really good keyboard, I can't justify the way some people will spend hundreds of dollars on what I consider to be toy keyboards.  I doubt I'd spend more than $100 on a high grade typist's keyboard.  Even that's a heck of a lot of money for a keyboard, you'd want it to be very good and have a very long lifespan.  I feel that most expensive keyboards are just price gouging.

It comes with a detachable wrist rest, a hard plastic thing, with several ridges on it like a Klingon's forehead, but I'm not going to use it.  Those of us who were taught to type properly know that you don't rest your wrists on something while typing, doing so will actually cause pain in the long term, perhaps permanently (yes, most wrist rests are actually bad for you).  Your wrists aren't padded, they have thin skin, and a bunch of bones inside.  Pressure against the bones through thin skin isn't nice, and squashes your blood vessels (even against padded rests), and ain't good for your tendons, either.  Pick your table and chair height so that you don't do that, and set the distance your keyboard is from the edge of the desk so that your reach is comfortable.  Your wrists should be well away from the edge of the table (that could mean that the keyboard is placed at the very edge of the table, so no part of you rests on the table; or it could be about a foot in, so your forearms can rest on the table, spreading their weight over a wide area).  Having a table with a rounded edge, rather than sharp corners, is easier on your arms, too.

I did pop it open and look inside.  The USB lead went to a PCB header, and its shield wire pinged off with the lightest of touches.  It looks like they tried to put a tiny crimp terminal onto wiring tinned with solder.  That's never a reliable thing to do.  You either solder wires on, or you crimp terminals directly onto the wiring (without any solder).  The keyboard seemed to work fine without it, but I crushed it back on.  I suspect they've done the right thing and not used the shield to carry currents or signal, and are using it for its proper purpose of reducing electrical noise to or from the wiring inside it.  If it pops off again, I'll just solder a flyload from it to the appropriate pin on the connector.  The soldering on the PCB looks reasonably good, bar one component near the filter caps (which looks messy rather than bad).  And I only spotted one switch's pin that might need its solder reflowing, but that was being nit-picky.

I considered modifying the CAPS LOCK indicator LED, to make it more obvious, but it's a fiddly surface mount device that shines through a hole in the PCB.  Then I thought about putting a tiny piezo beeper across the LED, but the LED is multiplexed and a beeper continuously sounded whether it was on or off (my guess is the LED is always on by a tiny amount, perhaps not enough to be visible, or both poles are multiplexed).  Then I tried a different beeper, one that's probably more polarity conscious, and it works as expected (I get a quiet buzz when the CAPS LOCK is on).  I was thinking of aiming an opto sensor at the LED, I could filter its output without messing up the keyboard operation.  And I tried wiring an opto-coupler directly across the LED, but there wasn't enough drive.  So a simple beeper directly across the LED it is.  It doesn't stop the tally light from lighting, it's loud enough to notice when you've accidentally hit CAPS LOCK, and not too loud to be annoying while you typing a title or heading.

There's a software feature that's supposed to do that on my OS (sound a beep when latching modifier keys are pressed), but its first beep is virtually inaudible unless the sound system was already awake.  And after a few seconds of not producing any sound, the sound system goes asleep.  Plus a loud bell can be annoying.  A quiet buzzer in the keyboard, itself, is a good solution for me.

Almost all these keycaps needed removing to get the screws out
(I thought there was a screw in the centre of the number pad, but there isn't)
The back of the printed circuit board (you can see the broken USB wire floating in the air above some resistors)
The controller chip
The back of the switches

If you wanted to change a switch, you'd have to unsolder it (just two pins next to the white plastic pegs).  To be honest, the idea of hot-swappable switches, just screams of lots of potential bad socket problems, to me, because of all the plug and socket connections that would entail.  Especially on something that's continually poked at as you type.  So, soldered-in switches do seem like they'd be better.  The flip side of that is that hammering away on your keyboard will stress the solder joints, it always does.  But even switches in sockets would have the sockets soldered in, and facing that same issue.

The LEDs are attached only to the PCB and shine through holes in the PCB and through the transparent parts of the switches (but mostly through an open slot between the front and back of the switch), so they are separately replaceable, if need be (whether that be for repair, or you want something different).  I suspect that that slot through the switch will collect airborn muck after some time.  I can't tell if the switch contacts are exposed or closed-in.

I did get sufficiently annoyed by the illogical colouring of the keyboard to unsolder almost all of the LEDs around the alphabet section, and re-order things to suit myself.  Now it looks a lot less like it was designed by a nine year old.  The layout of QWERTY keyboards is bad enough without chaotic lighting schemes to make things even more confusing.  Better printing of the legends on the keycaps would help, too.

I bought some high-brightness green LEDs and fitted them in place of the alphabet key LEDs.  Then rearranged the existing LEDs around them, setting the number row all green, the symbol-only keys all cyan, the modifier and control keys all red, and all the function keys yellow.  Naturally I got one wrong, and only noticed it after I'd screwed the case back together, so I had to disassemble it all over again to fix that.  If I have to take it apart again, I'm going to have to do something about the screws not biting very well any more.

I also modified a second keyboard.  Yes I bought two, I may buy another to keep for spare parts, they're cheap enough.  This time fitting high brightness LEDs to the numbers row, redistributing the other LEDs around them, and using some that were spare after modifying the first keyboard.  Again, I managed to get one wrong and only noticed after screwing it back together again.

During the modification process I noticed that most of the diode symbols are backwards, or the diodes are.  They're multiplexed and not driven by a single polarity, so measuring them with a voltmeter is a bit confusing.  And the legends printed on the circuit board don't match the polarity markings of most of the LEDs.  So, ignoring whatever's printed on the board, and testing the LEDs directly, I found that the cyan, green, and yellow LEDs, themselves, were marked backwards, the red ones were correct, and I didn't bother measuring the blue and purple ones.  Though looking at their mounted orientation, they're backwards too, and all the legends printed on the PCB are the right way around (and all facing the same direction).  This kind of ass-backwards thing seems typical of Chinese products, with them also doing stupid things like reversing the usual scheme of red wiring for positive voltages and black wiring for negative voltages.  It bites you on the bum when working on Chinese made equipment, they just don't seem to care about quality control or safety.  You have to test things left, right, and centre, that you normally just don't have to.  You can normally rely on components and wiring being done properly.  This stupidity caught me a few times while swapping LEDs around, and discovering they didn't work as expected.  If you reversed a diode (in this keyboard) it stays on extra bright all the time (possibly too bright for its own good), and can't be controlled by the keyboard's fancy lighting controller (normally, reversed LEDs don't light, so this shows that its multiplexing is doing something unusual—I'd guess that it's pulse-width modulating the polarity, as its brightness control, rather than just switching drive current on and off).  I didn't check whether leaving them that way upset anything else on the keyboard (because I turned them around the right way without doing any further tests), but it may do.

A much more sanely rearranged coloured LED backlighting


Well, so far, so good.  I haven't hated it.  I've typed up this entire page on it (now several thousand words long), and it's been a better experience than other keyboards I have here.  The size and weight of it are good, it's no bigger than it needs to be, you can type with it resting on your lap (if you want to), and it's still a full-size keyboard.  I do like the simplistic no-frills look of the casing.

I'm ignoring the over-the-top flashy lights aspect of the product design with that “no-frills” remark, I've just left all the lights on without any animations.  Looking at it from the side, the rainbow coloured backlighting is quite pretty, but seen from above I'd prefer a more uniform lighting scheme:  All the alphabetical keys the same colour, all the number keys the same colour; grouping the various blocks of the keyboard with the same colours, instead of the meanlingless rainbow pattern across the top of the keyboard.  So I did disassemble the keyboard and change most of the LEDs.

Backlighting isn't actually important to me, I'm a touch typist, and I could quite easily do without it, even though it does make reaching for the keyboard in a dimly lit room quicker to get your fingers into the right position.  For non-touch-typists working in dim lighting, backlight keyboards are a very nice thing.  And it does help you see which key is which when the legends aren't very clearly legible (i.e. grey on black).  Though the chances are that people who are in that kind of low-light environment really need a virtually-silent keyboard (I'm thinking of places like backstage in a theatre).

I am tempted to find some replacement keycaps, ones with traditional legends neatly printed on them.  It wouldn't matter if they weren't meant to be backlit, the LEDs can simply glow behind them.  As it stands it is a bit tarty, and not all that clearly legible on too many keys.

The noise is a bit much, but I've used worse.  For a tiny bit of typing, the noise isn't too bad, maybe even enjoyable for the odd keypress, but it's a lot of racket if you're typing lengthy things.  Personally, I prefer quiet keyboards (so I've been doing modifications to reduce the racket), but it seems that everyone who sells keyboards with real switches always stocks models with the loudest switches possible.  It's the new fad, noisy keyboards.

I have a feeling that this fad was induced rather than it just happened, that marketing is behind it.  There's no need for a keyboard to be noisy.  Nor have this irritating high pitched clicky noise, with boinging springs to accompany it.  The resonating springs in a plastic echo chamber is the worst aspect of it.  Nobody ever seems to care about releasing products that are reliable and feel good to type on, and are peaceful to use (I'm reminded of how many years it took to get PCs without very noisy fans running all the time—fans can be made quite quiet, with better bearings and better shaped fan blades, and they don't always have to run at full pelt).  You're, pretty much, left with mail-ordering something if you want alternatives to squishy dome buttons or noisy mechanical switches, and you'll face exorbitant boutique pricing.

As much as I might like a really good quality keyboard, focussing on features and not frills, I seriously doubt I'll actually get one.  I've never seen one on display, and I'd certainly want to try out any before buying one.  I want to know how it feels to use, much more than see what it looks like.  You can't do that over the internet.  Not to mention that the pricing of all the ones I've looked at on-line is way more than I want to spend.

It is a dust magnet.  I took these photos about a day after buying it, and there's fluff everywhere.  That's always a risk with any black equipment, and I wouldn't call it any worse than any other keyboard, it was just more noticeable because I'd been taking close-up photographs.

Unlike other keyboards, it's not water resistant.  Any liquids splashed onto this keyboard will run into the electronics.  Other keyboards have what's essentially a plastic bucket under the keys, with raised pipes around the stem of each button, and drain holes straight through the keyboard (liquids will pass around the keys and drain onto your desk).  While it's easy to say, “just keep drinks away from electronic devices,” it's quite easy to do that, but suddenly sneeze a mouthful of a drink (that was kept away from the keyboard) into it.  I've done that before.  So that's something to bear in mind if you have a cluttered desk.

As time goes by, I'll update my verdict.  So look at the authoring date below, and see if I've changed my mind after a few weeks or months (I tend to update documents for quite a few weeks after creating them).  Whether the noise is bearable, or not, and if any reliability issues have arisen.  I'm not a gamer, but I do a lot of typing.  So it should get a reasonable workout.

Written by Tim Seifert on 29 September 2022, and last updated on 19 November 2022.