A review of an Anko Mini gaming mechanical-switch keyboard

I'd recently bought it's bigger brother, a full-sized keyboard, but for use as a typist's keyboard (I don't play computer games).  This review is mostly a comparison of this related miniature keyboard, to it, so you may want to read that review of the full-sized keyboard, first.

I saw this one in the same shop (in Kmart for $25AU, in October 2022), and I thought it might be useful for my smart TV.  Typing anything into it using the infra-red remote control is a huge pain (it has no keyboard, you just cursor across an on-screen keyboard and press a button on top of each letter you want), I don't think it directly supports any kind of wireless keyboard, and then there'd be pairing and batteries to contend with.  But I did discover that you can plug a keyboard and mouse into its USB port.

Overhead view of the keyboard

Underneath the keyboard was the following label to decribe the model:
Keycode:  43099771
Factory code:  F100798

It's cut-down version of a keyboard (60% form-factor), without the numberpad or cursor keys.  That's a bit too cut-down for my desires, I'd rather still have the cursor keys.  But I didn't see alternatives with them, and for what I'm thinking of doing with it, I'm hoping it shouldn't be too much of a problem.

They did have another cutdown keyboard, a wireless one, with a slightly different keyboard arrangement, and what looked like might be better key-combos for the cursor keys (they're still dual-function keys, no dedicated cursor keys, but not in the middle of the alphabet keys).  But I dislike building up collections of battery powered equipment that need looking after, illuminated battery powered things will flatten batteries even quicker than non-illuminated products, and the batteries are built-in (i.e. not user-replaceable).  And I've had annoying past experiences with wireless mice and keyboards before, with receivers and transmitters often needing re-pairing together, transmitters falling asleep during idle moments, and the operating range not being as good as they claim.  Not to mention that it's more expensive at $49AU, which discourages me from buying one just to try it out.

Firstly, I was thinking of when I want to search for a YouTube or iView clip on my smart TV (though it looks like the iView app ignores the keyboard), and it also has a web browser, but that's more of a novelty than anything else.  I have other things that are better for browsing the web, but the TV is often the best thing for viewing YouTube or iView, simply for having a big screen and built-in speakers.  And, yes, I know you can ChromeCast to the TV, but I find that I always lose control of the cast after a short while (you can't pause, rewind, skip, choose other clips, etc, it just goes on autopilot and ignores you), and it occupies the phone or tablet when I'd rather be using it for something else.  But trying to type anything in via the TV's infra-red remote is a major pain (you have to cursor around an on-screen keyboard), so this should be an improvement.  And then I thought about on-line chatting while lounging on the sofa or on lazing on the bed.  A full keyboard is unwieldy, you rarely need the numberpad, and some of those chat windows aren't really designed for much more than line-by-line text.  We'll see how that goes… So far, it wasn't too bad for a little bit of participation in a group chat thing.

Although it won't apply to me, some other uses for cut-down keyboards are work related:  You might only have tiny deskspace available for your keyboard.  You might only need to type in some letters and numbers for parts ordering, or name reservations at a restaurant front desk.  You could be using equipment with a dedicated specialist keyboard for its normal use, and only occasionally need to type anything in.

But I get the impression that some people design these mini keyboards just to look cute, regardless of how impractical they might be.  Putting cursor keys as hidden second functions in the middle of the typing keys, and removing useful editing keys, is not user-friendly.

And even though it's cut-down, it still has the same sized keys as normal.  And if I hold it above it's bigger brother, it occupies the same amount of space as the same keys do on the bigger keyboard.  So touch-typists, like me, don't have to squeeze their fingers tightly together, nor go back to hunt-and-peck typing.  Though the lack of dedicated editing keys, and oddball key-combos for their equivalents is going to halt your touch-typing to find them.  I also found its positioning of the BACKSLASH key left of the ENTER key, instead of above it, tripping me up.  I haven't used a keyboard like that for many years, and I kept catching the wrong ones by mistake, for both of those keys.

Actually, a few times, I've often thought about getting a keyboard without the number pad (also known as a 10 keyless keyboard, or TKL keyboard), so I don't have to reach as far to the right for the mouse (that actually causes shoulder pain after a while).  But because I do a lot of number typing (IP addresses, spreadsheeting figures, home accounting, basic maths), I still want a number pad.  I've thought about using a separate one and putting it in a different spot.  Maybe form a triangle between keyboard and mouse, with the numberpad between and above them.  I do have a number keypad, albeit of a different design, so I will give that a try.  But I suspect a collection of gadgets across the desk might actually be more of a pest than a single keyboard, even though just about all of the all-in-one keyboards are out-of-balance (with a pile of stuff to the right of the letter keys, and almost nothing on the left).  I've tried left-handed mousing, to avoid the far-right stretch for the mouse, but I still have very bad aim after several years.  I find it nearly as difficult as using scissors in the wrong hand.

It's a bit less noisy than its cousin, though whether that's down to it using different switches, or just it being in a smaller all-plastic case, I don't know, but I suspect the casings play the largest part in amplifying keyboard racket.  This one claims to use Xinda blue switches, the other one just claimed it uses blue switches, and I only found out that they were Jixian when I popped off a keycap.  I couldn't see a brand stamped on this ones keyswitches.  Neither brand gets much love on chat forums, but I don't know if that's down to comparisons with obscenely expensive keyboards, or whether anyone and everyone would think poorly of them.

And, like it's brother, it has some similar abilities regarding rollover (it passed all the tests for this that I tried), but fails with chording (only some combinations of keys pressed together are acknowledged) and jamming (pressing down some keys does prevent some other keys from being typed).  That will preclude this keyboard from being used with some games (any where you might have to simultaneously type any of the keys that failed in my test).  It claims 21-key anti-ghosting, but considering that I could make it jam while only holding down about 3 or 4 keys, I don't beleive it.

Cut-down keyboards remove various things to make them more compact (function keys, number pads, cursor keys), but usually add them back in as second functions on other keys.  If those are keys you want to use, then you do have an inconvenient way to still use them.  If those aren't keys you care about, then it doesn't matter.

To see how well it goes, I'm typing this page on this keyboard, and it didn't take long to find the lack of dedicated backspace and cursor keys a serious nuisance.  Not just for making editing harder, but I tend to type long articles (like this one) in a non-linear fashion.  I'm having to reach for the mouse a lot.  Although I notice that many people always use the mouse, instead of using the cursor keys, that's not convenient for a good touch-typist (it's slower to keep changing between keyboard and mouse).  I also use the function keys with my HTML editor, and this keyboard just made that harder.

I tried out one thing I thought I might use a small keyboard for; typing with a keyboard balanced on my legs while sitting on a comfy chair.  Full-sized keyboards are often a bit big and unwieldy, but this one is a bit too small, it needs to be a bit wider to make it into the Goldilocks selection.  You end up sitting with your legs jammed together just to hold it up.

Like it's big brother, it's a driverless keyboard.  No driver is required, and there isn't one to install.  All its special features are built into the keyboard, and make use of the Fn and other key combinations to control them.  And like its brother, I think you are going to need to retain its manual, as the special functions aren't all that obvious.  While it's not hard to work out that the number keys are also the function keys; press a number to type that number, press SHIFT + that number to get the usual symbols (SHIFT + 7 gets the ampersand symbol), or press Fn + that number to get the function key (Fn + 6 as the keyboard combo to type F6).  Likewise for some of the editing keys (INS, DEL, HOME, END, PAGE UP & PAGE DOWN), you press the Fn key plus the key with the desired legend on it.  But the cursor keys are far less obvious, and far less convenient; you press the Fn + W to switch the W A S D keys into cursor mode, and they stay like that until you press Fn + W to switch them back to alphabetical keys.  There's no quick way to cursor about in the middle of typing, so you reach for the mouse.

Earlier today I hit a brick wall trying to figure out how to type CTRL + ALT + F2, and couldn't work it out simply by looking at the keyboard.  I'd need to dig out the manual to work out how to switch the top row over to being function keys instead of numerals, but looking at the manual, it can't do it.  Yes, I knew how to press Fn + 2 as the combo representing F2 by itself, but couldn't get the full set of key presses that I needed.

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 function keys on the number row, the cursor control keys hidden in the middle of the alphabet keys, and (amusingly) several of 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.

As with its bigger brother, the keys are illuminated with fixed-colour LEDs (you can't change their colours), but you can change their brightness levels (and it goes a bit brighter than its brother).  There are some animations, but they just seem to be salesroom demonstration gimmicks.  They strobe in various patterns unrelated to anything that you type.  There's a bunch of patterns that you can choose between, and you can adjust their speed, that's it.  I had to keep resetting the keyboard, as I kept accidentally hitting the hotkey for the lighting mode change, and it takes a lot more presses of the same button to get back to the start than pressing Fn and SPACE (the keyboard master reset combo).

There is one thing they definitely got right on this keyboard, the CAPS LOCK key lights up when CAPS LOCK is switched on, and the light goes out when it's switched off.  Some people mightn't like one un-lit key on the keyboard, but I'd rather that than than the usual (the tally light being somewhere else on the keyboard).  An alternative would have been to make the key change colour, or rapidly flash when engaged.

The wider keys (SHIFT, ENTER, SPACE BAR) are a bit wobbly.  That's not uncommon, but this feels a bit worse than usual.  It's missing its stabiliser bar from the left SHIFT key, and I don't see it loose anywhere in the packaging.  So I took it back to the shop only to find out that they seem to be building them that way.  I don't think it would add much stability to the key, even if it was there.  I may try making one up (by remodelling a paperclip), to see if it does.

I'm not going to open this one up to see what it's inside it, well not yet while it's brand new.  All the screws, if there are any, are hidden.  So, either I'd have to prise off the rubber feet, or look for hidden (and usually breakable) plastic tabs between the joints.

The verdict

So far, not so bad for what it is (a very cheap key mechanical-switch keyboard).  But I think it's more of a novelty than a truly practical keyboard.  I think that anybody who wanted to play games using this keyboard is going to find some key combinations that they need to use don't work properly.  It's not good for much more than I originally thought about.  Lazing about on the sofa, typing in a few keywords to find something to read or watch, typing a short sentence to someone over the internet (e.g. wasting time on Facebook).

The lack of dedicated cursor keys is a pain.  Okay for typing in a few words with very basic editing control, but a nuisance for anything lengthy.  If you want a very small keyboard for every day use, get one with normal cursor keys, perhaps even the function keys (unless you never used them), just forgo the numberpad.

Written by Tim Seifert on 29 September 2022, and last updated on 12 November 2022.