Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2 (HHKB)

Posted On 02/24/2015 By In Keyboard Reviews

REVIEW: Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2

Page Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. Packaging and Unboxing
  3. External Build Quality
  4. Internal Build Quality
  5. Switches
  6. Layout and Function Layer
  7. Aesthetics
  8. Common Modifications
  9. Summary & Conclusion
  10. Gallery
  11. Buying
  12. BONUS: My Dream HHKB 3

Introduction

The Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2. It’s to keyboards what Leica is to cameras; what Rimowa is to luggage; what Moleskine is to notebooks; what Rolls Royce is to cars; what Grey Goose is to vodka. Or at least, that’s the reputation it carries. If someone is discussing the “best mechanical keyboard,” the HHKB will be mentioned right away. Some say to skip all other keyboards and go straight to the HHKB because you’ll end up with one eventually. Others say it’s just an overpriced rubber dome keyboard. At $230+, whatever else it is, it’s a serious investment–not for casual keyboardists.

Is the HHKB Pro 2 for you? Can such a diminutive, plastic keyboard be worth the huge price premium it commands? Let’s find out.

History of the HHKB

The HHKB Pro 2 is designed and manufactured by PFU, a division of Fujitsu. (PFU makes a number of other products you may be familiar with, including the popular ScanSnap automatic document scanners.) PFU released the original Happy Hacking Keyboard PD-KB02 in 1996, and although it resembles the current HHKB Pro 2, the internals were nothing alike. The original board had standard Fujitsu rubber dome switches that, while not terrible, are nothing like the smooth, refined Topre switches in the Pro 2.

Nevertheless, the first Happy Hacking Keyboard was still an important keyboard. Crucially, it introduced what’s arguably the most important and unique aspect of the HHKB series: its layout. The HHKB’s compact size and right-pinky chording-centric function layer mean that your hands never have to leave the home row, which is good for speed, efficiency, ergonomics, and comfort. This design was no Happy Accident; on the contrary, it was the result of systematic research by Dr. Eiiti Wada, a Japanese computer scientist.

By May 2003, the original rubber dome Happy Hacking Keyboard had gained a cult following and PFU released a new version, the Pro 1. This keyboard retained the layout and function layer of its predecessor, but traded the mediocre Fujitsu switches for more expensive and refined Topre switches. PFU replaced the lasered ABS keycaps with thicker PBT keycaps with dye sublimated legends. The HHKB was no longer just a cleverly designed keyboard; now, it was truly a premium keyboard with a deluxe key feel and a deluxe price tag to match.

Three years later, in 2006, PFU rolled out the HHKB Pro 2, which is still the current model and the subject of this review. The Pro 2 was an incremental update to the Pro 1, the only change being the addition of a 2-port USB hub. In between 2006 and 2015, there hasn’t been a Pro 3–only asilent variant. In this way, the Pro 2 has already outlived its predecessor by 3x. Has it stood the test of time? Mostly, yes. The Pro 2 types just as well as it did in 2006, though it has some shortcomings and I think there’s room for improvement in a third model. Keep reading; I’ll explain everything.

Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2 (HHKB)

Who is the HHKB for?

For this discussion, let’s segment keyboard usage into five main categories: heavy typing, gaming, coding, data entry, and casual use. (This leaves out niche categories like audio and video production, but most folks fit into one of the five categories.)

Given the name “Happy Hacking,” it should come as no surprise that the HHKB was primarily designed with coders in mind, and more specifically, vim and emacs users. I’ll dig deeper into the advantages in the Layout section of this review.

That said, the HHKB is also very good for writers and casual users once you’ve gotten accustomed to the Function layer. I think writers often shy away from the HHKB due to its lack of arrow keys, but the Function layer is actually more efficient once thoroughly learned because it dramatically reduces the amount of hand and arm movement needed to type.

For some types of gaming, the HHKB is serviceable, but there are pitfalls. Any game that extensively uses the F-keys will suffer on the HHKB since every F-key press is a two button stroke. The lack of a lower-left-corner Control key and the absence of arrow keys must also be considered, as must the 6 key rollover limit, meaning that the HHKB only recognizes up to six keys simultaneously. If none of these issues matter for the games you play, you should be fine–as long as the layout works, the switches themselves are versatile enough.

For data entry, forget it. No matter how well you learn the HHKB’s Function layer, it’s much worse than arrows for navigating spreadsheets, and without a dedicated number pad, you’re going to have a bad time inputting any serious amount of data. If you want a Topre keyboard for data input, look at a full-sizeor ainstead.

If you absolutely don’t think you can adapt to the HHKB’s function layer and are not willing to try, then the board is obviously not for you. It does have a learning curve, and the payoff is well worth it. But if you can’t deal, then you’re going to want to look at an alternative like the, which is the closest thing to an HHKB with arrow keys.

Packaging and Unboxing

Overall, the packaging is good, but not particularly remarkable. The cardboard box isn’t as sturdy, thick, and form-fitting as the Leopold FC660C’s, and it feels more lopsided in the hand because of the internal placement of the keyboard and the resulting weight distribution. It’s also slightly convex rather than perfectly flat on all edges, which gives the impression of imprecise fitment. That said, these are relatively minor quibbles–no one buys a keyboard for the packaging, and despite these complaints it’s far from bad. The packaging design is neat and compact as is the case with most Japanese products, and it’s nicer than the plain cardboard box used for the Realforce 87u. Also, much of the product information on the box is in Japanese, which adds to the exotic and premium feel of the keyboard.

Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2 (HHKB) box

Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2 (HHKB) box rear

I suspect that many folks won’t pay attention to the unboxing process itself, but if you’re the type of person who savors the ritual of unboxing of a new product, you should be mostly satisfied. Upon opening the box, you’ll find the keyboard inside a printed plastic bag, covered by documentation and a cardboard flap. It evokes the experience of discovering something new, which certainly parallels the overall experience of trying an HHKB for the first time. In this way I found the unboxing experience to be pleasing and congruent with the overall product experience.

Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2 (HHKB) unboxing

Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2 (HHKB) Unboxing

Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2 (HHKB) in plastic wrapper

Aside from the documentation and plastic bag, the HHKB Pro 2 also comes with a plain white Mini USB cable tucked inside the box (the space reserved for this cable is the reason for the box’s unbalanced weight). Unlike the Leopold FC660C and Realforce keyboards, the HHKB Pro 2 doesn’t come with any replacement keys or a key puller. On one hand this is consistent with the minimalist design philosophy of the product, but on the other hand, one could reasonably expect a better complement of accessories for a keyboard as expensive as the HHKB Pro 2.

Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2 (HHKB) box

External Build Quality

Case

Like most keyboards, the HHKB Pro 2 has a plastic case. It’s only in the last couple years that aluminum and acrylic cases have become more common, such as on the Das Keyboard 4C and the Deck Francium/Hassium series. Alas, no such option is available on the Pro 2 (not even aftermarket cases, though there are ongoing efforts to design one). That said, the case is high quality, with low tolerances and good attention to detail. The seams are smooth, and the plastic is strong. When you hold the keyboard in two hands and apply a twisting, torsional force, it holds together solidly and there is little if any creaking or flexing.

Reverse side (rubber pads, feet, etc.)

On the other hand, the bottom of the keyboard is a bit of a mess. For some reason, the Pro 2 only has rubber pads in the two front corners of the board. On the two rear corners, it features smooth plastic nubs instead. This design decision is baffling, because it makes the keyboard far too slippery and easy to displace on a desk surface.

Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2 (HHKB) underside

The keyboard has two adjustable feet, which have a dual-layer design that allows for two different height adjustments. I’m not a fan of these feet. Although they’ve held up so far on my unit, they feel very unrefined when you open or close them. Rather than producing a satisfying click or thunk, they make a high-pitched snap that sounds like shattering plastic. Also, the tips of the feet are hard plastic, not rubber. With regard to feet and rubber pads, PFU needs to take a design cue from Leopold’s FC660C, which has four textured rubber feet, and much better locking feet that hinge smoothly and offer rubber coated tips.

Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2 (HHKB) feet

On my personal HHKB Pro 2, I’ve taken to adding aftermarket adhesive rubber feet to make up for its design deficiencies. It turns out that low-profile rubber feet and pads are surprisingly hard to find online. Most are too thick, too slippery, too ugly, or have some other problem. The best solution I’ve found so far are these adhesive rubber pads from West Florida Components. I’m also a big fan of what esoomenona did with his HHKB on GeekHack, because not only does this fix the friction issue, it also hides unsightly screw holes in the bottom of the case. Unfortunately, these parts haven’t been mass produced yet. If anybody out there wants to take the initiative, you’ll have my order for sure.

I’m also not a fan of the big, busy sticker on the bottom of the HHKB Pro 2. Although it’s informational, it’s at odds with the minimalist style of the keyboard.

Rear (USB ports, DIP switches)

Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2 (HHKB) rear

On the rear of the keyboard are the Mini USB connector, two USB-A pass-through ports, and the DIP switch cover. Traditionally, Mini USB has been the most common connector on high-end mechanical keyboards, although experts agree that Mini USB ports aren’t nearly as robust as newer Micro USB ports used on most modern smart phones. Late generation Mini USB ports like on the HHKB Pro 2 are rated for only about 5,000 connections and disconnections before failure. In practice, I haven’t see many reports of the HHKB’s Mini USB port failing due to normal use, but if you repeatedly connect and disconnect your keyboard, you should probably try to do it from the USB-A end to reduce the accumulation of stress on the keyboard-side port. Note that the HHKB’s detachable cable can be considered a feature itself, as many keyboards have fixed cables. Personally I’d rather have a Mini USB detachable cable than no detachable cable at all.

The two USB-A hubs are occasionally handy, although they are unpowered and cannot be used with any devices that draw a substantial amount of current. I’ve only ever used my pass-through ports for wireless mice dongles, which has always worked fine. I think it’s interesting that the Pro 2’s only upgrade over the Pro 1 was the addition of these ports, as they’re hardly a killer feature. Also, like the sticker on the bottom of the Pro 2, the inclusion of the internal USB hub seems to be at odds with the keyboard’s minimalist design philosophy.

The DIP switch cover is a plastic piece that snaps on and off and grants access to a bank of 6 configurable switches. These DIP switches allow the following changes:HHKB Pro 2 DIP Switch settings

  • HHK Mode (normal operation)
  • Lite Ext. Mode (enables arithmetic Fn keys)
  • Macintosh Mode
  • Change Delete to Backspace
  • Change left Meta to Fn
  • Swap left Meta and left Alt
  • Enable/disable press-to-wake computer

Here’s the relevant page from the manual (click to enlarge):

HHKB Pro 2 DIP Switch settings

I believe the most generally useful DIP switch is the Delete/Backspace swap. In my experience most HHKB users make this change, as backspace is generally used more than delete on a daily basis. Having backspace in this position is actually amazing–you can easily hit it with your right pinky instead of picking up your entire hand. I actually like it so much that I remap \ | to backspace on all the keyboards I use. Note that if you don’t make this switch, you’ll have to hold the Fn key every time you want to hit backspace–a pretty serious inconvenience.

Keycaps

On the top surface of the HHKB Pro 2 is one thing only–keycaps–and the Pro 2 really shines here. The keycaps are made of reasonably thick, nicely textured PBT plastic with dye-sublimated legends. You can read more about keycap materials and printing methods in my Mechanical Keyboards 101 course, but the bottom line is that the HHKB’s keycaps are some of the best you can get. The PBT plastic has a pleasant dry feeling and resists shine due to finger oil corrosion better than the main alternative plastic, ABS.

Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2 (HHKB) keycaps

Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2 (HHKB) keycaps

The one exception is the spacebar, which is made from ABS. Although PFU did a good job copying the texture and feel of the PBT keys, the spacebar is still more prone to wear and shininess simply by virtue of the plastic it’s made from. This decision was almost certainly a cost-cutting measure by PFU. Although it’s true that PBT spacebars are challenging to manufacture due to their tendency to warp, the technology to correctly manufacture them has existed for a long time. (All IBM Model M keyboards had PBT spacebars, and they were manufactured long before the HHKB Pro 2 was created.) If they’d really wanted to include PBT spacebars, they could have–but it seems they thought it not worth the expense.

Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2 (HHKB) spacebar spring

Personally, I don’t think that a little shine and wear on keycaps is a terrible thing, but I can’t help feeling a little disappointed about such an obvious cost-cutting measure on a keyboard that’s supposed to be the cream of the crop. A full PBT keycap set, including the spacebar, would have been preferable.

(Note: Enthusiasts at GeekHack.org have recently been coordinating a group buy for aftermarket PBT Topre spacebars. If this initiative succeeds, HHKB owners will finally be able to order color-matched PBT spacebars to replace their stock ABS spacebars.)

The quality of the dye sublimated legends is excellent. The resolution is high, the lines are crisp, the dye is dark, and the legends are consistently positioned. Unless you take a huge chunk out of a keycap, your legends will never fade or wear away like on a cheaper keyboard. It’s difficult to find a fault with the Pro 2’s legends.

One area where the keycaps fall short is the replacement/aftermarket situation. Replacement HHKB sets are readily available in black and white (printed or blank), but there are no colored replacement sets readily available. The closest you can get is scoring an out-of-production Realforce keycap set, but those have some wrong legends and you’ll be short a right shift and a Fn key. You can work around this by putting the spare Ctrl key in place of the right shift and an up arrow in place of the Fn key, but the key profiles will be slightly wrong.

The situation is similar with the Realforce colored modifier replacement packs that you can sometimes find for sale. No right shift = not a perfect fit.

If keycap customization is important to you, you will likely be disappointed with the HHKB.

Internal Build Quality

Internally, the build quality of the HHKB is very good. The PCB is thick and is made from good quality laminate. All of the solder joints are clean and shiny, and there is no significant solder residue left over from the manufacturing process. When disassembled beyond what’s pictured here, the domes, springs, stabilizers, and slider component switch parts are all good quality and show little variation between one another. The inside of the plastic case isn’t as nicely textured as the outside, but it doesn’t come with any paint splotches or other signs of manufacturing carelessness.

Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2 (HHKB) PCB

One minor issue is the quality of the internal cable connectors. In particular, the connector for the controller board and the main PCB feels fragile and is difficult to disconnect because it’s connected to discrete wires instead of a strengthened ribbon cable. When I have disassembled my HHKB in the past, I’ve always left the controller board attached because I was afraid of damaging the cable or connector. I would’ve preferred to see a more robust design in the HHKB.

Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2 (HHKB) PCB

Arguably, another flaw in the HHKB’s internal design is the lack of a metal plate. Instead of a metal plate, the HHKB uses a “case-mounted” switch design. That is, the keyboard’s switches are mounted on a plastic support plate that’s integral to the top half of the plastic case–the top half of the case and the plate are one and the same. I say “arguably” because although nearly all mechanical keyboards include metal plates for improved rigidity, the lack of a metal plate on the HHKB creates its unique typing sound and feel, which I discuss below. Without this design, the HHKB would not produce the sensory qualities it’s famous for.

Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2 (HHKB) PCB

Switches

Now, we’re getting to the fun stuff. Along with the layout and aesthetics, the Topre switches are what make the Pro 2 such an interesting and storied keyboard. The HHKB isn’t the first or only keyboard to use Topre switches, but it’s the only keyboard that uses them with a case-mounted design as I explained above. This design lends a unique feel and acoustic quality to typing on the HHKB.

Topre switch design

A Topre switch comprises a rubber dome atop a spring, all atop a PCB. The rubber dome is what defines the feeling of the key press; the spring is extremely thin and light and only serves to enable the capacitive mechanism by which the HHKB registers key presses. In this way, Topre is a rubber dome keyboard–albeit a very high quality one that feels a thousand times better than your average HP or Dell keyboard. Read more about Topre switches here: Topre switches.

Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2 (HHKB) switches

Typing experience / Key feel and sound

The best analogy I can provide is that the HHKB’s keys feel like piano keys. The key press is extremely smooth, and is defined by rapidly building resistance at the top of the stroke that quickly decreases to near zero after the rubber dome collapses. Note that the quick collapse makes it almost impossible to avoid bottoming out your keystrokes, although it is not unpleasant to do so; in fact, the keyboard is designed for it. I’ll re-emphasize its smoothness; when I use a Cherry MX keyboard after I’ve been using a Topre keyboard like the HHKB Pro 2, the first thing I always notice is how much grittier the Cherry MX keyboard feels. The only Cherry MX switches that rival Topre in terms of smoothness are lubricated linear MX Reds or MX Blacks. It’s something that’s best experienced first-hand, but like I said: think of a piano.

The sound is physiologically pleasing, with a deep thock on the downstroke and a deep clack on the upstroke. Together, at typing speed, these sounds combine to form a delicious and addictive sound. Here’s a typing test:

As with most keyboards, the typing sound and feel are closely linked together, with the thock resulting from the gentle but firm bottom-out, and the clack resulting from the quick springy key return.

While these characteristics are common to all Topre switches, they really shine on the HHKB due to its plastic body and case-mounted design. (This is why the plastic case and lack of metal plate aren’t necessarily shortcomings.) The plastic housing gives the keys a very subtle amount of flex–only enough to notice when compared directly with a plate-mounted Topre keyboard–but an important difference nonetheless. The case-mounted switches have even more thock and resonance, giving the HHKB a sticky-sweet sound that’s never been replicated on another keyboard. In fact, many people say that plate-mounted Topre keyboards feel and sound downright dull compared to the HHKB.

If you’re interested in doing some comparisons yourself, compare the above typing test to the plate-mounted Leopold FC660C typing test and Realforce 87u typing test.

In terms of loudness, the HHKB should not be a problem to use in most home or office situations. It’s not significantly louder than any rubber dome keyboard, and doesn’t produce the same annoying click effect that makes coworkers and roommates despise Cherry MX switches so much.

Finger fatigue is not a significant issue on the HHKB, at least for most users. The 45g weighting allows for extended typing sessions without joint, wrist, or arm pain or tiredness. Note that the Pro 2 is only available with 45g switches; unlike Realforce keyboards, 55g is not an option (and note that many users report that 55g is significantly more tiring when used for hours at a time).

Overall, the typing experience on the HHKB is fully unique, and I highly encourage you to try one out if the opportunity ever presents itself. You can read about it all day, but all the reading in the world will still be inferior to typing a few sentences firsthand.

Layout and function layer

In enthusiast parlance, the HHKB is known as a 60% keyboard because it has approximately 60% of the keys that a normal, full-size keyboard has. This compactness provides many benefits: your hands can always stay on the home row because all keys are easily in reach, you can bring your mouse closer to your shoulder, and you save space on your desk. Normally, you’d expect these advantages to have corresponding trade-offs in terms of usefulness. There are certainly some–for example, the HHKB is terrible for data entry due to the lack of a number pad–but actually, it turns out that the HHKB’s alternative layout is better than traditional keyboards in a number of ways, despite its compactness.

Though the HHKB has a number of miscellaneous Function-layer keys such as Volume Up, Volume Down, Mute, and Eject, the most important part of the function layer is the navigation cluster. It looks confusing at first, but once you understand the logic it becomes extremely simple.

I think about the navigation cluster in two parts, as shown in the picture below (click to enlarge). Note that all Fn keys are activated by holding down Fn, which you should always do with your right pinky.

HHKB Pro 2 function layer

The first part is the arrow diamond cluster (in red): I use my middle finger for Up and Right, and my index finger for Left and Down. You can use whatever fingers work for you, but that’s the arrangement I’ve found to be best. The diamond arrow cluster is really no more complicated to use than standard arrow keys–you just have to retrain your fingers through practice.

The other part of the navigation cluster are the paging keys (in blue). With your index finger on Down, just move it one key to the left to Page Down, and another key to the left to End. In this way, the degree of movement increases by one notch each time you move your finger to the left–it’s very logical. To hit Page Up or Home, just move your index finger up a row from the corresponding Page Down or End key. This is slightly less than logical, since Page Down and End are on the same row as Down, but Page Up and Home aren’t on the same row as Up. Still, it does not take long to learn, and once you’ve had some practice, you’ll really grow to appreciate how you can access all these keys without moving your arm and elbow, or in fact, removing your fingers from the home row at all.

Of course, the navigation cluster isn’t the only innovation in the HHKB’s layout. There are three other keys of major importance:

  • Esc: Found where ` ~ usually is. This is huge for vim and emacs users.
  • Control: Found where Caps Lock usually is. This is huge for everyone. We all cut, copy, and paste dozens if not hundreds of times per day. How often do we use Caps Lock? Once every couple days? It makes a lot of sense to get rid of the rarely used Caps Lock key and replace it with the key we most commonly press with out left pinkies–Control. Once you try it, you’ll never go back. I now remap this key on every keyboard I own, even if I have to do it through software. On the HHKB, Caps Lock gets moved to Fn+Tab.
  • Delete/Backspace: I discussed this earlier. Most folks will want to toggle the DIP switch that turns Delete into Backspace, but once you do that, the setup is perfect. Backspace isn’t normally reachable with your fingers on the home row unless you have freakishly long pinkies, so moving it to the \ | key position makes a lot of sense. This is another remapping I perform on every keyboard I own.

All Function keys (F1 … F12) are accessed by holding Fn and pressing 1 … = +. (Legends for these are side-printed like all other Fn keys, in case you forget.) This is another great, logical space-saving move.

The HHKB also features Meta keys instead of Windows keys, which is a nice touch for Linux users.

There’s one thing missing in the HHKB layout, in my opinion: a DIP switch to change ` ~ to Delete. I like having Backspace in the \ | place, with delete right above it. Unfortunately, on the HHKB that’s where the ` ~ key is, which I use less often. If you spend a lot of time in Linux, you might type ` ~ enough to have it in the top-right corner, but I personally prefer it as Delete with ` ~ mapped elsewhere. I accomplish this with AutoHotKey on Windows (tutorial coming soon) or Karabiner on OSX (click for tutorial).

It does take time for the HHKB layout to become engrained in your muscle memory, especially to get the hang of multi-button actions like Shift + Arrows to highlight text–but once you’ve practiced enough, it becomes second nature and you really start to understand its advantages. For most applications, even word processing, the HHKB offers equal or better efficiency than traditional keyboards. As I’ve mentioned, it’s terrible for data entry, and I’ve also found the arrows to be terrible for spreadsheets no matter how much practice you have. But other than that, it’s fantastic.

Aesthetics

The HHKB Pro 2’s aesthetics are another reason for its cult following. It’s small, cute, symmetrical, and simply put, it looks great on a desk. You can buy it in the classic white/beige color scheme, or a less traditional black/dark gray color scheme. Both color schemes can be had with either printed or blank keycaps, and as I previously mentioned, the quality of the dye sublimated legends is excellent. All of this makes the HHKB a visually appealing keyboard.

Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2 (HHKB)

That said, I have some complaints. As I mentioned, the bottom of the keyboard is a mess, and the USB hub is at odds with the keyboard’s minimalism. I’m also not a fan of the wasted space on the lower left and right corners of the keyboard. It looks neat, but I simply don’t think any space should be wasted on such a small keyboard. There’s room for several more keys, and I don’t think it would compromise usability to add them. On that note, it’s also a shame to use such a large spacebar–most people only hit the spacebar in a very small area, so it could potentially be shrunk too to make room for more keys.

The USB cable that comes with the HHKB matches the color of the case (white or black) and works well enough, although it would be more functional and visually appealing if it came with a velcro cable tie. I think the HHKB is best paired with such a tie, or better yet, a custom USB cable like these coiled cables from Lindy.

Common Modifications

HHKB owners have devised several modifications which may be of interest to prospective buyers:

  • Hasu’s Controller: Build and install Hasu’s custom HHKB controller, and you’ll be able to custom program all keys on the HHKB, plus use layers. Requires some soldering and programming experience.
  • Silencing: As I mentioned, Topre boards make a thock on the downstroke and a clack on the upstroke. Silencing mods aim to eliminate the upstroke clack. You can, of course, shell out for an, which comes factory silenced, but it’s expensive and the results aren’t necessarily any better than a DIY mod. You have basically two options: ironed landing pads or dental bands. I’ve tried both, and I prefer the landing pads because they have virtually no effect on the key travel, whereas dental bands inevitably do, making the keys almost feel linear. That said, I personally like the upstroke clack and I think silenced Topre keyboards are boring.
  • Bluetooth: This mod is not as well established and documented as Hasu’s controller, but some folks have successfully converted their HHKBs to use Bluetooth.
  • Novatouch slider swap: It is possible to cannibalize a CM Storm Novatouch to swap in its sliders, and use Cherry MX keycaps on the HHKB. Note that some drilling is required for stabilized keys, and you will want to leave the original Topre spacebar slider in because 6x Cherry MX spacebars have different stem spacing than Topre spacebars. Unfortunately, this means you will have to live with a (usually) mismatched spacebar even after Novatouch modding your HHKB.

Summary & Conclusion

Pros

  • Good build quality inside and out
  • No flex or creaking in case
  • Smooth, refined Topre switches with a key feel and sound unique even among Topre keyboards
  • Innovative layout and function layer are based on real research, and in many cases are preferable to a traditional keyboard once sufficient muscle memory is achieved
  • Great quality PBT keycaps and permanent dye sublimated legends
  • Reduces hand and arm movement; all keys accessible with fingers on home row
  • Great for vim and emacs users
  • Built in USB 2.0 hub with 2 ports
  • Built in DIP switches for hardware key customization
  • Quiet enough for office use
  • 45g weighting does not fatigue fingers and hands too quickly
  • Attractive
  • Interesting modifications available
  • Good resale value

Cons

  • High price
  • Plastic housing and plastic plate instead of metal (maybe a con)
  • Lousy rubber anti-slip pads and lousy adjustable feet
  • Lack of arrows, dedicated F-keys, and numpad bad for some applications like data entry and spreadsheets
  • No NKRO, only 6KRO
  • No key puller or replacement key caps included
  • Extremely limited selection of aftermarket keycaps
  • Mini USB port is not as robust as newer Micro USB standard
  • USB hub unpowered and at odds with minimalist design philosophy
  • Spacebar is ABS, not PBT
  • Function layer has a learning curve
  • Wasted space on bottom row
  • Included USB cable is nothing special
  • Dated in some other ways (see below)

Overall, the HHKB Pro 2 is an excellent but not perfect keyboard. It provides a unique and premium typing experience with a highly functional and innovative layout, but it has some physical design shortcomings that are hard to overlook. There is a learning curve, but once you get comfortable with the keyboard, it has a lot to offer. If you get an opportunity to try one in person, jump on it.

Final score: 8/10

Full Gallery

Buying

Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2 on Amazon

BONUS: My dream HHKB 3

The HHKB Pro 2 is almost 10 years old. Although there have been no concrete signs of a new model, it stands to reason that one will come eventually, given the recent renaissance of the mechanical keyboard industry. Here’s what I’d include in a Rev. 3, if given the chance:

  • Fully programmable with layers
  • PBT spacebar, possibly half-size to make room for additional keys in bottom row
  • No wasted space in lower left and right corners
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • Eliminate USB hub
  • Include proper rubber pads and improved adjustable feet
  • NKRO
  • Micro USB or symmetrical USB C
  • Backlighting option
  • 55g option
  • Aluminum case option
  • MX compatible sliders option, with 6.25x Cherry stem-compatible spacebar
  • HHKB-specific replacement colored keycap sets

What about you? Let me know in the comments.

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About

Aaron

8 Responses

  1. SpikeBolt

    Great review, really enjoyed reading your PoV.

    Keep them coming!

  2. Aaron

    Thanks! Love the avatar…

  3. Nice review. The HHKB is quite a paradox – it’s my favorite keyboard, but also the cheapest feeling and the most quirky.

    Re Type S: I’d recommend it over the dental mod, but that’s a fun variation as well. The mod is bouncier and the travel is diminished, but it’s still a lot of fun (and some people prefer it). All that said, a lot of people think of the Type S as better because it costs more, and in my opinion it really isn’t. In fact I very much prefer typing on the standard HHKB2.

  4. Aaron

    I too prefer the standard board to the Type S. If I had to use a silenced version, I would pick the dental banded version, though – doesn’t have the weird friction feel of the Type S sliders.

  5. Very thorough review. I share many of your suggested features for a HHKB Pro 3, except I wouldn’t want backlighting, and because the layout is perfect for me, I would not need programmability. My daily driver is a black HHKB Pro 2 modded with Topre silencing rings, 55g domes, and blue alphanumeric keycaps from a Topre set.

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