Happy Hacking Professional 2 Keyboard Review

HHKBpro2

 

Last month I bought the PFU Happy Hacking Professional 2 keyboard. Buying a keyboard this expensive is no small decision, but after trying out dozens of top-rated keyboards from Shinjuku to Akihabara I became resolved that it was undeniably the best keyboard on the market.

I do a lot of typing. The impetus for buying the keyboard last month was a contract job I received (that I’m taking a break from now as I write this) which requires an immense volume of typing. In the last five weeks I’ve typed out more than 350 pages of text for this job. So a comfortably keyboard was essential.

Normal keyboards work based on a membrane dome under each key, and while they are quiet, they feel rather mushy and don’t last long under extended use. I would always feel that the keys started getting sticky after a few months of use.

A couple years ago I started using a mechanical-switch keyboard from FILCO that cost about $50. That seemed like a lot for a keyboard at the time, but I found that I could type more efficiently on it, and it was much more durable than a membrane keyboard. The downside to this keyboard was that it was quite loud, to the point that my wife couldn’t talk on the phone in the same room I was typing in.

This fall my FILCO was starting get sluggish, as even mechanical keyboards start to suffer from sticky springs after extended use. I went down to a keyboard specialty shop in a back alley of Akihabara where more than a hundred keyboards of various manufacturers and styles were laid out for testing. I was at first drawn to the oddly shaped ergonomic keyboards, as my wrists and hands do start to hurt after several hours of typing, despite the wrist-rest that I use. Unfortunately, the ergonomic keyboards were all membrane based, so matter how comfortable your wrists might be while typing, the reflex-action of the keys was quite poor.

After trying out just about every keyboard in that store and several others, the conclusion was clear. The small but surprisingly expensive HHKB2 had far and above the best key action. The best way that I can explain the superiority of the HHKB2 is by the fact that after typing on it for a while, any other keyboard that you type on seems inferior and somewhat annoying to use.

The HHKB2 is very compact and lacks the Backspace, Caps Lock, Function Keys, and arrow keys. But there is a Fn key so that you can get the same results and through holding down the Fn key you get virtual arrow keys. I wanted a Backspace key so I used KeyTweak to change the left bracket, which I never use, into the backspace. This places the backspace just to the right of the ] making it very easy to reach without moving my hand. (FEB 2009 UPDATE: I am no longer using the left bracket in this manner. I just use the Delete key as a backspace, it’s one of the default options that can be changed on the keyboard.)

Since I’m using it as a second keyboard for my Japanese laptop, I use USJP Pro v1.2.5 to allow me to use the HHKB2 as an English-layout keyboard and still keep my laptop’s keyboard as a Japanese keyboard.

The only downsides for me is that I was so used to Japanese keyboard layout that I’m still adjusting to the locations of a couple keys that are different between English and Japanese keyboards, and the fact that the key used to switch from English to Japanese input is an Alt tilde, which is slower than just hitting one key next to the spacebar. Still, I can do it pretty quickly now so it’s not too bad.

After five weeks of use I’m very pleased with the HHKB2. The only thing that I can think of that might be superior would be an ergonomically designed keyboard with keys of this quality. Typing really is a joy with this keyboard, if you can imagine that, and my speed has increased to a steady 90 to 100 words per minute from my previous 80.

The model that I bought is the same as the one shown in the photo above, but the more popular models have blank keys. I can definitely see the geek pride-value in using one of these, but I opted for labeled keys as I’m still getting used to the location of some characters on the English Keyboard.

PFU is a Fujitsu Company. The HHKB2 has an English website here.

FEBRUARY 2009 UPDATE: After using this keyboard excessively every single day of the last two plus years, they key action is still just about as good as the day I bought it. I burned through normal keyboards about every six months with my constant typing and mechanical keyboards got sluggish or sticky after a year. I could not be happier with the Happy Hacking Professional 2.

If you’re outside of Japan you can buy it at smartimports.net here.