What you notice at a first glance in the version we tested is that the writing on the keycaps is barely visible. There isn’t any RGB present or any backlight whatsoever either. So why is this keyboard considered a flagship and why is it so eye wateringly priced?
The HHKB is a premium product. Premium in this case translates to the Japanese philosophy of minimalistic aesthetics with high functionality. The materials are mostly plastic and the board may feel cheaply made at a first glance – it is light and the case has a hollow ring if you tap it on the bottom whilst holding it in your other hand. However there is absolutely zero flex in this board, which should make you think twice before drawing premature conclusions.
On the bottom we can notice a small hatch that when removed will uncover six dip switches. These allow for hardware changes in configurations – for example if HHK mode is selected then you will have one customisable keymap with two layers and if you switch to the Win mode then a new customisable keymap with two layers will become active. Ditto for Mac mode.
You will also notice a rather ugly big bulge at the back of the board – this is where you will insert the two AA batteries necessary for Bluetooth operation. I personally prefer having this bulge with the ubiquity of AA batteries. Unfortunately it will not charge them if you use rechargeable AA batteries, but this is why you have a charger for those anyway.
Once you place this board on the desk – everything changes – and you will not notice the bulge or remember that hollowness. You can’t move this thing unintentionally, you will not chase it down whilst enthusiastically arguing over the internet and you will love the feel of it all. The keycaps are thick PBT and have a mildly rough surface which grips your fingers whilst typing. The low-key aesthetics are mesmerising when you realise that you don’t really look at your keyboard whilst typing, so 95% of the time you will be interacting with the board proprioceptively and acoustically rather than visually. And this is where the HHKB excels. I wrote huge chunks of text on this board and I also gamed on it and let me tell you – it’s good.
The sound is a deep and quiet “thoc” that is characteristic to the HHKB in particular and Topre boards in general. It is addictive to the ear until it blurs in the background and you can’t really hear it anymore and all you focus on is the work at hand. Writing, gaming, perusing knowledge, take your pick. This sound will also change over time, after a few months to a year the HHKB will sound deeper and even nicer than it already does out of the box.
You will also notice than the HHKB layout does not appear to have a Ctrl key. It is there, it is labelled “Control” and it is placed where we are used to have Caps Lock. Because we don’t really need Caps Lock on a keyboard where you have two shift keys. Yelling on the internet is considered impolite.
The typing angles I measured are eight degrees with the board flat on the desk, ten degrees with the feet extended in the intermediary position and thirteen degrees with the feet extended fully. I personally prefer a 6-8 degree angle, so I did not extend the feet at all. This design of the keyboard case is also what gives it its amazing acoustics and characteristic sound, in addition to the Topre switches – note the lateral profile – this is not your average snowboard style keyboard case.