Happy Hacking Keyboard series was a collaboration between Dr Eiiti Wada and PFU. Dr Eiiti Wada is a Japanese Internet Pioneer whom also uses UNIX and was unhappy with the varied layouts SUN microsystems were pushing out with their keyboards. So instead he drew upon a compact layout that was based upon some of the issues he has heard/read and as a result designed a layout in which the Pro series (not including Pro JP) was derived more or less from.
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Pro Compact & minimalistic
This keyboard uses a 60% layout that forgoes un-needed keys and merges the extra set of keys into the Fn layer. This mimics the behaviour found on most laptops due to size restrictions. Despite of this, the more commonly used keys are left intact so that one does not feel too unfamiliar with the more compact layout. In addition to the size, it makes accessing virtually every key on the keyboard a breeze (see below).
60% keyboards are loosely defined by the lack of dedicated number pad and is smaller than the size of a DIN A4 paper.
Pro Uses Topre key switches which can be quiet
Topre switches are a hybrid with both a rubber dome and spring, to provide a tactile bump at the top and a smooth action.
The Topre switch can be silenced either by the manufacturer before you buy the board, or you can also DIY (do it yourself) after purchasing the board. Silenced Topre keyboard notably sounds more quiet, lacking the "thock" noise.
Pro Designed to keep you in home row
Eiiti Wada (a Japanese computer pioneer) co-developer of the keyboard is a UNIX user and drew upon the idea of swapping the locations of Ctrl key with Caps Lock. In the UNIX environment, programs as well as filenames are case-sensitive. For instance, "Readme" is not the same as "README" and is seen as two separate files under UNIX.
General power users as well as *nix users would know that the Ctrl key is used more often for various shortcuts ranging from simple operations such as copy, cut, paste, undo, redo, etc to interrupt or suspend. Therefore by placing the Ctrl key in place of Caps Lock key makes it easier for one to access the key with their pinky fingers thus keeping it on the "home row" of keys.
'm unix/linux user for the most part and having the control key "right there" and the ESC key just an inch away from my pinky was simply perfect (if you are a vim/emacs user you'll certainly appreciate that).
Pro Very well built
Pro Easily Programmable & highly modifiable
The HHKB comes with the standard DIP switches to modify key behavior, but you can also completly swap out the controller board or even fork the TMK firmware to make your own keybindings in the firmware!
Also available is the TMK controller board custom made for HHKB users.
Pro The keycaps are made from PBT and the legends are dye-sublimated.
PBT plastic is a very brittle material that is able to withstand high temperatures, does not shine (from usage) or becomes yellowing easily. Unlike ABS plastics which are usually known to be cheaper PBT is known to be more expensive.
Dye sublimation process ensures the legends does not wear off easily (compared to pad printed ABS for example). Dye sublimation process usually requires keycaps to withstand high amounts of heat for the ink to transfer from one material to the next something that ABS plastics are not able to easily withstand in terms of temperature. Also unlike laser/etched/engraved legends where dirt/dust/etc can get caught within the legends, dye sublimated keycaps are usually invulnerable to such instances.
Pro More ergonomic workspace
Among other reasons I choose this keyboard because the numpad on standard keyboards forces me to keep the mouse far on the right-hand side. So I'd say it's compact layout contributes to a more ergonomic workspace.
Con Manufacturer warranties are instantly voided when customer is not residing in Japan or US.
The HHKB warranty "sheet" specifically implies that the warranty for a year is only valid within Japan when one purchases HHKB from Japan directly. For US customers, if they ordered their HHKB from elitekeyboards.com their manufacturer warranties are honoured however if they bought it from Japan it is voided.
The rest of the world basically gets a voided warranty regardless of where they are based.
Con No arrow keys
Only the HHKB Pro JP has dedicated arrow keys. However, on the HHKP2 you can access the arrow keys via the Fn layer. Keys accessible via the Fn layer are printed on the front of the keycap.
There could be many potential reasons as to why HHKB maybe expensive such as the fact that the use of certain materials and that the quality of workmanship is undoubtable however the bottom line still remains the fact that HHKB is not cheap by any means.
This thereby may create elitism amongst groups of users from within the HHKB as well as the Topre realm.
Con The USB hubs attached only have 100mW power.
The USB hub on the HHKB only has 100mW of power, so it might struggle to power some devices.
Con It's popular because it is ridiculously overpriced and under-featured
Con No metal backplate
The HHKB lacks a metal backplate. Most decent mechanical keyboards have a metal backplate that is usually mounted to the undersides of the PCB. Notably the main reason for this, aside from increased build quality, is to add more stability by dampening the vibrations during use.
Con The traction feet are weak, the height feet are negligible
Con Lack of keycap/switch customisation available.
Due to the nature of the Topre switch, customisation is very limited for Topre. With Cherry MX switches for instance it is easy to swap out the switches and buy Cherry MX switch as it is. For Topre switch, one needs to buy a keyboard with the right set of rubber domes/cups to replace it for theirs. This leads to generally higher cost for customisation overall.