This is my first time posting a review, so I'm not sure yet what information will be of most use. That said, here are my impressions of the TEX Beetle keyboard, along with some photos. Hopefully people will find this information helpful. Please don't hesitate to get in touch if there's something else you'd like to know!
(also posted at http://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=46342.0)
-- Background and use case --
The TEX Beetle is my second-ever foray into the world of mechanical keyboards. My first mechanical keyboard was a KBC Poker that I borrowed from my friend Jesse for a few months. At that point my primary motivation had nothing to do with the feel of the keyboard - I was simply looking for a *small* keyboard to carry around, and he suggested I try out a tenkeyless to see if I liked it. I enjoyed the feel of mechanical keys so much that I now use a tenkeyless mechanical keyboard as my primary keyboard even when I'm docked into an external monitor. I've now returned the Poker to Jesse and swapped it out for this TEX beetle of his that I'll be borrowing for a few more weeks until the one I ordered shows up.
To tell a bit more about my use case, most of my computer use is coding and writing, not gaming. I have a single X-series laptop that I use for everything. At home and at work I plug it into an external monitor. I also like to work in libaries and coffee shops, and while traveling on trains and planes. When I'm away from the office I use a laptop stand and collapsible mouse in addition to the external keyboard, to ensure a neck-strain-happy setup:
-- Layout --
A few notes about the layout of the TEX beetle.
- The mini-USB port is in the top left.
- The arrow keys are normal-sized, and accessible without doing anything special. I really appreciate this because I use the arrow keys a lot when I'm coding in an environment other than an emacs buffer (like when I'm writing MATLAB). You can see they're actually even larger than the arrow keys on a Lenovo X-series laptop.
- The top-left key is escape, not tilde. Tilde is to the right of the up-arrow.
- Some keys are accessible using the X-shaped function key:
- Pg Up and Pg Dn live under O and L. I find this to be a very accessible place for them: I can press the X key with my thumb and access them easily. Home, end, and so on are all in the same neighborhood.
- Delete lives under Backspace. This is also intuitive and accessible.
- The right-shift is tiny. Fortunately this doesn't bother me: the KBC Poker had forced me to adapt to left shift, because on that layout right shift doubled as the up-arrow. But if I try to use right shift on the TEX beetle, I end up hitting the question mark key most of the time.
- If you want to change anything about the layout, like switching caps lock and control, you can use the function keys to toggle swaps L1 through L7, as shown in a diagram on the bottom of the keyboard. A series of lights indicates the currently active mapping.
-- Shape, size, appearance --
There's nothing unexpected about the outward shape, size, or appearance of this keyboard, so I'll just provide a few pictures to give you a sense of what it looks like:
This picture should give you an idea of the keyboard's size keyboard relative to my hand.
Here's a shot of the shaping/angle of the keys.
And here's the printing on the keys, to give a sense of the font.
-- Construction --
My first observation about this keyboard was that it feels very durably built. The metal frame has quite a bit of heft to it. Also, you can see in these photographs that the keyswitches are not attached directly to the circuitboard, but instead are mounted on the frame. This is in contrast to the Poker, which has the keyswitches directly attached to the cirbuitboard.
Mounting the keyswitches on the frame instead of the circuitboard has a number of effects, all of which I really appreciate. First of all, the frame does not have any "give", whereas a circuitboard is bendy. As a result, with the TEX Beetle (as contrasted with the Poker) it feels like the keys have less travel and take less force to press. With the Poker, the springiness of the circuitboard actually did add some additional travel distance.
The reduced springiness also makes it feel more like my fingers are "floating" on the keys, psychologically speaking. It's easier for me to pay attention to not bottoming out and not clacking hard on the keys, which gives the appearance at least of being less tiring on my hands (I'm not sure whether it makes an actual physiological difference, but it feels more pleasant!)
Finally, and very importantly, this keyboard is *quieter*. I think that's a a joint function of the construction itself and the reduced desire to clack obnoxiously on the keys. The one potential downside is that this keyboard is heavier than the KBC Poker normally is. That said, the Poker I was borrowing from Jesse was one he had augmented with additional weight to make it feel heftier and slide around less. The additional weight in the TEX Beetle certainly makes it feel solid and stable, even if it makes it more annoying to carry around in my backpack.
-- Verdict --
Good enough to spend money on - I have ordered one of my own!
Pros: Well-constructed, quiet, function keys and arrow keys are easy to access, layout is easy to change. Good feel - very "solid".
Cons: Right shift is small, frame is heavy.