[Review] KBC POKER - webwit's take

This is a review of the KBC Poker keyboard. Disclaimer: this is a pre-release review copy made available to me by KBC, contact was made prior to the existence of this forum. For an alternative review from sixty, see here. I tried not to cover too many of the same points and offer some complementary views instead.

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Build quality

The Poker arrived in a small box packed in an outer box of similar size, no padding, and inside the box it was wrapped in a plastic sleeve. I found it with the Caps Lock missing and floating in the sleeve, while the PCB was hanging on to the case with only one screw. I found the missing two screws in the case and in the box, and I also found a metal bit for a screw hole in the case.

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While I am hesitant to provide such anecdotal evidence, which mainly is the fault of DHL not properly handling mail and not a problem exclusive to KBC, it does show a potential problem in shipping (needs more padding to prevent vibration and for shock absorption) and moreover is not strong evidence to support the first feature of this keyboard in its sales specs, which is portability. KBC seems to be addressing these issues and to be working on it to fix it for the retail version.

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This version of the 60% keyboard has no faceplate, while the sides flex when you press them. See below under KBC Poker vs Happy Hacking Professional II for more about build quality.

The Poker stands firm, but has no adjustable feet, one size fits all. I consider this a small disadvantage, although I personally don't use feet often.

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Switches

The KBC Poker will be available with Cherry MX Blue, Brown, Black and Red switches. There is a lead time of 12 to 14 weeks for the Cherry red version. The red switch as shown below is probably only sported on these pre-release boards.

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Large key stabilizers

I don’t like the Cherry style stabilizers under the big keys, which change the feeling of the key at the bottom part of the travel, and change the sound of the key. I prefer the Filco style stabilizer which doesn’t change the feel but makes it harder to remove keys and will break easier. See here for a discussion. Opinions vary.

Layout

This is a mini keyboard with a layered layout, where the function key is used to access the “missing” keys. If you are reading this because you are contemplating to buy a mini keyboard, this approach has disadvantages and advantages. The main disadvantage is that a learning curve is introduced, and even if you can get used to and find the layered keys fairly quickly, it will take many months before your muscle memory has fully adapted to it. The main advantages are the mobile nature, closer position of your mouse, and the ability to touch type all of your keys with no major hand travel.

The KBC Poker implements some smart ideas, such as the position of the cursor keys, WASD style - which will appeal to gamers - and the cursor lock, great for things like casual browsing to scroll through a page. The position of Del at two places is questionable (but perhaps very accessible once you get used to it), and together with a more random positioning of Home/End and PageUp/PageDown, make it less elegant than the HHKB. However, this is partly made up for by the fact it offers more keys such as various media keys.

The Poker has a number of dipswitches to change some settings such as: Switch Caps Lock/Ctrl (very nice!) and a second Function key on the left, so you can use one hand for those WASD cursor keys. It does not offer a setting to switch Backspace and \.

ESC key problems

I need my escape key, but by default this is the ` key on the Poker and Fn + ` is ESC. You can toggle that with Fn + Q, so by default it becomes ESC, and Fn + ESC becomes `. This last step doesn’t work as documented though. It returns an ESC key code for me as well. I can easily solve this with software (toggle ` and ESC), but I find this a serious bug. I asked KBC about this and I think they are working to have it fixed for the retail version.

Keycaps and LEDs

I like the texture on the keys although it remains to be seen how long it will last. The lasered legends on the ABS keycaps are hardly readable, even in full light, and although I personally like that style, it provides a strange contrast with the legends in front of the keycaps, which are a bit too large and bright to look elegant. This keyboard has a number of LEDs to indicate various modes, but only Caps Lock has a hole for the LED light to shine through, below other keys it is hardly visible. This is probably related to this being a pre-release version.

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The manufacturer’s specs show a lot of different options for this keyboard, so don’t be surprised if various of these “60%” keyboards show up, possibly from different brands. Four switch type options, either faceplate mount of PCB mount. KBC will be offering options for PBT and POM keycaps which will be sold separately.

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KBC Poker vs Happy Hacking Professional II

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The KBC Poker was clearly designed not to be like the iconic HHKB Pro II. The only things they have in common are the minimal dimensions (only the main key area of a normal keyboard) and the consequential function layer. But the function layer takes a different approach. In general, the HHKB is a programmer’s keyboard, designed by a famous Japanese computer guru who uses emacs, while the KBC Poker is aimed at a young audience of mobile computer users, as evidenced, for example, by the ESC key and WASD cursor keys. As you can see, the HHKB is a little bit larger at the back side of the keyboard, and has a charcoal color instead of black.

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The KBC Poker has an extremely simple construction; it is clearly designed for cheap production. It has a bottom shell, in which the PCB is placed, on which the keys are mounted. That’s it. No faceplate or upper shell, no feet. It reminds me of lowpoly’s prototype of the miniguru, in an extremely cost effective version. The bottom shell, if I push the narrow parts, they give way. It weights much less than the HHKB. Note however that the manufacturer offers different quality options, such as faceplate mounted or different plastic materials.

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It is an effective design though, and when you type on this keyboard it feels firm. By the way, the cost-effective way to mount a PCB in a case is the same as the famous Cherry 5000, a rare and expensive collector’s item.
The idea behind all this is of course to bring an MX mini keyboard to market at a much lower and affordable price point than the HHKB.

The layout works well and implements some smart ideas, although it’s probably not as elegant and well-researched as the HHKB, but that’s hard to say without using this keyboard for a couple of months.

This keyboard is not as sturdy and durable as, for example, the HHKB, which is especially a problem when it is not sitting on your desk but used as a mobile keyboard, which is one of its advertised features. The lack of faceplate or upper shell provides a real problem with dirt and cleaning, as the dirt will accumulate on the PCB. Although the same open nature makes it more accessible and easier to clean. I wonder however how it will stand up to the portable nature it is advertised for.

The advantage of the simple design is that it is a great keyboard for people who like to mod their keyboard because it is very accessible. For some of us here this makes it a great, fun modding keyboard.

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HHKB users who would like a Cherry alternative should beware, because this is not really it because of the different Fn layout, providing a new learning curve, and moreover, you’ll get confused if you want to use them both and switch regularly.

As someone on KBDMania noted, this is not a HHKB killer, but a very serious and much more affordable alternative if you’re looking for a mini keyboard.

Price

Exact price and distribution are yet to be determined, but it is expected to be around $110 ($80 in parts of Asia?). There will probably be a distributor in Europe. Although much more affordable than the HHKB, $110 would be stressing it a bit due to the cheaper materials and construction and the fact this price gets into Filco territory, which has a much better construction. But can you find another MX mini keyboard for this price?

EDIT 1: This keyboard is now available for pre order in the US for prices well below $100 excluding shipping. This is a good price!

EDIT 2: There's now also an interest check here for a European group buy for prices in the range of 65 to 75 EUR: viewtopic.php?f=11&t=322

Conclusion

Pros:
Portable mini keyboard with Cherry MX switches
Much more affordable than the HHKB
Smart layout and configuration options
LEDs for various keys/options
Easy to access and easy to mod

Cons:
Very simple construction, flexing case
Open construction and build quality are a problem concerning dirt and portability/durability
For the price you can get keyboards with a stronger construction
ESC key and falling out screw problems, these problems are currently being addressed
LEDs below various keys not very visible, this might be addressed

6.5 / 10

A fun little keyboard which has the potential to become an iconic mini MX keyboard alternative (not killer) of the HHKB depending on how this line of keyboards develops and what options will be made available. If they fix the ESC key problem and the problem of screws falling out, I’ll give this version at least 7/10. I hope I can, because I like this keyboard!
webwit
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Unread post19 Feb 2011, 00:38

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Nice review! Good idea to take a different approach than mine. Also really happy you took pics of the PCB, people kept asking for it and I forgot to take some before modding it.
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Unread post19 Feb 2011, 01:11

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From a layout point of view, this thing seems pretty inferior to the HHKB. I think the Noppoo is (IMHO) a better HHKB alternative, even if the keycaps look kinda cheapass.

Great review though.
Last edited by daedalus on 19 Feb 2011, 01:15, edited 1 time in total.
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Unread post19 Feb 2011, 01:13

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Nice review. I like the SMDs. Too bad there are no F-keys and Alt-gr.
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Unread post19 Feb 2011, 01:13

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Nice Review!

That Controller looks familiar..
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Filco Tenkeyless
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I did carefully reverse engineering of the weight of the keyboard using this pic. Notice although holding it one handed her tongue is straining with effort. $5.95 in nickels I'd say.
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And I DEFINITELY don't trust Sixty's scale.
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Unread post19 Feb 2011, 02:08

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ripster wrote:Nice Review!

That Controller looks familiar..

Told you so!
ripster wrote:And I DEFINITELY don't trust Sixty's scale.

Neither do I. I took the weight from the docs this time :D
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Unread post19 Feb 2011, 02:17

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It doesn't feel like featherweight though, just less weight than the HHKB.
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Unread post19 Feb 2011, 02:18

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According to the docs, the box weighs 10 gram.
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Unread post19 Feb 2011, 02:18

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What an another great review. :)
Like you said at the end of your review, could we find a mini keyboard at this price ?
Does someone tried the Noppoo Choc Mini ? (And the KBC Poker)
It could be interesting in having an opinion on Choc Mini vs. KBC Poker.
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Unread post19 Feb 2011, 03:44

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Good idea! Which reminds me, sixty, what happened to the Noppoos?
And welcome to deskthority!
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Unread post19 Feb 2011, 03:49

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webwit wrote:Good idea! Which reminds me, sixty, what happened to the Noppoos?
And welcome to deskthority!

I've received my Noppoos but I hadn't make a review yet.
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Unread post19 Feb 2011, 04:02

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Very nice and detailed review.

Expect a video review and simulator of it soon :-)
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Unread post19 Feb 2011, 10:50

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To boldly go where no innovator has gone before : always engage at full trust.
there will be a European distributor :shock: ??
might wanna get one then :p
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Unread post19 Feb 2011, 21:43

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runeazn wrote:there will be a European distributor :shock: ??
might wanna get one then :p

Weren't you supposed to contact the guys at KBC and ask for a review sample?

Anyway, nice review. I sort of want this keyboard, but I'm not sure if I need it. I guess I'll end up buying one even if I don't find much use for it.
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Unread post21 Feb 2011, 14:45

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You can always switch your keyboards around. One week on this and one week on that. Fun!
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Unread post21 Feb 2011, 15:04

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Nask wrote:
webwit wrote:Good idea! Which reminds me, sixty, what happened to the Noppoos?
And welcome to deskthority!

I've received my Noppoos but I hadn't make a review yet.

We want the Noppoo review! :-)
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Unread post21 Feb 2011, 16:49

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To boldly go where no innovator has gone before : always engage at full trust.
db_Iodine wrote:
runeazn wrote:there will be a European distributor :shock: ??
might wanna get one then :p

Weren't you supposed to contact the guys at KBC and ask for a review sample?

Anyway, nice review. I sort of want this keyboard, but I'm not sure if I need it. I guess I'll end up buying one even if I don't find much use for it.

yeah somehow that guys is non respsonsive :(
and yeah it is actually a KBC person, the person who handles international sale..

but hasn't replied to my 2nd e-mail..(first e-mail is replied)
oh well keep hoping :)

I really hope i can get some here..
it would be great cuz filco's are 90 pounds >_> and this KBC will defnitly be under that..
and there are only 3 choices atm for mech keyb
international/ has much tax so not worth
filco= 90 pounds
das= 120 euro
rofl..
this kbc would be perfect for low cost mech keyboard
like the 80-100 euro price range sounds nice.
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Unread post21 Feb 2011, 17:27

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Can I call you Princess here?
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Unread post22 Feb 2011, 17:02

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ripster wrote:Can I call you Princess here?

I can think of some more appropriate names.
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Unread post22 Feb 2011, 18:03

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ripster wrote:Can I call you Princess here?

no...
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Unread post22 Feb 2011, 19:53

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I can give you a custom princess usertitle, if you want Image
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Unread post22 Feb 2011, 19:55

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I'm sorry Sixty, but once I read that, I had to do it.
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Unread post22 Feb 2011, 20:12

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remove it...........
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Unread post22 Feb 2011, 21:29

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:idea: remove "IT" and become a real princess :twisted:
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Unread post22 Feb 2011, 21:34

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I like this smiley :lol: . It makes me feel like I am actually laughing.
ty mate,
and this joke is too old..
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Unread post22 Feb 2011, 23:19

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I didn't see it, do it again 8-)
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Unread post23 Feb 2011, 00:07

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Nice review! Looks like an interesting keyboard. When do you think these will be put into full production?
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Unread post23 Feb 2011, 00:30

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Retarded Quote of the Week:
"Go out on a sidewalk in your town and ask for NT setup files, get arrested"
--Geekhack.org
Current estimate is a March/April release.
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Unread post23 Feb 2011, 00:32

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webwit wrote:Good idea! Which reminds me, sixty, what happened to the Noppoos?
And welcome to deskthority!

Wow, I had entirely forgotten about those. I guess they are another +1 in the DHL shitstorm. Gonna contact the guy tonight and figure it out.
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Unread post25 Feb 2011, 11:20

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Very good review. I will probably wait until after the first batch ships to order one.
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Unread post04 Mar 2011, 16:24

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