Chinese USB Hall Effect Keyboard - Review and Impressions


Video: Review on YouTube

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(More photos HERE and HERE. I'll slowly add more photos from the albums to this thread.)

I'm typing this review on the first truly modern Hall effect keyboard that I've encountered. I looked around and couldn't find any other reviews of this board. I'm hoping to bring more of these to the community through a future group buy (maybe in time for Christmas?)

Back in June some folks from Reddit and the Texas mechanical keyboard community organized a meetup at Das Keyboard HQ here in Austin. One of the attendees brought an obscure "magnetic switch" keyboard made by Ace Pad Tech in China. I was intrigued since, as you may know, I have a special love for magnetic keyboards due to their robust, bounce-free switches.

I did some research and found a keyboard with a feature set that almost looked too good to be true. I say "almost" because, well, I've got one here in front of me right now, and I'm typing on it! Moreover, I've been busy over the past few months working with the manufacturer, and about ten forum members, to run a mini group buy to get these into people's hands for more opinions. Those keyboards are being delivered today and tomorrow for the most part so I expect that we'll see some more reviews on this thread soon.

Anyway. I found the manufacturer's Web site and was able to have a live chat session with one of the folks at the company (tough to do if you consider the time zone difference between Austin and China). I confirmed this set of features:

- Hall effect based magnetic key sensing.
- Linear key feel, in 50g (Cherry MX Red like) and 70g (Cherry MX Black like) spring weights.
- Native USB connection with full N-key rollover.
- Full RGB LED backlighting with a surface mounted LED under each key.
- Cherry MX mount key switches with Cherry style stabilizers for wide key set compatibility and easy key changes.
- PBT/POM key caps available in black, white, and several other color choices.
- Available in 61-key "60%", 87-key "TKL", and 104-key "full size" layouts.
- ISO layouts also available.
- Full surface mount single PCB construction. All the Hall sensors, LEDs, microcontrollers, and other logic are on a single board.
- Fully waterproof design. The PCB is coated with a water resistant epoxy and can safely operate underwater.
- Keyboard body available in bamboo, ABS plastic, clear/black acrylic, and several other colors.
- Laser engraving available for bamboo and acrylic boards.

I ordered a bamboo board with white key caps and 70g springs in July. I'm typing on it now.

Check the review video link above for more thoughts on the board, or click through to the photo link for more photos. I'll be adding future updates with a complete tear down, detail photos of the internals, and anything else you might want to see.
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Sounds really interesting! I'm not a fan of linear switches, but I wouldn't mind giving this a try, since it's something truly different.

What does the manufacturer indicate as far as expected switch lifetime? I know magnets lose potency over time, so is that the limiting factor?
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Oh man, this is really exciting! I was hoping some manufacturer would try something like this. I am a devout MX red user at the moment, but I really miss the old Microswitch Hall Effect days.

I'd like to see some sort of silencing technology applied to these though. That really seems like the only deficiency of an otherwise terrific product. Oh, and I could do without the RGB LED nonsense, but at least it can be turned off.

One thing I'm curious about though. From what I've read elsewhere, old school Hall Effect switches had a slight tactility to them because of the variable resistance of the magnet as it went through its stroke cycle. Is that sort of effect at all noticeable with these Chinese switches?
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Techno Trousers wrote:What does the manufacturer indicate as far as expected switch lifetime? I know magnets lose potency over time, so is that the limiting factor?

IIRC they gave a really conservative 50 million strokes. I don't know why this is - I'll ask! Moreover, since every single component is trivially replaceable (the sliders pop out easily with two clips and the sensors are straightforward surface mount parts).
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Interesting. Butt-ugly in every way but I still want to feel it.

What sort of price range are they looking at?
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zslane wrote:I'd like to see some sort of silencing technology applied to these though. That really seems like the only deficiency of an otherwise terrific product.

I agree! The manufacturer is already working on an updated slider with upstroke silencing after my feedback, it should be ready later this month. It would be pretty easy to silence the downstroke with an O-ring on the PCB around the spring. This will become more clear as I post more photos later on.
zslane wrote:Oh, and I could do without the RGB LED nonsense, but at least it can be turned off.

Yep, Fn+PrtSc turns the LEDs right off.
zslane wrote:One thing I'm curious about though. From what I've read elsewhere, old school Hall Effect switches had a slight tactility to them because of the variable resistance of the magnet as it went through its stroke cycle. Is that sort of effect at all noticeable with these Chinese switches?

I really can't notice it at all. I think there are two reasons for this:

1. The magnets in these sliders are tiny neodymium magnets that are much stronger than the soft ferrous magnets in Micro Switch mechanisms.

2. With Micro Switch, the magnet slid past the sensors. With this design, the magnet slides down onto it.

Though, I have a few old school Micro Switch boards here and I can't notice any tactility there either.
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fohat wrote:Interesting. Butt-ugly in every way but I still want to feel it.

Yeah, the aesthetics are a little polarizing. Some folks really like the white on bamboo look, some don't. The sliders do sit on top of the body. Perhaps a later revision could have a lip that goes around all the keys, more like Costar boards.

The ABS body is much more conservative as are the black key caps, like this board which should be in my hands tomorrow:

Image

Remember, backlighting can be deactivated, and key caps can be replaced easily. The manufacturer has a whole bunch of key cap options available. I'm just providing a sampling here.
fohat wrote:What sort of price range are they looking at?

That's still under review. Perhaps just under $100 for group buy pricing. This depends on a bunch of variables, I don't want to commit to a specific price point yet. Realistically I see it being between $99 and $149, maybe less.
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Fascinating! I've recently started appreciating linear switches (on behalf of a G80-1000), so this is definitely something I'll be looking out for.
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So, there it finally is! Nice review :) .

I'm definitely interested in one of these, I'd really like doing a review on them. My main concern actually is the keycaps here, as the rest of the board seems solid, but the caps are unbelievably ugly. You say they are interchangeable; are you certain? I found that the caps on my Lingbao, which I think are from the same OEM, aren't actually Cherry-compatible. Do we know yet what kind of alternatives they offer?
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macboarder wrote:Fascinating! I've recently started appreciating linear switches (on behalf of a G80-1000), so this is definitely something I'll be looking out for.

Certainly! The 70g are fine for me. The keyboards arriving tomorrow - my other TKL and my 60% - will have 50g springs. It is easy - but really tedious! - to switch spring weights.

It's possible that a future revision of the board will have tactile or clicky key action by incorporating an Alps style leaf spring. There is certainly space to put one in. But, it would require a complete slider re-design and new molds so I don't see this happening before the middle of next year.

Speaking of configuration - it is possible to select the exact actuation point by changing a resistor value on the board. We're still thinking through ways to offer adjustable actuation heights without sacrificing waterproof operation.

The keyboards as they are right now are really very good but I'm also excited about the possibilities of using this technology in other boards. PCBs are easy enough to make and the key switch design works naturally with laser cut plates.
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Chyros wrote:So, there it finally is! Nice review :) .

Thanks! I've got lots more to say about the photos in the links above but that will need to wait until the kids are asleep.
Chyros wrote:I'm definitely interested in one of these, I'd really like doing a review on them. My main concern actually is the keycaps here, as the rest of the board seems solid, but the caps are unbelievably ugly. You say they are interchangeable; are you certain? I found that the caps on my Lingbao, which I think are from the same OEM, aren't actually Cherry-compatible. Do we know yet what kind of alternatives they offer?

The key caps and mounts are standard Cherry style OEM profile. They'll take any key cap set. If you really want I can get a photo with a different key set. Or I might leave this for another reviewer to do. :-) All the key cap spacings are totally standard, any old Cherry MX key set with the correct modifier row will work.

But while we're here let me call attention to this fact of manufacturing: the main thing that these folks do is (a) develop the Hall mechanism and key switch slider molds, (b) do laser cutting, and (c) get other off the shelf parts - cables, key caps - to finish the board. If you look around you'll see these same caps on loads of other Chinese boards. The legends are kind of junk, but they're cheap, and common.

So, if you really don't like the key caps very much, a barebones option with no key caps might be best for you. 8-) They might be able to source other key caps but I have not asked. I wouldn't mind trying a set of POM caps on this board.

Maybe I'll dig up my Vortex thick PBT + POM caps and toss them on the black board when it comes in.
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I like where this is headed, for sure. Color me very interested in a future tactile bump version, especially if the feel of ergo clears can be closely mimicked.

Final question for now: will they be selling a full-size model? My wife absolutely insists on it, and she really perked up at the waterproof aspect (she's destroyed a couple of keyboards in the past due to spills). :oops:
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Techno Trousers wrote:[W]ill they be selling a full-size model? My wife absolutely insists on it, and she really perked up at the waterproof aspect (she's destroyed a couple of keyboards in the past due to spills). :oops:

Yes. 60%, TKL, and full size variants are available in all materials (bamboo, acrylic, ABS). Here's a full size bamboo board going to another forum member:

Image

The manufacturer warns that bamboo is the least waterproof option at the moment because the bamboo is raw and untreated. We're looking into some ways to seal the bamboo so that it stands up to water and doesn't warp or otherwise change any dimensions. If waterproofing is a primary concern I'd suggest acrylic or ABS for now.

The manufacturer provided this photo of underwater operation:

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If one of these is going to be given the priviledge of holding my Round 6 Space Cadet keyset, then it must have a 108-key format, not 104. I hope that could be an option too some day.

Oh, and thumbs up on the barebones option.
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zslane wrote:If one of these is going to be given the priviledge of holding my Round 6 Space Cadet keyset, then it must have a 108-key format, not 104. I hope that could be an option too some day.

I don't know if you mean 104-key with media keys above the numpad, or ISO. The former, I can ask about but it should be doable with a slight PCB spin. The latter, ISO is certainly an option now.

Yes, I too thought of making a recreation Space Cadet keyboard using these switches and 7bit's key caps. I've got higher hopes for matt3o's project since it looks like it will have an even better profile!
zslane wrote:Oh, and thumbs up on the barebones option.

We'll make it happen. :)
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Wow, that's fantastic! How much did they cost you?
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scottc wrote:Wow, that's fantastic! How much did they cost you?

Something like $100 shipped. But again, pricing is (surprisingly!) complicated. I'll target about that same price point for an eventual group buy.
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Interesting, thanks for your review. Now that I have seen it I almost regret turning you down on that review offer.
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seebart wrote:Interesting, thanks for your review. Now that I have seen it I almost regret turning you down on that review offer.

Though I don't see any big changes coming from the current crop of review boards before a group buy, I'll keep you - and Chyros - in mind for a future review round. (To be clear: all the reviewers paid full price for their boards and will get to keep them.)

The current plan is to wait until the reviewers get their boards, to see if any more feedback trickles in, and to work with the manufacturer on pricing, options, time lines, future updates, and other such details. At the same time I'm exploring a few different options for a group buy or some other way to make these available for sale.
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OK thanks, I'm looking foreward to the coming reviews.
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Yes, I meant four keys above the numpad. I've posted my render of what the Space Cadet set will look like on my white Varmilo VA108 countless times already, so I won't repost it here. But the extra four keys provide a place to put the roman numeral keys, and really helps sell the concept visually.

Oh, and can I please put in my vote for both black and off-white cases? Black is fine most of the time, I suppose, but there are just some keysets that don't look right on a black keyboard.

Matt3o's M3 keys should be pretty nifty on these switches for sure. I wonder which will be available to the public first...
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zslane wrote:Oh, and can I please put in my vote for both black and off-white cases? Black is fine most of the time, I suppose, but there are just some keysets that don't look right on a black keyboard.

I'll ask, but I don't see why the ABS cases wouldn't be available in a bunch of colors. There may be a minimum order for a particular color.

The photo of the keyboard in the fish tank above had a white body.
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Interesting, thanks for your work on this. Can you compare smoothness to MX Black (modern, vintage), Gateron Black, and/or Micro Switch? How are off-center key presses? Any chance for a heavier weight? Consistency of feel between switches? Cases look a little iffy, what are the feet like? I feel like I'd want an anchor for a case for Hall Effect.
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Wilkie wrote:Can you compare smoothness to MX Black (modern, vintage), Gateron Black, and/or Micro Switch?

The switches are extremely smooth. The slider and the housing for the slider are both polycarbonate I think (I'll ask). The tradeoff is tolerance: the key caps wiggle a little more than Cherry MX at the top of the stroke.

They are smoother than modern MX black, maybe about as smooth as Gateron Black, and a little less smooth than vintage MX black or Micro Switch. They're comparable to Micro Switch in feel - it's all a (relatively) giant slider moving against a housing, not a tiny slider moving along a cam follower.

Stabilized keys are less smooth due to the use of Cherry style stabilizers.

These photos should make it a little easier to conceptualize what is going on:

Image
Board with key caps removed.

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Detail of under side of key cap, with key cap removed.

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Detail of spring assembly with slider removed.

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Straight down view. The magnet is the silver disc inside the slider. The Hall sensor is on the other side of the PCB.

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Slider and housing detail.

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Hall sensor (HAL) and LED on back side of board. The clear housing clips to the left and right of the Hall sensor are visible.
Wilkie wrote:How are off-center key presses?

Fine. I can't get them to bind. You do get more friction with off center key presses.
Wilkie wrote:Any chance for a heavier weight?

There is room for a pretty good sized spring. They are maybe double the diameter of Cherry MX springs (since they have to leave space in the middle for a magnet) and the same height. I'll ask, it should be possible to go as heavy or light as you want - or even ergo weighting - with just a spring swap.
Wilkie wrote:Consistency of feel between switches?

This is limited by the consistency of the springs, which is to say it's quite good. The stabilized keys are a little heavier due to stabilizer friction.
Wilkie wrote:Cases look a little iffy, what are the feet like?

Heh. This ... is currently a weak point. So, by design, these boards are made of layers of bamboo or acrylic sandwiched together. The feet are just a couple of extra bars of whatever material tacked on. See, for example, my 60% board:

Image

(Note, too, the engraved DT logo and my username in the Technic font.)

Some folks - like myself - just remove the bars and stick on some rubber feet of whatever height. I'll work with them to see if they can offer different screw lengths to allow users to select different heights.

This photo shows better how everything is assembled:

Image
Wilkie wrote:I feel like I'd want an anchor for a case for Hall Effect.

I asked about CNC aluminum cases. Anything is possible but at current this is not an option.
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Love that there are people working on more switch variety and would definitely participate in a group buy for probably a 60% if the price is around $100.
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My 60% board should be here tomorrow. I'll let you know what I think of it when it arrives! I posted the back side above, here's the front.

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