[Photos] ThinkPad Keyboards and Switches

Over the years people who've known me given me old ThinkPads, and other ones have been sniped on ebay when cheap enough--and in one rare instance the ebay seller gave me extra stuff after the auction ended! If he would have listed the whole lot of ThinkPad stuff there's no way I'd have gotten it as cheap as I did.

It's occurred to me I've amassed quite a stash; so why not photograph all of their keyboards and switches. I'll be rating them out of 10; with '10' being the best feeling for a *ThinkPad* keyboard and not in general to all switches. Sadly (but maybe a good thing) I don't own every ThinkPad in existence so I won't be able to cover them all.


#1 ThinkPad 701C
Keyboard manufacturer: Keytronic
Rating: 1/10

The ThinkPad 701C has the famous and lauded 'TrackWrite' keyboard that folds out. There are some things that nobody mentions as they get too distracted by the novelty; first and foremost the rubber cups that Keytronic made SUCK. Each key feels like there's a haribo gummy bear underneath it. I'm really not a fan of Keytronic but this puts salt in the wound. I know of no other ThinkPad that has a Keytronic keyboard, the reason IBM probably had them make it was due to the fold out mechanism--which over time can start to get stiff and not fold out properly (needs oil), when that happens and you FORCE the lid too hard, you risk of exploding the 701C apart, not that I'd have any personal experience with that (heh).

Folded:
Image
Unfolded:
Image
Switch exposed:
Image

You may be wondering: perhaps it's just the specific 701C keyboard that I have? Sadly I own 10 examples of the 701C keyboard, some NOS, some worn down with shiny keys-- they all suck. My theory is that the rubber just hasn't aged well.

Some of the 701C TPs I had in storage are now growing mold, yummy!
Image

Spoiler:
I had the keyboard held together with a piece of tape, halfway through the tape pulled apart and I got this psychadelic photo in mid-shot while the keyboard was unfurling.
Image



#2 UltraNav SK-8835 / SK-8845
Keyboard manufacturer: LITE-ON
Rating: 5/10

This keyboard falls under two sides of the spectrum, some absolutely hate it because (and I agree) it really doesn't feel like typing on a ThinkPad, whereas others are fine with it and enjoy the layout with the added bonus of a TrackPoint. Although this TrackPoint isn't an IBM implementation but instead Synaptics TouchStyk. Coincidentally some ThinkPads (like the Lenovo cheapie E series) use TouchStyks but that's a whole other topic not pertinent to keyboards. The best I can describe it is likened to a stiffer Chicony ThinkPad keyboard, users who favour Chicony ThinkPad keyboards would probably love this.

Image

I've not removed a cap because these are possibly the most difficult scissor keycaps to put back on, it requires careful alignment and bending of each 'scissor'. Really horrible stuff, took me 10 minutes to put one back on after I accidentally popped it off--this was at work too so it was even more annoying.
Spoiler:
Since I am a 'caps lock toggler', I have managed to make the caps lock key on one of these keyboards shiny:
Image



#3 Late Z / T series
Keyboard manufacturer: NMB (Minebea)
Rating: 8/10

The later NMB ThinkPad switches have less travel it seems--it feels like the switch bottoms out quicker than I want. Otherwise they're identical to earlier ones.

Image


#4 Late Z / T series
Keyboard manufacturer: ALPS
Rating: 7/10

The late ALPS ThinkPad keyboards are great, but not as good as the NMB self-encapsulating mechanism. One thing they do have over the NMB keyboards are *far* better TrackPoint buttons and a more accurate 'IBM blue' injection on the Enter key (not that anyone would care, though).

Image


#5 iSeries ThinkPad
Keyboard manufacturer: Acer
Rating: 6/10

Possibly the only good laptop that the Acer corporation manufactured haha. These keyboards are typical scissor switches but Acer did a good job to IBM-spec. Miles ahead Keytronic's 701C abomination sadly.

Image
Image
The rubber domes are actually individual and not part of a whole membrane-- so you have to readjust them after pulling off a keycap otherwise it'll hit the dome off-centre and it then we start reaching haribo territory again.


#6 T4x Series
Keyboard manufacturer: ALPS
Rating: 9/10

Oooooh boy. The early design that ALPS made for IBM was really something, it feels (in my opinion) better than the NMB mechanism --AND-- the ThinkPad buttons are super clicky and not mushy. It's basically everything you'd want in a modern-ish ThinkPad keyboard.

Image
You can see some (what appears to be) solder joints. Yeah... ALPS really outdid themselves, pity they cheapened out on the keyboards after the T43...


#7 WorkPad Z50
Keyboard manufacturer: unknown as I've never taken it apart (maybe LITE-ON or Chicony)
Rating: 6.5 / 10

This one is a little arcane as it was a failed product. Hailed as the ultimate Windows CE computer, it has audio jacks, a VGA connector for a second external display, a docking port, and loads of other things you'd never consider for CE. It even has a *drum roll* roll cage like some of the golden era ThinkPads, but unlike the golden era ThinkPads the WorkPad can run off of AAs if you so desire; of course a necessity now since the original batteries are weak. The keyboard is great, standard scissor but of good quality; feels like an improved LITE-ON.

Image
Image

Spoiler:
Every time I look at this thing or use it I cannot stop laughing, it's awkward, bizarre, silly and so ridiculously over-powered for the CE platform. POWERED BY MICROSOFT WINDOWS CE!
Image
What a waste of R&D to develop a product that's unsure of its own identity... but I'm very happy it exists. :0)



#8 ThinkPad 850 / 360PE
Keyboard manufacturer: Lexmark
Rating: 10 / 10

My goodness... these early Lexmark ThinkPad keyboards are something else. Firstly let's talk about the key cap finish: Lexmark got the ratio of texture and smoothness down to a science. You can feel a slight texture but at the same time it's super creamy. The legends are the 'hard-core' printed style-- that kind of printing that never seems to wear off, unlike the M13.

There's something else I want to mention, the buckling rubber cups used are a lot different than the ones Keytronic used. Lexmark made the shape like a cone opening up rather than closing-- so the way the Keytronic ones collapse doesn't 'buckle' in the same manner as Lexmark's. I imagine this mechanism was borrowed from the L40 SX / M4-1.

Image
Image
Image
Image

Beautiful integrated numpad legends, event printed on the tiny edges:
Image


#9 TransNote
Keyboard manufacturer: NMB (Minebea)
Rating: 8.5 / 10

The TransNote features a very early NMB implementation (possibly the first series when they started making them for IBM, not sure). Classic ThinkPad feel, can't go wrong.

Image
Image



Aaand that's all I've got (for now).
Happy holidays.
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Unread post25 Dec 2016, 19:42

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Great comparison, thanks for sharing.
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Unread post25 Dec 2016, 19:57

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Now I’ll have to chase and test some of these :)
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Unread post25 Dec 2016, 22:04

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Oh that's some awesome information, both the objective and subjective parts. Thanks for posting.
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Unread post25 Dec 2016, 22:19

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Wow, thanks for sharing. How would you say the most recent Thinkpad keyboards compare to these? And maybe the last generation of the classic keyboard?
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Unread post25 Dec 2016, 22:45

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Oh, so the TrackWrite was made by Key Tronic. :O That makes two different keyboards from Key Tronic that have been called "Butterfly". The first instance was marketing for their light linear foam-and-foil switch.

BTW, there is only a stub available for ThinkPad keyboard in the Wiki.
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Unread post26 Dec 2016, 01:04

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Fuck you Google for ruining YouTube!
vivalarevolución wrote:Wow, thanks for sharing. How would you say the most recent Thinkpad keyboards compare to these? And maybe the last generation of the classic keyboard?

This is my take on it after having used a bunch of the newer Lenovo machines (again there'll be some personal bias since I'm fairly picky).

My favourite of the post-IBM ThinkPad keyboards would be the 'red rubber bumper' X300 keyboards; those feel great but I never looked up who made them. This is (in my opinion) the best ThinkPad keyboard Lenovo has released to date. And I can guarantee there's others who feel the same.

Now onto the issues of the newer Lenovo keyboards.
  • Modified layouts. Lenovo just couldn't help themselves from modifying the standard ThinkPad layout (which in all honesty is almost as good as the 84-key SSK layout). So on the T420 they did something stupid and enlarged the delete and esc keys. Some may not mind it, but it screws with my touch typing when I'm expecting a consistently sized key.
  • Removal of the integrated numpad, LED indicators and dedicated audio buttons; why??? People who use a ThinkPad typically want those features.
  • Push to copy other OEMs with ultimately chiclet keys with a low travel

That aside, what are some positives about the Lenovo TP keyboards? Well the new chiclet keyboards do still feel better than HP, Dell or Apple--and the TrackPoint is just as usable as it was on the old machines, if not more-so. But there's a catch, if you don't order the backlit keyboard you'll end up with a very cruddy feeling switch. For whatever reason Lenovo has reduced the switch feel on the non-backlit keyboards dramatically. Fortunately the coating that's etched away for the backlit legends has a very soft feeling so you get something ironically similar to the original vintage Lexmark keyboards.

I find that sometimes my fingers are prone to pressing multiple keys by accident on the Lenovo keyboards because the keys are so shallow and don't have defined ridges, not to mention the smaller travel distance doesn't help. I'm sure if I were to force myself to type on it every day I could eventually master them. But that's actually terrible for touch typing since you're compromising your muscle memory to something unnatural.

TLDR: Lenovo ThinkPad keyboards are still the best of the competition, but are less accurate and don't have as much travel distance as the original ThinkPads.
Findecanor wrote:Oh, so the TrackWrite was made by Key Tronic. :O That makes two different keyboards from Key Tronic that have been called "Butterfly". The first instance was marketing for their light linear foam-and-foil switch.

BTW, there is only a stub available for ThinkPad keyboard in the Wiki.

That's funny, Foam 'n Foil... that foam is delicate stuff. Especially on the Apple Lisa keyboards where you have to replace it.

I've never used the Deskthority Wiki before; is it similar to Wikipedia? Definitely wouldn't mind updating it since a lot of these switches are known to ThinkPads users verbatim via word of mouth.
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Unread post26 Dec 2016, 02:29

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Thanks for the response! The Thinkpad keyboards are still one of the best, if not the best when it comes to laptop keyboards (most laptop keyboards awful, so they are not hard to beat). Much has been said about the new style Thinkpad keyboard compared to the classic Thinkpad keyboard. I actually like the key feel on the newer Thinkpad keyboards better than the old ones, as the new keyboards feel snappier (although shallower). But the other aspects of the classic Thinkpad (audio buttons, integrated numpad, indicator lights, key travel, key style and size) were wonderful and I miss them, and I like the giant Esc and Delete keys on the T420.

Besides modernizing the design of the keyboards to mimic the competition, I also think they had to make a more compact keyboard for the ever shrinking size of laptops these days. The traditional vertical length and key travel simply were too big for modern laptops. I'm typing this on a Yoga 260 right now and there is basically no way that an old Thinkpad keyboard with the extra row for audio keys and full nav cluster would fit on this laptop.

Alas, that is the laptop world these days and it comes with many pros and cons.
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Unread post26 Dec 2016, 15:17

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micrex22 wrote:I've never used the Deskthority Wiki before; is it similar to Wikipedia? Definitely wouldn't mind updating it since a lot of these switches are known to ThinkPads users verbatim via word of mouth.

Yes, it uses the same wiki software (MediaWiki) as Wikipedia, which is used by many wikis, so it is easy to just google for help about how to write non-trivial things such as tables and whatnot.
We try to reference and provide links to sources as well as possible but there is no silly rule against original research: it is written by collectors, self-proclaimed experts in this (nerdy) field after all.
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Blue colored enter key thinkpads were a reason alone for me to buy their laptops. Ever since they changed to Lenovo's chicklet style keys, I changed. Tried it, it's OK but nowhere near the goodness of original thinkpads.
I like this thinkpad project, those were the state of the art regarding thin and lightweight laptops! (Dolch and others heavy transportables have real mechanical switches though!)
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Unread post27 Dec 2016, 09:57

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wow,great switches comparison! I should note it!
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I'm extremely tempted to get a ThinkPad. I use Linux at home but I bought a Macbook Pro about 3 years ago. Although lots of people dual-boot Linux on Macbooks, it's not really for me. I get the impression that Macbooks just don't like running Linux very much at all. Broadcom Wifi, difficulties with boot, difficulties with Retina Display, with the trackpad, the keyboard isn't really a friendly layout for Linux, and so on and so on.

But I hear also that ThinkPads are excellent for Linux. They also look like pretty mean machines, and I hear the keyboards are rather good too. How do the more modern ThinkPads compare to the older ones?

Basically: I don't really know where to begin and want something which is a good balance of price, power and a model with an excellent keyboard on it; at least visually, I prefer the older style with the full keycaps to the newer chicklet key style?
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Unread post12 Jan 2017, 23:34

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lancre wrote:I'm extremely tempted to get a ThinkPad. I use Linux at home but I bought a Macbook Pro about 3 years ago. Although lots of people dual-boot Linux on Macbooks, it's not really for me. I get the impression that Macbooks just don't like running Linux very much at all. Broadcom Wifi, difficulties with boot, difficulties with Retina Display, with the trackpad, the keyboard isn't really a friendly layout for Linux, and so on and so on.

But I hear also that ThinkPads are excellent for Linux. They also look like pretty mean machines, and I hear the keyboards are rather good too. How do the more modern ThinkPads compare to the older ones?

Basically: I don't really know where to begin and want something which is a good balance of price, power and a model with an excellent keyboard on it; at least visually, I prefer the older style with the full keycaps to the newer chicklet key style?

The best you'll get with the 'classic' NMB keyboard is a T601 with nvidia graphics (that has the famous problem you may know about), 8 GB of DDR2, and a penryn. You can go past a penryn but you need to mod the RAM...

The last modern lenovo you'll ever get with the final 'classic' keyboard is the X230, and you'll have to do some modifications.
Spoiler:
Image


The modern lenovo keyboards do have different manufacturers. I've confirmed that the LITE-ON made ones (such as for the 540p) feel terrible versus whatever other OEM I got as a replacement that had a black lining on the back; it didn't say who it was. So sadly the newer FRUs do have variances. If you go for a modern chiclet lenovo be aware of the following:
#1 you MUST get the backlit keyboard, the non-backlit ones feel horrid
#2 the travel distance is very low, if you prefer taller keycaps and more travel distance you won't like the chiclets very much
#3 the non-LITE-ON chiclet keyboard FRUs are decently tactile
#4 the layout doesn't jive with those who like the IBM style (re: dedicated volume buttons, media functions on the arrow keys, back/forward buttons near arrow cluster, integrated numpad, 7 rows etc etc etc etc).

I could live with the better FRU lenovo chiclet keyboards if it was mandatory, but why compromise when I have a T601 on hand already; well I actually have two-- one has a neat IPS LED 4:3 backlit display.
Spoiler:
Image


Regarding the reliability of modern lenovo thinkpads... stay away from X1 carbon and ultra thin things if you can. They suffer from motherboard failure and frequent RMAs. Not to mention if you want to fix the mobo, it's harder with all fo the SMT stuff. Not impossible, but hellish. And you might require 10K worth of soldering tools ;)

Honestly, if you just wanted something moderately newer and perhaps to get your first taste of it, an X220 or a modded X230 would be a good start. Or an X260 if you just want to jump ahead with the chiclet keyboard.

I prefer the X series since they're the only things that aren't ridiculously wide
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Unread post14 Jan 2017, 01:51

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lancre wrote:I'm extremely tempted to get a ThinkPad. I use Linux at home but I bought a Macbook Pro about 3 years ago. Although lots of people dual-boot Linux on Macbooks, it's not really for me. I get the impression that Macbooks just don't like running Linux very much at all. Broadcom Wifi, difficulties with boot, difficulties with Retina Display, with the trackpad, the keyboard isn't really a friendly layout for Linux, and so on and so on.

But I hear also that ThinkPads are excellent for Linux. They also look like pretty mean machines, and I hear the keyboards are rather good too. How do the more modern ThinkPads compare to the older ones?

Basically: I don't really know where to begin and want something which is a good balance of price, power and a model with an excellent keyboard on it; at least visually, I prefer the older style with the full keycaps to the newer chicklet key style?

I think Macbooks used to be a very compatible with Linux. The last Macbook I had was a late 2013 Macbook Pro 13 and everything worked fine with Linux, although the Retina screen was a little scrunched. Some people would buy Macbooks over PCs to run Linux because they simply like the machine that much. However, it seems they are making their newer models intentionally incompatible with Linux.

I believe that Lenovo does try to make the Thinkpads easily compatible with Linux and the Arch wiki does have good information on the compatibility of each model. There also are plenty of people posting on forums describing their Linux experience with various Thinkpad models. Thinkpads attract a certain kind of crowd.

Personally, I just transitioned from a T420 to a Yoga 260 within the last month. The newer Thinkpads certainly are thinner and lighter and quieter, have a better screen and speakers and trackpads, more modern I/O and ports, and feel a little faster with better integrated graphics capabilities. On the T420 and older Thinkpads in general, I prefer the beefier build quality, cheaper price, the keyboard layout, keycaps, and key travel (the newer Thinkpads are a little snappier and lighter),and the ease of component modification and upgrades.

However, I don't find that much difference in daily use speed between the two, probably because the T420 has a 35W processor and the newer machines have a lower powered 15W processor to extend battery life. Honestly, if you want a significant speed and power, upgrade to a quad-core machine. The W520 is the last of the W series with the classic keyboard and had various quad core options, even have a 1080p screen option, and you can get those with some decent specifications for a few hundred dollars.

For fun, you can check out this guy talk about Thinkpads: https://youtu.be/doEZMNXz1JY

My advice is just figure out what you want, do some research, and then get one. Guys like micrex22 know a lot more more than me about particular models and generations. Old Thinkpads will always sell on Ebay and you can check the return policy on new Thinkpads. You also can get some deals at the Lenovo Outlet.

Welcome to the cult!
Last edited by vivalarevolución on 14 Jan 2017, 20:49, edited 1 time in total.
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Unread post14 Jan 2017, 20:33

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Aaaaaaand I just looked through the OP again and that Transnote looks downright fun and cute. I would like to get myself one of those, but they don't seem as common as i would like them to be...
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Unread post14 Jan 2017, 20:48

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vivalarevolución wrote:
lancre wrote:I'm extremely tempted to get a ThinkPad. I use Linux at home but I bought a Macbook Pro about 3 years ago. Although lots of people dual-boot Linux on Macbooks, it's not really for me. I get the impression that Macbooks just don't like running Linux very much at all. Broadcom Wifi, difficulties with boot, difficulties with Retina Display, with the trackpad, the keyboard isn't really a friendly layout for Linux, and so on and so on.

But I hear also that ThinkPads are excellent for Linux. They also look like pretty mean machines, and I hear the keyboards are rather good too. How do the more modern ThinkPads compare to the older ones?

Basically: I don't really know where to begin and want something which is a good balance of price, power and a model with an excellent keyboard on it; at least visually, I prefer the older style with the full keycaps to the newer chicklet key style?

I think Macbooks used to be a very compatible with Linux. The last Macbook I had was a late 2013 Macbook Pro 13 and everything worked fine with Linux, although the Retina screen was a little scrunched. Some people would buy Macbooks over PCs to run Linux because they simply like the machine that much. However, it seems they are making their newer models intentionally incompatible with Linux.

I believe that Lenovo does try to make the Thinkpads easily compatible with Linux and the Arch wiki does have good information on the compatibility of each model. There also are plenty of people posting on forums describing their Linux experience with various Thinkpad models. Thinkpads attract a certain kind of crowd.

Personally, I just transitioned from a T420 to a Yoga 260 within the last month. The newer Thinkpads certainly are thinner and lighter and quieter, have a better screen and speakers and trackpads, more modern I/O and ports, and feel a little faster with better integrated graphics capabilities. On the T420 and older Thinkpads in general, I prefer the beefier build quality, cheaper price, the keyboard layout, keycaps, and key travel (the newer Thinkpads are a little snappier and lighter),and the ease of component modification and upgrades.

However, I don't find that much difference in daily use speed between the two, probably because the T420 has a 35W processor and the newer machines have a lower powered 15W processor to extend battery life. Honestly, if you want a significant speed and power, upgrade to a quad-core machine. The W520 is the last of the W series with the classic keyboard and had various quad core options, even have a 1080p screen option, and you can get those with some decent specifications for a few hundred dollars.

For fun, you can check out this guy talk about Thinkpads: https://youtu.be/doEZMNXz1JY

My advice is just figure out what you want, do some research, and then get one. Guys like micrex22 know a lot more more than me about particular models and generations. Old Thinkpads will always sell on Ebay and you can check the return policy on new Thinkpads. You also can get some deals at the Lenovo Outlet.

Welcome to the cult!

I actually installed Linux on the 2013 Macbook and I'm pretty amazed at how well it's doing. The battery life isn't great and it has a few quirks but it basically works, even the screen brightness and the volume buttons work. So that's good.

I think I've decided on the T420, it seems that it's the last generation of ThinkPads before they changed the keyboard, and it's mid way between the X220 and the T520. I'll try and get the 1600 x 900 version of the laptop.

I think it's possible that I'll get the X220 instead of the T420 because the Intel graphics can easily handle an external monitor, so the screen size of the laptop isn't a big deal for me.

What do you think of this one? I saw it and I thought: that's actually in nice condition. The keyboard has almost no shine to it.

https://webshop.cashconverters.co.uk/au...th-charger
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Unread post04 Mar 2017, 21:49

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Hohoho, I bought an X1 carbon, but how long will it take before it arrives?.... :(
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Unread post05 Mar 2017, 16:07

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vivalarevolución wrote:I actually like the key feel on the newer Thinkpad keyboards better than the old ones, as the new keyboards feel snappier (although shallower).

Thought this would be a pertinent update: I happened to have my T601 (with an early NMB keyboard) and a variety of brand new lenovo TPs side-by-side (T460, T560, E570, X1 etc etc etc). I was able to compare the feeling of all the switches.

I've come to this conclusion when using the switches side-by-side and simultaneously. The early NMB keyboards are just as tactile as the "snappiest" modern lenovo keyboards--BUT--have more key travel.
vivalarevolución wrote:Aaaaaaand I just looked through the OP again and that Transnote looks downright fun and cute. I would like to get myself one of those, but they don't seem as common as i would like them to be...

I'm a bit miffed myself, there's some things now which are incredibly difficult to find because it's all long recycled or in the hands of those who resell it with a premium.
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Unread post07 Mar 2017, 08:02

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