[Review] Filco Minila Air

I finally got the chance to test the controversial Filco Minila Air. I purchased it on Keyboard Co, I'm giving them kudos because I ordered it yesterday afternoon and I received it today in the morning.

The box is standard Filco design. The keyboard feels light from the box (compared to a TKL Filco), but when you open it you realize how small this keyboard is and for such a tiny board it's darn SOLID!

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Let me stress on this. The keyboard is incredibly firm, solid and compact. Poker, HHKB or realforce are put to shame here. No cracking, no moving parts, no loose or rantling bits. This is seriously a one sturdy wall of caps. The only keyboard I've tried more solid than this is the Duckmini v2 which is a 2kg block of aluminum.

I'm not a big fan of the case design, but I must say that in person is not that bad. I can't say I like the upper part of the case, but looking at it on my desktop it looks totally adorable and I think I can live happily with weird edgy design.

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On the bottom you get the rubbed feet, on/off button and the button to pair the bluetooth.

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Connection to PC has been super easy. I have a very good bluetooth dongle on my PC (later I'll try it on Mac) and connection is one of the best I've seen for a keyboard so far. Sincerely I cannot perceive any kind of delay/lag/clogging, and believe me, I'm pretty anal about these things. Compared to an Apple wireless keyboard (connected to a Macbook pro) I'd say the Minila has half the lag.

This is probably due to various factors:
- my bluetooth module sticks out the PC and unlike a laptop it doesn't get interference from the wifi, cpu, etc...
- as I said, I have a very good bluetooth receiver
- hopefully Filco did their homeworks very well and they know that you can't pair a lousy wireless module with a super powered mechanical keyboard

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The keycaps are pretty standard. ABS, pad printed, slightly satin and very thin. It's clear that the legends will wear quickly and the caps overall feels a bit "light". They are definitely not as thick as SA or DSA profiles.

Unfortunately there's no keycap set on Earth that covers 100% of the Minila layout. Only Round 5 goes very close (but you still miss the two 1.25u spacebars).

I've got the MX Blue variant (of course), and the typing experience is sublime. I also have a Filco TKL with blues, but I don't know why this feels slightly better. The key presses are light and deliciously clicky. Maybe it's just because the switches are new or maybe I'm just too accustomed to 55gr Topres.

The problem is of course the weird layout.

First issue is the very small spacebar especially on the left. I actually found out that I use the spacebar almost exclusively with the right hand, so this is not a big issue. Actually it's not an issue at all, at least 99% of the times.

It rarely happens that I try to press the spacebar with the left thumb and I end up on the FN key instead. It is true that you can set the left FN to act as a spacebar, but the left thumb position actually ends up between the two keys (the FN on the left and the spacebar on the right) so anyway it's pretty uncomfortable. That being said, this is not enough to make the Minila a no-go.

Second issue is the .25 off staggering of the 4th row. I thought it would have been tough to get used to it, but actually just after 30mins my fingers adapted to the slight difference in key positions.

Third issue tiny weeny backspace. The backspace is too far away to the right to be comfortably reached. I always press the backspace to the left side. This can be easily overcome by switching the backspace and the |\ key (that can be done thanks to the dipswitch on the back of the board). Some of my custom keyboards have the BS in place of the |\ already, so I'm already used to it. Also, I believe that the location of the BS should be just above Enter by default. It's the easiest keyboard design mod to adapt to.

Forth issue, the tiny right shift. I use it a lot, many say they never use the right shift but I actually use it for some of the right hand punctuation. There's nothing we can do about it. It's slightly annoying but not a deal breaker.

Lastly the FN layer. End and Home are on < and K, PgUp/Down on L and >. I use them so much for coding and that position is a nonsense to me. The minila has an arrow cluster, why they didn't place end/home/pgup/pgdown on the arrows is totally out of my understanding. If you don't take advantage of the arrow cluster in the FN layer is almost useless to have an arrow cluster at all. This is a real shame, I could have used the Manila as a daily driver...

I thought this would have been a toy keyboard to dismantled to get the wireless controller if I didn't like it. Instead it's a great compact mechanical keyboard.

My wife uses a wacom tablet and she needs a small and wireless keyboard to be able to easily switch from kb to tablet or to be able to use tablet and kb together. Well so far she was forced to use shitty Microsoft of Logitech keyboards, from now on she enjoys the power of MX Blue.

Unfortunately I can't use it for serious work, but it's a 100% legitimate wireless companion. If you do not plan to change keycaps the weird layout is not enough to discard this little beauty.

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Edit: Battery life is approx 3 months with moderate usage.
Last edited by matt3o on 06 Jul 2014, 18:43, edited 1 time in total.
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Unread post29 Nov 2013, 15:17

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Nice review, thanks! I've become increasingly frustrated with the trailing wire on my current main keyboard (I often move it around to clear desk space), so this might fit the bill. I don't have much experience of BT keyboards, but the one I use with my tablet takes time to wake up and there's a definite need to make a keypress before starting to type on it. The Filco runs off a couple of batteries, yes?
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Unread post29 Nov 2013, 15:55

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nathanscribe wrote:Nice review, thanks! I've become increasingly frustrated with the trailing wire on my current main keyboard (I often move it around to clear desk space), so this might fit the bill. I don't have much experience of BT keyboards, but the one I use with my tablet takes time to wake up and there's a definite need to make a keypress before starting to type on it. The Filco runs off a couple of batteries, yes?

2 batteries yes. I will update with battery usage info, but the keyboard seems to be pretty aggressive. It has almost no lag and it doesn't go to sleep easily. This probably will translate into a higher power drain, but anyway I'll keep you posted about that.
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Home/end/page up/page down are weird, because they are like the HHKB Pro. But if they wanna be like that, why not put the arrows in the layer as well so all movement is done like that. And if they didn't want to be like that, why not stuff 'em under the arrow keys like matt3o suggested? Seems sort of half-assed. Now if you want to go to the end of a line in your editor and move the cursor three characters back, you have to use both design solutions.
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webwit wrote:Home/end/page up/page down are weird, because they are like the HHKB Pro. But if they wanna be like that, why not put the arrows in the layer as well so all movement is done like that. And if they didn't want to be like that, why not stuff 'em under the arrow keys like matt3o suggested? Seems sort of half-assed. Now if you want to go to the end of a line in your editor and move the cursor three characters back, you have to use both design solutions.

exactly my point. They decided to add the arrow cluster because they are boobies and they don't have the guts for a real compact keyboard. Okay, I can live with that... but if you really want an arrow cluster... use it FGS!
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webwit wrote:Home/end/page up/page down are weird, because they are like the HHKB Pro. But if they wanna be like that, why not put the arrows in the layer as well so all movement is done like that. And if they didn't want to be like that, why not stuff 'em under the arrow keys like matt3o suggested? Seems sort of half-assed. Now if you want to go to the end of a line in your editor and move the cursor three characters back, you have to use both design solutions.

matt3o wrote:exactly my point. They decided to add the arrow cluster because they are boobies and they don't have the guts for a real compact keyboard. Okay, I can live with that... but if you really want an arrow cluster... use it FGS!

Oh, hell no! Having home/end/pgup/pgdn as a layer behind the cursor keys means you're constantly flapping away at Fn to get at them, when doing anything other than trivial navigation. It's the worst possible way to do it, IMO ('it' being to cram nav. into the main block). At least their way, you can just hold Fn and access all the nav. keys.

But why they've chosen ESDF and not IJKL for the layered cursors is beyond me... muscle memory means cursing is right handed!

Still, glad to hear the build quality is good! I might get one for infrequent use (PS3/phone) - I guess I could live with both shifts being single key size on the UK layout version, just :?

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As it is now it is impossible to use seriously for coding. At least this is my experience. But it's still a nice allaround wireless keyboard, actually the only wireless mechanical you can easily get at a decent price :)
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Almost matrix layout,not standart staggering :?
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High build quality is definitely a plus. I'm no fan of crammed arrow keys into the 60% block, but if I was I think I'd be on Matt's side: the Fn+Up = Page Up etc. mapping is deep in my memory after 10 years on Macs. After a few weeks with my own 60% though, the straight HHKB style function layer is really growing on me. Once you're using the alphas themselves, why not have nav keys beside the arrows instead of "behind" them.

The Filco I'm looking forward to is the Bluetooth MJ3 Air TKL! But I'm just as interested in whatever Matt gets up to with that Bluetooth controller, unless his wife's taken over this one!
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Muirium wrote:High build quality is definitely a plus. I'm no fan of crammed arrow keys into the 60% block, but if I was I think I'd be on Matt's side: the Fn+Up = Page Up etc. mapping is deep in my memory after 10 years on Macs. After a few weeks with my own 60% though, the straight HHKB style function layer is really growing on me. Once you're using the alphas themselves, why not have nav keys beside the arrows instead of "behind" them.

the idea would be to have both, not this hybrid...
Muirium wrote:The Filco I'm looking forward to is the Bluetooth MJ3 Air TKL! But I'm just as interested in whatever Matt gets up to with that Bluetooth controller, unless his wife's taken over this one!

she is using it right now but she says that she misses the right ctrl (she uses the mouse with the left hand)... so maybe I'll end up opening it after all.
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I have a quick unpleasant update.

The bluetooth connection seems to have some hiccups on Linux (resuming from sleep particularly). I have to dig deeper into the problem, I hope it's just a configuration issue on my rig but if I can't fix it, the keyboard will end up in the classified. I'm really sorry because it was growing on me. The overall feel is fantastic.
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If you're using Ubuntu, it's very well possible that Bluez is the problem. It's rumored that the authors of that project seem to do a terrible job of documenting their changes and API, so distributors just try to play with it till it works and then stay away from it, resulting in a half-broken setup.

I have the same problem when I use a bluetooth mouse, going to sleep makes it impossible to keep using it without a reboot.
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Thanks for the review. I notice Mac OSX symbols on the front of Win/Alt keys; is that standard or did you have to select a specific model to get that?
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fifkikker wrote:Thanks for the review. I notice Mac OSX symbols on the front of Win/Alt keys; is that standard or did you have to select a specific model to get that?

standard.
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just curious.
what's the size of the space bar? 2.5u or 3.0u?
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bianco wrote:just curious.
what's the size of the space bar? 2.5u or 3.0u?

3u
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matt3o wrote:
bianco wrote:just curious.
what's the size of the space bar? 2.5u or 3.0u?

3u

thank you matt3o
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I just want to update the bluetooth situation on linux.

It seems that with a little hack it is possible to have it working. I'll give you a confirmation in a week or so if the problem doesn't arise again.
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Im using the minila with ubuntu and I had similar issues when my machine went to sleep mode.

Moreover I had some issues on startup where the keyboard would not pair.

Tried a couple different things but in the end the problem was the cheap bluetooth dongle I got from the keyboardco along with keyboard. I have not had any issues since.

As for the battery life for me its about a month with 10+ hours/day

No issues when pairing with OSX iOS
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bvtton wrote:As for the battery life for me its about a month with 10+ hours/day

that's not bad. Not on par with logitech's 4+ months but still bearable
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matt3o wrote:
bvtton wrote:As for the battery life for me its about a month with 10+ hours/day

that's not bad. Not on par with logitech's 4+ months but still bearable

batteries should probably last even more than that, this was my first month of use so I kept pairing the keyboard with different machines all the time throughout the month, also I often forgot to turn the keyboard off when carrying it around and it is possible that the keys were accidentally pressed while carrying it which did not allow the board to go to sleep mode. Still I agree with you a month of battery life is okayish.
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Unread post08 Dec 2013, 20:51

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wow, i love those engraved cmd and option keys.
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batteries still running strong after 1 month. I believe I can expect 1.8/2 months life, which is not bad at all. This is now my wife's daily driver and she doesn't let me go close to it (because she knows I wanted to dismantle it). I'd say she uses the keyboard 50% less than I do, so if I had to use it the battery would last 1 months, maybe 1.2.

That being said unfortunately we still have troubles with bluetooth and linux. I tried to get a BT4 dongle hoping it solves all the issues (the keyboard is 3.0, my current bt dongle is 2.1). I'll keep you posted, I should get it in few days.
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I finally got a BT 4.0 dongle and I'm glad to report that I have no more issues whatsoever with the BT connection.

Batteries still going strong. Possibly they will exceed the 2 months milestone. I'll keep you posted.
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Thanks for this review matt3o. I'm looking at this keyboard with insistance, as I already have a KBT Pure Pro and am OK with it's layout and the Minila basically made the same compromises. I would need another board for the road, so...
matt3o wrote:I have a very good bluetooth dongle on my PC (later I'll try it on Mac)

Did you get a chance to test you Minila with a Mac ? Any Bluetooth (or any other) issues?
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I've been using built in Bluetooth (first on my PowerBook) since 2003, and a couple of Belkin dongles over the years on desktop Macs too, and I've never had any stability problems with any peripheral I've thrown at them. I expect it'll be fine. That's the "one driver" approach that Apple uses, as they control the hardware and don't care about third parties having an easy time making dongles! On Linux, you have a lot more moving pieces.
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guillaume kuster wrote:Did you get a chance to test you Minila with a Mac ? Any Bluetooth (or any other) issues?

yes, I tried it on my macbook air (latest gen) that should have a BT4.0 and I had no issues with that. I guess any PC equipped with BT 3.0 and up would do. My dongle was BT2.1 and I had a lot of troubles with it despite being a very high quality module. Once I switched to a BT4 dongle I had no problem whatsoever.
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It'll be the dongle's driver. My PowerBook is Bluetooth 1 and works fine with a Magic Mouse and every Bluetooth keyboard that I've had through the years. And this G4 iMac here has a Bluetooth 2 dongle from Belkin for many years, which has been similarly spotless. Drivers are one of those things you never notice until they go wrong.
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Not sure about that. It might be a linux issue, but with the same drivers BT2.1 wasn't working while BT4 has no problem. So it might be also a problem of implementation of the protocol on the Minila side. BTW, on Mac I have no issues and usually on Mac either it just works or it just doesn't :)
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