[RANT] Cheap-ass laptop keyboards suck harder every year. Why bother?

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depletedvespene

03 Oct 2018, 04:56

My work-issued computer is an old Dell Inspiron laptop. It has served me dutifully in spite of everything, but recently it showed the first signs of imminent death. I backed up everything, started working in what I call "volatile mode" and told my boss about this. Today, I was issued a new laptop — an HP Pavilion 14 kb002-la... seems to be a good enough unit that should be a decent fit for the stuff I do, but its keyboard... GFL.

The Dell Inspiron had the typical (for its time) cheap-ass keyboard: short-travel shirt switches, pad printed lettering over flat low-profile caps, and a 75% layout that is actually good, in spite of a couple quirkinesses to it. Behold:
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Dell Inspiron's 75¼% keyboard.
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The F row has half-height keys... which aren't that bad on the top row. Note there's 17 of them, not 16. They're still 1U wide, so they're slightly closer together and the keyboard is 16.25U wide instead of 16U to accomodate them (look at the Backspace and Enter keys). I would have shortened the space bar by 0.5U on the right to get a better AltGr key, but whatever. My only real complaint, layout-wise, is the lack of the Scroll Lock key.

A poor keyboard, all in all, but bearable on those occasions where I didn't have the silenced WASD keyboard that I got for office usage (and for which I thank Mike every day).

I knew the HP keyboard would be worse, but I didn't expect this level of suckiness. Short-travel shirt-ier switches? No surprise. Worthless lettering? Par for the course. Flat low-profile caps? Show me something that I won't expect. Well... I didn't expect this piece of buffoonery!
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HP Pavilion 14 kb002-la's keyboard.
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It's a 75% layout. An ANSI 75% layout. With the ISO-based Spanish (Latin America) layout forced onto it. Really, HP? REALLY?!

Actually, call it a 74% layout: for no good reason, the keyboard has been shortened 0.25U on either side, making it 15.5U wide. On the right side it's not that bad to have shaved 0.25U on the second column from the right (backspace, } (\|), ANSI Enter and RShift keys), but on the left side, the | key (`~ for US ANSI keyboards) is 0.75U wide!!! Look at the LCtrl key! And the Left Shift is 2U wide! But wait... where's the "ISO \" key, that has the < and > symbols?

Oh, it's been moved all the way to the right. Where RCtrl should be. This layout has ONE Ctrl key, not two, and it's 1U. Really, HP? REALLY?!

Now... even though it's already 0.25U narrower, the RShift key could still be shortened by 1U, to have a proper inverted T arrow key set — instead, they went with the "half-arrow" keys that is the bane of unacceptably bad eight-bucks-a-piece keyboards. Go look the Dell Inspiron's picture again and see if you can infer something about my normal usage of the arrow keys.

The F row is where it gets really horrendous: there's still 16 keys, and they're not arranged closer together, so these things are not 1U wide, but a bit less, and they're not even 0.5U tall, either. F6 has a little led light... to indicate if the computer's volume has been muted. Whut?

What a scorn of a keyboard. Now... from the very moment I opened the laptop, I made an effort to overlook the printed legends. I kept turning a blind eye to it... never mind the lower case legends... never mind the absurdly tiny f1...f12 legends... never mind they're actually f₁.. f₁₂... never mind the misaligned _ legend, which makes it look like a -... until I could no more. Both my OCD and my chauvinism were triggered by the Ñ legend, which is smaller than the rest of the letters for no reason (even taking its tilde into account, its total height is lower than the other letters):
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Ñ. Ñ! Ñ!!!
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And then I saw what could not be unseen, either. That apostrophe. And those quotes. They're supposed to be directionless (U+0027 and U+0022), but instead those are CLEARLY U+2018 and U+201C (and that can't be blamed on the font, either). Really, HP? REALLY?!
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Improper quotes character and "thin pipe" key.
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Coming back to that width... WHY was 0.5U shaved off? There's no reason for it! It's not like the screen's width presented such a restriction!
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Detail showcasing the margin of the keyboard and of the screen.
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To add insult to injury... that upside down B on the B&O logo on the top right. Seems to have been made with the intention of triggering.

In the end, this keyboard is utter garbage. And the sticker that says this laptop has been "specially designed for me" feels like an insult (marketing-wise, it's not even a properly constructed slogan). There was only one thing left to do: get that antistatic protective sheet the laptop came with and a couple tiny pieces of scotch tape.
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Keyboard niqab.
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Much better. Still not perfect, though. That sheet isn't thick enough, and the recycling symbol cut-outs are distracting. I'm gonna get a thicker sheet and use that. And if anyone asks, it's "for the laptop's protection" (which, in a way, it is).

And I'll keep using Mike's silenced WASD (and an actually usable mouse instead of that... thing... which actually handles worse than the one on the old Dell).
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Good keyboard, good mouse.
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A few years ago, right after the monitor crisis was overcome, I posited that perhaps we didn't really need laptops with integrated monitors, keyboards and mice/trackpads — independent units were always better, so perhaps it would be more practical to have small, portable computers without any of those parts and just plug them on modern versions of the old terminals (a screen and a keyboard). Somewhat like one of those "NUC" PCs, but made for carrying it around instead of just putting it somewhere and leaving it there.

An otherwise decent laptop with such an unworthy keyboard makes me think of that idea again.

User avatar
PlacaFromHell

03 Oct 2018, 05:08

This is the main reason because I will not buy a laptop in my whole life. Evil flat bitches :evil:

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vometia
irritant

03 Oct 2018, 06:59

That's really horrible. I'm not sure how they could make it worse except perhaps by reintroducing the original Sinclair Spectrum keyboard as a new and exciting innovation.

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Elrick

03 Oct 2018, 07:31

Here at work we've been using Panasonic Toughbook's for over three years now.

Before that we got stuck with various versions of Dell's that nearly always died during the year through daily usage. Mostly I get sick of them, sometimes throw them around the office, dunk them into the oil refuse drum, drop heavy equipment upon them or spilled some acid just to see how far it eats through the outer casing towards it's internals.

Usually loved destroying the Dell's with such zeal, that our contract with them had come to an end.

Panasonic is a totally different kettle of fish, very robust, still works after I trashed it numerous times in my daily experimentation on how long it will last.

Strange that it seems to still turn on and work, ......although have another idea on how to possibly finish it off.

xxhellfirexx

03 Oct 2018, 08:03

Regarding your rant about the HP laptop keyboard, sometimes design decisions are limited by business decisions. For example, why does both ANSI and ISO keyboards have the same key arrangement and the keyboard has 0.5U shaved off on the side? The reason is for standardization to reduce manufacturing cost. Did you know that this keyboard is also used on the new HP Spectre Folio, which also has a different screen size?

https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2018/10 ... le-around/

But still, it looks like designers seem to hate anyone over 40 with those tiny legends.

User avatar
Britney Spears

03 Oct 2018, 09:58

Ah, a rant about laptop keyboards. Nice!

For me the most infuriating laptop keyboards are the ones which include a number pad:

Image

While a number pad is quite handy if ones has to do a lot of work in a spreadsheet application, thanks to the number pad the whole keyboard is off center and forces me to type with both hands shifted to the left. After a few minutes of typing my right wrist and shoulder usually start to hurt. Just a terrible design decision.

Findecanor

03 Oct 2018, 10:17

Painted aluminium-imitation in 2018 :roll:

Some laptop manufacturers have removed the space between left shift and < > and between \ and Enter, to be able to cater to both ANSI and ISO with the same top frame. Looks like crap but works. A quick search shows that some HP laptop keyboards are like this one but with that arrangement.

And oh, there are worse keyboards. Earlier MS Surface "type cover", with no gaps, and some with less than 1u left Shift in ISO. The Surface "type cover" keyboards improved: got gaps but keys are slippery and still 1u left Shift.

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stratokaster

03 Oct 2018, 10:53

The last great laptop keyboard died in 2012 when Lenovo discontinued its ThinkPad x20 series of laptops.

Pre-2016 Apple keyboards were passable, but not very exciting. The new ones are a genuine failure.

I see a Bluetooth HHKB in my future.

User avatar
depletedvespene

03 Oct 2018, 11:41

xxhellfirexx wrote: Regarding your rant about the HP laptop keyboard, sometimes design decisions are limited by business decisions. For example, why does both ANSI and ISO keyboards have the same key arrangement and the keyboard has 0.5U shaved off on the side? The reason is for standardization to reduce manufacturing cost. Did you know that this keyboard is also used on the new HP Spectre Folio, which also has a different screen size?

https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2018/10 ... le-around/

But still, it looks like designers seem to hate anyone over 40 with those tiny legends.
Cost reduction through standarization is evident, but I'm still shocked HP is being so brazen by, indeed, using the exact same keyboard on laptops of differing sizes (which, on the Folio, it does fit without margin). Why bother with differing screen sizes, then?

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depletedvespene

03 Oct 2018, 11:55

Findecanor wrote: Painted aluminium-imitation in 2018 :roll:
That's a great excuse for the niqab! :D
Findecanor wrote: Some laptop manufacturers have removed the space between left shift and < > and between \ and Enter, to be able to cater to both ANSI and ISO with the same top frame. Looks like crap but works. A quick search shows that some HP laptop keyboards are like this one but with that arrangement.
I've seen that, too, and that's what I expected to get - an "ANSISO" key where the Enter and } (ISO#) are joined like siamese twins and it's difficult to type one without hitting the other. That I'd get an ANSI keyboard surpassed my low expectations. As I mentioned in my original post, this is the kind of things that's seen only on the cheapest 8-dollars-a-piece junk keyboards.

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abrahamstechnology

03 Oct 2018, 16:49

This is why I absolutely refuse to buy new laptops. Perhaps one day I could afford a 51nb motherboard to put into an older ThinkPad.

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zslane

03 Oct 2018, 19:09

Laptop keyboards are the worst. It is a tragedy that they've somehow become so "stylish" that they've infected the desktop world as well (just look at Apple's keyboards today). The only thing worse than a laptop keyboard is a pane of glass.

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stratokaster

03 Oct 2018, 21:14

zslane wrote: Laptop keyboards are the worst. It is a tragedy that they've somehow become so "stylish" that they've infected the desktop world as well (just look at Apple's keyboards today). The only thing worse than a laptop keyboard is a pane of glass.
I'm not sure I agree with this, Apple's current keyboards are much better than their so-called "Pro" keyboards (Mitsumi rubber domes) they shipped from late nineties well into 2000s.

In fact, I almost universally prefer scissor-switch laptop-style keyboards to regular rubber domes.

the_marsbar

03 Oct 2018, 21:37

There was a time when I couldn't see the appeal of tablets or laptops with removable keyboards. That changed shortly after I received my first HHKB. Modular is better.

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abrahamstechnology

03 Oct 2018, 22:34

If Woz stayed with Apple, I bet that they would come with Alps keyboards to this very day.

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digital_matthew

03 Oct 2018, 23:01

stratokaster wrote: The last great laptop keyboard died in 2012 when Lenovo discontinued its ThinkPad x20 series of laptops...
One of the reasons my T520 is my main laptop to this day.

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BSKUA0

04 Oct 2018, 03:23

I think portable computer keyboards were always kind of a compromise since like when notebooks started to become mainstream because of weight and cost cutting requirements :?:
Attached is a bad photo of one of the best notebook keyboards I've had. It's from 2008 Toshiba Satellite, and it has seen ~9 years of constant use. All buttons still work after that. And keycaps are made in a weird way, they're like lacquered or something, so legends don't wear off ever :!: But since then Toshiba exited consumer notebook market entirely.
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Elrick

04 Oct 2018, 07:18

Another viewpoint here;

Didn't anyone notice that every new year when a another series of laptops are released to the public, each and every model becomes "Thinner".

Particularly now, Have seen each and every successive release of Dell, Lenovo, Acer and Asus produce ridiculously thin laptops.

Maybe why we are now stuck with near to useless rubber dome junk keyboards because why would they spend extra money to produce a Laptop that is easy and comfortable to use?

samuelcable

04 Oct 2018, 07:41

I will not disagree that laptop keyboards are garbage scissor switches but id take the low profile keyboards on a thin laptop over a chunky and heavy laptop with a proper keyboard on my lap any day of the week. Sure its a shame to type on them a lot of the time but atleast you dont have like a heavy brick on your lap. A solution to this would be researching more lo profile key switches. If new laptops were to implement cherries upcoming low profile switch, it could lead to a very good comprimise

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stratokaster

04 Oct 2018, 09:15

I doubt we will ever see mechanical switches in mainstream laptops.

If you take a look at something like Apple MBP, the height of the whole keyboard assembly, including keycaps and metal backing, is about 3mm. Mechanical switches, no matter low profile or not, can not beat that, and the general public is strongly favouring "thin and light" over "functional".

the_marsbar

04 Oct 2018, 09:55

But then what is wrong with a tablet (with a touch screen) and a keyboard? I see myself going that way at some point. You decide yourself which keyboard you want to bring, and it's possible to use just the tablet if you're on the couch.

If it's about actually being able to use it on your lap, I'm sure one could come up with a clever solution for that...

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Muirium
µ

04 Oct 2018, 10:50

That’s where I am with my iPad and HHKB. Could still use something to hold the display up in the air wherever I would like it to be. Or rather, could still use augmented reality instead of dumb glass! But there’s already quite the advantage for me in ditching the clamshell form factor, and its necessary poverty in keyfeel. My back and shoulders never did much like staring down at a hinged display.

Findecanor

04 Oct 2018, 11:00

The problem with tablet + keyboard is first the lack of good wireless keyboards with built-in pointing device. You would need a pointing device because Windows 10 sucks at touch for anything but the most basic tasks. Linux? — Hah!
If you use a stylus, be careful so you won't lose that $100 stylus! Besides the "laptop" being in two parts you might also need to carry extra charger and/or cables with you because, well, at least MS Surface Pro has a magsafe connector and not USB C and USB C on wireless keyboards is something you would have to build yourself.
Windows tablets also tend to be lacking in downstream ports so forget about daisy-chaining charger→tablet→keyboard
I once thought that this route would have been viable, but got quite disappointed.

the_marsbar

04 Oct 2018, 11:11

Wouldn’t using a tiling window manager more or less solve that? And who in here would oppose against using the keyboard for most tasks?

Until the iPad is able to run more of the applications I need, I think my next laptop will also be a MacBook Pro. At least an HHKB fits perfectly on top of the keyboard of the Mac, and because the trackpad is so good, no need to bring a mouse (as opposed to every other computer).

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stratokaster

04 Oct 2018, 13:28

That’s why I’m very interested in ThinkPad X1 Tablet — the screen is gorgeous, the included keyboard is serviceable in a pinch and is equipped with a TrackPoint, and it has 2 USB-C/Thunderbolt3 ports. If only it was not running Windows...

Chalba

04 Oct 2018, 16:47

I got my mother a very nice Lenovo laptop maybe 2 years ago with a custom installed SSD. Runs great, but a month ago part of the keyboard in the lower right hand corner has stopped working. I take a look at it and look it up online, and it's not even an uncommon problem! And it's nothing that I can fix either! But thankfully, she uses her laptop mainly as a desktop, and I gave her one of my bolt modded model M's which she loves.

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Dingster

04 Oct 2018, 18:45

Just get an NMB modded T430 or X230. :p

Findecanor

04 Oct 2018, 19:33

I got to test a keyboard like in the OP in a store today. Not very good, but not the worst I've tried. I would rate the Apple Magic Keyboard better despite that maybe having less key travel.
Chalba wrote: I got my mother a very nice Lenovo laptop maybe 2 years ago ... keyboard in the lower right hand corner has stopped working.
Not a Thinkpad I hope ... I love that she likes the Model M!

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green-squid

04 Oct 2018, 20:45

Laptop manufacturers really need to get in on those Kailh laptop switches, man. Why not use THOSE for mid-grade to high end stuff AND have an advantage, instead of only putting mechanical switches on limited run 'laptops' that cost as much as a car or two and are made in limited quantities (and full size MX switches at that! WTH :| ).

Companies think that only gamerz use mechanical keyboards, and nobody else. So your average joe is now used to horrible feeling laptop keyboards, and doesn't know any better. :evil:

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stratokaster

04 Oct 2018, 21:13

The Kailh X switch is still 6.5mm high, if you add PCB and keycaps, it's going to be about 10-12mm I think? Not going to happen.

Although I'd love to have a 1-inch thick laptop with proper Ethernet and mechanical keyboard.

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