POK3R - First Impressions

After much anticipation, I finally received my Pok3r keyboard today (yes, the 3 in the name bothers me, too, but as it's the 3rd version of the Poker keyboard, I guess I can let it slide).

I'm not new to mechanical keyboards - I've got a Model M in the closet that I used for years until I switched to the Mac, but this is my first time using a keyboard with Cherry MX blue switches, and my first time using a 60% keyboard (a keyboard that lacks dedicated function keys, arrow keys, home, end, delete, insert, page up and page down keys, or a number pad).

I'm less than a full day into using this keyboard, so I wanted to give some initial thoughts and first impressions. I'll warn you now, this is likely to be a bit stream-of-consciousness. I didn't really plan out how I wanted to organize this.

First up, the build quality on this thing is amazong. With its metal case, thick PBT keycaps, and mechanical switches, the keyboard is rock solid. I do notice the left shift key is a little harder to press than the other keys, but already, it's gotten bvetter. I think it just needs some time to get broken in. I'm told that's not uncommon for these switches. If it doesn't improve on its own in a week or so, I'll pull the keycap and see what's going on in there.

I'll probably get a set of blank keycaps at some point anyway, because after just one afternoon, I can already see that the legends on these keys are going to be useless.

With a 60% keyboard, I'm quickly learning that the secret to happiness is in its programmable layers, keyboard shortcuts, and key mapping software.

The first thing I did when I took the keyboard out of the box was to flip the DIP switch that turned the caps lock key into a function key. This makes it much easier to use the Pok3r's arrow keys, which are activated by Fn+ijkl (up, left, down, right), and the delete key - Fn+' or Fn+Backspace.

What I didn't realize before this, though, was how much I actually use the caps lock key when I'm typing. Of all the things I've had to adjust to, this has been the most difficult adjustment to make.

I've remapped toggling caps lock to Shift_L+Shift_R.

Tilda is Fn+Esc and a backtick is Shift+Esc.

But aside from those three things, everything else feels very standard, and the arrow key usage feels very intuative.

For Mac media keys (and the new caps lock mapping), I'm using an app called Karabiner. Since I basically never use any function keys, I was able to map Fn+1-Fn+= to the Mac media, brightness, expose, and spaces keys. I'd previously resigned myself to learning to live without those keys, so it's nice to still have them around.

I haven't even began to touch the programming layers. The Pok3r has an additional 3 layers of programmability beyond its default function layer, for creating your own macros and key bindings. I'll add them as I need them and as I become more familiar with the keyboard layout, but for now, I'm happy with things as they are. The keyboard, in its current configuration, can do everything I need it to do.

But this is why I said that I'll probably get a set of blank keys. With so many layers of programmability and so many of the keys serving double and often triple duty, printed legends become less meaningful.

Also, blank keycaps look cool.

So how does it feel? I mentioned the solid build quality and the as of yet somewhat stiff left shift key, but beyond that, how does it feel to type on a 60% keyboard?

It feels pretty great.

Not having to move my hands all over the place is nice for the ergonomics and having keys with more travel distance than the Apple keyboard is refreshing. It feels like the Cherry MX keys do a lot better job of impact absorption than the Apple scissor switches did. The blue switches require slightly less actuation force and with some travel before and after actuation, they provide a little bit of spring and life to them that the Apple keyboard just doesn't have.

As for the 60% layout itself, while the keyboard has fewer keys, it is full-size, so the board doesn't feel cramped or crowded in any way.

Mostly, I just have to remind myself that many of the keyboard shortcuts I used previously to navigate between open tabs, documents, terminal windows, spaces, and the like now require the addition of the function key to their particular key combinations. This makes for some 4-key shortcuts, but it doesn't feel uncomfortable.

In fact, after a day of typing on this keyboard, I'm not experiencing any hand fatigue or soreness, which is not a statement I can make about the Apple keyboard I was coming from. My typing also seems to be a bit more accurate, but that could be because I'm more conscious of it today.

Oh, and the sound, that glorious sound. It's not the thunk-ping of the Model M I coveted for so many years, but it definitely has a satisfying click.

So what's the final verdict?

Once I get used to this thing, I'm probably never going to want to type on anything but a 60% keyboard ever again. That said, if you're not already a big fan of keyboard shortucts and macros and well-built things that go thunk, then this might not be the keyboard for you.