The Ultimate Hacking Keyboard Review: A Truly Unique, Truly Expensive Keyboard for Prosby E. Fylladitakis on March 12, 2020 10:00 AM EST
The explosive growth of the mechanical keyboard market over the past several years has led to an overly saturated market, with hundreds of products covering every desire and niche. Competition is certainly a good thing from a consumer’s point of view, but there is relatively little room to differentiate on features when it comes to keyboards, forcing most companies to focus their development and design efforts almost entirely on aesthetics.
Today we are taking a look at a product that (thankfully) breaks away from the norm: the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard. The company, Ultimate Gadget Laboratories, is currently exclusively focused on its development and marketing. It is a 60% mechanical keyboard designed with productivity in mind, implementing unique features and is made in Hungary – but also comes with an exorbitant price tag.
Diving right into matters, we received the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard inside an aesthetically simple cardboard box, with little artwork printed on it, yet very well-designed and practical. The keyboard and its bundle are neatly packed inside.
Inside the box, we found a basic user’s manual, one plastic keycap puller, a bag of rubber o-rings, and the keyboard’s USB cable. The o-rings are optional and can be purchased alongside the keyboard. They are meant to reduce the keystroke noise coming from the keycap bottoming down on the body of the switch but they will also reduce the effective key travel.
Dissecting the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard
The Ultimate Hacking Keyboard definitely is unlike any mechanical keyboard that we have reviewed to date. It is based on a 60% layout, making it the most compact mechanical keyboard that has ever come through our labs. The aesthetic design is simplistic and serious, as anyone would expect from a keyboard targeting very specific segments of IT professionals.
The 60% layout means that the keyboard is missing more than just its Numpad, as tenkeyless designs do. There are no arrow/control keys or a function key row at all. The standard function keys (F1-F12), control keys (Home, End, etc.), arrow keys, and more can be accessed by holding down the Fn key. It will be easy for an expert who has been using such a layout for a while to perform these functions but it will definitely be confusing for amateurs and users who switch between more than one keyboard every day.
The keycaps of the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard are simple ABS plastic, with the company offering more durable PBT keycaps as an extra. The main keys have their symbols printed right at the center of the keycap, while keys with extra characters have their primary and secondary characters printed towards the bottom and the top of the keycap respectively. Most keys also have a third character/function printed to their front side, which indicates the default function of the key while the Fn key is being held down.
The Ultimate Hacking Keyboard also has two more keys meant for keystroke combinations – the Mod and Mouse keys. The Mod key is to the left of the Space Bar and the Mouse key is where the Caps Lock key is by default. This means that every layout of the keyboard can simultaneously have four different layers – the default layer, the Fn layer, the Mod layer, and the Mouse layer. Using the software, users can also choose for the layers to be active only while the appropriate key is being held pressed, or for a key to permanently toggle the layout to that layer. A seasoned expert can program more functions into a single profile than a regular person can possibly remember.
The 60% layout of the Ultimate hacking keyboard does not follow any established ISO/ANSI standards. The bottom row will appear to be entirely chaotic for most users, with the Space Bar key being smaller than the Ctrl key. There are two buttons below the Space Bar and Mod keys, hidden within the design of the keyboard’s frame. A sizable three-character display can be found at the top left part of the keyboard, next to the subtle indicator LEDs.
Perhaps the basic feature of the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard is that it can be split in two. The stock cable provided allows for the two halves to be placed up to 30 cm apart, with the company providing instructions on how to make your own cable as well. The keyboard is designed so as to take expansion modules (trackball, touchpad, extra keys, etc.) but none of these modules were available to us at the time of this review.
The company provided us with a set of wrist rests for the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard, which are made of real wood. They are not very soft but certainly feel very classy. These also add the options of tenting and negatively tilting to the keyboard, which can only be positively tilted without the wrist rests attached.
Removing the keycaps of the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard reveals mechanical switches made by Kailh, a huge surprise for a keyboard of this price range. They do offer the keyboard with original Cherry MX switches but only the Green and White variants are available, at no extra cost. Choosing any of the “standard” switches, Red, Blue, Brown, or Black, Kailh switches are the only available option. It is possible that the manufacturer cannot source original Cherry MX switches for some reason and is forced to go with Kailh switches instead.
Removing the plastic frame of the keyboard reveals two PCBs with Kailh mechanical switches attached and shiny steel plates providing mechanical support. It is a shame that the keyboard has no backlighting, as we suspect that the polished metal would make it look great at low intensity levels. The assembly job is excellent but the metal is not too sturdy on its own, relying on the thick plastic frame for mechanical strength.
The heart of the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard is an NXP K22 series microcontroller (MK22FN512). It is a very powerful microcontroller with an ARM-based 120 MHz processor, 128KB of RAM, and 512KB Flash memory. Such a microcontroller is a little bit of an overkill for a keyboard without fancy backlighting to worry about and highly advanced Macro commands – then again, a little bit of processing power overkill never hurt anyone.
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ABR - Thursday, March 12, 2020 - linkThis. 60% is popular in the custom keyboard maker community by virtue of being the quickest route to completing project boards with desired components and features. But to voluntarily submit to suffer with modes to save literally 2" of desk space is sheer madness.
CSMR - Thursday, March 12, 2020 - linkThe split keyboard design is lazy. So inconvenient to have moveable pieces with an extra cable. The perfect shape is in the MS Sculpt keyboard and a wired (and possibly mechanical) version of that would dominate all these split keyboard clones.
phoenix_rizzen - Thursday, March 12, 2020 - linkNope, the split keyboard works great for a lot of people as you can adjust the distance between the halves, and the angles of each half independently. The one-piece egro keyboards are only comfortable for one specific size range of people. If your hands are too big/too small, or your shoulders too wide/narrow, then the keyboard isn't comfortable at all.
My keyboard tends to have the left half of the keyboard at more of an angle than the right, which makes it more comfortable for me, and eliminates any angle in my wrists. Having the split in the middle keeps the right half closer to the mouse pad, without having to bend my left wrist/elbow to reach the left half.
Just because it works for you doesn't mean it works for everyone. :)
PeachNCream - Thursday, March 12, 2020 - linkThis is a good point, but the number of people with your level of dramatic physical asymmetry is fairly small when compared to the population at large that only experiences minor differences between their left and right due mainly to muscular usage for left or right hand dominance (something that can even be corrected to a great extent through balanced exercise routines that develop the muscles of both sides). I am not at all saying that the market of asymmetric people shoudn't be served. Everyone, regardless of body form, deserves to have a chance to at effective data entry, but the price to play puts this out of reach of some of those afflicted with severe asymmetry and that does them a disservice by dangling a solution they cannot easily afford in their faces.
Voo - Monday, March 16, 2020 - linkReally? I used to have the sculpt and the Natural Ergonomic 4000 and I find an actual split keyboard way more comfortable.
Also if you want your hands in a natural position, the tiny separation those one-piece keyboards give you is by far not enough to keep your wrists straight.. at least for me.
mondalaci - Thursday, March 12, 2020 - linkHi there, and thanks for the review! I'm László Monda, the founder of the UHK. Please let me comment on some of the points metioned.
1. The price is actually reasonable compared to other high-end split mechanical keyboards. We have multiple competitors who offer more expensive keyboards.
2. We don't yet offer PBT caps, nor backlighting, but we'll offer them in a future UHK hardware revision along with many other improvements. We don't have an ETA about this yet. Feel free to subscribe to our monthly newsletter at the bottom of our site, so we can keep you updated.
3. It's a common misconception that Kailh switches are lower quality compared to Cherry switches. Kailh switches actually have thicker metal pins which makes them less prone to bending. Also, Kailh almost always has stock unlike Cherry. These are the reasons we pick Kailh over Cherry, not the price.
4. The front side printing on the keycaps shows their Mod layer functions, not their Fn layer functions.
5. The metal plates are actually very sturdy on their own. The plastic shell is not required for sturdiness, it merely contains the electronics.
6. The three letter abbreviations of the keymaps is easily modifiable in Agent by clicking on them.
PeachNCream - Thursday, March 12, 2020 - linkWhy is it that your typing style is alarmingly similar to teh doubled up anecdotal happy user comments from the supposedly two different people below?
mode_13h - Friday, March 13, 2020 - linkGood eye, but I *do* think that double-post is informative. It would bother me for a poster not to disclose their affiliation, but that would be my main concern - not the content.
EmbeddedShire - Thursday, March 12, 2020 - linkI preordered it some time ago and got it last year, I think. I've been using it at work ever since and I love it.
I don't type particularly fast, but never having to leave the home row (e.g. for the arrow keys or pg up/down, home, end) has made typing more comfortable than with a standard keyboard. Also having the two halves about 50 centimeters apart feels fantastic while lying back in the chair.
As to the price, yeah it's pretty high so this must be something you really really fancy, but it's well worth IMO. It's a very high quality piece and maybe the perks are not immediately obvious:
great repairability, _everything_ is open sourced (PC software, firmware, BOM, schematics, PCB), support for all Linux & Mac, configuration is stored in onboard memory so you can carry it around, endless modding potential (got 2 exposed I2Cs + power connectors on each piece) and it's solid - works perfectly, no quirks, doesn't feel like a flimsy DIY project.
If you're interested in this sort of thing, you'd be hard pressed to find a similar package.
I'm obviously biased, but for me it's the best thing since sliced bread :)
PeachNCream - Thursday, March 12, 2020 - linkThe double posting of duplicate content with different user names makes it clear you are not a legitimate, unbiased user of this particular product. No one is fooled by two people (randomcommenter and EmbeddedShire) copying and pasting the same statement.
If you are planning to shill for your company, at least put some effort into it!