The EK-128 keyboard

Kategorie Computer Bild: Kategorie Computer - Bestimmte Rechte vorbehalten: Andy Drop (cc-by 3.0)

Maybe I should have taken it as an omen. The first order of the keyboard was cancelled by amazon ("out of stock"), the second order arrived with a defect keyrow, but the third order was in perfect condition.

It finaly works

The box contained the keyboard itself, carefully encased in a bag of bubble wrap. The USB cable is with its 1,70m pretty long and the keyboard itself makes an impressiv robust first sight. The keys come with several sheets of colored paper, but I ignored them as i wanted a more professional look. So I printed my layout with excel. By the way: the keys are slightly bigger than the sheets suggest. 14mm x 15mm fits best. To use it for everyday typing you'll better be a friend of a "clicky" keyboard, because it is noisy. I like it that way, but it would have only be used on my private desk. If you plan to use it in an office, you should be prepared for some angry looks from your co-workers.

The box contains also a CD with the software,whicht consist of:

  • a tutorial video
  • a manual
  • a FAQ
  • the software for programming the keyboard (Windows only)

You can use the keyboard for Linux (not Mac), but the software for programming the keyboard needs a windows installation for it to run. But that is not the only reason why i called it "a pain in the ass" in the previous article.

For example

  • The UI has two tabs which are nowhere explained, and i found no way to activate them
  • unlogical cursor movement. On the bottom of the UI are several buttons which are navigated from left to right by pressing the left or up cursor keys, and vice versa
  • unlogical Tab Order. When you navigate the form with the tab key, you will nearly always get to the least expected control.
  • Hotkeys? Nope!
  • Up und Download from keyboard, is called save and restore as seen from the software, not from the keyboard.

But after a few frustrating minutes you will get used to it, and get your work done. There are some other points that gave my headaches:

Two layers doesn't mean a shifted layer

The manual talks of two layers, and I thought at first they were like with and without shift key pressed. In fact the are two completely separate keyboard configurations of 127 keys each. The 128th key has to be programmed for switching the layer, which is only mentioned at the end of the tutorial video and not in the FAQ, or the manual (which also contains the FAQ included). To switch from one layer to the other you have to press the previously defined "switch key" for a second. The same applies for switching back. So, no press-and-release-action like with a shift key.

And if you planned to use some keys for cursor movement (as I did)

  • keys don't repeat. Never, ever!

The keyboard is technically a collection of 128 scan-code recorders, that handle some kind of shift mechanism. That means, if a key can only replay one ore a sequence of scan-codes, it is not possible to map < and { on the same key because they have two different scan-codes.

Unfortunally it makes my layout impossible to use

So I had several possibilities:

  • Send it back for refund
  • Open it, an see if it is possible to hack the firmware
  • While open, check if it is possible to separate the key-matrix from the rest, and use it with a teensy
  • Use it as an additional keyboard (at least, that is what it is meant for)
  • Cry

At that point I decided, I had to go on a walk

The best ideas come, when i walk. And on my way to the supermarket, i decided where to go now:

  • Shifting a key is not the business of a keyboard
  • It has to be done by the OS
  • on linux that could be done with xmodmap, or maybe a complete other keyboard map
  • But on the other hand, why shouldn't I use a much cheaper keyboard then?
  • Maybe i will (because of nicer switches)

At the end it comes down to the price

My limit for a perfect keyboard is 200 €. The EK-128 is with its 190 € very close to it, but not that close to the perfect keyboard. The second level is not the shifted one, and no keys could be repeatable. And it is to expensive, to use its parts for a hack. So i decided to refund it.

I will try to tackle my two reasons for a better keboard (emacs & programming) with two different solutions. which i will describe in another article in the next days.