Author Topic: Keyboard review: Cannonkeys Satisfaction 75  (Read 7030 times)

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Offline tex_live_utility

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Keyboard review: Cannonkeys Satisfaction 75
« on: Sat, 28 March 2020, 21:08:49 »
Cannonkeys Satisfaction 75

Hello, Geekhack! I'm back with another keyboard review.

Note that this review will be light on photos. However I did build this keyboard on stream, with lots of detailed close-ups and my live first impressions. You can watch it on YouTube here.

Note that I am using photos provided by Cannonkeys during the public GB. My personal unit looks identical to the one in the photos. I am not using them to make the keyboard look better than it does in real life. I am using them because I feel they are an accurate representation of the unit I received.

Please do comment to share your own experiences with and opinions of this keyboard. Do you like how it looks? Do you like how it sounds? How would you rate it? Are you still waiting for yours to ship?

Keyboard specs

  • Form factor: 75%
  • Layouts supported:
    • Various 6.25u and 7u bottom rows
    • Optional stepped caps lock
    • Optional ISO (PCB only, need a custom plate)
    • Optional split backspace
    • Optional split right shift
  • Case material: aluminum
  • Typing angle: 6 degrees
  • Front height: 17mm
  • Plate mounting style: top with o-rings (aka "burger mount")


Build specs

  • FR4 plate
  • Holy Panda switches (Halo Clear slider, GSUS housing)
  • Thick coat of Tribosys 3204 on slider
  • Thick Thoc MP 64g (progressive) springs
  • Tested with CRP keycaps

Purchased during group buy for 487.40 USD, including:
  • Navy blue color
  • Standard gold-colored knob
  • FR4 plate
  • Brass plate
  • 2x PCBs
  • 2x OLEDs
  • 2x rotary encoders
  • Neoprene sleeve

Background

Several months after group buy completion, this keyboard remains an object of both fascination and desire. It introduced a number of design innovations that were previously relegated to small DIY projects and low-quantity group buys:

  • Curved rear, instead of angled
  • ARM-based controller
  • VIA configurator support
  • OLED, programmable via QMK
  • Rotary encoder
  • "Exploded" 75% layout, with gaps/blockers between the arrow keys, right-side column, and F keys
  • E-white finish option

It also has a fun "nautical/pirate" theme, being named after the ship of famous pirate Henry Morgan. Even the curve of the rear profile is reminiscent of the keel of a ship or a wave in the ocean. And the navy blue color option helps round out the concept.

Add to a decent starting price and a lot of very nice-sounding builds on the Internet, and you have a recipe for success.

Aesthetics

The deep blue anodizing is very well-matched on the top and bottom. The finish is smooth to the touch and has a matte appearance, with very little grain.

The seam is visible, but clean and unobtrusive. The seam around the weight is impressively tight. The top edges have small chamfers, but the bottom edges are completely squared-off, making them a little unpleasant to handle. I'm also concerned that they would be prone to chipping or denting in the event of accidental impact.

The rear corners have a distinctive curve, while the rear face is a curve intersected with a rectangle (photo credits to Upas and Capsy respectively):



The brass weight has a smooth, even sandblasted finish, with a whimsical thematic "pirate treasure" engraving (photo credit to Upas):



The top bezel is larger in front and back than on the sides. The side bezel is approximately the same width as the gaps around the arrow keys. In general the top-down appearance of the board is handsome, classy, and balanced (photo credit to Upas):



The OLED display is a beautiful crisp bright blue that is impossible to photograph.

Construction

This keyboard has the standard top-mount 2-piece design, made of anodized aluminum. The PCB is custom-designed for the case. The OLED and rotary encoder are mounted directly on the PCB. The latter is held in place by 2 metal tabs in addition to several through-hole solder joints. The former rests on 2 plastic standoffs, but in a weird unbalanced way that is finicky to assemble. The encoder knob needs to be installed without pushing it all the way to the bottom, otherwise it will prevent you from pressing it down.

The OLED is a bit weird to install, resting on 2 nylon standoffs. See here to watch me solder it together (timestamped video; note that the sound was accidentally pitch-shifted in this part of the video): https://youtu.be/FcFKFyy1AsA?t=2895

The plate has relatively wide mounting tabs on all 4 edges. At first I was concerned that this would lead to an overly-stiff typing feel, but Upas told me that the side mounting points were necessary to ensure consistent key feel across the board.

The plate design is visible in my build stream here, followed by keyboard assembly with detailed close-ups and running commentary (timestamped video): https://youtu.be/FcFKFyy1AsA?t=21811

The plate also has a somewhat unusual cutout around the spacebar, which helps it flex despite having several mounting points nearby (photo credit to Upas):



The plate is held to the top housing with M2 hex head black oxide screws. There are small indentations around each of the plate mounting points on the top half of the case to help position the o-rings during assembly.

The o-rings themselves are transparent. They feel very soft in the hand, and compress easily when squeezed laterally; subjectively they feel similar to some 50a Shore durometer o-rings that I have. The o-rings on the top of the plate (i.e. touching the top half of the case) sit comfortably in their indentations. However the o-rings on the bottom of the plate have nothing to keep them from getting crushed by the M2 screw heads. If you have some thin washers available, adding these between the o-ring and screw head will help make sure the o-rings are compressed evenly, and that they are not severed or squeeze out from around the screw head.

The weight is screwed in from the inside of the case and arrived pre-installed.

The case is held together with M2 hex head black oxide screws. The screw holes were disappointingly crunchy and stiff. Also there are only 2 screw holes on the rear of the case, which is not enough to obtain consistent pressure along the back. This is clearly a design tradeoff in order to allow an uninterrupted appearance on the weight.

The USB cutout is a large rectangle, with no attempt made to fit it tightly around the port on the PCB. This should safely accommodate any USB cable.

Typing feel

Note that I never tried this keyboard with the brass plate, so all of my comments here refer only to the FR4 build.

The FR4 plate provides an excellent balance of stability and bouncy response, without excessive vibration transfer across keys. Typing is very consistent across the keyboard.

The effect of the o-ring mounting isn't very prominent, because of how soft the o-rings are. They compress too easily and it's hard to find a middle ground between "not screwed in firmly" and "o-rings squished flat". But you can increase the softness of the o-rings somewhat by screwing in the plate less tightly. This could be rectified easily by purchasing 2mm ID o-rings from a supplier like McMaster-Carr.

The spacebar cutout makes for possibly the most satisfying spacebar-mashing experience on any keyboard I have ever used. More designers should use this type of cutout. Moreover it does a great job of counteracting the large mounting tabs nearby, which you would normally expect to produce a jarring, vibration-laden spacebar bottom-out. Note that I have not tried the brass plate, but I expect this effect to be significantly diminished.

Unfortunately I built this keyboard with Holy Panda switches, which are way too tactile for me to use for an extended period of time. However the extra softness from the FR4 and o-rings does a good job of soaking up the unpleasantness.

There is also a little bit of excess vibration originating from the rear of the case. This appears to be caused by the lack of even pressure in that area, due to only having 2 M2 screws in the back corners, with none in the middle.

The stock rotary encoder is satisfying to use. It has a wonderful "thump" on press, and the rotation clicks are distinct without being harsh. However the stock knob is too tall and makes the encoder feel wobbly, even moreso because the knob is PCB mounted, rather than being screwed onto the plate (as is typical on guitar amplifiers, for example). The case is not too tightly fitted around the knob, but if you smash on the knob too hard you might push it off to the side and cause it to scrape the case.

Sound

Like the typing feel, the sound of this keyboard is well-balanced. All good top mount keyboards have some degree of bassy resonance, and this board has quite a lot of it. But unlike in some boards where that resonance can be overwhelming, here it sits in the background and allows the sound of your switches and keycaps to come through. This is a very versatile-sounding keyboard that probably sounds good with any switch. If you really wanted to cut down on the resonance, you could probably add some shelf liner under the PCB in order to tighten up the sound. But in my opinion this isn't necessary at all.

The typing sound is very consistent. The stabilized keys have a satisfying thunk, and even the nav keys sound good. The spacebar sound is an absolutely beautiful "plunk" that's unlike anything I've ever heard in another keyboard.

Typing test here (timestamped video): https://youtu.be/FcFKFyy1AsA?t=24120

Programming

This keyboard is supported by the VIA configurator, and so is easy to program. However, two of the keys on the right column cannot be remapped on Layer 1, otherwise you will make the rotary encoder nonfunctional. This is annoying because it limits your ability to program the keyboard, but you can mostly work around it unless you have very specific needs. Also VIA cannot easily modify the behavior of the OLED or rotary encoder. I'm told that this issue was fixed in a later update, but I don't think I ever got an email or Discord notification about it.

Fortunately all of these problems can be overcome if you are willing to write your QMK keymap by hand in C. But this isn't necessarily an easy task for most people, especially if you want to customize the behavior of the OLED. Hopefully people will release useful add-on libraries that make it easier to modify the OLED and rotary encoder behavior.

Here is me working through the flashing instructions from the build guide: https://youtu.be/FcFKFyy1AsA?t=24120

A battery is required to maintain date and time. This is because the USB HID specification (what we use for keyboards) has no way to pull this information from the computer. Some people have reported that their battery slots didn't work, even after reflowing all the solder joints. I personally never tried to use the battery.

I have also heard reports that the keyboard does not boot up properly when your computer is booted up. I never had this issue myself.

Finally, the default hex file requires 2-3 clicks of the rotary encoder to change layers. This isn't a big deal, but it's not a good default either.

Overall

Overall rating: 4.5/5

In sound and feel, this board is mostly excellent. The FR4 and brass plate options should cover most tastes. By many standards of keyboard design, this board is a little unusual, but it all works out very well. The feel and sound is consistent and well-balanced. The spacebar is an absolute work of art, at least on the FR4 plate.

However there were several minor construction issues, some of which cast doubts on durability. The non-chamfered bottom edge is an understandable cost-saving measure that mostly doesn't matter. But the crunchy screw threads are concerning. M2 screws are not big enough to apply good pressure across the case. The M2 plate screws do not have wide enough heads to prevent crushing the o-rings; they really should have been designed to accommodate washers. The stock encoder knob is too damn long. The OLED mounting is janky and weird.

Fortunately, none of these flaws affect the typing experience, except perhaps for the top-heavy encoder knob. The only problem you will encounter in day-to-day typing is the vibration from the rear of the case, and only if you are as annoyingly particular about vibration as I am.

While not ideal for beginner builders, the typing experience is more than good enough to live up to the name "Satisfaction". If nothing else, Upas deserves to go down in history as an innovator, and his keyboard deserves to become an historical icon.

Rumor has it that there will be a round 2 released eventually, but with no date or any details announced. So don't bother messaging Upas about it, but do sign up for the Cannonkeys mailing list and keep an eye out for forum posts.

2020, CC BY-SA 4.0
« Last Edit: Mon, 30 March 2020, 08:51:20 by tex_live_utility »
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Offline Lbibass

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Re: Keyboard review: Cannonkeys Satisfaction 75
« Reply #1 on: Sat, 28 March 2020, 21:24:59 »
Nice review!

Offline Boy_314

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Re: Keyboard review: Cannonkeys Satisfaction 75
« Reply #2 on: Sat, 28 March 2020, 21:36:20 »
I never realized the knob was wobbly. Thanks for ruining this for me. Otherwise, solid review, but Upas told me in the SoCal meet that the side mounting points on the plate were there so that the encoder press would be more stable (without the side points the plate/pcb construction would bow in on the right side).

Offline tex_live_utility

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Re: Keyboard review: Cannonkeys Satisfaction 75
« Reply #3 on: Sat, 28 March 2020, 22:05:45 »
I never realized the knob was wobbly. Thanks for ruining this for me. Otherwise, solid review, but Upas told me in the SoCal meet that the side mounting points on the plate were there so that the encoder press would be more stable (without the side points the plate/pcb construction would bow in on the right side).

It's not really wobbly? as much as it's just "not rock solid stable" as you'd expect.

Makes sense about the plate, I assume both things are true.
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Offline bwolmarans

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Re: Keyboard review: Cannonkeys Satisfaction 75
« Reply #4 on: Sat, 28 March 2020, 22:17:04 »
nice review
~it's time to fly~

Re: Keyboard review: Cannonkeys Satisfaction 75
« Reply #5 on: Sat, 28 March 2020, 22:26:20 »
great review! great information about the build and nice for anyone building one to reference

Offline DoCallMeKing

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Re: Keyboard review: Cannonkeys Satisfaction 75
« Reply #6 on: Sun, 19 April 2020, 19:55:16 »
Do you know of any aftermarket encoders that will work with this case?

Offline HungerMechanic

  • Posts: 543
Re: Keyboard review: Cannonkeys Satisfaction 75
« Reply #7 on: Sun, 19 April 2020, 20:12:45 »
Thanks you so much for this review, exploded 75%s are gaining in popularity right now.

And I hear you on the Holy Pandas switches. I think they are very fun, but I am not sure they are the ideal choice for sustained typing.

I just had a few questions based on what I've read so far:

1. How do you feel about the 'exploded' 75% layout? Does it enhance touch-typing?

I have though about buying the KBD75 sometimes, because it's a solid board, but the keys being all clustered together seems suboptimal.

2. How do you feel the proposed KBDFans 'Bella' layout compares to the Satisfaction 75?

3. Do you think that GMK Nautilus would be a good choice for your build?

Offline ThereminGoat

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Re: Keyboard review: Cannonkeys Satisfaction 75
« Reply #8 on: Wed, 22 April 2020, 14:46:09 »
Beautifully written review and I definitely need to check out some of the links in my free time. Keep it up!  :thumb: