Author Topic: SMK-88 Compact Mac Keyboard review  (Read 3903 times)

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Offline karlito

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SMK-88 Compact Mac Keyboard review
« on: Sat, 17 November 2007, 23:28:56 »
SMK-88 Compact Mac Keyboard seems to be fairly hefty and sturdy; I have yet to open it up so I cannot be 100% sure about its build quality.  It has nice smooth key caps and black stemmed (linear) Cherry key switches.  There is also a USB plug on the right hand side of the keyboard. However, instead of integrating a USB hub like most keyboards this keyboard came with 2 USB plugs which both need to be plugged into the computer if you want to use that right side USB port. Note that the cord is also very short 52 inches to be exact.

The layout is pretty close to a standard keyboard if you removed the numpad and arrow keys. Make sure you look at the images to make sure you could deal with this layout.  As far as my opinion on the layout goes itís pretty close to perfect.  My complaints are the function keys are really far away from the top (numbers) row and they are not grouped into sets for 4 like a standard keyboard. This makes it almost impossible to press the correct function key without looking at the keyboard.  Luckily, the function keys are rarely used so itís not a huge knock against this keyboard.

So how do the black stemmed Cherry switches feel?  Very stiff and contrary to other postings on this site they are not linear. A better description of these switches would be quadratic.  But even quadratic isnít quite right.  The first millimeter of travel in the keys is a breeze but anything after that thereís hell to pay to try and bottom these suckers out. After only 1mm of travel the switches register a key press and from there on the switches give more and more resistance to being pressed.  Itís almost like after that first millimeter another spring is there to resist you from pushing the key any further. So if you could get used to not pressing the keys much passed that 1mm mark then these switches could suit you quite nicely.  So instead of a tactile ďclickĒ you have a stiff resistance which tells you a key stroke was already registered.  At first I absolutely hated this keyboard I just wanted to smash the keys to pieces because they are so hard to bottom out.  However, the more I have been typing on the keyboard the better I have become at noticing the resistance and I stop fighting the stiff spring and just flow with the easy to press first millimeter and then I release.

As far a noise they are pretty similar to a membrane keyboard. However, it all depends on how are you press the keys because if you bottom them out really hard you get a plastic on plastic clunk but even then it's not that loud.

Note that I am reviewing this keyboard on Windows XP Pro SP2 and not any flavor of Macintosh.  So to all you windows users, do not be scared of that strange key that surrounds the space bar (I think Mac folks call it the command key).  All they did was shrink the space bar to make room for that new key. The Alt keys are in exactly the place your thumbs expect them to be and the space bar is still plenty big that it will be under both your thumbs when youíre resting on the home keys.  As for what the command key does it acts as the windows key.  So believe it or not I hit Alt+f+s all the time to save and several other Alt shortcuts and I have not once accidentally hit the Command (windows) key.  That is a testament to the fact that the Alt key is truly still where itís suppose to be.  However, if youíre still scared of the Command/windows key being next to the space bar KeyTweak (http://webpages.charter.net/krumsick/) is capable of remapping it for you.

Gamers be aware, this keyboard might not let you hold down enough keys!  I was playing CS:S with this keyboard and if Iím holding down W+D and I press the 1 key it does not register. On normal keys this keyboard seems to have a limit of only two keys down at once unless itís a special key such as Shift or Space as I was able to still ďcrouch jumpĒ by press W+D+Shift+Space (I have crouch bound to shift instead of ctrl).  So for me this keyboard still works for my gaming experience.

Iím a programmer so Iím writing/navigating code all day long so how do I survive without the arrow keys page up/page down in their normal spots? Well this keyboard finally got me off my lazy butt and got me to do what Iíve been meaning to for awhile now. I installed KeyTweak (http://webpages.charter.net/krumsick/) and Autohotkey (http://www.autohotkey.com/).

Hereís what I did:
Used KeyTweek to remap caps lock to right shift.
Then I created the following autohotkey script:
*>+l::SendInput {Blind}{RShift up}{Right}{RShift down}
*>+k::SendInput {Blind}{RShift up}{Down}{RShift down}
*>+j::SendInput {Blind}{RShift up}{Left}{RShift down}
*>+i::SendInput {Blind}{RShift up}{Up}{RShift down}
*>+u::SendInput {Blind}{RShift up}{Home}{RShift down}
*>+m::SendInput {Blind}{RShift up}{End}{RShift down}
*>+o::SendInput {Blind}{RShift up}{PgUp}{RShift down}
*>+.::SendInput {Blind}{RShift up}{PgDn}{RShift down}
>+Backspace::SendInput {Delete}

So what does this script do?  In a nutshell it turns i j k l keys into arrow keys, u m to Home and End keys and o . to page up page down.  I wonít go deep into details of the script as you can read for yourself on autohotkey.com but hereís my explanation of line 1:

Rebind any modifier key (the *) + right shift +  L to send those modifiers plus the Right arrow key but remove the fact that Right Shift is down.  Modifiers keys are Control, Shift, Alt, or Windows Key.

So as you can see I simply hold Caps Lock (now rebound to right shift thanks to key tweak) and I, J, K, or L and I get the arrow keys.  I can also hold Caps Lock + Left Shift + I, J, K, or L and now itís like Iím pressing Shift + Up,Down,Left,Right.

I got this keyboard from DSI (http://www.notestation.com/smk-88.htm).  I called up Karl (call him he never responded to any of my emails even after a week) and asked him about SMK 88 he said they were out of stock but he had 4 ďoldĒ ones that he would sell me at $32 each. So I bought one and for $32 thatís a pretty darn good deal.

So is this keyboard going to replace my G15?  Thatís still yet to be determinedÖ Iím starting to like it.  In an ideal world I would take the blue stemmed Cherry switches from my Scorpius and put them in here (except for the space bar).  If I did that then this would be pretty close to the perfect keyboard.







Re: SMK-88 Compact Mac Keyboard review
« Reply #1 on: Sun, 18 November 2007, 01:42:46 »
Quote from: karlito
So how do the black stemmed Cherry switches feel?  Very stiff and contrary to other postings on this site they are not linear. A better description of these switches would be quadratic.  But even quadratic isnít quite right.  The first millimeter of travel in the keys is a breeze but anything after that thereís hell to pay to try and bottom these suckers out. After only 1mm of travel the switches register a key press and from there on the switches give more and more resistance to being pressed.  Itís almost like after that first millimeter another spring is there to resist you from pushing the key any further. So if you could get used to not pressing the keys much passed that 1mm mark then these switches could suit you quite nicely.  So instead of a tactile ďclickĒ you have a stiff resistance which tells you a key stroke was already registered.  At first I absolutely hated this keyboard I just wanted to smash the keys to pieces because they are so hard to bottom out.  However, the more I have been typing on the keyboard the better I have become at noticing the resistance and I stop fighting the stiff spring and just flow with the easy to press first millimeter and then I release.


Most excellent review. I am now somewhat intrigued by the MX Linear switches, having dismissed them in the past.  I've never tried it but your description sounds good. I have a Cherry Cymotion membrane keyboard, which is my current favourite. The keys are soft and have a smooth long travel (at least that's how it feels to me). But I can easily type on it without bottoming out, because the tactile feel is just right. I am typing this post on a clicky white-stem Alps board, and although the click is very tactile, it is impossible to type fast without hitting bottom (which hurts my fingers in the long run).

Offline karlito

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SMK-88 Compact Mac Keyboard review
« Reply #2 on: Sun, 18 November 2007, 02:52:52 »
Yep, depending on what kind of typist you are I could see people really liking these keys.  They're not for me but the small size is so awesome I'm still using it.  Also I was pretty convinced that I was typing way slower on it so I took some online typing test and it turns out I type equally fast on it as with the G15. So I'm forcing myself to try and get used to it.  My right hand always gets really cold when using my G15 because the mouse is so far away but with this SMK it stays almost as warm as my left.

SMK-88 Compact Mac Keyboard review
« Reply #3 on: Sun, 18 November 2007, 03:01:33 »
Quote from: karlito
Yep, depending on what kind of typist you are I could see people really liking these keys.  They're not for me but the small size is so awesome I'm still using it.  Also I was pretty convinced that I was typing way slower on it so I took some online typing test and it turns out I type equally fast on it as with the G15. So I'm forcing myself to try and get used to it.  My right hand always gets really cold when using my G15 because the mouse is so far away but with this SMK it stays almost as warm as my left.


Yeah numpads are a pain. I try to use use the mouse as little as possible, and use my left hand when I have to.

Offline xsphat

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SMK-88 Compact Mac Keyboard review
« Reply #4 on: Sun, 18 November 2007, 03:30:58 »
I'll check out my SMK 88, the same version as yours, tomorrow and give the black MX switches another try. I need to keep an open mind. My girlfriend really likes the keyboard, but I'm so used to the reigning kings of keyboarding bliss - the buckling springs and the Alps - that I may not have given them a fair shake. The Cherry ML switches are wonderful, so I have faith in the company, but I think the blues are the ones I'd like the most.

Offline iMav

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SMK-88 Compact Mac Keyboard review
« Reply #5 on: Sun, 18 November 2007, 11:28:17 »
Quote from: xsphat
I'm so used to the reigning kings of keyboarding bliss - the buckling springs and the Alps

I quite like both the blue-stemmed Cherry switches and the electrical capacitive switches in the HHKB Pro's, so I'm not QUITE ready to crown BS and Alps as the kings.  :)

Truth is...the longer I am united with my HHKB Pro, the more I am spending with it and less time with my Model M mini.  Don't get me wrong...I still very-much enjoy buckling springs (use my Endurapro with my thinkpads quite a bit), I'm just preferring the HHKB Pro right now.

Regarding the SMK-88...I currently own two with the blue-stemmed Cherry keyswitches.  I love the feel, but I simply can't type efficiently on it.  Because of my short "pinky" fingers, I always use my ring finger for the backspace/delete key...when I follow that action with a shifted key (using my right shift) I ALWAYS hit the up arrow (since my right hand had to shift over to hit the bs/del key).  Even though the HHKB has the same smaller right shift key, I never have an issue hitting the function key (which, on the HHKB, is directly to the right of the right shift key) because the bs/del key is closer, and I am able to use it effectively with my right pinky.

Offline iMav

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SMK-88 Compact Mac Keyboard review
« Reply #6 on: Sun, 18 November 2007, 12:08:24 »
BTW, I took the liberty of posting this review in our wiki.

Check it.

Offline xsphat

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SMK-88 Compact Mac Keyboard review
« Reply #7 on: Sun, 18 November 2007, 12:13:11 »
I have big lumberjack hands, so I can sit at my desk typing aways and change a CD without moving from the home row (sorry for the exaggeration, I'm Bohemian.). I'm on my HHKB Pro 2 right now, by the way. Funny how stupid life works out sometimes, isn't it?

My reigning kings comment was mean to beckon back to the days of old during the Northgate Omnikey / Model M days. For years those were the two standards by which all keyboards were measured. Now we slearly have have more choices.

iMav, you need to try some Alps and I need to try some Cherry blues. If those two things happen, we'll have much to discuss.

Offline karlito

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SMK-88 Compact Mac Keyboard review
« Reply #8 on: Sun, 18 November 2007, 12:18:06 »
Quote from: iMav
BTW, I took the liberty of posting this review in our wiki.

Check it.

Cool, feel free to edit any errors and what not. First thing I noticed is all the ' (apostrophes) are showing up as ? (question marks) in Firefox.

Offline iMav

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SMK-88 Compact Mac Keyboard review
« Reply #9 on: Sun, 18 November 2007, 12:23:46 »
Quote from: karlito
Cool, feel free to edit any errors and what not. First thing I noticed is all the ' (apostrophes) are showing up as ? (question marks) in Firefox.

Fixed.

Offline karlito

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SMK-88 Compact Mac Keyboard review
« Reply #10 on: Sun, 18 November 2007, 12:29:11 »
Quote from: xsphat
I have big lumberjack hands, so I can sit at my desk typing aways and change a CD without moving from the home row (sorry for the exaggeration, I'm Bohemian.). I'm on my HHKB Pro 2 right now, by the way. Funny how stupid life works out sometimes, isn't it?


Must be nice. I have skinny, bony, girly hands and my arteries stop at my wrist. I can be sweeting but my hands will be cold. If the temp drops below 70 degrees my hands freeze and start to hurt if i keep typing.  Only advantage is I don't get nasty gunk all over my mouse and keyboard like sweaty palm people.

Offline xsphat

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SMK-88 Compact Mac Keyboard review
« Reply #11 on: Sun, 18 November 2007, 12:31:19 »
Cool, I'm not the only reviewer anymore!

This really is a cool little site.

Offline xsphat

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SMK-88 Compact Mac Keyboard review
« Reply #12 on: Mon, 17 December 2007, 13:33:15 »
I used the SMK88 that I reviewed and subsequently gave to my girlfriend today and I found that I may have been too harsh on the switches. I am used to the Alps and the capacitives of the HHKB Pro 2, so I try like hell to bottom out every keystroke. The linear switches on the board are not easy to do that to so I ended up trying too hard to push them than necessary. when I just typed and didn't try to get anything else of them, I likeed them a lot more. I actually feel stupid for giving the thing to my chick now. I would like to test it out again, so we'll see if I can trade out a 'board with her and I may update my review after all is said and done.