Author Topic: Review: The MK Typist, a Kailh BOX White board  (Read 5635 times)

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Offline ander

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Review: The MK Typist, a Kailh BOX White board
« on: Wed, 23 May 2018, 08:52:53 »
Greets, fellow geeklies.

When Kaihua Electronics (China) released their Kailh BOX Switches in early 2017, there was a swell of enthusiasm in the MK community. They were much more than another bunch of Cherry-MX-inspired knockoffs, BOXes offered some interesting improvements on that ubiquitous, oft-copied, fruit-monikered German switch line.


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The distinctive widened stem/travel mechanism:
  • Shielded the switch's contacts from dust and liquids (earning it an Intrusion Protection rating of IP56—"keeps out dust in sufficient quantity to interfere with operation" and "resistant to strong jets of water"—but  what about Red Bull?)
  • Reduced wobble
  • Allowed keys to be pressed off-center without binding
  • Just looked cool
The BOX's design also removed hysteresis—the delay between tactile feedback and activation—found in other MX-type switches. This was great news for gamers, as it removed the delay between multiple keypresses (and as everyone knows, the faster you can press the same keys over and over, the more stuff you can punch, shoot, and blow up—which can only be good, right?)

Unlike clicky MX switches, which click by simply letting the stems whack the bottom of the case (I didn't know that, did you?), clicky BOX variants had a tiny metal "click bar", seen here in an exploded-switch image from Kaihua's BOX promo video.


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Finally, BOX switches had gold-plated contacts—something that separated many MX-inspired clones from Cherrys originals—and were rated for 80 million keypresses.

It wasn't long till bags of BOXes were making their way into custom builds. But given the positive reception they'd received in the keeb community, why weren't any commercial BOX boards appearing? Certainly Kailh didn't do all that R&D just to benefit switch-soldering oddballs enthusiasts like us. It'd be like inventing a revolutionary power cell for cars, then giving car companies the cold shoulder and selling them only to hobbyist mechanics. (In their BOX review, Tom's Hardware wisecracked: "If a manufacturer makes a switch but no keyboard makers use it, does it truly exist?")

Finally, Kaihua themselves released a limited run of 1000 "commemorative" boards, which they branded—and really, I'm sorry, no offense intended, but where do Asian companies come up with these artsy-craftsy, off-brand-sounding product names?—HEXGEARS.


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When Kailh's rep announced the board here on GH, there was a day of silence. Then "meh"-y feedback started rolling in, focused on the board's esthetics. The beleaguered rep finally replied: "Every man has his hobbyhorse... We only have 1000 [of these, so] if you don't like [this topic], just ignore [it]..."

(I understand HEXGEARS is still made and sold by Hansung (S. Korea)—who, to my knowledge, has simply added RGB backlighting to the keys, presumably to keep up with that Jetsonsy-futuristic flashing bezel. But if this Amazon page is any indication of their marketing efforts in the West, they have yet to make much of a dent with it over here.)

Sure, I wanted a BOX board. But having a wife, family, friends and employer who expected to see me now and then, I wasn't in a position to start another keeb-building project. So I kept my eyes open for other BOX boards, preferably some that didn't require a general Star Trek decorating scheme. They had to appear sooner or later, didn't they?

And they did, at a place familiar to many of you: MechanicalKeyboards.com in Fairview, TN. They've produced a line of boards of their own, which they call the MK Typist. They're tastefully designed, full-size, narrow-bezel boards with one's choice of Cherry MX Red, MX Silent Red, or Kailh BOX White switches. It was just what an overserious, non-gaming old fart enthusiastic power-typer like moi was looking for!

So I contacted MK and told them I'd like to write up the BOX version of the Typist here on GH, and they very generously sent one over (plus a T-shirt). Let me be clear, though, that the opinions expressed here are purely my own, and haven't been influenced by the rare experience of receiving and using a spankin' new keyboard, with my wife's complete knowledge, unaccompanied by calls to a divorce attorney.

The Typist's box (and I mean box, not BOX) has a bold, fun retro logo:


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The back spells out the board's many features, so go ahead and examine it and you may save me some time here.


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Opening said box, I removed the opaque plastic dust wrapper and transparent cover (nice!) and beheld a cutting-edge piece o' typing kit.


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I regret that, with my limited photographic setup, I couldn't get a better image of the whole board. I've made it look like a $10 Dell RD here. It's really much darker, classier, and more substantial-looking.


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In the back of the box were:
  • A USB-C cable—neither braided nor gold-plated, which was a bit of a surprise with a board of this calibre (I had problems connecting it, too; more on this later); and
  • A key puller, as BOX switches are compatible with standard MX keys—and even if you didn't use different keys, you'd want a look at some of those swank boxy switches you now possessed, right?

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(And BTW, if they were supposed to be called caps and not keys, that tool up there would be a called a "cap puller", wouldn't it? But it's not, is it? So how come you're still calling 'em caps?)

At 2.2 pounds (1.3 kg), the MK Typist isn't a Filco, but you can tell it's solid from the moment you hoist it. The case is plastic, but it's good plastic, and you know there's a goodly whack of steel plate within. This baby doesn't have a bit of flex.

I considered opening it and giving you a look inside. Then I remembered my contact at MK confided in me (and now, in you) that they're having the Typists made—to their own specs, of course—by Taiwan's venerable Ducky. So, we know what's in there: great components, flawless soldering, everything how it should be—'nuff said.

The Typist comes with double-shot PBT keys, also Ducky-made. Really good, thick, heavily DS'd keys, too—I will give you a look at those.


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The surfaces have light texturing, and there's the pleasantly rigid feel you don't get with ABS keys.

Here's the profile:


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Okay, guilty—I don't know much about profiles. This one's obviously curved, though, not flat... A rather common profile in MX-type boards, I believe. GH's profile gurus are hereby invited to wax further on same.

The fold-out risers (not "feet"; those are the rubber pads at the bottom) are particularly well designed, and pop out with an assertive chonk.

And here's a classy feature: DIP switches on the back of the board let you change the key layout from QWERTY to Dvorak, Workman, MiniMak, Alphabetical or Norman. (Wow—Norman, our dry cleaner, has his own layout!) You can also set them to swap the Alt and Win keys, a feature gamers can use so they can hit Win at any time, triggering the Start Menu and interrupting the game, and claim they'd forgotten they'd set the keys that way, thus having an excuse for letting their whole team get chowdered.

Rounding out the Typist's features are:
  • Extensive on-board macro recording/playback
  • Win key lock (for the better gamers, obviously)
  • Dedicated multimedia keys
  • Fn key (by default, for extended Windows system and media commands)
  • Togglable NKRO/6KRO (if you don't know what it is, you don't need it)
  • A special key combination that, should things get too routine, opens all automatic garage doors in a three-block radius
So, okay—I'd reached the point where it was incumbent upon me to, you know, connect the board. You know, to use it. And I ran into a small problem:


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I couldn't insert the USB-C connector. Don't get me wrong: I'm grateful for these new connectors that needn't be turned one way or the other anymore. (The older you get, the more you appreciate little things like that.) But there wasn't enough space to lay this one flat enough to slide it in.

I could flatten it by pressing the cable into the "straight-out" notch, but the snug fit then kept the cable from moving forward. I could also get the connector sufficiently flat by sharply angling the cable to one of the side channels:


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And indeed, I preferred a side-emerging cable over a straight-out one (as do most of us these days, with our portable PCs nudging up against our external [i.e. good] keebs). But yowch—that was too sharp a bend for my comfort.

I finally squeezed and cajoled it, at an angle, till it was fully inserted and flat. But visions of a brand-new, non-functioning keeb floated before me. I don't like forcing anything like that. I'm sure the manufacturer meant well, providing such a stout connector, but they must not have realized it was a bit too stout for the case's topography. Oh well.

I fired up the board, and—but what was that immense glare to the right? Ah, the lock-light LEDs. Remember lock lights that came on just enough for you to see that, yes, they were on, which was all you really needed to know? Then over-bright lock lights became a thing—maybe so they'd hold their own with backlighting? The first ones were blue, I remember. Well, these are white, and they're bright.


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Okay, my camera exaggerated them a bit—they're not quite as bright as jumbo-jet landing lights. But if you were out on a dark night and happened to have your Typist and a USB charger, you could use them to find those car keys you'd dropped.

And that, BTW, is the extent of this board's lighting. No backlights, mirror balls, smoke machines... This is just a serious, I'm-here-to-get-some-typing-done board. Okay, it'll also illuminate where your car keys are, but that's it.

Once my eyes adjusted, it was time for the BOX typing experience. What did I think?

Yeah! My initial impression was, "This is how MX Blues always wanted to be." You press a key, and it goes straight down, like an elevator. And indeed, with BOX switches, there's no such thing as an off-center press anymore—you can press any key on its very corner, and that key works. It's almost spooky. Yes, the Typist's larger keys are stab-equipped, but was it necessary? The BOX is a grand stabilizer on its own.

And what of the no-hysteresis thing? What's it like typing on switches that actually click when they actuate?

In his excellent review of BOX White switches, GH-er Chyros felt some people would find this über responsiveness unnatural. "That's one strike against BOX", he said.

Now that I've tried it, though, I'm wondering if hysteresis felt familiar to us just because it was easier to make switches that way. When you think about it, isn't "click" supposed to mean "I just pressed a key"? You know, the whole keypress-verification thing? Clickety click = typing? You won't get any arguments from me.

You know how good coffee smells when it's being brewed? Then you have a cup and it never tastes quite as good as that. IMHO, BOX switches, on a solid board like the MK Typist, feel as clicky, even, and easy to type on as many MKs look like they should be. I'm real happy with this board. It's the clicky typing I thought I remembered from my youth.

Well, this has been fun, but I think my wife wants a bit of attention now. Emblazoned on the Typist's box is the motto, "The interface your fingers deserve". My wife just walked by and muttered, "Here's the interfinger your face deserves."

As usual, I'm the first to admit this well-meaning review may contain technical inaccuracies, significant omissions, and/or other geek-arousing misobservations begging further input, so feel free to chime in. (You probably weren't going to wander outside today anyway, what with all those misspelled words around? Hey, I'm not.)

Thanks to MechanicalKeebsKeyboards.com for the chance to review this fine board. I have a spare pair of sunglasses, so it's a keeper.
« Last Edit: Wed, 23 May 2018, 09:06:45 by ander »
Imagine that everything you are typing is being read by the person you are applying to for your first job. Imagine that it's all going to be seen by your parents and your grandparents and your grandchildren as well. – Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web

Online pixelpusher

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Re: Review: The MK Typist, a Kailh BOX White board
« Reply #1 on: Wed, 23 May 2018, 09:24:24 »
Thanks for the review.  I'm thinking I like your wife's jokes.

Also, I do like the white box a lot.  I like the pale box blue even more.  I just wish they sounded a bit lower pitched.  Can't have it all, I guess.
:)

Offline ShakeR

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Re: Review: The MK Typist, a Kailh BOX White board
« Reply #2 on: Wed, 23 May 2018, 14:55:30 »
ander, thanks for the review!

We're really excited about the Typists, and MK is super confident that users will instantly recognize the quality when they interface with these boards.

I have a concern about the indicator LED brightness on your Typist.  We actually had the OEM modify this multiple times before production to make it super dim (as we - like yourself - prefer dimmer indicators).  We were aiming for barely bright enough to see during daylight and I just confirmed with our team that side-by-side with other boards in our showroom, the Typist has dimmer indicator LEDs than every board we compared it with.

I'm wondering if the unit you received is by some crazy fluke one of the prototypes -OR- something was missed in QC on your unit -OR- a firmware bug -OR- you have very sensitive eyes :D

If you'd be so kind to help us troubleshoot it, that would be great!  We'll reach out soon.

Thanks again for the great review!
MechanicalKeyboards.com - What do you type on?

Offline ShakeR

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Re: Review: The MK Typist, a Kailh BOX White board
« Reply #3 on: Wed, 23 May 2018, 15:27:51 »
We suspect you're on .02 or .03   This should fix it:

Please update to the latest firmware here: https://mechanicalkeyboards.com/downloads/MK_Typist_V1.00.05NL.exe and let us know if that does the trick (no sunglasses required).
MechanicalKeyboards.com - What do you type on?

Offline ander

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Re: Review: The MK Typist, a Kailh BOX White board
« Reply #4 on: Thu, 24 May 2018, 20:37:41 »
We suspect you're on .02 or .03   This should fix it... Please update to the latest firmware here...

It worked! The LEDs look like indicator lights now, rather than spotlights... Nice job.

Here are some (somewhat) better photos of the Typist. I'm still underwhelmed with my camera's performance with dark objects, but these may give everyone a slightly better idea how the board actually looks. (I took them before upgrading the firmware, BTW.) I've also added a typing demo add at the end of this post... Clickety click!


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Imagine that everything you are typing is being read by the person you are applying to for your first job. Imagine that it's all going to be seen by your parents and your grandparents and your grandchildren as well. – Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web

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Re: Review: The MK Typist, a Kailh BOX White board
« Reply #5 on: Fri, 25 May 2018, 00:16:24 »
Also, re the cable:
  • It's occurred to me that, as many people could use this KB in a business environment, MK may have made the deliberate choice to eschew a braided cable—which, let's face it, is more of a gamer thang.
  • I may have just been a sissy (i.e. overcareful) with the connector. If one of you rugged All Geek types gets hold of one of these and has no trouble connecting it, go ahead and straighten me out here. I can take it.
Imagine that everything you are typing is being read by the person you are applying to for your first job. Imagine that it's all going to be seen by your parents and your grandparents and your grandchildren as well. – Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web

Offline JianYang

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Re: Review: The MK Typist, a Kailh BOX White board
« Reply #6 on: Fri, 25 May 2018, 04:48:02 »
Quote
The BOX's design also removed hysteresis—the delay between tactile feedback and activation—found in other MX-type switches. This was great news for gamers, as it removed the delay between multiple keypresses (and as everyone knows, the faster you can press the same keys over and over, the more stuff you can punch, shoot, and blow up—which can only be good, right?)

Hysteresis is the difference in activation set/release points in MX blues. The click jacket was introduced especially to achieve that effect, the sound was a secondary effect. (as I understand it)

Offline ander

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Re: Review: The MK Typist, a Kailh BOX White board
« Reply #7 on: Fri, 25 May 2018, 20:10:10 »
Hysteresis is the difference in activation set/release points in MX blues. The click jacket was introduced especially to achieve that effect, the sound was a secondary effect. (as I understand it)

I did some research to try to understand that better, but ultimately decided to take the word of DT's Cherry MX Blue page, which says:

Quote from: Deskthority
At the activation point, the blue plunger has pushed the white slider out of rest into a position where the force of the leaf spring on the slider's inclined plane will propel the slider towards the bottom. The leaf spring encounters no more resistance from the slider and closes the circuit. Because the blue plunger is no longer pushing on the white slider, the key resistance decreases sharply... The "click" sound is made by the white slider hitting the bottom of the switch housing.

Speaking of clickiness: Now that I've used this board for a few days, another thing I appreciate about it is its overall low volume. It's satisfyingly clicky—but unlike other, louder boards, I can use it down the hall from our bedroom without disturbing my wife. (I'm sure some of you have also had the unpleasant experience of having someone appear, bleary-eyed, in your doorway, saying, "You're going to have to use a quieter keyboard!") I'm guessing this is because of the BOX's discrete click-bar, and/or the fact that bottoming-out occurs over a larger area, distributing the impact better.
Imagine that everything you are typing is being read by the person you are applying to for your first job. Imagine that it's all going to be seen by your parents and your grandparents and your grandchildren as well. – Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web

Offline JianYang

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Re: Review: The MK Typist, a Kailh BOX White board
« Reply #8 on: Sat, 26 May 2018, 04:11:53 »
Thomas explains hysteresis it in his review:
t=16s at around 3:44 .

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Re: Review: The MK Typist, a Kailh BOX White board
« Reply #9 on: Thu, 07 June 2018, 10:46:33 »
Quote from: Deskthority
At the activation point, the blue plunger has pushed the white slider out of rest into a position where the force of the leaf spring on the slider's inclined plane will propel the slider towards the bottom. The leaf spring encounters no more resistance from the slider and closes the circuit. Because the blue plunger is no longer pushing on the white slider, the key resistance decreases sharply... The "click" sound is made by the white slider hitting the bottom of the switch housing.

Speaking of clickiness: Now that I've used this board for a few days, another thing I appreciate about it is its overall low volume. It's satisfyingly clicky—but unlike other, louder boards, I can use it down the hall from our bedroom without disturbing my wife. (I'm sure some of you have also had the unpleasant experience of having someone appear, bleary-eyed, in your doorway, saying, "You're going to have to use a quieter keyboard!") I'm guessing this is because of the BOX's discrete click-bar, and/or the fact that bottoming-out occurs over a larger area, distributing the impact better.
[/quote]

I've been using my board with box whites for about three weeks now. My wife came into my office yesterday while I was typing and said "That thing isn't near as loud as it used to be." Disregarding the fact that it's a completely different keyboard, the old one she was referring to had mx blues and the new one has whites. Not only do I enjoy typing on box whites more, but they have the wife's approval too!. Win-win

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Re: Review: The MK Typist, a Kailh BOX White board
« Reply #10 on: Thu, 07 June 2018, 12:59:22 »
I finally put some whites in my hotswap keyboard.  They might be endgame clicky for me.  I prefer a medium to low tactility though, so people wanting crazy tactile feels might want to look elsewhere.
:)

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Re: Review: The MK Typist, a Kailh BOX White board
« Reply #11 on: Thu, 07 June 2018, 13:05:18 »
MX blues do have a click leaf, but the sound of its click is very soft, and it gets completely drowned out by all the bottom-out and upstroke clacking that you get from all of Cherry's standard switches (i.e., the non-dampened ones).

AFAIK, Kailh's box switches are not dampened, and so they will also deliver bottom-out and upstroke noise. I'm not sure I understand how Kailh's switches are an improvement over Cherry switches in this regard.

Offline hideyourholes

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Re: Review: The MK Typist, a Kailh BOX White board
« Reply #12 on: Thu, 07 June 2018, 14:40:27 »
Box whites are great - I love them. The feel and weight of them is perfect for me but another big win for me is the removal of wobble, which is especially noticeable on some of my artisans.

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Re: Review: The MK Typist, a Kailh BOX White board
« Reply #13 on: Thu, 07 June 2018, 20:34:56 »
Thanks for your reviewing!  ;)

Offline portbaron

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Re: Review: The MK Typist, a Kailh BOX White board
« Reply #14 on: Fri, 15 June 2018, 21:55:32 »
Nice review and pictures.

And just to chime in about BOX whites; they are the best tactile switch IMO. I've had a couple boards with MX blues, mx green, as well as box pale blue and box navy (for the lolz). BOX white are definitely my favorite overall to type on.
I got rid of my 2 MX Blue boards the same week I got a board with box whites, and I never get rid of boards if there is even a slim chance I'll use them again at some point in the future. Box whites feel so much more solid and less vague. 
« Last Edit: Fri, 15 June 2018, 22:17:25 by portbaron »
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