Happy Hacking Keyboard Studio review: Mouse and keyboard in one tiny package

The Happy Hacking Keyboard line from PFU America is aimed at users who want a compact, but powerful and customizable keyboard with a great typing feel. The latest version of the HHKB (as it’s abbreviated) is the HHKB Studio, designed to compress both keyboard and mouse functionality into the most compact footprint possible. Like its predecessors, this keyboard isn’t cheap—its list price is $385—but it offers a mix of features you won’t find in other keyboards.

Let’s take a look.

HHKB Studio test drive

The HHKB Studio uses USB-C or Bluetooth and battery-powered connections, with both cabling and batteries included. Bluetooth pairing works with up to four distinct devices, and it can be used to command both Mac and Windows systems interchangeably.

I was fond of the soft-touch, smooth-sliding linear mechanical key switch mechanisms used in the HHKB Hybrid Type-S model I previously reviewed. The Studio uses the same switches, but you can swap in your own standard MX-stem switches—for instance, to give the non-alphanumeric keys a little more click, or to make the Esc key harder to actuate. The keycaps shipped with my unit used a gloss-black over matte-black color scheme that you’ll either find classy and stylish or next to impossible to make out. There is no key backlighting, but a brightly lit room helps.

HHKB Studio keyboard IDG

HHKB Studio features a super compact keyboard layout with a pointing stick mouse and gesture pads.

The super-compact 60-key layout means no dedicated cursor controls or number pad. Key controls for the arrows are accessed by way of function key combos. Also, the left Control key now sits where Caps Lock usually does; you use FN + Tab to access Caps Lock if needed. Each FN key combo is printed on the bottom front of each keycap, but again the black keycap colors on my unit made them tough to read without direct lighting.

For cursor control, the HHKB Studio adds two other features. One is the pointing stick mouse, as popularized by the original IBM ThinkPad. It’s set between the G/H/B key cluster, and complemented with thumb-reachable mouse buttons set below the space bar. It takes some practice to work with, but for basic mousing about it’s convenient, and the keyboard comes with four replacement caps for the stick mouse.

The other cursor control feature is four “gesture pads” along the front edges and sides of the unit. Slide your fingers along the left side and left front edges to move the cursor; slide them along the right side and right front edges to scroll the current window or tab between windows. You can also freely reassign the corresponding key actions for these movements.

The gesture pads are powerful and useful enough that I rarely relied on the arrow-diamond key cluster or even the pointing stick to move the cursor. However, you can trigger the gesture pads by accident. A couple of times I innocently bumped the side of the unit when moving it, and ended up sending keystrokes to a different window.

Many hackable keyboard models use the VIA standard, meaning you can change your keyboard’s layout or behaviors through a web browser app. HHKB does not support VIA, unfortunately; the keymapping and control tool provided for it runs as an installable desktop application.

Bottom line

Like its predecessor, the Happy Hacking Keyboard Studio packs functionality and a great typing feel into a small form factor. This version ramps up the functionality even further by letting you do away with a mouse. But you’ll have to decide if $385 is a worthy price.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.


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