Happy Hacking Professional 2 Review

The HHKB Professional 2. Speak those words, and your thoughts may include “TOO EXPENSIVE”, “THE PERFECT KEYBOARD”, “END GAME”, or “RUBBER DOME”. It’s a keyboard that has brought polarizing opinion throughout the mechanical keyboard community. This keyboard has become such a status symbol and example of minimalistic Japanese design that it even has its own Wikipedia page.

WHAT’S INCLUDED

  • Keyboard itself
  • Mini USB Cable - 1.8m long
  • 20th anniversary stickers
  • Japanese manual
  • Made in Japan

BUILD

When the HHKB Pro 2 was released in 2006, aluminum cases on keyboards were not as prevalent. This fully-plastic design makes the HHKB a little outdated. Plastic does make the keyboard lighter and better for travel, however. The cheaper build quality pairs decently with Topre, and this combination produces the signature Happy Hacking sound and feel. Personally, I want to see a metal case, plate, or both.

The case doesn’t flex much, although the plastic does creak a bit. There is a small gap between the top and bottom portions of the case.

  • Matte finish hides dust and fingerprints.
  • Case slopes upwards towards the back.
  • Feet have 2 heights, but no rubber pads – feel cheap, and snap loudly.
  • Only two rubber feet in front.
  • The keyboard slides around easily. Add rubber feet yourself to fix issue.
  • Dimensions: 11.6” x 4.3” x 1.6” [294 x 110 x 39.9mm] (keycaps + flat) + 3/16" [5mm] for small feet + 7/16" [1cm] for tall feet.
  • Weight: 17.77oz [504g]. The lightest mechanical keyboard I’ve used.
  • USB 2.0 HUB – 2 unpowered ports

PFU Limited’s most recent keyboard introduced Bluetooth connectivity, but the design has largely been unchanged, aside from an unsightly hump added to the back.

LAYOUT

Dr. Eiiti Wada, a computer scientist professor at the University of Tokyo, pioneered the 60% small form factor keyboard by producing a layout still relevant today. The compact layout was used for the first HHKB, which included membrane switches, in 1996. In 2003, PFU Limited introduced the HHKB Professional model which included Topre switches.

  • 60% symmetrical layout
  • Takes some time to get used to, but the layout is natural to use and everything is within reach of the home row.
  • My left hand is still getting used to doing key combos, and some of them feel awkward.
  • Six dipswitches on back with instructions on bottom of keyboard.
  • Shorter right shift at 1.75u, and 1u sizes for right alt, fn, ctrl.
  • TKL functions: arrow keys, home, PgUp, PgDn, End, Delete, and Function row

The two major differences between this and a standard ANSI layout is that “Control” and “Backspace” have moved. Control is found where your Caps Lock key would be, and Backspace is on a function layer underneath the delete key. This can be changed with a dip-switch to allow you to backspace more conveniently.

Even though the keycaps are blank, I had no problem adjusting to the layout and remembering the function layer. It’s all very logical. I love the backspace position after flipping the dip-switch. The control key I’m a bit indifferent about. Key combos took a bit more time to relearn with the control key location.

KEYCAPS

  • Grey and white, or dark grey
  • Textured
  • Dye-sub printing
  • PBT
  • Spacebar is ABS
  • Great keycaps.

Topre keycap sets are rare, however. If you want to customize your keyboard with MX Keycaps you’ll need adapters which are expensive, will affect the feel of the keyboard, and won’t work on the spacebar.

KEYSWITCHES

Topre sounds and feels amazing. They’re light, tactile, and smooth. While the switch technically includes a rubber dome it’s not as strenuous or tiring as a cheap membrane keyboard. You still bottom out, but the switch is designed for it. After pressing the key, they “Pop” back into place. You don’t feel like you're mashing the keys down forcefully like on a typical rubber dome.

  • Topre Electrostatic Capacitive Key Switches
  • 45g actuation force.
  • 4mm travel distance (same as Cherry switches)
  • Switches are mounted to the top of the plastic case, and there is no metal plate.

Compared to the Realforce 55g, the HHKB produces a lighter, snappier, louder response. The Realforce is heavier, lower tone, and has more of a "thunk". This is due to the steel plate. It’s a subtle difference that is easy to notice over long periods of typing. In fact, the HHKB might be better for longer typing sessions because the switches are lighter, and less effort is required to type. I’d like to try 45g domes on the Realforce, but it is not an available option.

Pros:

  • Great keycaps.
  • Reliable.
  • Great switches.

Indifferent:

  • Unique layout.
  • No backlighting.
  • Non-powered USB ports.

Cons:

  • Non-existent programming.
  • No aluminum case or metal plate.
  • Extra features not available to Windows. Built for Mac first.
  • ABS spacebar.

CONCLUSION:

This keyboard is the pioneer of minimal keyboards, but I’d like to see some changes made to modernize it. I want built-in programming and layout control. I’d like to see an aluminum case and steel plate, but in the same exact profile and design. No visible logo would be nice, and a smaller label on the bottom. I don’t even want the USB ports, they add clutter. I’d like a Bluetooth model that doesn’t have a giant ugly hump sticking out the back. If it saves space, I’d get rid of the cheap plastic flip-out feet and use that for extra built-in battery or the Bluetooth receiver. I want USB-Type C. A PBT spacebar. And I don't want them to increase the price further to add these features.

The Realforce seems like a better value because of the steel plate, and the heavier 55g switches appeal to me more. The standard tenkeyless layout is admittedly more practical for more scenarios.

I would only seriously consider this keyboard if you have money to spare, use a Mac, don’t mind a fully plastic design, and love minimalism. This keyboard’s switches, keycaps, and layout is fantastic, but the HHKB is aging. PFU Limited (Fujitsu) needs to update a few things to keep this keyboard competitive.

Before you leave, I highly recommend checking out the interview of the original designer, Dr. Eiiti Wada. https://www.massdrop.com/article/eiiti-wada-interview?mode=guest_open

Nathaniel Hirschler Avatar
By Nathaniel Hirschler

I'm not a fan of writing bios.
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