MiniVan Keyboard Review
Hello everyone; welcome to another Rhinofeed review! Today I'm going to be taking a look at the MiniVan keyboard, a tiny keyboard designed by Evan Sailer. It's the smallest keyboard I've ever reviewed! It only has 44 or 45 keys, depending if you choose the standard layout or arrow key layout. This keyboard is sold as a kit, so make sure to bring your soldering iron!
Switches and Options
To start, my review model has Cherry MX Tactile Grey switches. These are not available in the drop, but they have a barebones kit option where you can bring your own switches as long as they are Cherry MX, Matias, Gateron, or Zealios. Otherwise your switch options are Cherry Blue, Brown, Clear, Green, Red; Gateron Blue, Brown, Clear, Green, Red; Matias Quiet Click (tactile); Matias Click; and Zealios 65g Tactile (Purple).
Using a CNC aluminum plate and case, the build is made out of materials that match other high-end keyboards on the market. They include cone feet for the bottom, and at first I thought they were the same exact design as found on the WhiteFox keyboard, but they are actually a bit shorter so that they don't create too much of an angle for a keyboard this size. Genius. There are 3 case and plate color options: black, silver or turqoise. The turqoise case matches a new black and turqoise DSA keycap set called Light-cycle that can be ordered along with the keyboard.
The dimensions are 3 3/8" x 9 7/8" x 1 1/8" (or 1 1/2" with feet), and the weight is 17 1/2 oz. To put that in perspective the POK3R weighs 28 1/4 oz.
This keyboard is a 40% keyboard, and it's tiny. You are giving up quite a few keys, and that might scare you. However, there are some benefits to having a keyboard this small.
For one, this would be an even better travel board. It's even smaller and lighter then the POK3R, so it's a nicer size to bring with you and type while on the go.
Another bonus is the fact that your hands will never have to reach far for any function, or even leave the home row for that matter. And, once you learn each function layer, you probably won't find that it slows you down much. I didn't have a ton of time with this keyboard, but I was starting to get the hang of it after just a few hours of use. Symbols and other characters still tripped me up quite a bit, admittedly. Evan (the keyboard designer) has made the function layer include a full mock keypad by positioning the numbers right on the home row on the second function layer, so I had no trouble with numbers. It helps to have a print out of your layout next to your computer just in case you need to reference it until you've practiced enough.
I do like how they managed to fit dedicated arrow keys in a board this small. To do this, they had to use the space where your right shift key would be. If you really need a right shift key, you can obviously go with the standard layout, or just reprogram an arrow key to be right shift. If you go with the standard layout, you'll have a forward slash key and right shift key instead of the arrow keys. Still, I do like the arrow key layout. It's a trade off you'll just have to decide whether you want to go with or not.
One of the top features of the keyboard is the fact that you can program it to suit your work style. There are 2 function layers. The default layout is very well done. A lot of thought was put into the positioning of the keys already, and I like the choices made. That's not to say you shouldn't tweak it a little bit, obviously, as it will all be available to change. Unfortunately, at this time I cannot show you the programming features because configuring and compiling the firmware was a little over my head (for now, I promise I'll learn). Plus, I simply did not have time to figure it out for this review. Once the drop is complete and I have my own MiniVan, I will create a separate video on it and update this portion of the review.
In essence, programming will be available for those who have the technical knowledge to dig in and control every aspect of the keyboards functionality. Right now it takes a little time to figure everything out.
The keycaps are the DSA Granite set, which is a dye-sublimated PBT set made by Signature Plastics. Now, these particular keycaps are not an option in the group buy, but you will be able to find them on PimpMyKeyboard.com in a few weeks.
This is the first time I've typed on DSA style keycaps. I actually kinda like them. I think your fingers settle in to their shape quite nicely. Your other keycap options include a blank PBT set, a laser etched PBT set, or the doubleshot DSA LightCycle set, which is a very cool black and turqoise themed set that will match the turquoise case option.
Other Notable Things
I love the position of the enter key. It finally gives my left thumb something to do! I wish all keyboards had a split spacebar / enter key combo like this.
Getting used to the layout at first takes a little bit of time, but it's very nice to be able to keep your hands on the home row at all times. You no longer need to stretch your fingers so far or move your hands so much to reach everything. All the functionality is there despite the size, and if you use a keyboard for hours every day, you'll learn each function layer pretty quickly.
Thanks to Massdrop for sending this out for review! If you're interested in picking up the MiniVan keyboard you can find it at this link.