The Ultimate Hacking Keyboard is truly the "ultimate"

It's called the "Ultimate" Hacking Keyboard for a reason.

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Image: Ultimate Hacking Keyboard

For almost a decade, I've been pounding away with my Kinesis Freestyle2 keyboard. I'd tried other ergonomic keyboards and none of them could stand up to the pain- and exhaustion-free typing I'd enjoyed for so many years.

And then I was contacted by the makers of the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard (UHK). They asked if I wanted to give their hardware a try--with a confidence I wasn't sure they should own. Instead of spitting in their faces with, "You cannot best the Freestyle2," I agreed. It couldn't hurt after all. After a few weeks, the UHK arrived in the mail. I unboxed it, assembled it, and set out to give it my best effort, assuming I'd be taking it down and quickly replacing it with my trusty Freestyle2.

As much as I hate to say this, the Kenesis Freestyle2 has not only been matched, it's been bested. In fact, upon typing that first sentence with the UHK, I drew the conclusion that this keyboard might well be the perfect option for just about anyone who spends an inordinate amount of time slapping fingertip to keys. It's that good.

But what makes this keyboard so good you'd probably want to take it with you, even using it with your laptop on the go? Let me break it down.

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The form factor and source

First off, the UHK is capable of serving as a standard keyboard or broken in half, thanks to very stout connectors (Figure A), and used in a much more ergonomic manner.

Figure A

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The connectors allowing you to use the UHK as a single or split keyboard.

Image: Jack Wallen/TechRepublic

The UHK also includes small legs that make it possible to tent the keyboard when split for even more ergonomic deliciousness. Although it doesn't have quite the tenting flexibility as the Kenesis (with the addition of the VIP kit), the UHK legs do tent the keyboard just enough to ease the strain on the wrists. When you type as much as I do, that angle can be a real tendon saver. 

Also, with a quick press of a key combination, you can also switch between qwerty, Colemak, or Dvorak layouts. With the help of the UHK Agent app (available for Linux, Mac, and Windows), you can totally remap your keyboard to perfectly fit your needs. The UHK is also open source, so make sure to check out their Github page to download the source for the agent, firmware, and much more.

The key switches

Like any quality keyboard maker, UHK allows you to select from an array of key switches. When purchasing your UHK, you can select from:

  • Blue (highly tactile, clicky, 50 cN actuation)
  • Brown (tactile, non-clicky, 60 cN actuation)
  • Red (linear, non-clicky, 45 cN actuation)
  • Black (linear, non-clicky, 60 cN actuation))
  • Clear (tactile, non-clicky, 65 cN actuation)
  • Green (highly tactile, clicky, 80 cN actuation)

Make sure to consider your key switch choice carefully as that choice will directly affect the efficiency of your typing and whether or not the clicking sound will get on your nerves (or the nerves of those around you). 

My key preferences is Red. I like a short actuation with no clicking sound. However, even with the silent red switches, the UHK does make a very unique sound. Once you get up to speed with the keyboard, it'll sound like a herd of tiny horses galloping through your office. 

The wrist rests

The UHK shrugs off the standard idea of what makes up a quality wrist rest. Instead of a soft foam, they go for wood. That's right. You'll be resting your wrists against a hard surface. At first I was (once again) skeptical about this choice. After a few days I realized two things: Only my left wrist lays on the rest and wood makes a seriously good surface for a rest.

Truth be told, you shouldn't even use a wrist rest (and I am retraining my left hand to stop depending on one), as you type much faster without lazy wrists. Even so, for those that do prefer to lay their wrists down, you'll quickly come to appreciate that hard surface. 

Two caveats

There are only two caveats to the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard. The first is the cost--these babies aren't cheap. The base model comes in at approximately $275.00 USD. It's steep. But for anyone looking to own what is probably the single best keyboard made, it's a worthwhile investment.

The second caveat is the lack of dedicated cursor keys. If you tend to use the cursor keys a lot, you're going to have to make a serious adjustment. In order to use the cursor keys, you must work with the Mod button. Many gamers will be accustomed to such a layout. The key combinations are:

  • Mod+j = left cursor
  • Mod+k=down cursor
  • Mod+l=right cursor
  • Mod+i=up cursor

The Mod button also enables the page up/down, home, end, and delete functions (as well as others). So to really get up to speed with the UHK, you'll have to retrain your brain and your fingers. For me, this took about two weeks. Now I'm using the keyboard without pause to remember which combination is which.

Add-ons

The company behind the UHK is currently developing add-ons for the keyboard. Add-ons include:

  • A touchpad
  • Trackpoint
  • Trackball

These modules will connect to the inside edge of the keyboard (when split) and promise to extend the functionality of the device. 

If you've been looking for your forever keyboard--one that'll you want to take with you everywhere you go--look no further than the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard. This will be the last keyboard you'll ever need. All other keyboards need not apply.

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