Happy New Year!

Older IBM Ultranav keyboard

Older IBM Ultranav keyboard

For the last 13 years I've been using standalone versions of the Lenovo (formerly IBM) Thinkpad keyboard design — with integrated trackpoint — as my main computer input devices.

My latest ("ThinkPad TrackPoint Keyboard II") was starting to fail so I decided to look into alternatives for a replacement. The sticking point was I really like the trackpoint as a mouse replacement, and very few other manufacturers offer that.

I've thus far managed to avoid the money pit that are mechanical keyboards. I can see the attraction: in the 90s I used an IBM Model M PS/2 keyboard as my daily driver until one tea spillage too many finally killed it. A friend kindly gifted me another Model M more recently, but the buckled-spring technology it uses is too loud for use in a public office, and the resistance too strong for my modern fingers. The latter could perhaps be fixed with training. But still: no trackpoint. (less importantly, no Windows keys.)

In anticipation of possibly getting a mechanical keyboard, I bought a passive 12 key "tester": 12 keyboard switches of different variants inside a perspex frame. This gives you a rough idea of the feel of each switch type, to try and narrow down what your personal preference might be. At the beginning I imagined I'd like something clicky and stiff, like the buckled springs (and the Cherry MX Green was closest to that), but I was gravitating more towards the more common MX Red (popular with gamers) and MX Brown (popular with typists).

Modern lenovo and sacrificial mech

Modern lenovo and sacrificial mech

I wasn't totally sure yet so I decided to buy a sacrificial mechanical keyboard to test a switch type properly. I managed to find a second-hand one for £20 with brown switches. It was a bad layout (ANSI) which detracted from its use but was a useful exercise: I decided I didn't really like the Browns that much! It seems 13 years with scissor switches have softened me up so that I want very little resistance on my keys. So. most likely, MX Reds.

Tex Shinobi

Shinobi, complete with cat hair

Shinobi, complete with cat hair

A small Taiwanese company, Tex, produce a series of mechanical keyboards very openly inspired by the IBM/Lenovo trackpoint models that I've been using for so long, complete with trackpoints. I'd been eyeing up their Tex Yoda II keyboard for some time, which looks great, very minimalistic, but in practise I do use the keys it omits, and it's pricey.

I decided to take the plunge and buy a more key-ful and reasonably priced Tex Shinobi ISO/UK layout, and I opted for Cherry MX Silent Red switches. Silent to give me the option of using in the Newcastle office, but also to reduce the risk of waking up the kids at home.

The Silent Reds are a bit "squishier" than raw Reds which is a shame, but not enough of an obstacle to typing rapidly. The keyboard shape and layout is a close clone of the old IBM Ultranav keyboards I used to use so I was at home on it straight away.

The real unknown quantity to me was how well the trackpoint works. I'd read mixed responses, but it's not clear that the people reviewing it were very familiar with the Lenovo ones. I am pleased to report that it's indistinguishable to the Lenovo one to me (and I used that a lot).

The keyboard came in a funky replica Thinkpad box and with some keycap and trackpoint pointer options. I opted for a yellow "hat" shaped trackpoint cover (to appease my yellow-obsessed youngest daughter) and the blue IBM-style Enter keycap.


I don't need any more keyboards! Unless I break this one. But in writing this I did notice that they are taking pre-orders on a new model Shura which seems to be halfway between the Yoda II and Shinobi. I imported the Shinobi from Tex direct (incurring the corresponding duty cost) but next time I might look for a UK distributor such as https://www.keyboardco.com/.