I have to admit that typing on a ThinkPad keyboard on my desktop computer seems just a bit weird. But, there’s a reason why IBM (Lenovo) is famous for their keyboards: they provide a satisfying typing experience for people who need a serious keyboard. But, does Lenovo’s ThinkPad keyboard live up to the expectations of some of IBM’s other great keyboards?
Before testing the ThinkPad keyboard that I’m typing this review on, I was using a Unicomp Customizer keyboard. The Unicomp is essentially a remanufactured version of the eternally coveted IBM Model M that uses a patented “buckling spring” technology to register key presses. While this allows IBM to provide one of the most comfortable typing experiences possible, one of the major downsides is that the Model M is not office-friendly: it’s incredibly loud. So loud, in fact, that someone may very well attempt to smash your keyboard against your desk when you’re out of the office (only to be chagrined when their aggression turns to self-inflicted pain from a virtually indestructible keyboard that looks like it was built for a battleship rather than someone office-worker’s desk).
But that’s not the only reason why I decided to give the Lenovo ThinkPad USB keyboard a try; for about a year, I’ve been suffering with non-working keys on my Unicomp. It’s quite disheartening when you’re working in Inkscape or y.ED (a Visio clone) and are forced to right click and press deleted to remove an object in your graphic. I suppose I’m one of the few unlucky people who received a bad Unicomp Customizer, but I digress… this review is about another beast designed by IBM.
A little beast, that is: this keyboard weighs in at a meager 657 grams. More importantly, since you’re likely not to be carrying it around with you everywhere, is that is takes up a fraction of the space that a normal keyboard takes up at only 33.6cm wide. Comparing it to my Lenovo ThinkPad X220 – Lenovo’s smallest full-powered ThinkPad that has a 12.5″ display – the keyboard is just a skosh larger than my ultraportable. Most of the additional size comes from the amply-sized contoured wrist rest that makes this keyboard quite comfortable to type on.
As for the thickness of this keyboard, it’s very thin, measuring in at 38.1mm thick. This makes it actually blend quite well into the desk that it’s rested upon, making for an ergonomic typing experience. It seems very unsubstantial for a keyboard, but for those with limited desk space, this is a huge benefit. But equally as unsubstantial is the short cord that may be an issue for some users. I found the short cable to make it even difficult for me to route the cable nicely along my desk to my computer resting underneath. Unfortunately, this keyboard only has a 1m cable when most of its competitors have a 2m or even a generous 3m cable.
The layout of this keyboard is fairly nice, as well. I’m not exactly a believer in having an overabundence of media keys that largely go unused; I don’t need a keyboard shortcut to launch my web browser, for instance. But, this keyboard does provide some basic media keys, including discrete audio buttons that allow you to mute or adjust your sound volume, as well as muting / unmuting an external microphone. You are also offered a “ThinkVantage” key, but, unless you’re using this on a Lenovo ThinkSeries computer, you’ll find little use in this key. In addition to discrete media keys, there are standard alternative keys that can be activated by pressing the “Fn” button; some of these allow you to pause, play, stop, forward and rewind media playback, as well as sleeping the computer and locking it. If you’re a Linux user, many of these special keys will simply not work because there aren’t official Lenovo drivers to make these features work; if you’re running Windows, Lenovo included a CD with drivers. But, the most important keys (including the media keys) will work on any computer without any issues. One other minor layout difference is that the Control key and the Function keys are swapped, as they are on every other Lenovo keyboard; this is not really a disadvantage because it takes a very short amount of time to get used to and really does not detract from the typing experience.
Nonetheless, the most important function of any keyboard is not to provide users with media keys; it’s to provide the user with a satisfactory typing experience that allows them to focus on their work and not on the keyboard underneath their fingers. If you’re a fan of the ThinkPad keyboard, you’ll certainly enjoy this keyboard. The key travel is exactly what it should be. The resistance of the keys is uniform and very acceptable. On many cheap keyboards, the amount of force required to depress a key can be extreme, leading to fatigue and annoyance (especially when you’re typing quickly and expecting shift to capitalize the beginning of your sentences) . One area of personal preference is the low-height contoured keycaps that reduce the amount of travel required for typing on the keyboard. I’ve found that I type fastest on keyboards with low-height keys, but this preference is mostly personal taste. The spacing of the keys is exactly what you’d expect from a full-sized keyboard, so it is comfortable for most people who are accustomed to typing on a normal full-sized keyboard.
On the TrackPoint front, the included joystick-style nub that is placed between the G, H, and B keys is quite acceptable. While I wouldn’t use it for anything that requires significant movement, such as any graphics work, it is sufficient for people who want to be able to quickly switch to another task on their computer without requiring them to lift their hand off the keyboard. One minor annoyance that is, again, a matter of personal preference is the cap style that Lenovo is now including on all of their ThinkPad keyboards: the fringes of the cap extend into the range of the G, H, and B keys, making it a minor annoyance for the untrained user.
The Lenovo ThinkPad USB keyboard is mostly satisfying, and certainly provides a sufficient keyboarding experience, but there are a few minor features that would make this an even better keyboard. For one, I would love to see a USB hub integrated into this keyboard that allows you to connect a small USB device to it without reaching underneath your desk (just like you would on your laptop). The other minor gripe is that there is not a backlit version; I know many people value the ability to see which keys they are typing on, especially people who have yet to master the skills of typing.
- Comfortable typing experience (in my experience, it’s a serious replacement for a mechanical keyboard, where a mechanical keyboard is not desirable).
- Integrated TrackPoint joystick.
- Amply-sized wrist rest.
- Includes essential media keys and volume controls.
- No USB Hub
- No Backlighting
- Included nub may be a nuisance to some.
- Some keys don’t work on non-Lenovo computers.
VERDICT: 86 / 100
Price: $59.99 MSRP