Review When you think about iconic mechanical keyboards, the Happy Hacking is among the first to spring to mind. Its compact design is unusual if you're used to full-sized boards with the numpad, function keys, and arrow keys excised. The result is a keyboard that is unfathomably small, occupying little desk real estate.
El Reg got its grubby talons on the latest fare from the Japanese keyboard maker: the Happy Hacking Professional Hybrid. Introduced earlier this year, this builds upon the same design that has endured for nearly three decades, while adding modern-day nice-to-haves including USB-C support and integrated Bluetooth.
The rest, however, is largely the same. It still uses Topre keyswitches, with silent and non-silent versions on offer. We're looking at the latter.
It's entirely plausible you might not be familiar with Topre. The switches produced by this Japanese brand are expensive when compared to Cherry MX clones, and thus somewhat rare. That's a shame because they're full of character, and offer a different and dynamic typing experience that makes the Happy Hacking keyboard a delight to use.
On one hand, they're reasonably light, requiring scant actuation force to register a press. This gives them the sensation of a Cherry MX Brown-based keyboard. On the sound front, they don't produce a "click" but rather a "thonk". And it's this regular percussive feedback that helps immerse yourself in the flow of your work.
This keyboard's unusual layout takes some getting used to. The Happy Hacking Professional Hybrid forces you to relearn all your muscle memory to use it efficiently, and it's a steep learning curve.
It's not hard to see why. A typical full-sized keyboard has 104 keys, not including custom macro and media keys. This has just 60. Absent keys can be accessed via key shortcuts. Other keys are relocated to make the board more appealing to devs – for example, the control key is remapped to where the caps lock key usually sits, making it easier to access combination macros.
You can customise this layout through a Windows-only app. For those fond of a DVORAK or COLEMAC layout, you can also obtain the Happy Hacking Professional Hybrid with blank keycaps. There's a removable back panel that allows you to change the mannerisms of the keyboard by toggling DIP switches, letting you shift between PC and Mac layouts in seconds. That's a nice touch.
Once you get used to the compact layout, you'll start to see the Happy Hacking's charms. Because all keys are reachable within the span of your fingers, you don't have to move your wrists that much, making it comfortable for long sprints of writing or programming.
The build itself is excellent. The rounded keycaps feel amazing to type on, and the chassis is firm and has enough weight to stay put. The Bluetooth radio is powered by two standard AA batteries. Rechargeable li-on batteries are convenient, but they eventually fail, and are often hard to replace. If you're planning on using this keyboard for the long haul, you'll appreciate that.
You can get the Happy Hacking direct from the vendor for £259.99. If you'd prefer the silent variant, that's an extra £40. It ain't cheap, but it's within the realms of what's expected for a niche, professional-oriented keyboard.
I'd argue it's worth it. Once you've climbed the learning curve, you end up with a typing experience that feels way more comfortable than a standard 104-key keyboard. The Topre keyswitches feel great, while the inclusion of the customisable DIP switches make this a cross-platform all-rounder. ®