Not to sound like an ad slogan, but if you liked the iconic IBM/Lenovo laptop TrackPoint-and-touchpad combo, you’ll love the Yoda II mechanical keyboard.
Tex Electronics, a two-man operation located in Taiwan, built a mechanical keyboard that includes what looks like that famous red TrackPoint, stuck right in the middle of the key area, and three extra keys located beneath the spacebar. The three keys are programmed for left click, right click, and center click mouse controls. If you need to scroll, for example, you press and hold the center key and use the trackball to scroll up or down.
Technically speaking, the Tex Yoda II lets you ditch your mouse entirely.
A Pretty Piece Of Hardware
The mouse capabilities are certainly a choice feature of the Yoda II, but by itself, it’s a pretty piece of hardware. Tex CNC’d the chassis out of a beautiful piece of brushed aluminum, and the keyboard has a nice heft to it. The chassis looks seamless if you look at the sides and back, but the top part was cut down and drilled through to allow for the PCB and switches. The PCB is covered up by a backplate, and the backplate’s edges are mostly obscured by the key caps, which preserves the Yoda II’s seamless look.
The model on display had opaque keycaps, but the Cherry MX Brown switches, we noticed, had LEDs. When pressed on that, Tex’s Justin Wu said that the LEDs are there for underlighting only. They weren’t lit when we saw the Yoda II, so we didn’t get to see the effect, though.
One slight drawback to the TrackPoint design is that the four keys around it had to have their corners CNC’d to make room. Thus, you can’t just pop on a complete set of aftermarket caps, although you can certainly swap out some of the caps--which is what Tex did with the Escape key, which sported a nice-looking GeekHack cap.
For now, the Yoda II will come with Cherry MX Brown switches. Why? Wu likes them; but there’s no reason why you couldn’t order a Yoda II with essentially any switch you want.
Simple And Brilliant Key Configuration
Tex has developed a brilliant way to let you configure the Yoda II. Wu and his business partner wanted to offer full and granular key configuration, but they were leary of developing desktop software to do so, citing how tricky and buggy it can be to mess with software.
Instead, they built an HTML5 website and added DIP switches to the Yoda II. On the website, you can lose yourself in all the configuration possibilities, which range from different layouts (ANSI, ISO, DIY, etc.) to individual key assignments to mouse controls to macros. It’s a simple to use and pleasing to look at white, black, and red GUI. There’s room for multiple profiles, too, and you can use it with a PC or a Mac. (In fact, Wu used a Macbook to show us how the GUI worked.)
When you’re done fiddling with your configuration, you save it as a simple binary file--and here’s where the brilliance of the setup kicks up a notch: With the Yoda II connected to the computer, you flip the DIP switch on the bottom of the keyboard, and the computer will recognize it as a USB mass storage device. The keyboard gets a drive letter; then, you just drag and drop your config file to the drive, and poof, your keyboard is updated.
Then you flip the DIP switch back into keyboard mode, and you’re all set. We failed to confirm this when we met with Tex, but we believe that you can save multiple configurations to the keyboard at once and enable them as you wish via the DIP switches. Thus, you should be able to create numerous configurations with multiple profiles and store them on-device.
That also means your key assignments, et al, will work no matter what computer the keyboard is connected to. Further, the HTML5 site is, you know, a website, so you can create new configurations from anywhere, and you can load them onto the Yoda II locally as long as the computer to which it’s attached has a USB port.
So then, just as Wu intended, there’s never any software to update.
When And How Much?
Wu didn’t have a set price in mind for the Yoda II--we assume it will be more than $200--but expect preorders to go live at the end of June. Delivery is slated for August.
Tex hasn’t nailed down the means by which you can order a Yoda II, but it’s likely to be a combination of the company’s own website and MechanicalKeyboards.com for North American buyers. The Yoda II, for all its DIY-ishness, will not be handmade; Wu said that Tex will get the components together and enlist a factory for assembly.
Update, 6/3/17, 7:20am PT: TrackPoint, not trackball.