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Input Devices Upgrades Hardware

Review of the Model M-Inspired Unicomp Customizer Keyboard 383

Posted by timothy
from the lust-lust-lust dept.
ThousandStars writes "I wrote a review of the Unicomp Customizer Keyboard, which is a modern version of the IBM and then Lexmark Model M much beloved by nerds and hackers. The pros of the Customizer: it's sturdy, remarkably similar to the Model M, has great tech support, and uses a USB interface. Oh, and it's Mac-friendly. The cons: at $69 it's somewhat expensive, and its noise won't be music to your cubemate's ears." Note: this is one of the very, very few buckling-spring keyboards you can get new these days, instead of prowling through thrift stores, eBay, and university dumpsters.
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Review of the Model M-Inspired Unicomp Customizer Keyboard

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  • by fictionpuss (1136565) * on Thursday May 29, 2008 @10:11AM (#23585803)
    ...and an internet fan-base, I guess that explains why I haven't been able to find a $2-3 replacement clicky keyboard in a charity shop over the last few years. Sometimes internet, you really suck.
  • Geezer alert! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sm62704 (957197) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @10:12AM (#23585809) Journal
    At $69 it's somewhat expensive

    Yet you are comparing it to the IBM model M. When that model was out over 20 years ago [wikipedia.org]. A cheap keyboard was over a hundred bucks back then.

    Tell me again how we should be glad gas prices are low "after inflation?"

    Of course, that hundred dollar keyboard was connected to a four thousand dollar PC with a color monitor (green). It had no mouse. It held less than 1 meg of memory and ran at less than 16 mhz (the 286 five years later; the 8088 was 4 mhz, a thousand times slower than today's CPUs).

    I paid $70 for my keyboard/mouse combo. Of course, they're wireless and the mouse has no ball.
  • USB, pointing stick (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Ed Avis (5917) <ed@membled.com> on Thursday May 29, 2008 @10:15AM (#23585847) Homepage
    Unicomp also make keyboards with a 'nipple' pointing device in the middle like on Thinkpads. The Endurapro [yahoo.net] is buckling spring with pointing device and is available as USB. The only downside is that they can't ship the USB version outside the USA.

    I'd like to get one but currently I have a good stock of Model Ms for my typing needs.

    What I really want to use is the old PC or PC-XT keyboard - buckling spring but even heavier and better built than the Model M. However the electronics are different. I think I saw an adapter on sale for $100 somewhere but that's a bit steep.
  • by LinuxOnEveryDesktop (14145) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @10:17AM (#23585875) Homepage
    I actually prefer Unicomp's Endurapro [yahoo.net]. Same buckling springs, but with an integrated mouse. Saves me from carpal tunnel.... well that and a reasonably ergonomic desk setup. Endurapro at work, endurapro at home :)
  • My experience. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by srollyson (1184197) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @10:24AM (#23585977)
    I'm a relatively young guy, so my first experience with a buckling spring keyboard was when I bought one of these Unicomp Customizers a year ago. The responsiveness is terrific! It's hard to convey this in a way that doesn't seem like snake oil, but I feel like it's increased my typing speed and accuracy.

    I think I've become spoiled, actually. When I use my laptops' membrane keyboard, it feels mushy in comparison.
  • by mpapet (761907) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @10:33AM (#23586113) Homepage
    Our dev has a DASkeyboard that I test drove for a couple of hours. Great.

    One of the things I like about the older keyboards is the finger precision required is actually a bit less than newer keyboards. That makes me much more productive when I'm tired.

    I think maybe you and Marcel Proust might have quite a bit in common if you can't handle a Model M. Man Up!
  • by bvanheu (1028050) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @10:39AM (#23586185)
    I don't understand why keyboard manufacturer still put the Windows logo on the meta key (unless Microsoft give them money).

    Can you point me out websites where i can buy a keyboard without 'Windows logo' ?

    Anyway, only recently I found a use to this key (using it as meta with Awesome window manager. This don't interfere with 'alt' key in irssi !)

    P.s. English isn't my first language !
  • Re:Geezer alert! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by badasscat (563442) <basscadet75@nospAM.yahoo.com> on Thursday May 29, 2008 @11:28AM (#23586897)
    Yet you are comparing it to the IBM model M. When that model was out over 20 years ago [wikipedia.org]. A cheap keyboard was over a hundred bucks back then.

    Ha! I recall the Model M selling for $249. (btw, they weren't really referred to as "Model M's" back then, they were just IBM keyboards. They only had one...)

    $69 is not bad if this keyboard is really as good as a Model M. Of course, I bought my Model M new in the box for $15 on Ebay a few years ago, so that's probably still a better deal. And with a real Model M, you get key caps that pop off so you can remap them how you want or just clean them more easily.

    *And* with a Model M you don't have to deal with those stupid Windows keys. That's honestly one of my favorite features about the Model M.
  • What's fast?

    I don't type all that fast, but I am rarely held up my typing speed.

    I just scored 62 wpm here:

    http://play.typeracer.com/ [typeracer.com]

    I don't think that it enormously fast (looking at the high scores...), but it is fast enough for the vast majority of the work I do.
    Well, I've run a few races. The lowest speed I've gotten in any of the races was 96wpm, and at the moment I'm in the top 20 with 105wpm.

    This is on an IBM Model M keyboard. I think they are plenty fast.
  • by crenshawsgc (1228894) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @11:47AM (#23587181)
    He says that 62 wpm is fast enough for the work he does. You counter with a wpm score which is much higher. What's the point? If you can think fast enough to productively code at 96 wpm, you've got a bigger epeen than just a high wpm score...
  • Re:Hear Much? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ari_j (90255) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @12:02PM (#23587423)
    I actually hacked a Selectric to speak USB for that purpose.
  • by cp.tar (871488) <cp.tar.bz2@gmail.com> on Thursday May 29, 2008 @12:57PM (#23588309) Journal

    I have one of the SpaceSavers from Unicomp, as they didn't have a 105-key Customizer at the time.
    And since they couldn't offer me one with a Croatian layout, the nice people at Unicomp agreed to send me a blank one. So I got the best from both the Model M and Das Keyboard, and many looks of frustration from family members.

    People look at me in a funny way when I tell them how much I paid for it (the shipping almost doubled the cost, too), but then, they do not type as much as I do.
    OTOH, I find it funny that people are more than willing to cash out insane amounts of money for the bestest and fastest CPU or video card, but a keyboard? A random El Cheapo keyboard suits them just fine. Me, I like to hear when I've clicked a key, because I don't always even look at the screen when I type.

    An added benefit is, of course, the fact that it can be used as an offensive weapon in case of dire emergency or family argument ;)

  • Re:Hear Much? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cp.tar (871488) <cp.tar.bz2@gmail.com> on Thursday May 29, 2008 @01:04PM (#23588441) Journal

    And everyone they're on the phone with -- "Is it hailing there?"

    *spews coffee over Model M keyboard*

    These things are dishwashable, right? Right?

    Nearly so.

    One of my teachers in high school spilled coffee or coke (whatever; it was caffeinated, sugary and sticky) over her Model M and got all panicky about it.
    I told her to soak it in water, turn it over for a day or two to dry and plug it back in. As good as new.

    Damned indestructible. And as I said in my post above, a nice offensive weapon, too.

  • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Thursday May 29, 2008 @01:18PM (#23588681) Homepage Journal

    Reposted from my blog [honeypot.net]:

    There are few joys in life like using something that is the perfect expression of its intent. Each trade has its representative tools, and their common trait is quality, even if it's not obvious to the casual observer, and often counterintuitive. The best tools in a category are almost always the least flashy, and rarely the ones a new practitioner would choose.

    The Model M keyboard is like that: it's loud, ugly, heavy, and utterly lacking modern niceties like buttons to change your sound volume or check your email. And yet, it has that transcendent feeling that's hard to explain, that sense of rightness where you realize that you're using the best that's ever been made, that every change since then has been superfluous and cosmetic. With time, the loud clacking becomes the background music of your work, the harmony that tells you that your thoughts have become words. Its beige boxiness yields to elegant simplicity and the realization that true beauty is born of function, not appearance. The sheer weight of the thing turns to solidity and the confidence that it will stay where you put it. The dearth of features becomes the singleminded dedication to the parts that really matter and a proud disregard of unneeded distractions.

    A tool attains its peak when a craftsman forgets that he's using it because it has become an extension of himself. Thus the humble Model M has become the iconic favorite of hackers everywhere, an ode to the engineers who grasped for excellence and acheived it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 29, 2008 @01:36PM (#23588979)
    Keep your Model M's (as incredibly nice as they are) I want someone to start manufacturing the old Focus 2001 KB. They were mechanical and clicky as well. Though they used these small switches rather than bucking springs and the put the | in the correct place to the right of the right shit key. I have several different models of these even a really odd one that placed a track ball where the inverted T cursor keys would be.
  • by RobertM1968 (951074) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @02:59PM (#23590303) Homepage Journal

    While the Model M is not immortal, it is as close to immortal as any keyboard or piece of computer equipment ever was.

    I have a few old Model M keyboards... still running. I bought my mother a computer 15 years ago or so, and gave her a (used) Model M with it. She has went through numerous computers, and still uses that same Model M (it turned 22 years old this past February). She wont give it away, she wont sell it, she wont part with it for any reason. Her computer dies, she gets a new one, chucks the keyboard that comes with it and plugs in the Model M. Doesn't bat an eye over replacing a computer every few years... doesn't have any intention of ever replacing her Model M and expects it to outlast her next few computers (which it probably will).

    Interestingly, as her's is a lot older than the Model M's and M13s I have, the click is very unique in comparison. About as loud, but more metallic/click sounding.

    I used to have a few dozen of them (bought a box full of them). I had one "test" keyboard, which we tried killing... we'd walk on it (ok, that's nothing for a Model M... but we had to try), we drove over it with an Isuzu Trooper (well, the guy driving hit the gas and it shot out from under the back wheel across the parking lot... minor scratches on the bottom)... we put it in front of a city bus' rear wheels and watched as the bus edged up on it waiting for a traffic light to change, and then drove off... still worked of course. Finally, we launched it off a 3 story roof... as far outwards as we could throw it (musta went a few hundred feet horizontal, in addition to the three story drop)... picking up the keycaps and such was not fun. Though we did manage to shatter the outer case (and couldnt find a few keycaps), it still worked. We took a small torch to the plastic... weird stuff, that plastic... it's surface bubbled and browned, but we would have had to hold the torch to it for quite a long time to melt through, so we gave up.

    A sledge hammer managed to damage the plastic keycap plate enough in a few areas to stop some keys from working... but then again, most people dont run over their keyboards or hit them repeatedly with sledge hammers.

    We did have a few in the box we bought that had some issues... most seemed to be screwed up springs from being jammed in with so many others (fallen off keycaps and bent, damaged or missing springs).

    This is being typed on my Model M13 - a youngin by Model M standards (10 years old this June). Our other Model M is 16 years old, and our other Model M13s are 12-13 years old (2 beige, one black).

    My fave is the Model M13 black or Model M in olive-grey (heh - find one of those... I'm trying ever since I missed out on buying one of 6 that were on sale a few years ago).

    My only problem with the M13's is that the Trackpoints seem to "die" on them (they get pegged to a corner or side of the screen... sometimes fixable by re-gluing it to the keycap plate... sometimes not). Still trying to figure out where I can get new Trackpoint sticks to fix two of them...

    As a side note, from what I understand, you can still get the UniComps without the Windows key. I prefer the standard Model M/M13 layout (no extra keys).

    The standard 101 key Model M clones are at:
    (white) http://pckeyboards.stores.yahoo.net/cus101usenon.html [yahoo.net]
    They dont seem to have the black ones for sale in 101 key layout anymore...

    Funny thing is they sell their Model M clone with an optional "Enhanced" mushy switch option (ie: no clicky mechanical spring). I dont think they understand the meaning of the word enhanced.

    I type 12 hours a day, every day... and will not use anything but a Model M/M13 unless absolutely necessary. Once you get used to the click (which does serve a purpose and increases typing speed), you find that you look at the keyboard or screen a lot less when typing, you make less mistakes, and you type faster. I can hit ov

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