Yep, this keyboard is another ebay special. I can’t stay away! This is a SafeType™ V801 from probably the early 2000s, although there is no date on it anywhere. I’m basing my guess on the fact that there are so many media buttons. I’ve been eyeing these weirdo mirrored keebs for a while, and when I saw how cheaply this one was going for, I had to have it. That’s just how it goes. I was really excited to clack on it and I’m only marginally disappointed by it. But I can tell you that if my Kinesis were to suddenly die, I would probably reach for this keyboard until the new one showed up.
So, why does it look like this? There are varying levels of ergonomics when it comes to keyboards. This one fights strongly against wrist pronation and forces you into a position that helps the shoulders and neck as well. You’d think it would be weird to hold your arms aloft at right angles, but it’s actually not that strange in practice because you’re pressing inward to type, kind of like playing an accordion or something.
The weird part is looking in the rear-view mirrors to accurately hit the numerals and F keys, though I’ll be honest: in my test drives, I found myself using the mirrors mostly to make sure my hands were on the home row. And that’s with three homing protrusions apiece on F and J! More about that later.
So yes, some of the keycap legends are backwards so you can read them in the mirror. If you don’t like using the numeral row, there’s a num pad in the center, along with the Home/End cluster, a quartet of comically large arrow keys, and a boatload of dedicated media and program launch buttons. All the buttons in the middle are fairly awkward to reach because you must either pull your hand down and around the bottom, or else go over the top.
Let’s Get to Clackin’
I kind of like this keyboard, enough that I wish it had more ergonomics going for it. I’m disappointed that it isn’t ortholinear and doesn’t have mechanical switches. I have small hands, so the staggering is pretty noticeable after using an ortho for so long and a laptop keyboard a few times a week. Beyond the split and the verticality, it’s really not that ergonomic. Although this has rubber dome key switches, they’re not completely terrible and mushy. They’re kind of sproingy, actually, and because of the angle, they give off a pleasant popcorn popping or bubble wrap sound. Oddly enough, though, the sound varies. It’s like the left half is higher-pitched or something.
Like any self-respecting split keyboard, the SafeType™ has thumb keys, but unfortunately, all that real estate in the thumb area is wasted on one Space and one Backspace. That’s it. And look how big they both are!
I’m all about homing bumps to help with touch-typing and returning to the keys without looking. This is definitely not a keyboard for hunt-and-peck typers. Although this keyboard doesn’t have nearly as many as the TypeMatrix, there are three different homing protrusions on both F and J: a bump in the center, a bar at the bottom, and something I’ve never seen before – a little fingertip-shaped arch across the top. All this homing help may seem excessive, but it’s really quite helpful, what with the verticality and all. I would probably be lost without all the homing topography, but there’s always the mirrors. Don’t like the mirrors? Don’t need ’em? They fold and stow away but do not appear to come off without dismantling the thing. I’ll let you know when we get into the teardown.
Some Good Stuff, Some Bad Stuff
Like I said, I really dig the topographical features of F and J. I have nothing derogatory to say about those. Media buttons are kind of nice to have, especially if you can reprogram them. But the legends on those rubber buttons are terrible. Maybe we can put that one down to age.
I dig the massive arrow keys and don’t really understand why they’re so big. That’s the main redeeming quality of the middle layout, which otherwise has its drawbacks. You have to go to the middle of the board for Delete, or else Backspace everything. I use Delete (and Home and End) pretty often, so that would annoy me constantly.
Another thing that would bother me is reaching in to use the number pad — it’s a little cramped, and you have to do unconscionable things with your wrist to use it. You know what would be nice? If it were at a 45° angle or something. Or you know what? They should have made the num pad and the Home/End cluster a separate piece and turned the middle into a mousing arena.
There is this pair of plastic humps that stick up into your palm hollows as you type. At first they feel kind of nice, but ask me again after a full day of typing — not that that’s happening any time soon. I will say that this keyboard is solidly built and doesn’t move around on the desk. Plus, if you turn it over, it doubles as a small breakfast-in-bed tray.
Let’s Talk About Those Mirrors
Can’t touch-type the number row of or the F keys? The mirrors are nice to have, at least until they get in your way. The problem is that they are floppy and too easily knocked out of position, and you will probably run your hand into them at some point while flying to the mouse and back. If you can get away with not using the mirrors at all, they do swing around and stow away nicely in the middle.
The fact that there are mirrors at all was a great idea considering that you can’t see the keycaps at all while you’re typing, and don’t seem so absurd once you’ve got this keeb under your fingertips. The backwards and rotated legends are kind of hilarious on their own, but sadly, you don’t get to look at them because they’re vertical.
As huge as the mirrors are, you’ll still want a separate blind spot mirror to catch people sneaking up behind you at work. The mirrors themselves seem cheap, and the arms are stiff and feel easy to break. Moving them in and out of storage is a bit of a time investment. They’re also cloudy, and both have fallen out of their holders. I put them back in place with double-sided tape.
I can’t believe how many screws are holding this thing together, so I’m really glad that I was able to use an electric screwdriver for most of them. I’m not sure where I expected the controller to be, but it’s on the bottom. And although there are only two screws holding it down, there is a whole bunch of hot glue around the connector that prevented me from flipping the board over. Still, I could lift it up just a little, enough to see a black blob. So really, the guts are rather unremarkable, except for the engineering that went into making a split membrane keyboard with two right angles. And I don’t think you can take off the mirrors without breaking them.
You know, I could have maybe seen my way to using this thing instead of the Kinesis when I was first in my keyboard crisis. But there seems to be a lot more hand movement required of this keyboard, most likely because of the row staggering.
And this keyboard is fairly easy to get used to. This would be an awesome alternative if you like Natural keebs but they aren’t doing it for anymore, or if you aren’t ready to go ortholinear, but think that Backspace on the thumb is a great idea. Control + Backspace is one of my best friends, but I wouldn’t use it on this keyboard because they’re both under the pinkies.
They really should have used mechanical switches. Aside from the split and the verticality, this is barely an ergonomic keyboard if you ask me. Ergonomics go deeper than shoulder width and wrist pronation. Switches matter. Heck, springs matter. Do we need to do a post about that?