Try this one on for size: a compact 60% keyboard with mechanical switches, with a fully customizable layout. Officially launched this past Wednesday and available as a group buy for the next two weeks, that's exactly what you get with the Massdrop Infinity keyboard. There are only a couple potential drawbacks: there are no key labels by default, and this is truly a compact keyboard so there are only 63 keys in total, so you're basically going to have to set up some additional layers to access things like cursor keys, document navigation, etc. Oh, and if you’re not a touch typist, this this will probably drive you insane – though on the other hand, if you're trying to become a touch typist, this might be the keyboard to push you over the edge!

Massdrop shipped me a prototype for some initial impressions. At first blush, I wasn't sure what to think – no labels, no backlighting, and even the chassis is a bit barebones. Still, even without customizing the keyboard layout there's something sort of cool about having a blank slate to work with. The dimensions are basically what you get if you take the main portion of a standard keyboard…and then stop there and don't add anything extra. Function keys, 10-key, document navigation keys, and dedicated macro keys are nowhere to be found. Instead, what you get is a space saving keyboard that looks a little different from your usual input device.

Part of the cool factor of the Infinity is that it allows you to customize many options. It supports both Cherry MX switches as well as the new "better than Cherry MX" Matias switches with Alps stems. I can't say whether they're actually better or not, but Matias are available in "clicky" and "quiet" options (basically Blue or Brown equivalents), while Cherry MX options consist of Blue, Brown, Red, Black, or Clear. You can also choose from various keycaps that are compatible with Cherry MX or Matias switches, but these are an extra $35 (Cherry MX) or $45 (Matias) – note that the Matias switches are $10 less than the Cherry MX switches, so basically the price is the same if you include keycaps. The keycaps are blank PBT plastic with a DSA Profile from Signature Plastics, if you're curious. For some it might seem odd for a keyboard to not include keycaps by default, but if you're enough of a keyboard enthusiast to be considering the Infinity, there's a good chance you already have some keycaps available.

Before you commit to buy the Infinity, let's be clear: there's some assembly required. It would be cool if Massdrop offered a pre-assembled option (for people like me that just don't care to do the soldering on their end). Then again, if it tacked on $50 I'm not sure many would be interested. Anyway, the assembly instructions let you know what's required, and if you're handy with a soldering iron you should be fine. Once the keyboard is assembled, you need to load a keyboard layout into the microcontroller. As a preview sample, my unit came pre-programmed with a slightly modified QWERTY layout, but the online configurator allows you to do just about anything you might imagine (up until the point where you run out of memory on the keyboard). The final software that allows reprogramming isn't actually available yet, but it should be ready well before anyone who joins the drop actually receives their keyboard.

All of the customizability in the world won't do much good if the keyboard doesn't work well, and this is where things start to get highly subjective. I've used plenty of keyboards over the years; some have been good, others have been okay, and only a few have been truly terrible – and the bad ones were all laptop keyboards, if you're wondering. After my forays into ergonomic mechanical keyboards last year, one thing that I came to realize is that it's possible to adapt to a different keyboard layout over time, at least if you're willing to put in the effort. The default layout on the Infinity is basically standard QWERTY, so in that regard there's not a lot to learn for a touch typist.

The bigger issue I have is that I do use document navigation keys and the cursor keys all the time, so having them move from dedicated keys to combination keystrokes is not something I really want or need. I'd much rather have a slightly larger keyboard rather than deal with extra layers (key combinations) to access these keys. I also use function keys regularly, and Acer's S7 Ultrabook as an example didn't please me when it removed the row of function keys and turned them into Fn key combinations. Given these changes and my typical use patterns, I don't think the current design of the Infinity is something I would really enjoy using long-term, even if it is somewhat novel at first.

Outside of the missing keys, the typing experience on the Infinity is pretty much what you'd expect from any Cherry MX mechanical keyboard. The sample I received came with Cherry MX Clear (which on their own look pretty White, but there's a difference) switches, and as someone that has used MX Brown switches in the past I actually thought it was using Browns at first; the difference between the two options is very slight. Anyway, the action is smooth and precise, and I have no problem typing on it in general – this entire article in fact was written using the Infinity, and other than the first minute or so figuring out where a few keys are located I've had no real problems.

The keycaps are an interesting choice as well, as they're far more textured than most keycaps that I've used. They have a feeling of robustness and durability, and if that's what you like then they won't disappoint. The default keycaps are blank, however, so even as a touch typist I find that I occasionally have my fingers in the wrong spot and it takes a second to adjust – I would like to have a little bump on the F and J keys to help me out, but then that's always an option if you order your own keycaps.

The design of the keyboard chassis is also a bit unusual. The PCB with the soldering pins from the mechanical switches is fully exposed on the bottom, while the main frame consists of a sturdy piece of bent metal (some form of steel it appears). It's definitely unique, and it didn't get in the way of my typing, but it's not something everyone will immediately love. The metal frame also gives the Infinity a decent amount of heft, which I don’t mind but it might be a bit heavy if you're looking for a keyboard to carry around in a briefcase (and again the exposed PCB on the bottom could be a concern).

There's one final hurdle to overcome, and that's the price. Massdrop works on a group buy principle, so they require a certain number of people to join a "drop" – if the minimum isn't met, no one pays and the drop is canceled. In this case, the minimum number of people needed to have the Infinity ship has already been achieved (i.e. more than 25 people), and at present 74 people have committed to buy if 100+ people join the drop. At 100 or more committed buyers, the price will be $100; that's a steep price for a keyboard and as noted above it doesn’t even include everything you need; you also need the keycaps ($35-$45 extra) if you don't have some, and shipping in the continental US is another $11.39, so basically we're looking at $145 for this customizable 60% keyboard.

That might seem like far too high a price, but we're dealing with a relatively low volume part, and even looking around online it doesn't look like there are many options that are significantly less expensive. The Ducky Mini generally costs $130 or so, though it does include backlighting (with dual color blue/red LEDs) and it comes fully assembled – it also comes with either Cherry MX Blue or Red switches. The KBC Poker 2 Mini comes with Cherry MX Blue, Black, Red, or Brown switches, but it costs $180 to $200 (or more). Then there's the Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional, with electrostatic capacitive switches, which can cost $260 or more. In comparison to such options, other than the Ducky Mini the Massdrop Infinity looks rather affordable – and if you're interested in the Ducky Mini, I would be remiss in not pointing out the Massdrop where you can get the Ducky Mini for $110 (currently five days remain).

Ultimately, I guess it comes down to how much you want a mini (aka "60%") keyboard in the first place. I'd be much happier personally with something like the CODE Keyboard that adds dedicated function keys and document navigation keys for around the same price (there's another drop for that), but more importantly I don't have any particular need for a compact keyboard in the first place so there are numerous full size mechanical keyboards priced around $100 that suit me just fine. It's sort of interesting to me that input from hundreds of "keyboard enthusiasts" went into the design of the Infinity, and yet at the end of the day it can still be a very polarizing device. I'm sure there are people who love the end result, and I'm equally sure there are going to be others that shrug and wonder, "Why bother?" If you're in the market, though, the potential to pick up the Infinity and design your own layout is certainly worth considering.

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  • QChronoD - Saturday, October 18, 2014 - link

    So essentially you want something like the Optimus Tactus concept? They've been showing of variations of that theme for almost 10 years now. It's too bad that the few keyboards they have sold cost $1k+.
  • dgingeri - Saturday, October 18, 2014 - link

    Essentially, yes, that's what I'd like, and I know it can be produced at a LOT lower cost than the prices Optimus wants to charge. The people behind Optimus want to charge that much because they are elitists, not because it would cost that much to develop and build. People are building $100 Windows tablets. The touchscreen shouldn't be that expensive to build.

    The concept of such a thing goes all the way back to Star Trek The Next Generation. They should NOT be allowed to patent it. They can keep their IP on how they implement it, but not on the idea itself.
  • kyuu - Sunday, October 19, 2014 - link

    The problem is you're talking about around a 100 touch-screen LCD panels on those Optimus keyboards that cost $1k+, so it's not nearly the same thing as a tablet.

    If you're talking about something like the Tactus concept, then you're essentially talking about a virtual keyboard, little different than the one you already get on your tablet and smartphone. Which largely defeats the point of having a separate physical keyboard. A virtual, touchscreen keyboard sucks; it doesn't matter if its on your tablet or a separate peripheral. People complained quite a bit about the Surface Touch Cover (NOT the Type), but even that is a huge improvement over a virtual keyboard.
  • dgingeri - Monday, October 20, 2014 - link

    Why the heck would anyone need a 100 point touch screen for a keyboard? A five point touch low res screen, like the ones used in a $100 tablet, would be just fine.
  • Samus - Sunday, October 19, 2014 - link

    I'd be all over a *FEW* of them if they were only 6-row :(
  • Inteli - Monday, October 20, 2014 - link

    Some people like 60% keyboards. I mean, the Happy Hacking keyboard has done very well for itself. I'm looking at a board of this size for my backpack. A TKL is too big.
  • SteelRing - Monday, October 20, 2014 - link

    I guess if you have some special fetish about assembling your own keyboard this could be your thing. I for one would prefer my keyboard to be bulletproof for that price. And BTW the CODE keyboard is not really what it's hyped for and I'm not much a big fan of clear switch apparently. For what it's worth I recommend CM QuickFire Rapid or CM Storm like someone suggested. For your reference I have tried DAS, CODE and Rosewill as well, and my favorite is Brown though I'd take Blue if I want to annoy the people around me with my typing.
  • Inteli - Monday, October 20, 2014 - link

    Not really a fetish, but some people love doing this stuff...I still have a keyboard I need to source switches for to assemble.
  • BerndG - Monday, October 20, 2014 - link

    This is Customizable

    96 Fully programmable key positions (8x16 row and column layout)
    Alphanumeric layout available
    Color coded keys increase operator speed
    Etched lables on keys completely customizable for intuitive operations
    Keyboard can easily be reconfigured on site to match ongoing software changes

    Integrated Options:

    Three Track MSR
    Touch Pad
    Five Position keylock
    Smart Card Reader

    Additional Options:

    Any color for 500 units or more
    Customized Logo
    Color keys with wear resistant etched symbols
    Double and Quadruple size keys


    96 programmable (8 x 16 keys) and relegendable key positions
    Integrated options include: Bi-directional 3 track MSR, 5 position key lock, Smart Card Reader and Touch Pad
    Alpha layouts available
    Interface: USB
    Liquid Dust Resistant IP 54 rated
    OPOS, JavaPOS and WEPOS drivers available
    Windows, Linux, DOS and Mac compatible
    Programmable using WinProgrammer Software
    3 Year Warranty
    Avalaible Color: Black or White

  • Inteli - Monday, October 20, 2014 - link

    "The sample I received came with Cherry MX Clear (White) switches,"

    Clears and whites are two seperate switches, and definitely different enough to not be able to be bunched together. Whites have a clicking slider like blues, but are quieter, use a heavier spring, and are pre-lubed from the factory. They are most similar to greens, really.

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