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ThinkPad Compact keyboards (incl TrackPoint II) compared/reviewed + surprises!

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iamdmc
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ThinkPad Compact keyboards (incl TrackPoint II) compared/reviewed + surprises!

#1 Post by iamdmc » Wed Dec 02, 2020 4:45 pm

Firstly-not sure where to post this as there doesn't seem to be an "accessories" subthread. I posted here because these are 'modern' accessories made between when the xx40 series was released and 2020 models. I hope this is the right place. OK so...

As a Christmas gift to myself, I got work to agree to pay for a new TrackPoint II keyboard (merry merry)! I decided to write up a little comparison and mini review - I hope it's of interest

First impressions of the TrackPoint II: I got it today and was a bit taken aback at how much heavier it felt in my hands than the ThinkPad Compact Bluetooth keyboard I used on the regular with my tower PC. See "weight" section below for more

**Connectivity**: the 3 keyboards have slight differences in how they connect. The Compact USB keyboard by micro-USB 2.0/1.1, the Compact Bluetooth keyboard by Bluetooth 3.0 (charging by micro-USB 2.0), and the TrackPoint II keyboard by either Bluetooth 5.0 or 2.4GHz USB-A dongle (charging by USB-C). In my experience, the micro-USB port degrades easily and leads to USB-connectivity or charging issues on both "Compact" keyboards. USB-C is a better connection overall and should not degrade as quickly

**Side switches**: the Compact USB keyboard has none. The Compact Bluetooth keyboard has a pull-down slider on the right hand side near the top of the keyboard, which acts an ON-OFF. The TrackPoint II has an ON-OFF rocker-switch on the right hand side in the same position as the Compact Bluetooth keyboard. It also has a Android/Windows rocker switch and a USB 2.4GHz/Bluetooth connectivity rocker switch.

**Thoughts re: build quality**... The materials vary slightly with both "Compact" keyboards having nearly identical textures (plasticky, slightly textured) hollow sounding) and materials, while the "Trackpoint II" has a rougher/grittier feel to the palmrest plastic and keys (something like 2000 grit sandpaper). It's possible that some of this texture difference is down to useage and wear over 4 years, although I rarely used my Compact USB keyboard in that time. I actually like the feel of the materials on the "Compact" keyboards better. Either way, each of the 3 keyboards feels markedly inferior to the keyboard on my ThinkPad T480s, and the materials on the palmrest and keys are not as 'soft' or comfortable. This was expected, I guess... but is disappointing.

**Thoughts re: TrackPoint**... the TrackPoint on each of the "Compact" keyboards is identical and feels about right (regular ThinkPadders will know what I mean), whereas the "TrackPoint II" TrackPoint feels a hair more sluggish. This is despite having the newest keyboard software installed, the sensitivity and acceleration sliders all the way up, and being used on the same computer. I suppose it's something you can get used to, and it makes sense as Lenovo moved away from Synaptics TrackPoints to use Elan TrackPoints instead. One positive thing I haven't experienced on the "TrackPoint II" keyboard that occurs often on the "Compact" keyboards is trackpoint drift (the bane of the ThinkPadder existence). Each of the 3 keyboards comes with the same convex "Dome" TrackPoint nub which can easily be replaced with any of the older-style 'big square hole' and 'full height' TrackPoints (no modern ThinkPad TrackPoints will fit. I replaced them with the concave ones that grip the finger better.

**Thoughts re: functionality and typing experience**... all 3 keyboards are a joy to use and are practically identical in their main function. They are identical in dimensions to each other, and even in height/width with a ThinkPad T480s keyboard. The "Compact" keyboards are slightly louder in typing, and the feedback is softer/spongey in comparison to the "TrackPoint II" which feels like it's actively pushing back against your fingers. Key travel is identical across all 3, but the keys are ever-so-slightly further recessed into the bottom plastic so you might get fewer crumbs. I should mention that the typing experience on the Compact USB keyboard is sometimes affected by the weak/loose micro USB connection which comes undone and I've had to bend back into shape a number of times over the years. Also, the experience of using the Compact Bluetooth keyboard is affected by connectivity problems where the connection will sometimes drop during use, albeit rarely (about once a month). A lot of that has to do with PC-side faulty driver updates or low-grade bluetooth I/O. Upgrading to a better Intel AX600 Wifi/BT card solved most of these issues.

Here's how the 3 stack up in **weight**:

ThinkPad Compact USB keyboard: official specs claim 370g, when I weighed it was 380g

ThinkPad Compact Bluetooth keyboard: official specs claim 460g, when I weighed it was 400g (a nice surprise, especially considering the expected added weight of the battery vs Compact USB keyboard)

ThinkPad TrackPoint II Keyboard: official specs claim 516g, when I weighed it was 510g (about 20% heavier than the Compact Bluetooth keyboard). It feels heavy!

What could be the reason for this weight difference? Without tearing it down it's hard to know for sure and I probably will tear down and report back if I can figure my way into this (zero screws on any of the 3)

Possible reason 1: Battery. The battery specs aren't listed on the back of either keyboard so this could be the culprit. However, as battery tech has improved in the past 5 years I doubt that even a bigger battery could explain the 100g higher weight.

Possible reason 2: Cold, hard steel. I think Lenovo put more reinforcing steel plates inside to reduce flex and give it a more 'substantial' feel. The Compact Bluetooth teardown [here](https://imgur.com/HHHKLRw) showed very little metal inside, and there is very noticeable flex when a) the keyboard is held in the hands on both sides and twisted, and b) in the middle of the keyboard if you happen to REALLY press down hard on the keyboard while the extendable feet are open. The new TrackPoint II keyboard has virtually no flex in scenario a) but still the same amount of flex in scenario b).

Possible reason 3: 2.4GHz radio + USB dongle add a bit of weight... but realistically this would only be 10g max.

Final thoughts: The newest TrackPoint II keyboard is good, but not the generational leap I was hoping for or expecting. If you have either one of the "Compact" keyboards or can find a deal on one, there's no real reason to go for the TrackPoint II. The lack of backlighting, the lack of a TrackPad, and the noticeably greater (20%) weight are also persistent reminders that Lenovo doesn't really listen to our feedback. I also would have liked the USB-C charging connection on the "TrackPoint II" to function in plugged-in wired typing (although it doesn't on the Compact Bluetooth keyboard), but the long battery life and continuous (wireless) operation while charging should mean that I rarely have to plug it in at all. All that said... if I was getting just 1 I'd *personally* get the TrackPoint II keyboard, because I normally prefer to use my keyboard wirelessly, and it doesn't have the annoyance of having no connection while the computer is in POST or BIOS (or really not in a supported operating system).

Any questions? Ask away!
ThinkPad T480s
i7-8550u | 16+8GB RAM | 500GB Samsung 970 2280 M.2 M-key PCIe x4 | FHDtoQHD upgrade | 2242 M.2 B-key PCIe x2 @WWAN slot | Intel AX200

The X61 is dead... long live the X61

Past IBM ThinkPads: T450s, X250, X230, X220, X300, T410, X61s, T60p, T41, X31, T23, A21m

iamdmc
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Re: ThinkPad Compact keyboards (incl TrackPoint II) compared/reviewed + surprises!

#2 Post by iamdmc » Wed Dec 02, 2020 4:46 pm

Reserved

Oh and I can take pictures if someone really wants, but they are virtually identical and there are many photos online that you can find easily
ThinkPad T480s
i7-8550u | 16+8GB RAM | 500GB Samsung 970 2280 M.2 M-key PCIe x4 | FHDtoQHD upgrade | 2242 M.2 B-key PCIe x2 @WWAN slot | Intel AX200

The X61 is dead... long live the X61

Past IBM ThinkPads: T450s, X250, X230, X220, X300, T410, X61s, T60p, T41, X31, T23, A21m

schen
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Re: ThinkPad Compact keyboards (incl TrackPoint II) compared/reviewed + surprises!

#3 Post by schen » Tue Feb 02, 2021 7:46 am

Wow! Very nice review. I've owned a few of the TrackPoint keyboards over the years and have enjoyed them.

It was a mystery to me why it took them do long to get wireless ones out. Somewhere in the closet of doom I have a compact travel version with Thai keys.
Family Daily Drivers- T430s, T450s
Work- Sadly, the ThinkPads have gone away...... and replaced by HP ProDesk SFF drone machines :( Projects- T540p
Historic Retired ThinkPads- Z61m (Titanium), X20, A31p, 701c, 760XD, WorkPad C505

crashnburn
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Re: ThinkPad Compact keyboards (incl TrackPoint II) compared/reviewed + surprises!

#4 Post by crashnburn » Thu Feb 11, 2021 8:59 am

Lovely write up. I was in a rush but will come back and read. Very interested.
T61 8892-02U: 14.1"SXGA+/2.2C2D/4G/XP|Adv Mini Dock|30" Gateway XHD3000 WQXGA via Dual-link DVI
X61T 7767-96U: 12.1"SXGA+/1.6C2D/3G/Vista|Ultrabase
W510 4319-2PU: 15.6"FHD/i7-720QM/4G/Win7Pro64 (for dad)
T43 1875-DLU: 14.1"XGA/1.7PM-740/1G/XP (Old)

crashnburn
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Location: TX, USA & Bombay, India

Re: ThinkPad Compact keyboards (incl TrackPoint II) compared/reviewed + surprises!

#5 Post by crashnburn » Thu Feb 11, 2021 10:49 am

iamdmc wrote:
Wed Dec 02, 2020 4:45 pm
Firstly-not sure where to post this as there doesn't seem to be an "accessories" subthread. I posted here because these are 'modern' accessories made between when the xx40 series was released and 2020 models. I hope this is the right place. OK so...

As a Christmas gift to myself, I got work to agree to pay for a new TrackPoint II keyboard (merry merry)! I decided to write up a little comparison and mini review - I hope it's of interest

First impressions of the TrackPoint II: I got it today and was a bit taken aback at how much heavier it felt in my hands than the ThinkPad Compact Bluetooth keyboard I used on the regular with my tower PC. See "weight" section below for more

...
if I was getting just 1 I'd *personally* get the TrackPoint II keyboard, because I normally prefer to use my keyboard wirelessly, and it doesn't have the annoyance of having no connection while the computer is in POST or BIOS (or really not in a supported operating system).

Any questions? Ask away!
Love the review. Its like prayers answered just as I was posting about/ asking if there was any way to get a deal / discount on it.

I am looking to buy it as I've been working with a 30$ wireless keyboard, but I miss the TP keyboard + TPoint.

Did you get it on a holiday deal or EPP/ CPP discount? I was wondering if its a wee bit over priced? What would be the sweet spot?

PS: How much time did it take from Order to Delivery - Maybe if you could share the tracking info + timeline ?
T61 8892-02U: 14.1"SXGA+/2.2C2D/4G/XP|Adv Mini Dock|30" Gateway XHD3000 WQXGA via Dual-link DVI
X61T 7767-96U: 12.1"SXGA+/1.6C2D/3G/Vista|Ultrabase
W510 4319-2PU: 15.6"FHD/i7-720QM/4G/Win7Pro64 (for dad)
T43 1875-DLU: 14.1"XGA/1.7PM-740/1G/XP (Old)

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