Full poker shot Vortex were kind enough to give this item to review.

Many people are excited for this keyboard. The Poker II has been a staple in the community for a long time now. It is seen as a great starting point for an enthusiast. As well as being customisable and functional. Overall it seemed to do everything that you wanted in a 60% board. This was mostly the case despite some minor gripes such as the programmability and the extended layout. The POK3R is an improvement on this or it tries to be.

The first thing you will notice when picking up this keyboard is its weight. This is the major difference between having an aluminium case and what could be considered the standard abs plastic case. Here it is a nice weight, it certainly feels sturdy in the hand. Although it has some considerable weight, I have never found the weight of a keyboard to be a major problem. One keyboard to compare it to is the HHKB. The weights are incredibly different and to some extent this effects how I use them. When using the HHKB, I might be more aware of it moving around on the desk. My HHKB has additional rubber feet to stop it from moving round on my desk, so this really ends the weight dispute for me, since it doesn’t move I don’t find weight a factor. Then again this is different for a lot of people, when purchasing my HHKB I was cautioned of the weight and how light it was.
I do not want to discredit the POK3R at this point because of its weight. Combining its incredible weight and its rubber pads it does not move from my desk, and really this is all I ask.
Box Includes:

  • POK3R
  • Mini USB Cable

Firmware

Dip switches are the first thing that I was drawn to when unboxing the keyboard. It is rather unusual to get a keyboard that comes with dip switches. Once more I find the POK3R’s dip switch configuration to be interesting because of its inclusion of alternative keyboard layouts.
dip switch shot It is only unusual because it has become the norm to just support qwerty. But this is the way it should be done. With the dip switches you can change between colemak, dvorak and qwerty. As a colemak typist I like the ability to take a colemak keyboard wherever I go. Overall this just gives you more options. Even if you don’t use an alternative to qwerty this give the layouts some exposure and easily try out a new layout. This is a welcome change as support for these layouts is often hard to come by, unless the keyboard is custom built. Having these options is a step in the right direction, and I hope to see more of this in the future. An interesting thing to note is the fact it is true colemak. This is a pompous term I am coining but what I mean is that the capslock acts as backspace. Although this is good, it also means you don’t get to see the nice capslock light. capslock light

The other options the dip switches give you are relating to the Fn position and capslock. I don’t think this is a particularly useful switch. I would have preferred the ability to turn it into ctrl. With the inclusion of layouts such as colemak I had hoped for a more creative use of the capslock position. It takes up a valuable space on the keyboard that could be put to much better use. Then again I think having it as Fn is a much better choice for general use.


Programming

Programming on the POK3R can be a little complicated and intimidating, this is mostly because it is all blind, well mostly blind. At this point I have to say I did not take well to this method of programming. With practice it may become easier but I have not found it entirely intuitive. Indication that you are in programming mode is given through a series of LED’s. 3 different coloured LED’s indicate which custom layer you are on (default does not have one) and another indicator LED is on the right of the spacebar. When this is lit you are in programming mode, when you select a key to program it will flash. One thing I found is that the colour of the flashing indicator does not change with the layer changing LED. It remains the same colour no matter what.
Layer 2 Indicator Light Layer 2 indicator light is blue Layer 3 Indicator light Layer 3 Indicator light is red Layer 4 Indicator light Layer 4 Indicator light is purple Programming Mode both sides of led on spacebar

If you are programming complicated things, you are able to see the currently programmed output by using the Pn key. There is no visual representation of what you are programming. Programming is only done on specified layers. Whilst this is OK it is not the full programmability that was once promised. There are 3 programmable layers bar the dip switch changes. But these layers are truly programmable however there is an exception:

  • Fn
  • R_ctrl
  • M
  • <
  • ?

These layers are not programmable. This is because they are the dedicated layer and programmability keys. The Fn layer is however programmable, what this means is you could potentially ‘fix’ the placement of the arrow keys.

The programming process goes as follows. Select a programmable layout. Press Fn combined with right control. This will activate programming mode. Then press the key you desire to program. Enter your desired function of previously pressed key. Press Pn or Fn + Right control to exit the process.


Layout

qwertim image Image taken from QWERtim at geekhack.
This image is almost exactly the layout I have, but the right alt on mine is just alt, and not altgr.

The layout is of course standard iso, the Fn layers are where things are different. If the POK3R is to fall, this is the ledge of where it falls. It is hard to critique entirely because it is quite programmable, so whilst I may have problems with these layers, you can change them. fn overview Arrow keys seem to be the most blatant change. They are no longer in wasd positions but ijkl. For a lot of people wasd positioning is desired, but I do not see it as ideal at all. It is quite hard to reach the positions to naturally use the arrow keys. Whenever I need to use a simple down arrow I always have to look, as I have undoubtedly missed the key the first time. It is not entirely bad and don’t mistake it as one of the worst changes. All you have to do differently is just drop your right hand pinkie (if using standard Fn position) and don’t move the rest of your hand. Actually using the capslock as Fn is a much better choice for using the arrow keys in this position. This means you only have to move one hand and the right hand can stay in the position.
With the new arrow keys position everything seems to be modelled around it. I think this was a better direction to go with the Fn layer. It is designed for one handed use. But what I think is with the default Fn position it is no good. Using all the Fn functions with the default Fn is incredibly awkward. Pressing the Fn layer delete with the default Fn key is extremely difficult.

Layer changing keys are located at M, <, >, and ? This gives you 4 layers, 3 of which are programmable. Layer usage is often quite specific. You will have one layer containing a layout for one specific purpose. What I find most useful is momentary layers like the Fn key provides. And the POK3R does deliver in this area, slightly. You are able to customise the Fn layer but you of course only have one.

Whilst these are my thoughts on the layout you have to decide whether you like the layout or not. The programmability does remove a lot of the worries that anyone may have so this becomes less of an issue. There is not much point on reviewing a customisable layout.


Case

Another draw of the POK3R is the aluminium case. This is quite a step up from the poker II and is often something that owners of Poker II’s would upgrade too. Of course starting out with an aluminium case is a big jump up. Another aspect about the case is how heavy it feels, it is chunky and has a nice texture, really there is no where I can critique the case. The texture is to my liking it is a chalky texture that suits aluminium and keyboards well. The feet are very nice and I have had no issues with it moving around. I expect this is both due to combination of weight and the pads.
Six hex screws secure the case. To unscrew them I you need a 1.5mm hex bit or screwdriver.
case with plastic insert not that visible insert beside case Inside the case, you will find a plastic insert. Whilst I don’t know for definite I believe the function is to both protect the PCB from the rough texture of the case and also stop any cross conductivity. case without insert

One thing that slightly irks me, is the PCB seems to sit slightly to the right in the case. Leaving a small gap on the left side. This cannot be adjusted because of the mini USB hole in the case. The dip switches also have their own cut-out on the bottom so this also limits how much it can move. But the USB cut-out is where the problem lies. I don’t believe this to be a major problem and is probably just a slight variance in manufacturing.

![left side](http://i.imgur.com/E4EO6Pz.jpg) ![right side](http://i.imgur.com/qngA5r3.jpg)

bottom cutout Another thing I have noticed is the shape of the USB cut-out. Although the port cut-out is fine, (more than fine, it fits perfectly) the outlying hole is a little small. This somewhat restrict you to using the stock cable that you will get with your POK3R. The problem is not that bad though, I tested the stock HHKB cable and it fit inside of the case cut-out, but it was a tight fit. It will not restrict cable usage a lot. Although it is possible, you are unlikely to run into a cable that is too big. usb cutout in case stock usb cable  has rounded edges


PCB

With the PCB there are not a huge lot of things to talk about. It is red, but it has a white plate covering it, it has a nice vortex logo, but this is on the back. One thing to note is I believe that at least the ansi and iso plate seem to be the same. There are positions on the PCB to make an iso board ansi and vice versa. Whilst this might not be the intended use and most probably voids your warranty, it is good to have options. If you are to perform this mod, you will have to do it without a plate. To add any switches you will have to de solder everything and remove the plate as the plate is cross layout compatible. pcb options e.g. ansi conversion


Keycaps

profile Another boon of the POK3R is the inclusion of PBT keycaps. There seems to be a lot of elitism in keycap territory of only using PBT. But the existence of GMK shows how good ABS keycaps are not just trash. That said people like PBT keycaps and these are a nice example of PBT. They aren’t the thickest but no where near the thinnest. The texture is chalky, it feels like a finer texture than other PBT keycaps such as SP DSA. Typing on them is quite a nice experience but I can envision that not everyone will like the texture of the keycaps. The chalky fine nature of the texture is departure from what I normally think of new PBT keycap texture to feel like. I do quite like the sound of typing on clears and the keycaps contribute to the overall sound. The only complaint is the typeface used, it’s not the nicest and looks rather gaudy. I prefer blanks but since I don’t actually read the keycaps so I see this as a minor issue. But I know for certain appearance issues like this are often not well received. thickness

  • Some concerns were raised over the thickness of keycaps. Vortex has confirmed that the keycaps will be thicker than pictured here. Vortex confirmed that the thickness on the caps here are just for the engineering sample. For a photo of the real size see the pictures in rhinofeeds review *

stabs backspace, and enter Cherry plate mounted stabilisers are used. There isn’t a lot to say that hasn’t been said here, but they are quite noisy. When comparing the sounds of stabilisers, it is apparent of the difference. The worst offender is backspace, it sounds quite hollow with the additional sound of the stabiliser. With the combination of sounds it sounds rather ‘pingy’.


Conclusion

I am happy with this as the next iteration of the Poker. Aluminium cases are nice and the POK3R has one, programmability is also nice and the POK3R features programmability, even if it’s not total control it is better than a lot of other keyboard offerings. The layout is OK but since it is programmable this is irrelevant. If you don’t like what you see, you can work around it with the programmability. That said, when you buy a keyboard you don’t want to work around it you want it to work for you. I can see in some aspects people not liking the default layout. DIP switches are also a nice inclusion, that takes another layer of complexity out of layout switching. For people like myself who use alternative layouts this is what I look for. Keycaps are solid and I have no gripes bar the typeface. One thing I did not mention is the price, for the price of around $120 it is great. From my opinion it supersedes the Poker II. You might pay the same amount for an aluminium case for the Poker II and the POK3R includes this as standard. This alone is reason enough to go for the POK3R.
Good job Vortex. What I hope for in the future is absolute full programmability but I do not expect this and maybe bluetooth. There is not a lot that I dislike about this keyboard. For a guide on how to customise your layout I recommend just reading the manual and trying to understand it as best you can. Also, for an alternative review I recommend Rhinofeeds.

I decided to do a screw mod on my SSK unlike a bolt mod which I did previously to my 104. I made this decision based upon some recent threads suggesting it may be easier and better. One mistake I made was using taping screws instead of machine screws. The difference is the shape of the screws. Taping screws taper unlike machine screws which are the same width all the way along. It is recommended to use machine screws as they will fully engage the plastic all the way along. This is different to machine screws where they don’t completely engage the plastic all the way along. The screws I used were 2.2 x 6.5 mm taping screws. I used these simply because I was unable to find machine screws with a large enough head. Whilst they worked fine for mine, I still have a feeling correct size machine screws will be a little better.
To make the holes I just used a 1.5mm drill bit.


Remove Case and Keycaps

The case is simple to remove if you have a 5.5mm driver. Without one I suggest using the biro trick. This involves melting the end of a biro and sticking it over a bolt to form the perfect driver. Doing this is surprisingly effective although you might find it takes a couple of tries. For me this took a huge amount of tries but satisfiable when it worked, if you don’t want to do this I suggest you invest in a 5.5mm nut driver.
IBM SSK Without Top Plate

Once you have the case open, detach the controller. Use enough force until it just slides out, at this stage it is fairly hard to break.
First remove the keycaps. You cannot put the keyboard together with the keycaps still attached because of how the springs are pushed in even when not pressed. So to get anywhere with this mod the keycaps must be removed first.
Once you have all the keycaps removed be, careful not to bend any of the exposed springs. This is easier to do than you think. Visible buckling springs


label

The first is to remove the label, there are two labels on these keyboards. One on the case and the other inside on the plate. I found that removing the exterior label on the case was much easier than the one on the steel plate. My technique to remove the label was to use a hair dryer to heat the area, then scrape the label off carefully with a stanley blade. An alternative is to use a razor blade, however I find these are much harder to control with your hand, it is also much easier to slice through the label. You will have to apply a lot of force to cleanly remove the label but also do this with great caution. It is very easy to put too much force and slice through the label. One issue I encountered was ripping the label when I tried to pry it off with my hands. Using the blade is much more effective and resulted in nearly no damage. Even if you are tempted, just use a blade instead. Patience is needed for this step, it took me a long time. st almost off


Removing Existing Rivets

bare Removing the rivets is an easy task but can seem hard. I found that using a stanley blade by hand was easy enough, but in the past I have used a chisel. I do not recommend using a chisel as this is the fastest way to blunt a chisel. When removing the rivets you must ensure you don’t slip and slice the traces as these can be quite a pain to repair. Once you have removed all the rivets, carefully separate the sections. Do not be to forceful at this stage as the barrels can be quite frail. slice all off


Rust Removal

ruso My plate had a little rust mostly on the back. It is important to stop the corrosion as best as you can. To do this I just used some sandpaper to remove the visible rust and rust preventer, which I applied to the plate. rusb


Removing Internals

sheet Once you have removed the rivets and separated the plate you must remove the membrane and the sheet. Here I found that some rivets were still too big to allow me to remove the sheet. I carefully cut the rest of the rivet, again with a stanley blade but with extra caution. Cutting anything this close to the membrane is quite risky but you will not be able to proceed without doing so.
Set the sheets aside without separating them. This just makes it a little easier to deal with later.

Once you have removed the membrane and the sheet you have to remove each spring. A method exists where you use masking tape to easily remove the springs. This allows you to remove them quickly but also allows you to reinsert them easily when you are finished. I had a go at this but then dropped the barrels. ohno
allremovedsprings


Pruning

excess
With access to the underside of the barrels you must remove the excess left behind by the rivets. Do this step carefully as retaining the crescent shapes either side of the rivet is essential to the construction of the keyboard. It is not the end of the world if you cut them a bit but you are looking to just remove the rest of the rivet. I managed to get most of them down to the same height as the crescents either side. To do the removing I used a stanley blade, (surprise) I couldn’t really find anything better for the job. The only caution that comes with using a stanley blade is try not to cut anything else. off
Also pictured is an attempt to create pilot holes. It turns out this didn’t really help anything.


Drilling

When drilling ensure that you are dead centre. There are varying thoughts here but I think it is best to just drill right through the centre this seems to yield good results. An alternative way is to put on the plate and drill through the centre of those holes. Doing that alternative method allows for slight variances in the plastic. I have not found this to be useful, so I just drilled in the centre.
Note that you do not need to do the bottom row. dirlls Again after you have done the drilling clean up the holes and remove excess plastic that has come from the drilling. A stanley blade does the job. Check that you have drilled in all the necessary places by placing the plate on the barrels. Ensure that it is the right way up :)


Reassembling

First you must put all the springs back. This may be one of the most arduous tasks if you did not correctly use the masking tape method.
When completing this step, you will need to suspend the barrel in some way. I used the Vin Diesel classic ‘XXX’ and the ‘Mask of Zorro’ but if you have any other vhs’s they will do. Other people have just used 2x4s.
xxx
If you managed to use masking tape, slot all the springs in so they are in the correct row. From here use one hand to slowly pull the tape back and the other to hold down the feet as you are pulling.
Note the space bar has only one spring. One slot is just for stabilisation.
all in

Once the springs are in place add the blanket and the membrane. None of this is too tricky and just ensure that the membrane layers are correctly aligned. membrane Add the screws. It can be quite hard to get the screws in straight, but you want to put them in some uniform way so you can reinsert them in the future maintaining the same orientation. This is crucial when using screws instead of bolts. You want to re-engage the same threads.
Reattach the controller, put it in the case and you should be done. almost done done ish

Final vanity shots. sideways flat

bad model m photo The IBM Model M, was my first foray into mechanical keyboards. The reason for buying was part necessity and part intrigue in the mechanical keyboard world. I had just spilt coffee on my unbranded rubber dome. Yet the demise of the rubber dome was not a sad affair. I felt compelled to purchase a better keyboard. The time between the Model M and the rubber dome was filled with another rubber dome. A logitech K518. It is not a bad keyboard, certainly not the worst rubber dome. But it gave me no excitement or pleasure to type on.

The reason for buying the Model M was both price and availability. At the time it seemed easy to attain. Nonetheless, it currently seems easier and cheaper to buy a Model M. So if you feel the need for a new keyboard as well as having an interest in vintage keyboards, the Model M is an incredible purchase. Not only is it a great keyboard it can be a gateway to other knowledge and interest in other keyboards. One of the great things about the Model M is the ability to modify the keyboard without breaking it. Depending on what level you are on, this might lead to new skills you learn from carrying out your own modifications.

The behemoth I received was a 1391401 dated 03-31-92. I purchased it for £74.62 which is now see as a high price for the board although to the sellers credit it was in impeccable condition. Incredibly, unknown to me the purchase included a blue box, plus one of the longer ps/2 cables. This was lucky as I had disregarded thoughts on how I was actually going to be able to use the keyboard.

Instantly this was a much better typing experience. But I attribute this to typing on a lacklustre rubber dome beforehand. I am glad to say that I was very excited with my new keyboard. I had never before enjoyed typing as much as I now was typing on the weight of the buckling spring. This was a new experience and a welcome one. Contrary to the previous statements the Model M is apparently not the greatest buckling spring keyboard available. Model F’s are highly thought of and in most cases superior to the Model M. Considering this I have a new keyboard goal which is obtaining a kishsaver. Bold this goal may be, it is only a long term goal.

This is a very good keyboard. There isn’t much more that I can say to really convey how good it is. It will last forever. Sort of. The next step wast to bolt mod my Model M. This was something that I had seen a lot of guides on and felt fairly confident doing. At the time however, there was really no reason to perform the mod. It was performing fine and all keys were functioning. But this was just a mod to increase the longevity of the keyboard. Increasing the ‘feeling’ of the board was also a reason behind the mod. Most of all I just wanted to do something interesting with it.

What I can say is that it added some uniformity to the board. Overall the feel improved. It was a slightly sharper click. No flaky weak clicks. This is I think the final form of the Model M. The highest of the high. The only thing I resent is the layout. Standard ansi backspace positioning just infuriates me. I much prefer it to iso, but the backspace positioning holds it back. It is too far for my hands to comfortably reach. The hhkb backspace position is much more comfortable to me. Having it just a bit closer means you have to move your hand less. This has an overall positive effect on strain as well as speed. The problem that then comes with changing the standard layout, is that when typing on a standard ansi my typing becomes noticeably worse. Problems like this are becoming something that are commonplace to me. Changing to colemak has made it infinitely harder to type on a standard qwerty keyboard. So strangely all the changes that I have made to my keyboards to make them ‘better’, have had somewhat of a negative effect on my typing experience. But I still don’t regret them.

Since the layout is the only aspect that I am not satisfied with I have been looking for a solution to perfect this final aspect. One step I took was to change board. This was just a small step to getting a nicer layout in a nicer package. The change was not really necessary as well as not being in-line with my goals of changing the main layout. I bought an SSK, so although I switched boards, it is still a Model M. What this solved was having more space on the right of my keyboard, as I never used the numpad it seemed like a good decision. There was just no point in it taking up space. Changing the layout on any Model M is easy. There are quite a surprising number of options available, as I have said before the Model M’s are mod friendly. Changing layouts is another aspect where this factor is in play. Despite the available options none of them are relevant to my needs. My issue is just with the backspace. Resolving this problem was just something I resorted to doing software side. I did not feel like this was a defeat as all I wanted to do is change the backslash key to backspace, since backslash is the same size as it is on a hhkb. I did not want to do any hardware mod.

Changing the keyboard layout has been done in a non graceful way by awkwardly creating a new layout specifically for the SSK. I created a new layout called ‘ibm’ and it is located with the rest of the layouts in ‘/usr/share/X11/xkb/symbols’ I started out by just copying the ‘us’ layout and renaming it to ‘ibm’. Keeping it separate was a decision to be as non-destructive as possible, since I use a lot of different keyboards I want this to be a flexible solution. If I were to use the ‘ibm’ layout with my hhkb, I would have essentially created an ansi hhkb. This is of course a step backwards.

Link to full layout

As you can see in the gist, it is just a simple change. One mistake I made was changing the default us layout. This refers to qwerty only. So when I was using colemak the change was not in effect, to actually change the layout you have to edit the colemak portion in the us file. The two important lines are:

	key <BKSL> { [    BackSpace,    BackSpace,       BackSpace,        BackSpace ] };
	key <BKSP> { [    backslash,          bar,      asciitilde,       asciitilde ] };

This just shows how the two keys definitions have been switched. Now the backspace is backslash and to avoid loss of functionality, backslash is now backspace.

This seemed like the perfect solution. But actually transitioning is much harder than I had anticipated. I find myself going for the old backspace position time and time again. Now the layout is virtually the same as the hhkb but I don’t type on it the same. This is something I find truly peculiar. It may just indicate how differently I type on different keyboards, and I am set in my ways. Nevertheless, this has not deterred me. I am sticking with the layout as I think it will be better in the long run. At least this is what I am hoping. Another step I have to take is to bolt mod my SSK. Whilst I bolt modded my first Model M, I still haven’t got around to bolt modding the SSK. I will be creating a guide on the future or at least a log of how this goes.

Another option would to completely emulate the hhkb layout on the SSK. This seems to be a common idea that has been done before. But it seems that the files may have been lost when ripster was banned from geekhack. Despite this I do not think this would be usable for me. For this to work you must put a Fn key somewhere. To emulate the hhkb layout on a SSK I would then have to sacrifice right shift, which for me would not work as I use both shift keys when typing. Then again the very nature of the SSK means it does not need the extended functions that come with the hhkb. So this is not something I really want to pursue.

For the moment I am content with both my hhkb and my SSK. They are currently my favourite keyboards. The SSK is a joy to type on and the sound is incredible. The buckling spring is most deservingly one of the better switches available, and holds its own against today’s switches.