One Little Button Keeps Me from Loving the ThinkPad TrackPoint Keyboard II

Evaluation:
7/10
?

1 – Absolute Hot Garbage
2 – Warm garbage from Sorta
3 – Highly imperfect design
4 – Some advantages, many disadvantages
5 – Acceptably imperfect
6 – Good enough to buy on sale
7 – Excellent, but not the best in its class
8 – Fantastic, with some footnotes
9 – Shut up and take my money
10 – Absolute Design Nirvana

Price: $ 100

ThinkPad TrackPoint keyboard and Lenovo Duet keyboard Michael Crider

Look for laptops with the best keyboard and you’ll find the Lenovo ThinkPad line at the top of each list. The company has kept the series’ dedication to a solid typing experience since it took over from IBM in 2005. The ThinkPad keyboard is one way to bring this great keyboard and its replacement for the TrackPoint mouse to other devices.

Here’s what we like

Excellent touches and feel
Compact and efficient layout
Multiple connection options
Solid body with USB-C charging

And what we don’t do

I can’t work with this f’n Fn button
No backlight
No wired connection

It’s not Lenovo’s first crack on a ThinkPad-branded keyboard, or even its first wireless option. But it’s the latest and most advanced, bringing modern conveniences like cross-device pairing, a dedicated USB receiver, and USB-C charging. That’s exactly what you want from a ThinkPad keyboard, without the rest of the laptop.

And it would be almost perfect … if it were not a design oversight that would bring down the experience. If you can ignore the poor implementation of the Fn key, the TrackPoint Keyboard II is an easy recommendation. If you can’t, then I should warn you.

Equipment

Like many modern keyboards, this one comes with several wireless options. You have your standard Bluetooth and a 2.4 GHz USB dongle, which the keyboard can switch at any time via a practical switch on the upper edge. This switch doubles as a pairing button. While we’re up there, notice the Windows / Android switch, which activates some basic mobile navigation controls on the F9-F12 buttons.

ThinkPad keyboard control buttons, USB-C port, and standMichael Crider

On the right edge there is a power switch, which is easy to find and activate without looking. Below are two folding legs, thin but sturdy, which can increase the angle of the keyboard up to about four degrees. They are discreet and easy to use or ignore. Below the top edge is a slightly hidden USB-C port, which I am very happy to see in place of MicroUSB. I would be even happier if it had an option for a wired connection, but no, it only charges. There’s also a handy bay for storing the tiny USB receiver.

ThinkPad keyboard on the left Michael Crider

That’s it for the non-material part of the material. The keyboard uses a black plastic body, which is light, sturdy, and not particularly eye-catching, and the key captions appear to be laser printed instead of dyed. I would have liked to have seen a backlight option at this price.

The Bluetooth connection was solid, even through a wall or two, and I wasn’t able to fully discharge the battery during the two weeks that I used the keyboard.

Design

The ThinkPad TrackPoint Keyboard II is exactly what it looks like: a ThinkPad keyboard torn from the accompanying laptop and released wirelessly. This makes it an ideal companion for tablets, regardless of the operating system they use. It’s also pretty good as a keyboard for a full-size desktop computer, assuming you don’t need a numeric keypad and you’re not on board with more sophisticated mechanical keyboards.

ThinkPad keyboard pointing and mouse buttonsMichael Crider

Oh, and it has the TrackPoint, with its necessary mouse buttons under the space bar. I will go ahead and eliminate this. I know there are staunch fans of the IBM “nipple mouse” design, but despite a real ThinkPad laptop, I’ve never liked it so much. I find a conventional trackpad, and in particular trackpads compatible with glass gestures on modern laptops, a much better solution to go without a mouse.

ThinkPad Keyboard and LaptopMichael Crider

I can say that the TrackPoint on this keyboard works identically to the ThinkPad laptops, albeit a little more rigid. In particular, the central scroll button works exactly as expected on Windows 10, ChromeOS, macOS, iPad and Android. It’s an impressive work of compatibility, even if I don’t personally like the tool. But if you do, you’ll like this version – the tip can even come off for easy replacement.

Typing

Leaving aside the mouse input, typing on the TrackPoint Keyboard II is more or less the same experience as typing on one of the recent ThinkPads. The keys on the chicklet scissor switch have firm pressure and pleasant movement, and the standard layout of 60% for (almost) all primary keys means that I can quickly reach my full typing speed.

ThinkPad keyboard layoutMichael Crider

It is also an effective layout on this 14-inch-wide panel: there is room for the dedicated Home, End, Insert, Previous / previous page and Print screen keys without using the function layer. F1-F12 by default for the laptop hardware controls (volume, brightness, etc.) but can be locked on the standard function keys with FnLock. If you rely on any of these for your regular work, you will be happy to see the options here.

That’s why it really hurts to report on the Fn key. Like ThinkPad laptops, it is located in the lower left corner of the keyboard, by pressing the left CTRL button. Unlike ThinkPad laptops, there is no possible way to swap the Fn and Ctrl buttons, so that your muscle memory for keyboard shortcuts can be preserved.

Left keyboard of the ThinkPad keyboard. I hate this Fnn Fn button. Michael Crider

This. Discs. Me. Crazy. It’s the first thing I change on any laptop with this unfortunate design decision, and I’ve been looking for the same option here for a while. No dice. Unlike the F1-F12 keys, there is no way to exchange it in the keyboard firmware. Lenovo does a pilot program with a user interface for Windows, too, but it only has one option for ordering Favorites and TrackPoint adjustments. I emailed Lenovo representatives to confirm this: at the time of this writing, there was no way to get a regular layout of the CTRL buttons on any platform.

For me, it’s a break. While I enjoy almost every other aspect of the ThinkPad II keyboard design, forcing me to adjust decades of muscle memory several times an hour, I can’t wait to get back to my standard keyboard.

ThinkPad right keyboard keyboardMichael Crider

I realize that this is a very individual complaint, and some of my colleagues say that they would not mind at all. But others say it would be (quote: “Ew, this is awful”, “I would throw it out the window”). It would be an easy thing to factor into the design – Fn + Ctrl or Fn + Caps Lock for swapping them, for example. It was therefore this decision that prevented this keyboard from obtaining the choice of publishers.

Conclusion

I wanted to like the ThinkPad TrackPoint Keyboard II, and I almost want to. It’s expensive ($ 100, $ 86 on sale at time of writing) for a non-mechanical Bluetooth card, but its quality and pedigree justify the cost, and there are some great design elements here. I consider the TrackPoint as a zero bonus, but those who love it will be happy to be able to use it on non-ThinkPad devices.

ThinkPad logo on the keyboardMichael Crider

But damn it, this Fn button. It disrupts my workflow in a way that I simply cannot overcome. If this is not a problem for you, add a few points to this score and consider it as an easy recommendation. I will be looking for a firmware or driver update from Lenovo, and if I see it, I will adjust this notice accordingly.

Here’s what we like

Excellent touches and feel
Compact and efficient layout
Multiple connection options
Solid body with USB-C charging

And what we don’t do

I can’t work with this f’n Fn button
No backlight
No wired connection

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