Black Rhinos and White Elephants

Gateway keyboard

With great excitement I set off to snap pictures of laptop herds, grazing the shelves of the local Best Buy. Sporting my new macro capable camera and memory card, this was going to be a pictorial review that would rival the Discovery channel’s “Tribes of the Orinoco”. We all know how bad laptop keyboards are. Cramped with missing keys, these are the trophies I seek.

As I entered the store, the smell of fresh electronics sharpened my senses. I found my first large herd fanned out across Brand Name Gulch. Camera in hand I rushed to the front of the herd knowing I was between them and the only outlet. It took some tricky footwork to position a shot of their vulnerable keyboards. My excitement was so great, and the herd so large, that I took shot after shot without sizing up my trophies. I filled my limit in short order and hauled them out of the electronics paradise

Once home, I was ready to survey and mount my prizes. Wait a minute. What’s this? Where were all the lousy layouts I envisioned? What happened to all the missing keys and cramped layouts. Knowing this had to be a matter of poor selection, I returned to the store for a visual analysis.

HP, Compaq, Sony, Gateway, Dell, Toshiba, Acer, none of them appeared with keys in anyway missing or misplaced. Yes, there are some slight variations, but not what I had remembered from past experiences on other laptops. It seems that what were once cramped and poorly configured offerings were now quite adequate.

These results were contrary to everything I remembered about laptops. In fact, it was just last week that Dave was telling me about the horrors of a Toshiba A135 he purchased over the summer. I rechecked and searched the Internet for information on laptop keyboard problems. The only thing to pop up was a reference to a poorly configured Fujitsu. No one was selling Fujitsu. Not locally anyway.

Below is a listing of the key count on the keyboards that I shot at the local retailer. The only one that strays from the standard count is the Sony 11.1-inch model.

Dave's Toshiba keyboard
Dave’s Toshiba keyboard
Keyboard Keycount
Gateway 17″ 104 Keys
Dell 15″ 86 Keys
HP 15″ 86 Keys
Toshiba 17″ 108 Keys
Toshiba 15″ 86 Keys
Sony 15″ 86 Keys
Sony 11.1″ 82 Keys
Fujitsu 15″ 86 Keys

Certainly there have been some bad layouts in the past so lets take a look at Dave’s Toshiba and compare it to the Toshiba model I shot.

Dave's Toshiba keyboard Toshiba keyboard
Dave’s Toshiba keyboard
Toshiba keyboard

Look at the first thumbnail. The shot shows the squiggly key ~ or tilde key moved from its normal position. While this may not be a problem for some, it will be a big problem for anyone using the tilde key as a common accent mark. On my keyboard, it is located on the left before the number 1 key (!/1). My keyboard also has another accent mark located on the tilde key. If you compare to the number 3 Toshiba shot you will see that this problem has been corrected and the key is now where it should be. No help to Dave and other past customers but good for future buyers.

You will also notice that the Delete key normally positioned on the top right of the keyboard is located on the bottom right. This by itself would cause me to release this offering back to the wild.

Wanting to get to the bottom of the problem, I continued to search for Dave’s A135 series laptop in particular. Hours scouring the Internet and a couple of calls to Toshiba and I’m able to find out that the Toshiba Satellite A135 series has been discontinued for at least six months. The problem seems to be that while Toshiba has stopped making the item, this white elephant is still grazing in normal channels. In addition Toshiba is not able to confirm that the horrid keyboard in question does not exist on other models. That situation just boggles the mind. How can a company the size of Toshiba not possess decent shot of the product they are trying to sell? How is it possible that no one in Toshibas sales or technical departments can confirm that this monstrous white elephant is truly dead. None of the people I’ve contacted can see or provide a viewable shot of what they are supposedly selling.

I searched long and hard for some usable Fujitsu shots, but could not find any shots of the complete keyboard with a resolution that allowed me to read the keys. This makes me think this model may be facing a fate similar to that of Africa’s Black Rhino. Although there were no Fujitsu units locally, I was able to verify that the Delete key is not in the normal position. By viewing this shot you can also see the keys are in the wrong spot and are reduced keys. This spells Trouble for Touch Typists.

I know companies as large as Toshiba and Fujitsu are capable of taking a readable keyboard shot. I’m sure they realize that keyboard layout is important to their customers. I can only assume they would rather the customers not be able to view the keyboards before buying.

Ace keyboard HP keyboard
Ace keyboard
HP keyboard

For anyone buying their first laptop, or anyone replacing their existing laptop, avoid the Toshiba A135 White Elephant and the Fujitsu Black Rhino. If you happen to be a touch typist then avoid the Toshiba and Fujitsu models at all costs. Be sure you can see your trophy before pulling the trigger.

2006 reference to Toshiba keyboard.

Fujitsu Custom Keyboards.

Optimus Maximus Video

** Note: While doing research on this piece, I had a chance to read some great information on the Optimus Maximus keyboard, which uses OLED technology. Art Lebedev, the keyboard’s creator, has received a lot of good press for Optimus Maximus and its software. I’m sure with a little work this technology with be the norm.

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8 thoughts on “Black Rhinos and White Elephants”

  1. Poorly designed keyboards can be a huge hassle. For those who “upgrade” but the keyboard is less that stellar you can remap the keys and then purchase new lettered stickers online if you like. May be worth the investment if it saves you some time and frustration.

  2. The Dell Inspiron 1501 and 1505 had keyboards I came to love. I’m a touch-typist and could even find the Insert, Delete, Home, End, and arrow keys by touch. Thinking I had found the perfect keyboard, I ordered a new Dell Inspiron 1520. Same dimensions, same name, same series number. Why bother to check the keyboard? Surprise! They changed the entire layout. Now when my fingers want the End key, they get backspace, etc. Why fix it if it isn’t broken? These manufacturers seem to think change is more important than consistency, which is definitely not the case for keyboards.

  3. My new Dell has a inept keyboard: poor colors (characters and keys), a bum font, and a shiny finish. Layout is OK for it’s size. My Mac had a couple dumb things, such as no backspace.

    The Dell keyboard is detachable, so if Dell improves, maybe I can switch.

  4. Try a Fujitsu Siemens for really cramped keys, everything else is in the right place but you nedd to use the very tips of your fingers and have very small fingertips to not hit the key above or below it. Definitely not for someone with arthiritis or carpal syndrome problems, can’t wait until I can afford to buy a new one. This is not a laptop keyboard by the way it belongs to my desktop the only nice thing about it is that it has its own battery charger, thank goodness for this as I really do not know where I would have found the batteries they supplied with it, not in a third world country anyway ;>)

  5. Just to put things in perspective, my 3 year old Fujitsu has more keys than most of your listed selection. It has 88 keys (Amilo D7850). I however hardly ever use them, because I use the laptop as a desktop with a USB keyboard and 20″ monitor, however, when using as a laptop all the keys are in the usual place except the delete key which is under the right shift key and the back slant key (of which there are two)leftof the space bar and left of the enter key. It also has a lot of common accents and characters on most keys. The worst laptop keyboard I had to work on was an Arabic HP Pavillion!
    Rob Currie

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