Hands-on Ultrabook Keyboards

Posted on 18 December 2011 by

Keyboards. What a nightmare to review! Everyone has different fingers and a different typing style but is generally unable to test multiple keyboards before they make a purchase. When you’re investing $1000 in a laptop, you want to know you’re getting a good one!

Toshiba Z830 (27)

I’ve just spent about 4 hours finishing up the full review of the Acer Aspire S3 (an honest and good-value Ultrabook, full review going up as the next post)  and I took the unique chance to write different sections of the review with three different Ultrabooks.

The Asus UX31 and the Toshiba Z830 joined the Acer S3 in my keyboard test today and it was interesting to note the results. My fingers are telling me that the ASUS UX31 is the hardest of the three to type on, at least for me. A dose more concentration and a little bit more pressure seem to be required than the other two devices. The Acer S3 was accurate and totally usable and as someone that writes a lot, I wouldn’t have too many issues with it. My Wife may have one though as it’s a little ‘clackety.’

The winner though was the keyboard on the Toshiba Z830. In just a few days I’m used to the slightly reduced depth of the keyboard area and I’m flying. It’s quiet (which is more than I can say for the fan!,) has a great backlight and good contrast on the keycap printing. The dual-function keys are useful and the built-in keypad mode is great for my twice-per-day ALT-0128 Euro signs!

Update [start]

  • Arstechnica posted that the Z830 required a ‘paradigm shift to type on.’ Wow! See how different people have vastly different opinions when it comes to keyboards? Arstechnica reviewer was a Woman. No, that doesn’t mean what you think; It means she had nails. That’s a serious consideration for Women.
  • Engadget weren’t too happy with the Z835 keyboard either. I wonder how much time they actually spent with it though.
  • Notebookreview say the Z835 keys ” are perhaps easier than they should be to press.”  but seem happy overall.
  • Interesting report from Laptopmag: ” the keys felt somewhat stiff and shallow. There’s not a lot of travel here. On the Ten Thumbs Typing test, we managed our average 80-word-per-minute speed but with a whopping 4-percent error rate (1-percent is our usual) due to the unresponsive keys.”
  • Don’t forget the Z830 keyboard is spill resistant. Toshiba have demonstrated 100ml of coffee being spilled but beware, that’s a very small cup of coffee!
I’m getting the impression that i’m a very light-pressure typist. I’m also getting the impression that there aren’t many reviewers out there that are spending a lot of time with the keyboards to see how quick the learning curve it. YES, there’s a learning curve on the Z830/Z835 keyboard but for light typists, it’s quick. For heavy typists, maybe the UX31 is a better choice.

Update [end]

As for the trackpad, I can’t really say I have a preference although the ASUS UX31 trackpad (by Sentelic) is quite easy to ‘drift’ on. Fingers outside the mouse button regions can surprise you. The Acer S3 trackpad (by Elantech) is fine and it’s easy to feel the corners of the pad for button presses. The Z830 trackpad (by Synaptics) has a separate mouse buttons which are great as finger locators but surprisingly hard to press. I’m getting along fine with tap-to-click and the trackpad setup though.

I can’t call any of the keyboards I tested today ‘bad’ although having had some significant missed key-press issues on the Asus UX21 (11.6”) I tested a few weeks ago my opinion is that ASUS need to pay attention to this for their next Ultrabook. The Samsung Series 9 though still remains the best Ultrabook keyboard I’ve tested to date. It’s a peach and if it wasn’t for a weak WiFi module I would probably be looking more closely at buying one.

I think the most important point though is that it took me a few hours to get a feel for the keyboards. Potential customers don’t often get this opportunity so I hope articles like this give you a feel for how the keyboards are working out. Of course, we haven’t tested the Lenovo U300s or the HP Folio yet. I’m expecting good things there but that test won’t happen until 2012 now. I’ll keep a good focus on keyboards and you can expect more commentary in the future.


The Acer S3 review is finished and will go up on Monday morning. I’ve already started the review of the Z830. I’ll also be trying to squeeze in a mini-review of the UX31 before the new year but we’ll see how that goes as I’m considering taking it back and swapping it for a Z830 as my personal 1H 2012 Ultrabook. Don’t forget the three-way live review we did on Friday! All review articles are now available on a single page, here.

One more note on the Toshiba Z830. I’ve been using it for about 4 hours non-stop now and haven’t got annoyed by the buzzing fan noise. Why? I’m streaming Groove Salad instrumental downbeat music at a volume of 9% and it’s covering the noise nicely. Because the built-in speakers are good, it’s actually working out quite well for me. Maybe ‘cloaking’ is something to consider more seriously where noise is concerned. As a downbeat music fan, maybe this is an advantage!!!


  • power__89

    So are you saying that the covered fan-noise makes up for the asus i7, screen, heat and natural noise sound so bad that you’re switching back to the z830? During the live review you were leaning towards the asus.. is the keyboard of the asus a bigger showstopper than the fan-noise of the asus? I myself was planning on bying the asus next week, after first preferring the Z830

    • Chippy

      What I learnt today is that it’s easier to mask a noisy (in perspective it’s not noisy, it resonates badly with my ears like with many other people.) fan than it is to work with a difficult keyboard.

      The screen on the UX31 is a major, major advantage but for me, a reporter, the keyboard has to take #1 prio. Note (see my update in the article) that I’m a light typist. Maybe a heavier typist would fit better with the UX31 but it looks like after tons of testing, the Z830 fits better with me.

      What’s really annoying is that I can’t wait for the U300s, HP Folio, LG Xnote and others. All the current Ultrabooks have flaws but I need a device in the next 2 weeks, it has to be Core i5 or better and I want it in under 1.5KG. I have no options!


  • C_on

    Thanks for the great article and site. your hard work is appreciated.

    I’m selling today my toshiba r705-p41 and heading to get one of these new ultra books. Now the thing that bothered me the most was its Fan which was noisy… Now that you are writing that the ux31 is noisy I’m drawn toward lenovo u300s (which unlike asus does not have all those reported problems of keyboard, wifi, etc…)

    • Chippy

      No, the UX31 isn’t noisy.

      • c_on

        thanks for the quick reply.

  • power__89

    Asus doesn’t have noise problems and to my knowledge no wifi problems either, unlike Samsung 9 serie. If it had, the choose would be easier. By the way, the childish book design of lenovo in Orange is bad enough to put even acer in the lead (purely subjective of course)

    • c_on

      yeah, orange does not fit me as well, but I’ve read that there is black/matt version.

    • Chippy

      I saw one wifi disconnection issue on the UX31 but that is gone now that drivers are updated.

  • Adam

    Chippy, a one man Ultrabook “Consumer Reports”.

    Chippy, so cool his mother has a tattoo that says “son”.

    Chippy, so cool Superman wears around a T-shirt with a stylized “C” on it.

    Capable of reviewing 3 Ultrabook keyboards back-to-back without even a hint of carpal tunnel syndrome. Completed the grueling 3 Ultrabook live review “rally” without switching “drivers”. Ok now it’s getting weird.

    Great job again, Chippy!


  • c_on

    Chippy :
    I saw one wifi disconnection issue on the UX31 but that is gone now that drivers are updated.

    Chippy :
    I saw one wifi disconnection issue on the UX31 but that is gone now that drivers are updated.

    Strange you are saying this. I’ve read numerous problems people are having with the wifi connection, all with updated drivers – here is one from yesterday – http://forum.notebookreview.com/asus/619459-ux31-wireless-issue-3.html#post8167888

    Generally, the ux31 looks appealing though I cannot buy it and rely on the return-if-defective as i’ve getting it from the US to my country.

  • komoornik

    tap to click for the win Chippy !

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