ROUND ONE: THE REVIEWING
Sometimes, it’s not about the best. Sometimes, it’s about value. That’s what the TADA68 brings in spades, more than anything else. While there are absolutely great things about this keyboard, the most impressive is the fact that I only paid just under $102 USD for it after shipping. It is a board with no real weaknesses, and that’s not an easy thing to achieve in a hobby with a community that is hyper-obsessive and critical (and rightfully so; we pay a lot of money for this stuff!).
First: there’s already been a great typing demo done by ManOfInterests that shows off the sounds of the TADA68 with Gateron Blue switches. Mine has Blues as well, so I can’t offer anything besides a convenient link to the video, here.
Second: this keyboard was produced and distributed by OriginativeCo, and is sold on their new kbdist.com (or, “keyboardist”) site. While I believe the price for the TADA68 has risen a bit from when I bought it (I threw money at my monitor the moment it was announced and available), that’s where you can find it, among other awesome things.
Third: I am in no way affiliated with OriginativeCo, kbdist.com, any of their suppliers, or anyone associated. I was also not compelled nor compensated to write this review or tutorial. I am simply another keyboard-obsessive hyper-nerd who has enough free time to do this.
Fourth: A tiny bit of background; I’ve owned a good number of keyboards, but this is my first 65%. I have owned a Pok3r, which is likely the closest to this form factor. I’ve mainly dealt in TKLs, but I’ve long wanted to try out a 65-75% form factor, and I jumped at the TADA68 considering the price and the perceived value.
Fifth: Pictures were taken with a Nexus 6, and I am not a photographer. If you tell me I took crappy pictures, I won’t care.
Okay. To the unboxing!
I would have never expected any level of bling, but there it is, gold embossing on the lettering. Keep it classy, Originative.
There it is; that’s all in the box. Keyboard. Cable. That’s all that’s really needed here, to be honest.
(Note for the curious: that’s the bottom of a Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro laptop on the left, and the corner of a Leopold FC750R on the right.)
Now: glamour shots!
I figured I wouldn’t take too many pictures; there’s plenty out there already. It’s exactly as advertised: black plastic case, off-white/beige PBT keycaps, black USB cable, backlighting, side underlighting.
(Note for the curious: backlighting pictures were taken at my home desk instead of at work, the blue/black cable was from Massdrop a few months ago, and the artisan is a HKP Trooper that I won from them on Reddit a while back, which looks great with the backlighting.)
- The legend alignment on a couple of my keys (G and J to be exact) appears a little low; I don’t really care too much, but something to look out for. Otherwise, the caps are stellar. Not the absolute greatest, but very good.
- This is my first experience with Gateron Blues, and I love love love them. I love Cherry Blues as well, and these feel like everyone says they do; just a tiny bit smoother. And yes, I hate my co-workers, so they get the clack attack.
- I think I might like plastic cases more than aluminum. I had a Pok3r, and while it was fantastic, with Blue switches I find I like the extra resonance and echo from the clacking you get with a plastic case. So strange what we find good and bad.
- The board is quite sturdy overall. There’s the slightest of flex with the case if you use both hands, but it’s certainly of quality, and will likely stand the test of time. Everything feels good with the steel mounting plate, and there’s no flex or give at all while typing.
- The backlighting is wonderful. There’s tiny bits of bleed-through, but nothing drastic. The side-lights are barely noticeable unless you look at them, but are still a nice touch. I was pleasantly surprised at a good amount of brightness and even breathing settings for the lights. Obviously not super-programmable like a Ducky RGB or anything, but nice in the dark (which is the real use for backlights).
- The programmability is obviously a huge feature. I’ll get to that a little later, but the main point here is that it’s fully programmable, and the process is rather simple (once figured out, haha).
So, here’s the verdict: it’s a tremendous value. Very nice PBT caps, steel mounting plate, a solid plastic case, full programmability, and Gateron switches for the price is a steal. Chip in a few more bucks and you get dye-sublimated legends on the keys and some pretty backlights. You also get a form factor which is a good compromise between 60% and TKL; I can’t live without arrows either sometimes.
The only negatives I could find with this board are as follows:
- The aforementioned issue with the G and J legends. I haven’t seen this elsewhere, so it’s likely not an issue everywhere.
- No extra keycaps isn’t a big deal, but I would be overjoyed if Originative offered some degree of extra caps in the future (if only to fit with common customization, such as Ctrl/CapsLock switch, CapsLock-to-Fn, Backspace/Backslash switch, etc), even if they cost extra or whatever. This is an extreme nitpick, but worth mentioning.
- Programming issues, which I’ll go into more detail below, but to rattle off the cliffnotes here:
- The instructions for programming in the online manual are not complete. Also, the file name for the manual is “TATA-68-Manual-1.pdf”. Haha, ta-tas. Blergh.
- The page for the online configurator is a direct IP address, which makes me wonder whose computer in a basement it’s being hosted on.
- The page for the online configurator is in
JapaneseChinese (though Google Translate takes care of most of this).
- The online configurator uses Flash (BLEHHHHHHHHH).
None of the above critiques are major demerits to the TADA68’s overall value. It’s a great board at a fantastic price. It’s also a wonderful intro to smaller form factors for those who are wary of 60%; you still get arrows!
ROUND TWO: THE PROGRAMMING
So, the only real issue with the TADA68 is the adventure you must go on when reprogramming it. It’s not hard, but the instructions in the online manual are incomplete, and the configurator page is in
Japanese Chinese. These are easy hurdles to clear, and I’ll help you through them. Obviously, if OriginativeCo/KBDist revise this, I’ll remove this portion, as they’ll have fixed the problem.
First: the online manual. It’s just a PDF reviewing the base keymappings, and a guide on how to reprogram. That part looks like this:
The issue is in step 5; it doesn’t tell you how to reach the old one. to replace it. But wait! Maybe the configurator page tells you how!
Oh boy. OK. So, if you’re using Google Chrome, just right-click on that page and hit “Translate to English”. If you’re not using Google Chrome, start using Google Chrome. Also, see that drop-down on the bottom right? Change that to “English.”
OK, it’s not perfect, but you can make enough sense of it to figure it out. At least I did. And if you can’t, I’ll spell it out for you!
- Use the Flash applet (uuuggghhh) to customize your layout; this is pretty straight-forward. Click the key you want to change, then click the function you want to map. One hiccup: I went to set CapsLock as a Fn key, and it brought up another sub-menu, and that wasn’t translated to English (pictured below). I picked the second option, then chose layer 1, and that seemed to work. If you’re mapping multiple layers or want to do stranger things, godspeed.
- Once you’re done with your mappings, hit that big green “Compiler” button. It’ll prompt to save a file called FLASH.BIN. I didn’t rename it; I don’t know what happens if you do. But save it and it’ll download to your default download folder (which is probably downloads, unless you’re a weirdo).
- Here’s where it gets unclear, but based on my rough translation of
JapaneseChinese-to-almost-English above, it’s simple and it goes like this:
- Press button on the bottom of the board; if you turn it over, it’s on the right side, or under the left side if the board’s right-side up. This will cause the backlights to start flashing.
- NOTE: THE KEYBOARD IS UNUSABLE AT THIS POINT.
- Find your FLASH.BIN file that you downloaded and copy it.
- You may have noticed that when you pushed the button, a new drive will have connected to your PC; that’s the TADA68’s storage. If you open it, there’s a FLASH.BIN file in there. Oh.
- Great idea, thanks to anonymous commenter: create a copy of the original FLASH.BIN file so you’ll always have a copy, just in case.
- Delete that file. Paste your new FLASH.BIN file in its place.
- (Note: if you just try to paste over it, you’ll get a warning that there isn’t enough space for the file operation. You have to delete it. I made the leap of faith, you can too.)
- Press the ESC key; this will restart the TADA68 (literally takes a second), and your new mappings should be live.
See? Very simple, but the included instructions weren’t sufficient. Hopefully that gets fixed eventually.
Now, just for shits and/or giggles, here’s the default layouts, then my layouts for those who are curious:
My changelog, from defaults:
- Layer 0
- Changed Esc/~ to just Esc (having Esc/~ messes with my ability to use the Ctrl-Shift-Esc shortcut, which is the default shortcut for Windows Task Manager, which I use on an hourly basis at work)
- Changed CapsLock to Fn (Layer 1)
- Layer 1
- Changed LEDDown, LEDUp, LEDPower to Fn+,./ (seems more natural to put them towards the edge of the 1u keys)
- Added arrow cluster as Fn+ijkl (never decided whether I like Fn+wasd or Fn+ijkl better for arrows, will probably change the loser to mouse controls)
- Changed Home and End to Fn+PgUpPgDn (seems more natural)
- Replaced mouse controls with media controls
- Added an extra play/pause as Fn+f (so I can easily reach pause while gaming)
- Changed volume controls to Fn+zxc (this make mute eminently reachable)
- Changed Insert to Fn+Del
- Added Pause/Break as Fn+` (I like this because Win+PauseBrk is the Windows shortcut for the System Information window, and I use that a bunch)
- Added PrtScr as Fn+p (just in case I need it)
(Edit: corrected original language; configurator page is in Chinese, not Japanese. Props to Reddit user Spidelytwang for letting me know!)