XMIT Hall Effect keyboard makes good use of magnets

Keyboard hipsterism just took another step forward, as Hall-effect keyboards are making a return to the market. The resurgence of the nearly-forgotten keyboard technology is happening thanks to a Massdrop group-buy (login required) run by a man named José Soltren, better known as XMIT. The keyboard is likewise called the XMIT Hall Effect Keyboard. There have apparently been a few production issues along the way, but the first keyboards have now made their way into the hands of lucky buyers.

If you're wondering what the heck a Hall-effect keyboard is, well, let me tell you. As a recap, when you press a key on a typical computer keyboard, you compress a rubber dome with a metal contact on the bottom, completing a circuit and registering a key. Mechanical keyboards use a spring mechanism instead of a rubber dome to to reset the key, but they still rely on two metal contacts touching to register a keypress.

Hall-effect keys are frictionless in operation. That means no physical contact is required between the key itself and the switch element. They achieve this by making use of the Hall effect, a shift in a wire's voltage caused by a magnet affecting it. Essentially, the voltage is measured across a wire at a specific point, and when you depress the key, the magnet changes the value, registering a keystroke. This technology is used often in simulator gear like joysticks and steering wheels.

Given that there's no physical contact, there's no "bouncing" effect as happens with rubber-dome and mechanical keyboards. That means the keyboard circuitry itself can be simpler, since it doesn't have to account for the repeated keypresses caused by key bounce. It also means that the switches last longer, and that they can feel smoother. All-in-all, fans of the technology say it offers a superior typing experience versus mechanical keyswitches, and even versus other exotic keyswitch technologies like Topre's electrostatic capacitive switches.

Hall-effect keyboard switches were once popular on high-end computer keyboards in the late 1970s and early 1980s, particularly for military and industrial use. However, the high cost of manufacturing led them to be phased out in favor of cheaply-manufactured and easily-replaced dome keyboards. The switches in the XMIT keyboard are a new design that's compatible with Cherry MX keycaps. It's also apparently easy to manufacture, seeing as the keyboards went for as little as $100 in the Massdrop.

The XMIT Hall-Effect keyboard arrived in six variations. There were 61-key, 87-key, and 104-key versions, and each was available with 35g or 50g actuation force. The 50g models are similar to Cherry MX Red keyswitches in terms of force required, while the 35g switches are extremely light. Fancy switches aside, the XMIT keyboard also comes with PBT/POM double-shot keycaps, water-resistant epoxy coating, and per-key-configurable RGB LED lighting. It does appear to lack media keys, though.

Unfortunately, XMIT's group buy is over, so it's too late to get in on this production run. Fortunately, he says he's already identified a list of "50 little changes" he'd like to make to the current design, and that he plans to produce more. If you're interested in picking up one of these keyboards, keep an eye out. Thanks to Tom's Hardware for the tip.

Comments closed
    • Generic
    • 3 years ago

    Dang, my first thought was two opposed button magnets with captured keys forever trying to pop off until depressed. 🙂

    • TwoEars
    • 3 years ago

    I like my keyboard to be dead-silent, but apparently I’m in the minority.

    • Chrispy_
    • 3 years ago

    Personally, I loathe linear key action but at least there are now more options for people who don’t.

    For me, the tactile bump of an MX brown is [i<]the[/i<] selling point of a mechanical keyboard.

      • ColeLT1
      • 3 years ago

      I have tried and owned multiple and agree with you on the tactile bump, blue were good but too loud, browns are the perfect fit for my style.

      • Bauxite
      • 3 years ago

      Feels like there is sand or grit in the keys you just can’t get out.

      Black/red forever.

        • synthtel2
        • 3 years ago

        My MX browns had a bit of that feeling at first, but it did go away after a while.

          • Chrispy_
          • 3 years ago

          I can’t say I experienced this, but then again I tried reds beforehand and perhaps they had that grittiness too – so I didn’t pay any attention to it.

    • EndlessWaves
    • 3 years ago

    I type a fair amount but even that isn’t anywhere near enough to wear out leaf spring or (good quality) membrane activators so I suspect this is mainly aimed at those who type constantly all day.

    It’d be interesting to know what feedback mechanism they’d chosen. Registering the keypress by magic is all very well but it’s not much use if the feel feels vague when new or after a couple of years.

      • just brew it!
      • 3 years ago

      While they do have a spec for rated number of keystrokes, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Cherry switch mechanism wear out in normal use. I’ve damaged a couple (broke a stabilizer clip while removing the keycap on the Enter key, and somehow managed to kill one with a beverage spill), but if my son (who is into some pretty intense games) hasn’t managed to wear out the switches in his Cherry black mechanical by now I don’t think switch lifetime is an issue that will affect most people.

    • tay
    • 3 years ago

    Hall effect is amazing. Used in Ion drives as thrusters as well. I am defo in for a keyboard if I can get in on the next run Ruined a few keyboards with liquids so that’s a plus.

    [url<]https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hall-effect_thruster[/url<]

      • tay
      • 3 years ago

      Mass drop is great for 61 and 87 key boards and mech switches though some of the stuff going through has questionable quality.

      • chuckula
      • 3 years ago

      Water.
      Fire.
      Air & Dirt.

      F-in Hall Effect.

      How does it work?

        • tay
        • 3 years ago

        Amazing

      • Mr Bill
      • 3 years ago

      [url=https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/02/nasas-longshot-bet-on-a-revolutionary-rocket-may-be-about-to-pay-off/?comments=1&post=32867553<]Plasma thruster using ion cyclotron resonance heating may eclipse the Hall-effect thruster[/url<]. [quote<]For the VASIMR technology, however, 40kw represents a lower limit to its power capacity, and the engine has the potential to scale up dramatically. Among its other advantages, Chang-Díaz's rocket also produces about twice as much impulse per unit of fuel, meaning its uses less propellant to do the same job as Hall thrusters. The problem is that the new technology has never flown, and because NASA has already invested heavily in developing Hall thrusters, an existing community that stands to lose if the plasma rocket works. That’s why the relatively small grant to Ad Astra in 2015 was such a big deal.[/quote<]

      • just brew it!
      • 3 years ago

      Both of my RK-9000 keyboards (one at home and one at work) were salvageable after recent spill incidents. The home one survived having half a beer dumped into it, and the one at work was repairable following a Diet Mt. Dew bath. Both were disassembled (outer casing and keycaps removed) and soaked in warm water; then dried on a stationary drying rack in a clothes dryer on the lowest heat setting.

      The one with the beer spill was 100% functional after soaking and drying.

      The one with the Mt. Dew spill did require replacement of one of the switches, but if you’ve ever used a soldering iron replacing a Cherry switch isn’t rocket science. (I keep a few spare Cherry MX blue switches on hand, but this was the first time I’ve actually had to use one.)

    • Voldenuit
    • 3 years ago

    Nice. I’m one of the few that prefers Reds to Blues or Browns for both typing and gaming, so I appreciate that the XMIT design maps quite nicely to Reds.

    • just brew it!
    • 3 years ago

    The main thing Hall-effect has going for it compared to other keyboard technologies is that it is — in theory, at least — completely immune to damage from liquids and other contaminants. If you get a spill in it, just chuck the whole thing in a bucket of soapy water, give it a good soak, then let it dry out.

    I imagine that this one has linear mechanisms? That rules it out for me, but if the build quality is decent it could make a very nice gaming keyboard.

      • Kougar
      • 3 years ago

      No more brewing keyboards for you!

      • 5UPERCH1CK3N
      • 3 years ago

      Or just buy a dishwasher safe keyboard (Google “sealshield”). Now granted, the keyboard action leaves much to be desired with this particular ones membrane dome switches. And it only gets worse after you wash them as the silicone lube is removed from the spacebar mechanism (but you can just pop it off and apply more.) Build quality is way worse too, and I’m sure there are ways to use non-linear actuation on the hall effect method — which would certainly make it a winner if you wanted a waterproof keyboard that also had good feel.

        • just brew it!
        • 3 years ago

        Yes, the “feel” of the switches can be pretty much whatever the designer wants with a mechanical or Hall-effect design. There’s no reason someone can’t make a tactile keyboard with Hall-effect sensors.

        The legendary Model M even uses a membrane internally, similar to rubber dome designs. The difference is in what sits on top of that membrane!

          • bhtooefr
          • 3 years ago

          One downside, though, to Hall effect tactile switches is that the tactile event and keystroke transmission are not directly related.

          Then again, tactile Alps switches and Topre have the same problem…

            • just brew it!
            • 3 years ago

            Good point. Of course, Cherry blues have a slight mismatch between tactile point and actuation as well. It is very close though. You could probably use something similar to the Cherry blue “slider” mechanism with Hall-effect sensors.

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