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71e21b0bAvery Use "ring" instead of "circle" 5 months ago

#title: "A Quick Fix for the PinePhone Keyboard's Top Row" date: 2022-01-12 tags: [] draft: false

[In my last post]({{< ref "blog/pinephone-keyboard-initial-impressions" >}}), I wrote up my first impressions of the PinePhone keyboard. Overall I'm really happy with it, but one issue I had was that the top row of keys (escape, backspace, numbers) is a lot more difficult to press than the other keys. Once I've pressed the key enough for it to bottom out (once you feel it click, or go down past a "bump"), I still have to apply extra pressure to make it register a key press.

I was hoping this was just a defect with my unit, but now that more people are receiving the keyboard, it seems like it's a very common issue.

Fortunately, there's a very simple fix, and all you need is a sheet of standard printer paper and a pair of scissors (or a 3D printer - more on that later).

{{< figure res="keys.jpg" alt="The back of three PinePhone keyboard key caps. The leftmost one has a paper square around the stem. The middle one has a 3D printed square around the stem. The rightmost one has a 3D printed circle around the stem." caption="The three fixes that I attempted. From left to right: paper, 3D printed square, 3D printed ring"


The key caps on the keyboard can be easily lifted up and removed with your finger nail. To make the top keys easier to press, we have to pad the back of the key cap, specifically the area outside the circle around the stem.

#Paper Fix

The simplest fix is to cut up a small piece of printer paper into a square, then cut a smaller square out of the middle. The inner square should fit around the circle on the back of the key cap, and the outer square should fit within the back of the key cap (it's fine if the outer square is a bit larger, but it might stick out behind the key cap).

You don't have to make the squares super accurate - since it's paper you can press it into the back of the key cap and let it bend around the circle. Still, the squares are small enough that I found it annoying to cut them out.

#3D Printed Fix

I decided to try 3D printing a fix. Making the model was quite simple, I measured the key cap with a caliper, made a model, then printed it and adjusted the dimensions until it fit on the key caps. The dimensions here are small enough that you might have to make adjustments (to your slicer settings and the model) for your specific printer, material, environment, etc.

When making these with paper, I made them square since that's the easiest shape to cut. I also initially made the 3D printed version square, but later moved to rings since they fit better. It's also easier to line them up - I found the easiest way is to put the ring down on the keyboard, centre it on the membrane, then snap the key cap in on top of it.

These should be printed in one layer. I tried with layer heights of 0.16 mm and 0.2 mm and both worked fine, but the flexibility of the thinner layer height helps it fit in better.

{{< figure res="circle-fix.jpg" caption="A key cap with the 3D printed fix installed" maxHeight="500"


My 3D printer isn't very well calibrated right now, so I ended up printing more than I needed, choosing the best ones, and cleaning them up a little bit by snipping off any little edges jutting out. You might have better results depending on your printer and print settings.

I made the model using SolveSpace. You can download the STL file to print here, or download the SolveSpace file to make your own modifications from this repo.

I ended up with a diameter of 6.25 mm for the inner circle, and 8.50 mm for the outer circle, but like I said before, you may have to adjust these dimensions.

{{< figure res="solvespace-model.png" maxHeight="550" alt="The 3D model made in SolveSpace. The diameters of the two circles are labelled as 6.25 mm and 8.50 mm."



The top row works great now, just like all the other keys! Going back to how they were before feels unusable, especially for backspace or typing symbols. The keys also remain flush with the rest of the keyboard.

This isn't a perfect fix though. You have to fiddle with it a bit to get all the keys to have the same feel, and I've only tested this for a few hours, I don't know if it's a decent long term fix.

I'm a bit disappointed that this has been a common issue with the keyboard. It seems like a big oversight, so I'm hoping that they fix this in future batches, and provide a solution for those who already purchased it. The fix seems quite simple (assuming it holds up long term), maybe they could just sell updated key caps to existing owners.

I hope this post helps you if you're affected by this! If you happen to find a better solution, I encourage you to share it with the community {{< emoji "blobcatthumbsup" >}}