After releasing the Launch and the Launch Lite, System76 is back with the Launch Heavy keyboard which includes a NumPad. They sent over a unit and here’s my review.
Their idea for their original Launch keyboard, according to their press release, was a desire to provide customers of their Thelio desktops "with additional USB-C and USB-A ports that were easily accessible" and a "fully configurable keyboard allowed them to accomplish this while creating a holistic experience with the comprehensive list of shortcuts introduced in COSMIC" (COSMIC being their GNOME Shell customisations). Later the Launch Lite did away with the USB hub to
provide a more affordable and smaller option. Now, they've gone super-sized, well — compared with the previous models anyway.
So what is it? The Launch Heavy is a bigger and more useful version of the same if you don't need to move it around anywhere. It has the same incredibly sleek and solid design that has some real weight to it, so there's no slipping about. It comes equipped with 2 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 x 1 Type C and 2 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 x 1 Type A along the back, giving you plenty of expansion room too.
It features Kailh MX Hotswap Sockets with a choice between Kailh Box Jade, Royal, Silent Pink or Silent Brown Switches. They gave me a choice on what switches to test, so checking out the little soundboard on their official site (scroll down), I thought the Brown switches sounded the most muted for a less clacky typing experience. That was a good choice too, because wow — they're really smooth to type on and honestly, I like the sound even better than the already very good Cherry MX keys on my Corsair Strafe.
Since I know a lot of people will ask about shipping to Europe and other keyboard layouts, I asked System76 and they said this:
"Due to the current state of the economy and economic forecasts, we are postponing our European expansion plans for now. However, we are dedicated to supplying our European customers and still plan to expand into Europe in the future. That being said, we do plan on having more layouts for the Launch line. In fact, we already have ISO layouts and legends at the factory. Once our plans resume, we will decide whether to offer both US ANSI and ISO layouts or US ANSI to begin local distribution."
When I hear anything new on that, I’ll be sure to let you know. Now, back to the review.
On the back of the unit, it has two magnetic strips you can stick on either edge to tilt the keyboard for more comfort. These are actually great, and far far better than the rubbish plastic flick-outs from most other keyboards I've seen. They're just as solid and sturdy as the rest of the keyboard, and they won't break. The magnets involved are surprisingly strong too.
It’s quite rare for me to get so attached to a peripheral like this. Even though I reviewed the original Launch keyboard and liked using it, the Heavy is a whole different world of enjoyment because I generally go for bigger sizes like this because I just find it more comfortable.
To give you an example on the size difference, here's the Heavy next to the original Launch (not the Lite). And then also the Heavy compared with the full size Corsair Strafe RGB (click to enlarge them):
Part of what makes it great is all the open source behind it. The schematics and custom PCB are available, the code for the configuration app is open, the firmware is open too based on QMK and so on. Through and through, it's open source and you can see plenty of it on GitHub.
There's truly not a lot I didn't like about it, aside from some minor points on the layout. However, it's a fully configurable keyboard and that is again one of the high points about it. Don't like where something is? Open the app and change it. I'll give you an example. I was not a fan of the Left ALT and Left Super being swapped. I don't know why they were. So, using the official cross-platform open source keyboard configurator app. I swapped them around and then used their useful little gadget to physically pull out the keys and swap them on the keyboard directly. Absolutely no fuss at all, it felt like the future, making tech work for me and not the other way around like it usually is with hardware (especially so on Linux).
"Why are there two spacebars?" I hear you scream at your screen. The answer there is pretty simple: they want you to customise it. Is there a key that you could regularly use on one side that might make it easier or just nicer to reach? Pull off one of them, and stick a different key down. I thought about that for quite a while, and even as I'm typing this I'm very much aware now that it's always my left thumb pressing the spacebar so the right side of it is doing absolutely nothing — I could change that key for something else I might actually use.
They do also include a bunch of extra keys in the box too like a Pop!_OS logo key to replace the Super key (nice touch), same again with a 76 (as in, System76) and other logos people with System76 would be familiar with. Then there's a few others like coloured keys for Esc, a bigger Esc key, a coloured Up / Down and so on. They clearly put a lot of thought into a lot of what people will use it for specifically.
The unit arrived on November 22nd, and I've been using it exclusively for all my time on my PC since, including writing this very article you're reading right now. It took me all of a day to get used to it, and after that it has been insanely smooth sailing. It is a keyboard though, if it was in any way difficult, then they would have done something badly wrong but I'm sure you get my point. It's seriously great.
I will truly be sad to see this unit go back to System76, it gets a very firm seal of approval from me. Going back to my regular old Corsair Strafe now feels like a cheap child's toy in comparison to what this offers. There's really no contest here, this keyboard is in a league of its own.
The thing is: I've been trying to think of any negatives about using this keyboard to give you both sides of the coin and I don't think I have any. Actually, there is one, the US layout since I'm in the UK but even with that my fingers go on auto-pilot through muscle memory touch-typing and it hasn't been a problem, it just would be nice to eventually have my normal key layout available because then it's pretty much perfection. I'm going to correct myself with a minor point: much like their other variants, there's no lights for things like CAPS Lock but again, I've not actually needed it, just something to keep in mind.
If you’re after a new keyboard and want to support a Linux vendor doing such amazingly high-quality hardware, it’s a ridiculously easy recommendation. If the previous smaller sizes put you off — this should make you feel at home.
With this level of quality in their hardware, System76 is the Linux vendor to beat. This is technically their third product I’ve taken a look at (if you count their team up with HP) and I feel like I need more of their stuff. The Thelio sure does look nice, I adore the case on it.
The biggest problem is the pricing. They're not cheap, and compared with various keyboards from other vendors, System76 are expensive. Still, it's hard to knock the quality, you very much get what you pay for here. It feels like it would outlast me.
Launch Heavy pricing starts at $299. See more on the System76 website.