Adaptive keyboard on Lenovo ThinkPads

I recently got a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon and was surprised to see that I actually found their new Adaptive Keyboard (video) feature (the digital touch sensors on the keyboard in place of traditional function keys) actually works reasonably well. I was fully prepared to despise it and permanently set it to always show the function keys but I actually haven’t so far. That said, it’s still not at all perfect. The following describes my experience so far:

  • It’s a bit on the slow side. One nice feature is that regardless of what “row” is actively being shown, when you hold down the ALT key it switches to show the F-keys. It lags a little in doing so though, maybe only like half a second but it’s still noticeable. Same kind of experience when tapping the Fn button on the actual adaptive keyboard strip to switch between rows.
  • It’s not super configurable–at least not yet. For example, I use TechSmith’s Snagit to do screen captures. The Adaptive Keyboard provides a button to launch Windows’s Snipping Tool. I couldn’t find a way to switch it out through Lenovo’s software so I ended up just detouring snippingtool.exe launches to go to Snagit instead. If you’re interested in doing the same and are pretty familiar with modifying the registry, the screenshot below should help. Note that I wasn’t able to figure out how to tell the currently running SnagIt process to go into capture mode so I ended up having to switch to not have SnagIt run on startup and instead the virtual key launches it every time. A little slower overall but I can’t say I used it so often that the delay in launching bugs me all that much.

snip2snagit

  • Getting better as time has passed but I still find myself unintentionally hitting one of the virtual keys on the Adaptive Keyboard row. Turns out I have/had a habit of having my fingers hover very closely to the function keys sometimes which turns out to be an annoying habit now that the keys are virtual and touch sensitive instead of physical keys.
  • I hadn’t realized it at first but some less frequently used keys are neither on the physical keys or the Adaptive Keyboard. Instead, you need to use a combination by holding down the Fn virtual key and a physical key. E.g., Hold down Fn + I for Insert, Fn + T for Print Screen, and a few more.

I think I honestly would have still preferred a standard row of keys instead of the Adaptive Keyboard but not close to as grumpy about it as I thought I was going to be and everything else about this laptop makes it totally worth it. Long term, the idea may have some legs but it’s still got a ways to go.

Update (Feb 24, 2015): A few days after I posted this I disabled the feature to try to make it work as close to a permanent set of function keys as I could.

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