Custom Keyboard Spotlight: The 'Kumo' Mechanical Keyboard

By Ryan Whitwam

A new era for the Minivan.

The Minivan from TheVan Keyboards arrived on the mech scene a few years ago, quickly gaining fans thanks to its compact and efficient layout. I use one quite often, especially when traveling. There's a new version of the Minivan available for preorder right now on Kickstarter. It's called the Kumo, and it brings some important changes to the Minivan to make the keyboard more accessible and less expensive.

The Kumo is a 40% keyboard, which means it's tiny compared to most other keyboards you can buy. You get the full set of alphas as well as a subset of modifiers. There's no dedicated number row or arrow keys, though. At first glance, you might even wonder where the Enter key is; it's down at the bottom next to the mini spacebar, which saves a ton of horizontal space. Just four rows tall and 13 columns across, the Kumo is easy to haul around—it may even fit in your pocket.

In order to make this compact layout work, the Kumo comes with three function layers (it supports more if you want them). You can become extremely efficient on this keyboard once you learn the layers because everything is within two keys of the home row. You can even alter the function layers and even change the base layout to suit your needs because the PCB is fully programmable. TheVan Keyboards offers a simple online configurator to build new layouts, too.

Kumo upgrades the existing Minivan PCB with the addition of Kailh hotswap sockets. That means no soldering is needed to assemble the Kumo, and you can change switches whenever you want. It's rather interesting how the PCB changed to accommodate the Kailh sockets. Some switches on the bottom row are actually sideways because of the increased space required for the sockets. The new PCB also has RGB LED indicators to tell you which layer is active.

I have a prototype of the Kumo, and the hot-swap sockets work well. In this early rev, the switches seem slightly more loose than a soldered board, but I don't believe that will be the case in the final version. There are mounting holes in the PCB so you can use PCB-mount switches without a plate, and that should be sufficient to keep everything in place (it has been for other boards). You can add a plate when purchasing the Kumo if you want to use switches that lack bottom stabilizing pins (known as plate-mount) for added stability.

The Kumo also moves to an injection molded ABS plastic case from the standard aluminum for previous Minivans. I don't have the new case to check out—my prototype has a resin case that is vaguely representative of the final one. There will also be aluminum cases available on TheVan Keyboards website, but the ABS case cuts down on weight and cost for the Kickstarter. The keyboard will come with a full set of XDA profile keycaps. Again, I only have prototypes, but all the XDA sets I've used have been of very high quality.

The prototype resin case shows off the hotswap sockets on the underside of the PCB.

The Kumo is on Kickstarter right now, and a kit will run you $150 with the PCB, case, stabilizers, keycaps, and your choice of Kailh switches (tactile, linear, or clicky). That's just your first set of switches. You can get more from any retailer to plug into your Kumo. The campaign has a few days left, and it's already hit the goal.