One of the biggest criticisms of the C64 Mini is the lack of a working keyboard (something that is going to be a part of the full-sized model due later this year). While this isn’t a problem for the majority of the included games that can function perfectly with the bundled joystick or a suitable third party controller, there are some that need to make use of an external keyboard or use the virtual keyboard to function properly. This isn’t an ideal situation and while it’s easy enough to pick up a USB keyboard, the virtual keyboard is far from practical, especially when in-game use often requires quick reactions, something that it certainly can’t provide.
What options do we have though? While many C64 Mini owners are looking at a range of keyboards offered from PC suppliers, there’s a much more affordable option from household chain Wilko. They are offering a no-frills USB keyboard for the low price of just £5 but is it any good?
As you’d expect from a budget keyboard, this is a pretty basic offering with no bells and whistles. In all honesty though, as I’m looking at this from the perspective of a C64 Mini owner looking for a cheap keyboard I just want something functional that will let me extend the use of the console so I don’t need all of the extra features that a more expensive keyboard offers. Despite its price, it offers a full size 105-key standard layout keyboard with adjustable legs so it’s ideal for use either on a desk if your C64 Mini is set up as part of a small table based gaming setup or for use on your lap if you have your C64 Mini connected to the family TV.
The first thing I noticed was the cable length. While it’s more than adequate for use with a PC or if your setup is table based, the 4ft lead is shorter than that of the Mini’s joystick so if you are going to use this with a main living room arrangement then you’re going to need a USB extension lead. It’s a minor irritation but it seems to be a standard issue across all plug and play systems and so far almost every modern system has shipped with woefully inadequate cabling or controllers that simply don’t take into consideration where the consoles are most likely to be used.
That aside, what is most important is the keyboard itself. When using it, you can help being reminded constantly of how much it costs as it has a “cheap” feel to it. The keys have a soft, spongy feel to them and while it works well enough it and is reasonably responsive to the touch, I don’t feel confident enough to use it for fast-action games that are 100% reliant on keyboard controls. It certainly copes well with in-game text entry, writing BASIC programs, text adventures and occasional keyboard use for game functions (such as Ghostbusters), but the keyboard doesn’t feel overly durable. The membrane under the keys themselves seems soft to the touch and there’s no reassuring “click” as keys are pressed and I don’t believe that this is a keyboard that will last for extended heavy use.
Don’t get me wrong, for the asking price it’s a competent keyboard and will serve its purpose as an expansion for the C64 Mini, but it’s not something I’d pay much more for. Comfort wise it’s probably along the same level as most laptop keyboards but without the long-term strength. Still worth the price but don’t expect too much.