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Keyboard Builders' Digest / Review

Bancouver40 (minipeg48, kowgary16)

This is my review of the Bancouver40, this cool little pre-built ortho keyboard in a premium CNC aluminum case – designed by Sporewoh and sold by Chosfox.

KBD.news
Published October 26, 2023
Creators! Feel free to tip me off about your keyboard related projects to bring them to 100K readers.

The bancouver40 is a CFX-spaced 4x10 ortholinear keyboard designed by Christian Lo (aka sporewoh) and manufactured by Chosfox. While it's not available right now, Chosfox announced two similar projects in this line-up recently: if you are eyeing with the minipeg48 & kowgary16 – the minipeg48 being practically the 4x12 version of the 4x10 bancouver40, and the kowgary16 their macropad companion –, my experiences with and details of the predecessor may come in handy.

Availability

The bancouver40 was a group buy this April, the orders were fulfilled earlier in the summer, and right now it's sold out at Chosfox. I was informed that while another run is not entirely off the table, it isn't planned either in the foreseeable future. The focus is on the minipeg48 right now.

Pic: Bancouver40 barbone kit

Bancouver40 barbone kit

By the way, Christian Lo (aka sporewoh), the original designer of these CFX-spaced ortholinears wrote an article about his journey for the 2022 MK advent calendar. The files of the bancouver40 were published later last year so it didn't made it into that post, but Robin of Chosfox contacted him for a collaboration:

I'm continually thankful for this, but Robin reached out to me about producing a round of bancouver40s after a sponsorship agreement we made prior to promote Chosfox's cfx keycaps. Thus far it's been good working with Robin and Chosfox, and it's been a great opportunity for me to learn a bit of the business side of selling keyboards. I want to give a big thank you to him and the company for sparking this opportunity, as well as this community for supporting it – Chris.

Layout & spacing

The bancouver40 is extremely compact, ideal as a travel companion. Here it is with a standardish 65% I had at hand:

Pic: Bancouver40 vs Kemove K68

Bancouver40 vs Kemove K68

The biggest audience I wanted to target was individuals similar to me; someone who wants a premium feeling keyboard with maximum portability when commuting to and from the office. Because I commute back and forth to set workstations, I find combining the bancouver40 with a magnetic cable minimal and simple with being able to just plug and play. I do acknowledge the appeal of this form factor in a wireless form though, and have been playing around with doing so in different ways with various prototypes. I think this board has appeal for both hardcore ortholinear users and individuals seeking a novelty due to its cute, compact design. It is a fair departure from a standard keyboard in many ways (ortho, choc, cfx spacing), though I consider it to be a point of uniqueness and pride for my design – Chris.

CFX spacing and only 10 columns in a row make the bancouver40 barely larger than your phone.

In contrast to standard (19.05x19.05 mm) and Choc spacing (18x17 mm) of e.g. MBK keycaps (17.5x16.5), the 16.5x16.5 CFX caps by Chosfox make it possible to arrange the keys in a 17x17 mm grid.

Pic:

This also means that the bancouver40 works exclusively with CFX keycaps due to its tight spacing (MBKs won't work, just like MX caps and switches are out of the question of course).

I was curious if the 17 mm grid is too crowded for my keycap pullers (generally designed for 19 mm caps I guess). It may come as a surprise, but not. Even my wider wire keycap pullers proved to be flexible enough to handle this spacing without any issue. (I can't rule out that there are problematic keycap pullers out there in this regard though.)

Portability

With its overall footprint of just 174x72 mm, the bancouver40 is about the size of my phone, which makes it a perfect secondary keyboard for the go.

Pic:

It is 18.5 mm thick (including keycaps and bumpons), which makes it a bit higher than a handy, but all in all, if you can carry around a phone in your pocket, you'll be able to take this with you as well.

Build quality

Perfect, I don't have any complains. The anodized CNC aluminum case looks and feels very professional. Especially with the milled Chosfox logo on the front side. I'm really glad that two creators of the community collaborated in a way which brought an open-source keyboard as a high-quality product to a wider audience.

Pic:

The matte black PCB is also tasty:

Pic:

Software

Initially, this was my main concern with the bancouver40. While it's an open-source, QMK-compatible keyboard, those users who prefer pre-built keyboards probably expect easy programmability via some kind of a GUI. And while even just a few years ago setting up a local development environment for QMK was not only acceptable but pretty much your only option, alternatives like Vial made us, at least me, well, lazy.

Luckily, rlbaxter saved the day by creating the Vial firmware for the bancouver40:

I'm thankful for rlbaxter for making a vial firmware for others to play with, and I hope to work on publishing an "official" vial qmk branch/hex file in the near future – Chris.

CFX ecosystem

With the CFX caps, bancouver40, minipeg48 and kowgary16, Chris and Robin is creating a whole ecosystem in the CFX universe.

There are a couple of keycap options for you to choose from, e.g. I received some nice samples earlier:

Pic:

WoB with cool orange accents, BoW EN and En & Hiragana, and separate Ocean blue and Taro purple accent kits.

Pic:

In addition, the kowgary16 will get its own numpad keyset as well, as you can see in this teaser (3D printed samples):

Pic:

Summary

Obviously, such a tight spacing, combined with an ortho arrangement, is not your optimal choice for a daily driver if you type or code all day long. However, the ridiculously small footprint of the bancouver40 makes it an excellent travel companion and secondary keyboard for the go.

Exceptional build quality, portability, cute appearance, a growing number of keycap options are on the pro side. It needs built-in Vial support though.

There is no better feeling in this hobby than to make something that you love and see others engage and love it as well. To everyone here that has supported me thus far, thank you. To the Japanese keyboard community, who have shown their enthusiasm for the bancouver40 on X, ありがとう ございます – Chris.

And as you may have noticed, the bancouver40 became my standard size reference:

Pic:

Pic:

Specs

  • 40 keys, low-pro Choc
  • CFX spacing (17x17mm)
  • hotswap
  • matte black PCB
  • on-board ATMega32U4
  • USB-C

Resources

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Published on Thu 26th Oct 2023. Featured in KBD #141.


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