Slimbook Titan, Kubuntu, RGB backlight keyboard

Updated: March 24, 2023

Welcome, lil' penguins. Let us talk about me new laptop some more. As you may have heard or read, I purchased a Slimbook Titan, a hefty machine with hybrid graphics and lots of processing power. My mission? To use this device in earnest, for everything, to prove that I can wean myself off Windows come 2025, once Windows 10 goes kaputt. Because we don't want no Windows 11 and such nonsense, now do we.

On the Slimbook front, so to speak, things have gone all right so far, but the start was rocky, and some things are still a bit rough. My chief annoyance is the keyboard. One, it's not very ergonomic but that can't be solved. Two, the keyboard backlight is misbehaving. The combined effect is reduced typing productivity, and we don't want that, either. Let's talk about possible solutions and such.

Keyboard, rainbow pattern

Problem in more detail

First, the keyboard is of average build quality. The keys are too close, not spaced enough apart, so fast typing leads to typos. The feedback mechanism is decent but not stellar. The keyboard backplane is robust and does not bend, but it could be ever sturdier. The font type used to mark letter symbols on the keys is off-center and rather pale, partly because the keyboard is meant to be backlit, so the light shines through the letters. End effect, if you don't use the backlight, the contrast is low, and typing is a bit difficult.

On top of that, the backlight functionality is quite iffy:

Solution

One way around this is to suffer with no backlight, if possible. The other is to install the Slimbook RGB Keyboard utility. The problems here are manyfold. One, the tooling is available through a PPA, which is not necessarily something you want on a production system, even if you trust the publishers of the repo. Two, you need to rely on a third-party piece of code for normal system functionality.

My assumption, without doing any testing, was that the keyboard utility is merely a frontend for a tool that echoes a bunch of strings to /sys/class. After all, this is what most laptops do when it comes to light and fans and alike.

So I decided to actually try the Slimbook tool. I didn't set the PPA, I manually downloaded the .deb files, manually figured out the missing dependencies (like various Python modules), and then installed the packages, including a driver for the ite8291r3 backlight controller. You also need DKMS so the driver can be recompiled any time there's a kernel update. Expected but not what I really wanted.

There's nothing sinister about this, but it's not a seamless experience I was expecting. Anyway, I did install the Slimbook utility and launched it. Unlike the BIOS tool, it actually does its job, plus you can change the color hue for the single-color backlight option, which is useful, as the default is glaring red. I changed it to the "almost white" color, as that seems to be the least intrusive hue for every day.

Keyboard utility

The utility is configured to run at startup, and there's a script to activate the keyboard post-resume. Obviously, the problems I've encountered are universal for any device with this controller. The simple solution would be a more powerful and less buggy BIOS configuration, or just no light at all, and a simple keyboard with white-on-black keyboard font. But hey, RGB gives you more FPS, amirite!

Keyboard, backlight fixed

Conclusion

I figured that I only have two options. I could manually compile the controller module, load it into memory, and then manually issue brightness and pattern commands to the following path: /sys/class/leds/, specifically the qc71_laptop struct. The other option is to use the Slimbook RGB tool. Not happy with either, I must say.

In the end, I decided that perhaps, for now, the easiest option is to use the software provided by Slimbook. After all, the team maintains a dozen plus utilities for their different laptop models, and they are trying to give the user the best possible experience, considering the limitations. By and large, the keyboard tool isn't as ugly or ungainly as I've feared. It's quite elegant, in fact. So I think, we might call this a happy ending. More Titan adventures coming your way soon!

Cheers.