Yes, I wish that the KeyLab’s DAW & arrow buttons were available for general use when in User Mode. Like you, I’d rather drum on the keys than the pads, so those switches are available for me too.
I recently bought a Nektar Pacer. I could potentially have up to seven continuous pedals now (5 jacks on the KeyLab + 2 on the Pacer), plus the 16 pads, plus the Pacer foot switches, plus possible additional plug-in switches. Oh, and I have breath and bite controller too. So many options!
In addition to the higher quality keys, the additional pads and I/O justify the KeyLab MkII over the essential. Both have great software, but the MkII hardware offers a lot of value. It’s unlikely that users would outgrow it. Put it atop an 88-key weighted board and add some pedals, and you’ve got a killer setup.
Good to hear that the configuration with GP is working well.