61-RgkiopEL._SY355_There are a lot of great mechanical keyboards available in the market today. Many of them come with backlighting as a feature. This means that, in order to take advantage of said feature, the letters on the keys need to allow light to pass through.

There are a few ways to do this. The first is to paint the surface of an otherwise translucent key cap material, then ablate the paint with a laser. This is the easiest method, but the paint can, over the course of time, begin to wear away or become damaged.

The second is the “double shot” techinque. This takes the “solid” or opaque key cap, then injects additional material of a translucent quality to fill the voids that the legends require. This is the best and sturdiest way to build a key cap. The legend cannot wear off, because it is a structural element of the key.

Even inexpensive keyboards often use this technology now, which is great. Their keys are made of ABS plastic, which is perfectly useful, but not the absolute best material available. More than the material, the character of the legends, the font/style of it, tends to be a little underwhelming. For some reason or another, the companies feel that a “gamer” font is the best to use for all backlit keyboards.

Many of us who like mechanical keyboards beg to differ. Like me.

No worries. There are a lot of aftermarket key caps available for any Cherry MX key stem-equipped ‘board.

However…there is a value issue. If you get a very inexpensive keyboard for, say, $40 or so, do you want to spend more than the whole ‘board cost on getting a nice set of PBT key caps? Hmm. That seems like a possibly bad way to do things. If you had an expensive ‘board that just needed a sprucing up, spending $50 or more on a new set of caps might seem okay, but on a cheap ‘board? Maybe not.

Luckily, the same market that brings us the inexpensive keyboards also yields some inexpensive keycaps of good quality.

That’s what we’re here to talk about. (I know. You’re saying, “Finally, dude. Crap.”)

I found a bunch of double-shot, backlight-capable PBT key caps on Amazon. They were markted as “Bossi” key caps, but they appear to have been made by Kannanic. Not that either company is familiar to me. Bossi does sound cooler, I guess. Like an Italian who takes charge of the situation and makes you type harder. Shrug.

The great thing is that, if you were willing to wait for possibly a long, long time, you could have them for well less than $20 for a set. Yes. Double-shot PBT caps for less than a twenty. Awesome. Sign me up. I ordered a crap ton of them, because reasons.

The first “project” ‘board was a Quisan Magicforce 68, nearly new. It certainly didn’t “need” new caps. The ABS caps that come with the ‘board are perfectly serviceable and legible, though they are a bit flashy and weird. Still, not too bad.

The Magicforce features a white backlght, so any key cap color would work fine with it. This, of course, is not always the case. If you want to use key caps with multi-color or RGB keyboards, I’d recommend using white, gray, or black keys, as these will not create unaccountable and negative issues with some of your color choices.

I chose to mix two key sets, a gray and purple, with the alpha block being purple. In order to replicate such a feat, you’d need to purchase two sets, of course. Since I can re-mix the two sets using an opposite color saturation or otherwise sub in those remaining keys, I don’t see that as an issue.

Let’s go through my experience, as well as some thoughts about the product and the way it was delivered.

Shipping and Packaging:

It did take some time to get the key cap sets. I had free shipping from China, which was nice. I ordered them at the outset of the month, and by the last week of said month, they were at my door, unharmed and in good shape. They arrived ahead of schedule, so I have no room to complain.

These key sets come in a two-piece plastic grid that holds them in the 104 key format, so that, if you’re careful, you can pick them out one by one and put them on without any hunting around in a pile.

Of the various ways to package key sets, this is far better than just throwing them into a bag. Yes, it makes the package a little more bulky, but I think it’s worthwhile. It took me a fairly short amount of time to do the full change as a result of this packaging methodology.

The two halves of the exterior shell are stapled together, so you’ll need to gently pry the staples out to get to the keys. This is easily done, I think, at least for me. I just stapled the halves back together with the remaining keys when I was finished. Presto, all ready to sit around awaiting my next adventure.

Initial Impressions:

I compared these keys to the ABS keys coming off the ‘board, finding that they were significantly thicker than the stock keys. They aren’t as thick as the massive keys from the days of yore, or even, perhaps, as thick as something from the modern day, like the premium Vortex brand. I didn’t have one of those to compare. They are sturdier in mass than a standard key cap, however. I can say that with certainty.

I didn’t notice anything sloppy about the key caps, though some of them had the faintest impression of a sprue line at their base. This would not be visible in a ‘board with a top bezel, and I find it to be essentially invisible to me, even in a floating key setting. I may not be the final definition of OCD, however. Your level of detail-orientation may vary.

The legend on the keys is fairly business-like, though some small elements of the gamer aesthetic bleed through on a few keys and choices. Still, worlds less intrusive than most. I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find a key cap of this type that cleaves any closer than this to the older aesthetic.

Compared to the standard key caps, the difference in material and thickness result in a different sound upon typing. This ‘board features Gateron red switches, so the switches don’t have any sound of their own. This makes it clear that, yes, the sound of the ‘board is fairly significantly impacted by the caps. The sound of the PBT replacement caps is deeper and more robust. Just better in all the metrics.

Being PBT, the key caps feature greater tactile feel. PBT is a more robust plastic, and it resists abrasion or ablation in use. Thus, the makers can design in a bit of a rough texture. On ABS, this texture would wear smooth, but PBT allows the texture to last for a great long time.

If you’re concerned that these inexpensive caps will not have that “PBT goodness”, you needn’t be. It’s there. You’re golden.

In Use:

I found that, during my initial test of this version of the Magicforce, I had some issues really connecting with the keyboard. I would make a lot of mistakes. I felt like the red switches were just a bit too light for me. Insert excuses and rationalizations here. Not bad, but not my favorite.

After re-capping, this is a totally different machine. To begin with, it looks cool now. Not just cool, bue classy. The purple and gray go together like peanut butter and jam, and they look right at home on the brushed aluminum top plate of the Magicforce. Instantly, it looks like one of those boards you’d pay upwards of $130 to get. Not only that, it is how I want it to be, rather than however I can get it. Total cost, even with both key sets? $100. And remember, I still have enough keys in both the sets I culled to cap another ‘board and a half. Thus, I could “dress up” one keyboard with some alternate keys, and I could still cap a whole ‘board. Not cheap, yes, but not nearly as expensive as a custom job could be.

The typing feel. Oh, it is different my fine friends. I didn’t know if it would be, but it really is. Almost all the reservations I had about this keyboard are now gone. I don’t know how this could be, but the texture on the key caps, and the feel of the increased reciprocating mass on the caps makes a huge difference. Yeah. I don’t know. It’s not my imagination. I’m typing way, way better with this thing. I don’t get it, but that’s what is happening. I’m really trying to make sure it’s not confirmation bias, but I can’t see how such a bias could allow me to type more accurately and faster. I don’t know, maybe that is possible, but damn, I’ll take it.

Final Thoughts:

For most, a single color would suffice in this case. I just find that I like the contrast between the modifier keys and the alpha block. The look, to me, is worth another $20. Functionally, I can say that you should expect a somewhat significant upgrade in key feel and the quality of the sound on your inexpensive keyboard if you employ keys made by this manufacturer. As to their availibilty, I can’t tell you. They were all unavailable when I went back to them after my order. I would suppose that they only make production runs at intervals, and you sometimes find yourself out of luck or waiting a long time. That was one of the reasons why I bought up a stock of them when I could.

I now have a keyboard that isn’t quite as cheap as it was, but it’s pretty darned rad. All for less than $40 more than list price. If you got the least expensive of the decent mechanicals that use the Cherry MX key caps, you’d be out around $35 or $40. With one set of these, you’re up to around $55 to $60, and have a great typing tool that looks sounds, and feels a lot more expensive than it is. This, then, is the reason we got into keyboard hot-rodding in the first place.

Cheers, and happy typing!

Shave Soap Hotrodding

Posted: June 20, 2017 in Shaving Articles
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In a recent review, I wrote about The Body Shop’s Maca Root shave cream. It is a very high performance cream, perhaps the slickest cream available from any vendor I have tried. It performs at least on par with the best of the English creams, in my view. However, this product has a very neutral, somewhat uninspired scent. I am not alone in this assertion, as this generally seems to be the only complaint levied against the product.

As much as I liked the performance of the Maca Root cream, I found myself using it only rarely, as there are so many great soaps out there, many of which have wonderful scents to fill the shave den with joy.

The Idea: 

But…perhaps I missed the great opportunity that the Maca Root cream presented. We aren’t without agency and recourse in our shaves. We can experiment, combine, and customize our shave experience to suit us. The lack of a strong or present scent in the Maca Root product, combined with the great performance, makes it a great candidate for “mad science”.

The first soap I did this with was the Mitchell’s Wool Fat, as it also has a lack of scent profile (other than just a sort of soapy smell). While that does work, Mitchell’s is tricky enough to lather without starting to complicate things with a lot of additional ingredients (for me). The Maca Root cream, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to lather, so there is no impediment to the experimentation.

The Components: 

Pinaud Clubman Special Reserve is a grand old scent, available for cheap. It is, unlike some of the inexpensive cologne/aftershaves, quite strong and lasting. To me, it’s a great smell, one that reminds me of dudes when I was a young kid. I really like it, but it’s a bit too much for me to wear in most situations, as I get fatigued with the scent well before it begins to die away. Thus, it has languished a bit.

A little light popped on in my head, and I started thinking about how the potency of Special Reserve and the great performance of the Maca Root cream would go great together. With this in mind, I went in to have my nightly shave, and put them in combination.

The Method:

I put a slightly greater volume of the cream into my lathering bowl, dipping a finger into the cream and depositing about as much as a few stacked dimes in the bottom. I then shook about as much of the Special Reserve into the bowl as I’d use to splash on my face (a few healthy shakes). With a soaked, squeezed brush holding a bit less water than I’d normally use, I went to work. The lather built like you’d expect, and the great scent of the Special Reserve filled the shave den. The water balance was just fine, and the potency of the Special Reserve worked right into the lather with no additional difficulty. Success, at least this far along.

The Results: 

With the great lather that one expects from the Maca Root cream, I now had a nicely fragrant shave cream. The added scent totally dominated the light scent of the underlying cream, and there was no negative interaction there that I could smell. The shave came off great, and though some of the scent lingered after the shave, it wasn’t nearly as intense as splashing it directly on the face. For me, I shower after the shave, so I didn’t have to worry about having a long engagement with the Special Reserve, and growing tired of the smell.

What Did We Learn?

If you have a reasonably potent aftershave or cologne scent that you’d like to utilize in a shave soap, but said soap isn’t made (or at least is not in your possession), you can make it happen. Just take a high performance, low scent soap base, then beat the added fragrance into the lather and you’re off to the races.

For the base, I think it’d be hard to go wrong with The Body Shop’s Maca Root cream. It’s so easy to work with and performs so well, that you’d be somewhat hard-pressed to find fault.

It isn’t simply fragrances that can be added. I’ve added some Osage Rub to give a menthol and eucalyptus kick, along with some lemon essential oil. That shave was a beautiful, summery affair, reminding me more than a little of Proraso White. All you need is your imagination and a few additives to experiment with. I’m sure that all the old-time scents you can still get at the drug store, like Old Spice or Brut, could easily be put into the mix with good results.

Final Word: 

Don’t stand around the shave den lamenting products that are good, except for that one thing. Don’t look into your morning coffee and sadly wish for a scent that no one seems to want to make into a soap. You have the power to do some hotrodding and get what you want. You might have everything you need to make it happen, already in your shave stash.

Cheers,  and happy shaving!

 

 

K552-1

Yet another in the growing group of inexpensive mechanical keyboards, the K552 is manifestly similar to a few of the others I’ve tried. It is a tenkey-less model that uses a metal top plate and floating keys. The switches are Outemu blues, and they feature single color backlighting, red color only. Key caps are double-shot ABS. There are nine levels of brightness available for the backlights, as well as fully off. As I’ve come to expect from this type of cap, the contrast isn’t the strongest with the backlight all the way off. In a normally-lit room, however, it should be sufficient to locate the letter you’re looking for, or the home row.

None of the brightness levels are overly intrusive. Even the lowest of the illumination settins works to significantly improve legibility. The font featured here on the key legends is about what you’d exect. A bit “gamer”, but useful enough. I’ve mentioned before all these backlit keys seem to be manufactured by the same few companies, or at least to a similar standard.

The structural rigidity is significant. Unlike some of the other models in this price range, the K552 features a one-piece plastic under-tray that exends all the way around the sides and beyond the surface of the top plate. This adds a more substantial feel to the keyboard. The flip up feet have a rubber traction wrap on them, wich is appreciated.

In Use:

If you’re familiar with the blue switch ‘board, this one provides the same typing feel as others of its ilk. It has the Outemu switches, which I’ve found to be just a bit heavier and more tactile than other Cherry-based switches. As well, they seem to have a bit crisper click sound. I’ve very close to calling the Outemu switch my favorite of the clones in the blue type. I like them fine, and think they’re a great value for the money. The noise will be an issue in a shared environment, so prepare yourself for that.

Kumara makes a brown-switch version of this same ‘board, so that might be the better choice to lower the noise level down a bit. My undersanding is that the switch type is the only difference. There are also other versions of the ‘board that feature no backlight (even less money), multiple color LED (non changing), and RGB programmable LEDs. The RGB is, of course, more money as the addition of the more expensive LEDs will add complexity and material cost. Even the most expensive version is less than $60 at current prices (Spring 2017). Because the RGB feature is not important to me, but is a feature that others are interested in, the value of these various versions is subjective. For reference, the single color backlight is about $35 at this time. The non-lit version is under $30, if maximum value is your watchword.

The K552 is a good typing machine, and feels very solid under your fingers. It has no sag, squeak, or other unaccountable mechanical sound during the typing process. Since I didn’t mention it before, the device arrived in perfect condition, and everything works as expected. The small lip around the outside of the key block doesn’t quite function as a bezel, but it gives a little protection to the floating keys, such that impacts from the side are less likely to bear upon the outside perimeter as heavily. Think of it as sort of a meta-bezel.

At this point, I’ve become altogether familiar with the 87 key layout, and don’t really find it to be an impediment at all to my work. I don’t do a lot of numerical entry, however. If you’re all about the Excel spreadsheets and data entry, you’ll want to shop for a ‘board with a numeric keypad. They are out there, and often just a small amount higher in price than their TKL competitors.

As with other blue switch ‘boards, this will likely not provide any significant advantage for gaming. Depending on your preference, you might find it slightly stiffer than you’re used to, but no blue switch is ultra-stiff, so you needn’t worry that it will be unworkable for the average typist.

Because everything about the layout is standard, you have no adaptation to do in terms of reach and spacing. ANSI layout is maintained right down the line. There are function layer commands for things like media control and auto-launching some Windows features, like the calculator. The LEDs can be turned up and down with this FN key command layer, as well. All is as expected.

Summary:

All in all, you get a solid and useful keyboard for your money here. I wouldn’t say that it is particularly stunning looker, but it is a “quiet” enough design that you have some dress up options at your disposal. Because of the raised “Redragon” logo panel, it would take a bit of work for you to arrive at an altogether custom appearance. You could sand down the logo and repaint the top plate a different color, but that is a bit more work than you may want to do.

The red LED will be something of a limiting factor for key replacement, as you’ll want to make sure that you select alternate key caps that will go well with the red lighting (unless, of course, you plan to simply turn the LEDs off altogether). If your key caps are altogether opaque, the red light will still propagate from beneath the keys. Of course, if you have a keyset designed for backlighting, that will do just fine. I may re-cap this keyboard when I have some caps in hand with which to start a project. I’ll touch base with the results.

Usage Case:

I see this is a nice option at the cost. It goes for about what the Drevo Tyrfing and a few other keyboards cost. I still feel that, for customizing, the Tyrfing is one of the best options. That said, it has a particular acoustic component that may not be to everyone’s taste. The Kumara provides a nice option, and I think that it would serve well. I believe that it is a step up on fit and finish as well as build quality, when compared to the cheapest mechanicals.

For a home user or someone in a situation where typing noise is not a factor, this offers a lot of performance for the dollar, and may also serve as a an interesting option for a “project ‘board”. For someone looking to dip their toe into the waters of mechanical keyboards, or someone who wants a device that they can try customizing without worrying about ruining a very expensive device, this could be the very thing.

Out of the box, it provides good tactility and audible feedback, looks fairly nice, and has a sturdy feel. That’s a lot to get for less than forty bones.

Cheers, and happy typing.

 

Ease of Lathering: Very easy. As with most Razorock soaps, the loading and lathering is essentially effortless with this formulation. My methodology is to swirl in one direction, then the other, then sometimes back and forth. It takes no time to get all the soap into the brush that you could want (less than thirty seconds). Lathering on the face, I follow my normal behavior, adding the requisite amount of water as I engage the brush on the stubble. The Emperor soap swirled up into an ideal lather about as easy as anything I’ve ever used.

Protection: I had not used the new “super tallow” formulation that Razorock employs on some of its soap up until now. I’d always been quite happy with the performance of the soap bases they’d been using, but I was interested to see if they could improve upon it. I am happy to report that the new formulation, which includes tallow, argan oil, and aloe vera, is a step up. At this point, it would be very difficult to find fault with the performance of this soap, in regard to protection. The lather is both voluminous and protective, with lots of cushion on the face. There is a substantial element to this new formula that didn’t seem to be present in the earlier soaps, when lathered. I am taking nothing away from their earlier formulas, because they have always worked fine for me, but this new stuff is really great.

Residual Slickness: Here is another area where the new formulation seems to exceed the earlier ones. This is slick soap, with more than enough residual on the skin to let you do auxiliary passes without re-lathering, which is part of my normal procedure with most razors. Your face is left feeling well taken care of. I’m not going to say that you won’t need a balm, moisturizer, or after shave, because these things are all variable and can’t be forecast. My feeling about post shave measures is that you have to adapt to the climate and the needs of your skin. What I can say about this new super tallow formula is that it shouldn’t act as a drying agent, any more than another good soap on the market.

Scent: Emperor has a scent profile based upon the popular Creed Aventus cologne. Pineapple, Bergamot, Black Pepper, Smoke and Leather is the list of notes they provide for this scent. It is a complex scent, with a very masculine characteristic. I would not say that this is an “old time” scent, or anything to do with a barbershop scent, to me. The scent strength for this one is somewhat more potent than most Razorock scents, many of which are fairly gentle. I would say that Emperor is of similar scent strength to Santa Maria del Fiore, for instance. Some of the soap scent will likely linger beyond the shave. I would say that the smoke and leather are the most lingering of the notes here, but they are never altogether alone in the mix. I find the scent to be one of my favorites in the Razorock lineup. It that power, success, influence sort of vibe for me. As always, your mileage may vary. I have not smelled Creed Aventus directly, so I can’t tell you how close the match is.

Production/Value: For the cost of this soap, what you get is a really amazing deal. For ten bucks American (Winter/Spring 2017), you get a great tallow formulation, very well done cologne-like scent, and perfectly serviceable packaging (with one of Razorock’s neat new labels). I can’t think of any soap in the price range that can be said to deliver more than this one. Another big win for Italian Barber here.

Notes: I may come off as rather a fanboy for Razorock soaps. I have, to the best of my ability, tried to approach each of the tests I do with an open mind. I know that I often joke about doing science in these reviews. Rest assured, I am aware that there is little actual science being done here. The vast bulk of my experiences and assertions are subjective. With all that said, I still stand by these reviews as being even handed. I’ve used many of the well-considered soaps out there, and I feel that I have a good enough experience with a cross-section of products to give a useful opinion. That is, of course, what these reviews are: opinions. There are a great many good or great products to be had today. More than any other time in wet shaving, from all I can gather. With all the excellent options out there, Razorock very much deserves your attention. Recommended. If you are a fan of the scent they are emulating here, it’s probably a must-try.

Azio MGK-1 Mechanical Keyboard

Posted: June 11, 2017 in keyboarding
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In the beginning of my mechanical keyboard journey, I found myself purchasing examples of the breed that went for well over a hundred dollars. They had Cherry MX switches. At that time, there weren’t nearly as many choices as there are today. You had old IBMs, the Cherry ‘boards that were easily available, and then a few fringe players that were hard to find and expensive.

Due to the recent advent of Cherry clone switches, there are a vast array of new keyboards to look at. I’ve already investigated a good number of the least expensive new ‘boards. Those proved to be quite useful devices, though many of them were hampered by a few small design oddities. In terms of making the clicking sound and sending the character to the computer, however, they were just fine. They worked as well, or even better than the “real” Cherry ‘boards.

The gap in my knowledge base was the “mid-priced” products. There are a good number of devices that go from $60 or so to up around the $100 range that I didn’t have any experience with. In some cases, the value brands will offer a bucks-up version of their keyboard that features either a “real” Cherry switch complement or one of the more expensive clones, like the Kailh or Gateron switch. In other cases, we’ll see brands that have chosen to position themselves in this price category and built their product from the ground up to satisfy this requirement.

The Product:

The Azio MGK-1 features Kailh switches. It has a single color backlight, but this is implemented in a “non gamer” fashion. What that means is that there aren’t a million different flashy effects. It’s on or off, with a reactive mode that lights up the key you’ve just hit, and lets you adjust the brightness. There are three levels of brightness, and the top brightness level isn’t blinding or disruptive. In a room with normal amounts of ambient light, the LEDs at full are fine.

The Azio is a pretty swanky looking ‘board. It has a blacked-out aluminum top plate with a brushed finish. The floating key caps feel pretty nice. They sit atop Kailh blue switches. As much as the top appears to bespeak high levels of weight and structure, the underside is fairly mudane or even underwhelming. The red plastic base features basic fold out feet that seem a little flimsy and don’t feature traction inserts. The metal top plate provides enough rigidity, however, while the minimal underside keeps weight low (if that is a concern).

In terms of nits to pick with the looks, I would only say that the LEDs used for the num lock, caps lock, and Windows lock are a bit brighter than I prefer. They are probably twice as intense as is required, and don’t appear to be configurable.

With build, I’d like to see better flip-up feet and a bit more material used on the underside, just to give the ‘boad a bit more substance.

In Use:

The employment of a blue type switch typically comes with several choices preset about the ‘board. The sound is going to be significant. The click of these switches has a bright, crispy sound that will either be something you’re totally into, or a real annoyance.

The sound of the Kailh switches, while consonant with the other blues I’ve tried, is not quite the same as the Cherry or the Outemu brands. The Outemu brand is the loudest of them, with what I feel is the “crispest” sound. The Cherry are, to my ears, the highest pitched in their sound, but not quite as loud. The Kailh switches are slightly mellower in their sound. These are all somewhat subtle distinctions, however, and would be hard to isolate without being in the room with keyboards thus equipped.

To my mind, blue switches have always been a mixed bag. I like the sound, and I like the feel (mostly), but I find that I often type a bit better with some of the other switch types. They are rewarding, but I’ve had a hard time warming up to them in some cases. I think that they are right on that threshold of weighting where I can’t “float” type, but if I go at them like I’d do with a buckling spring, I overpower them and bottom out hard. Shrug. It’s an issue that just using the particular key type for a few days would clear up. All of these technologies have a small amount of spin-up time where you’re not as comfortable as you might be.

The layout and key position of the Azio is altogether standard, so there is no adaptation needed to cope with that. If you’ve typed on a blue switch ‘board before, you’ll be able to get right to work here. As I said, the sound is a little more mellow than some blue-equipped boards. Let that not be code for “quiet”, however. Anything but. There are no quiet blue switch keyboards. Even with O-rings installed, they are going to make some noise. Also, O-rings kind of ruin the key feel, at least for me. Opinions must vary, because they carry on selling those things. Someone must like them.

Overall, I find the typing experience to be quite similar to the blue switch ‘boards I’ve already used. Which, I suppose, is to be expected. It can’t be more than it is. There is no fairy dust or unicorn powder at play. In terms of actual typing, I don’t know that it offers anything that the cheaper ‘boards don’t.

If looks are important, and you want to have a prettier or classier ‘board on your desk, then this one does have an advantage. Also, it does come with a palm rest, if you use such things. I find that most of my implementations do not require a palm rest, and that their inclusion would only hinder my progress. Thus, I have not used the included part for the Azio in any of my testing. Keep in mind that, when touch typing, it’s better form to have your wrists at a flat angle, and well above where the palm rest would normally have them. Just sayin’. If you’re going to be typing up a storm, we don’t want you to get yourself all ginked up.

Summary:

The Azio keyboard is a nice looking, good functioning device. If you have a fairly tasteful computer rig and you want a mechanical that goes along with this aesthetic, I think you could do worse. It’s significantly less expensive than something like a DasKeyboard, which would be in a competitive space. Since this is a full-sized unit, it will likely just sit in the same place for its whole life. Thus, any small concerns I have over its toughness are probably academic.

The Kailh switches seem good. I don’t know if they offer anything in particular that the Outemu switches lack, but there is no reason that I can see to shy away from them. If a keyboard you are interested in has this brand switch, I think you’ll find that they work as expected.

In relation to the full-fat Cherry MX keyboard market, the Azio is something of a value option. If you are less concerned with the looks, know that there are keyboards that will perform at a similar level for twenty or twenty-five dollars less. If this is not a meaningful economy for you, then the Azio might be the right choice. Also be aware that, if you’re something of a gearhead, you can purchase a set of aftermaket key caps to customize the look and feel of your ‘board. Doing that, you can take the cheapest of the ‘boards and make it look as nice as the Azio, or take the Azio and use it as the launch point for something amazing. Anything with minimally-invasive badging and a standard key complement will be great for such a project. There are excellent PBT key cap sets for as little as $20 available online. I’ll be doing a whole article on #keyboardhotrodding in the future where I talk in greater detail on this point.

Usage Case:

This is an “at home” keyboard. It’s too loud for work, and it’s not really suited for going into your backpack and accompanying you to the local coffee shop to hipster out. For that, I’d look at something like the Magicforce 68, or at least a tenkey-less model.

As with other keyboards using this switch type, I don’t think it offers any great advantage for gaming, and could actually be something of an impediment, if you’re used to a membrane keyboard or something with linear switches.

Typing is where it’s at for this machine. In an enviornment that is not noise-averse, it could be a really good option. It has the looks, and it has them at a price that isn’t quite as shocking to the average consumer. Also, it should be mentioned that Azio makes a fully Mac-based key format, so you don’t have to re-map anything or guess if the media keys will function. The Mac version is all in silver and white, so it will match up with the aesthetic of the computer in question.

Just know that this version is about 1/3rd more expensive, due to tooling and volume concerns. Still, far less than than a Matias, and possibly more attractive in the visual sense for some buyers. I will not say that the blue switches are as good as the Matias tactile pros, however. They have advantages, but overall typing joy still goes to the Matias, in my estimation. That’s a whole seperate argument, however, and in the PC sphere, the cost of a Matias ‘board is well over double that of the Azio. So, then, not a fair comparison.

Back in the land of apples-to-apples, it’s a pretty good bargain. In the realm of Kailh switches, I think that it’s one of the less expensive options (many of the others I’ve seen are kitchy in some way, while this is fairly standard in form and execution).

So, for the traditional keyboardist who mainly wants good typing feel, a handsome device, and a reasonable price, this would be one I’d recommend to try.

Cheers, and happy typing!

Note: It should be mentioned that the stabilizers on the larger keys have an interesting issue wherein they require great care when replacing keys, and often don’t quite line up on the first go ’round. Also, a few of the keys (the spacebar and the right shift) have non-standard spacing for the stabilizer inserts. This will make replacing these two keys problematic. I ended up finding it impossible to replace those two keys when re-capping the keyboard. While this isn’t necessarily the biggest deal, the stock caps on this ‘board are not the absolute best. If you’re like me, you’ll find that you want to upgrade them. In this, you’ll have to look for a special “compatibility pack” to help you out, if even that can. I’ll have to give this ‘board a demerit for the two issues listed above, and put it in the “probably don’t buy” category as a result.

Keyboard Review: Hcman 87

Posted: May 29, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

hcman-87-keys-mechanical-keyboard-under-30-e1494904419595-960x494Sometimes, you just have to see how low you can go. In this case, I was looking for the least expensive true mechanical keyboard I could find. After poking around Amazon, the Hcman 87 keyboard I have here ended up being “the one”. Depending upon market factors, it may well not be the low-priced crown, or even available when you’re reading this. Nevertheless, it constituted the value winner at the inception of this test.

It is a tenkey-less design, or the 87% format, if you prefer. The device has an aluminum top plate, floating key layout, and features Outemu blue switches. These are clicky and tactile, like the Cherry switches of the same stem color. The keys are backlit. With the backlighting turned off, it looks okay. It looks really hokey with the backlights on.

The ‘board is quite light, but has good structural regidity, due to the aluminum top plate. With the LEDs lit, it has a “gamer” aesthetic, which is not my preference. That said, at this price, one takes what one can get.

The legends are clear enough with the backlighting on, but are quite difficult to read when the lights are turned off. Because of the design of this keyboard, it would be easy enough to change key caps, should you desire. That being said, there are secondary functions that would have to be remembered or noted elsewhere, should you remove the stock caps. Also, it should be mentioned that going to the expense of purchasing a new set of keycaps for a ‘board of this price point would likely be a questionable step. Many of the key cap sets you might select are more expensive than this keyboard in total.

Functional aspect:

Because of the key switches used in this ‘board, it provides a clicky and tactile typing experience. I find that the Outemu switches provide a similar feel to the more expensive Cherry switches. I have not found any cause to say negative things about them. They seem to do what they were designed to do. I don’t know if they will, in fact, have the same service life or retain their performance after long term use, but they seem to do just fine over a short course.

The layout of the Hcman is a standard ANSI design. All the keys will be in the same place you’re used to. They’ll be the same size and shape. There are no large hurdles here.

When one combines the fact that you have a true mechanical switch that acts as it should and a standard key layout, this is a solid typing platform. There are no strange sounds, squeaks, pings, or malfunctions to report. Because I was familiar with blue switches going in, there wasn’t a major learning curve. I have used it back to back with a few much more expensive keyboards, up to and including a Realforce that is the better part of ten times as expensive. It did not give me great feelings of sadness and regret while employing it.

Summation:

This is a lot of keyboard for the money. If you are willing to forgive some of its little quirks, like having dumb LED lighting that will make you look like a rube if you use it, this thing will give you typing feel equal to a much more expensive ‘board. If you find that you really, really like the Hcman, you could always throw some better caps onto it. Or, even better, some caps you’ve kept around from a previous craft project. Much better if anything you do with this ‘board be cheap or free, since the whole idea of this device is value.

Functionally, it’s a win. With the lights off, it’s okay. Lots of ‘board for the money.

Cheers, and happy typing.

Post Script:

After my initial review of this ‘board, I decided to recap it with keys I had hanging around. Now, it’s using the modifier keys from a Magicforce and the rest of the keys from my old DasKeyboard. While there are still a few slightly rough or cheap elements present, the change in the looks are huge. With the LEDs off and a good, legible set of key caps installed, it’s actually a nice looking ‘board. One interesting element I found during the switching of the key caps was that this board has a totally different type of stabilizer than anything I’ve seen. They work fine, so it’s just a data point.

I still believe that a slightly more expensive (an additional $5 to $10 will do) platform would provide you a better jumping off point for a customed-up board. I would say that the Magicforce 68 by Quisan is right up there with the best in this regard, while the Drevo Tyrfing is also impressive. For a full sized keyboard the Eagletec is also totally legit. For a cheap, dangerous duty ‘board or a loaner for friends, the HCman is pretty darned good, however.

Since I’ve gone on record a few times about Taylor’s creams already, I’ll just make this one a discussion about scent only. Please look at some of my other reviews of the Taylor’s creams for full and painstaking detail about other details.

(For those of you just joining us, Taylor’s creams are reference level products. Easy to lather, smell good, have solid protection during the shave, rinse clean. They are mid-priced, but the least expensive of the classic English cream products.)

The Eaton College scent is a mild one. It is probably one of the less “forward” scents that Taylor produces. It strikes me as one that evokes an English gentleman of yesteryear. Not in a negative light, but it isn’t a cutting edge scent. It has that vintage quality to it. One could imagine catching a faint wisp of it arising from an open window of an old Bentley. It pulls of the surprising trick of being a primarily floral scent, while at the same time not seeming feminine in nature. Not sure how that is done, not being a perfumer by trade.

If you’re in the mood for a mild, classy scent that calls to mind an expensive cologne from the days of yore, this might be the very thing.

Cheers, and happy shaving!