Ease of Lathering: Very easy. Bowl lathering the Trumper’s cream is equally easy as the best creams I’ve tried. A small amount of the product whips up into a thick and voluminous lather, more than enough for a three pass shave.

Protection: I believe that the Trumper’s cream has a slight edge on the Taylor’s in terms of the thickness and protective nature of the lather. Slight. I would say that it seems the equal of the St. James cream in this category. A very rich and useful lather that feels luxurious and nutritive is provided by the Trumper’s product.

Residual Slickness: The shaving creams I’ve tried have typically provided adequate, but not exemplary slickness. I believe that this is likely to do with the prevailing formulation. They are typically based in glycerin, rather than coconut oil or tallow. Though glycerin is a slick component, it doesn’t have the same “fatty” slickness that those other components I mentioned often possess. That said, there is a spectrum.

With creams that come from mass manufacturers, most don’t leave quite the same level of slick film behind that an artisan soap would do. This isn’t a problem, but you have to be a bit more assiduous with relathering to maintain your best protection.

As shaving creams go, the Trumper’s cream has very nice slickness. Post shave feel is also quite nice. This tracks with St. James of London in terms of richness. This is where the higher cost (in relation to Taylor’s, which is the least expensive of the classic English shaving creams) seems to bear out.

Scent: Often, inexpensive soaps and creams can provide solid performance. Many of them have pleasant scents, as well. In my experience, one of the tell-tales of a more expensive soap or aftershave is that the scent is longer lasting once deployed. Although I am not a perfumer, my instinct on this score is that the fragrance oils and essential oils that are used in more expensive products are of greater quality. Perhaps there are secondary elements in the mix that act as fixatives for the scent profile and keep it going longer. I’m devolving into guesswork, so I’ll stop.

The long and short of it is this: the Trumper’s product has a long-lasting scent that hangs around for hours after the shave. What’s the scent like? Spanish Leather is a great name for the product. There is a leather-based scent, with a warm cologne underpinning. I think it would go well in tandem with a tobacco scent or some of the “dirtier” woodsy scented aftershaves. I quite like the Spanish Leather scent. It isn’t my absolute favorite, but it could certainly find a place in my rotation.

Production/Value: Geo F. Trumper creams are in that middle ground between Taylor’s (reasonably high value) and D.R. Harris or Trufitt and Hill (champagne budget stuff). Although I think it has a few tangible points in its favor when compared to Taylor’s, whether this is worth several dollars more per tub is a point you’ll have to work out for yourself. I would like to point out that, when amortized over the life of the product, most soaps and creams are not particularly expensive. If a product gives you significant improvement in a functional or subjective assessment, it may be worth the extra cost. Trumper’s, for me, would likely be a luxury shave product, one that I dusted off from time to time, rather than using as my day-to-day regular.

Notes: Trumper’s cream is really nice stuff. You can get a great shave out of it. The same can be said for many other soaps and creams that go for less. Its scent is a bit more refined and long lasting, and its formula feels a little richer. One thing to consider is that, if my information is correct, the Trumper’s formula still utilizes Parabens as a preservative. If they are known to irritate your skin, or if you have strong aversions to their presence in your skin-care regiment, you’ll want to research this and perhaps make your purchase elsewhere. If you find yourself drawn to some of the old, classic English shaving products, Geo F. Trumper’s are certainly in that pantheon, and deserve a look.

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Opening Salvo:

In my adventures with mechanical keyboards, I have tried a lot of switch types. Most of them, I’d be bold enough to say. One common switch I’d failed to try out, though, was the Cherry MX Red switch. I’d played on ‘boards that had this switch here and there, but not long enough to really get much of a feel for them.

I knew that they were light. I knew that they were linear. I knew that they were purported to be the bee’s knees for gaming. In my recent round of acquisitions, though, I decided to make getting a red switch keyboard a priority.

One of the secondary missions of the buying spree (did I call it a buying spree? Sigh.) was to evaluate the Cherry MX-style switches from other companies. This lead me to the purchase of the Drevo Tyrfing ‘board.

It is a tenkey-less design of fairly normal proportions and feature set. Featuring a rather “quiet” design, it has a single color backlight (nominally white, though it has a bit of a blue component). Other than a somewhat “gamer” font on the key caps, it looks business-like.

The Tyrfing I purchased is in black, with Outemu red switches. In the current market, mechanical keyboards that feature the Cherry MX key switches, which are made in Germany, often come in at greater than $100 in cost. Because the patent has run out on that switch design, several other companies have begun to produce similar switches. One of those, Outemu, has switches featured on some of the most economical models. Some Outemu-equipped keyboards can be had for as little as $32 or so (Spring 2017, U.S. money).

In my early investigations of these switches, I’ve found them to feel and type much like the more expensive Cherry models, upon which they’re based. In some cases, they might diverge slightly, but that has not always proved to be a bad thing. The difference in cost is far more compelling than the difference in key feel or performance. The verdict on how they will perform over a long duty cycle has yet to be reached. The stated lifespan of the switches is fifty million key presses, just like the Cherry switches. This will be a hard assertion of reliability to test, as it would take lifetimes to input that many key presses for most usage cases.

So, then, in the short run, the Drevo keyboard’s use of the Outemu switch shouldn’t be a large mark against it. The configuration allowed me to pick up the keyboard for less than $40 on Amazon. The testing of a new switch type doesn’t come much cheaper than that, at present.

I would venture a guess that the current pricing is about as low as we’re likely to see. I wouldn’t be surprised if the prices will end up trending higher, if the overall user experience proves to be good over the next year or so. As people learn to trust the new switch manufacturers, they’ll be able to dial in a profit margin that still gives them a market share, but maintains their economic advantage over the competition. But that is all guess work. Let us go back to the main topic of the review.

External Overview:

The Tyrfing, like a lot of its counterparts, has an aluminum top plate, a “floating” key design and no bezel. Thus, it has a small footprint, being approximately the same width as a 15.4 inch laptop. Unlike a lot of its competition, the Tyrfing is blissfully free of badging. There is a small Drevo logo on the space bar’s vertical surface, but that’s it. Drevo’s logo is actually kind of neat, being a horse’s head coming out of a gear. Looks like something you’d see on a race car.

The LED backlighting can be turned off or made to operate in various flashy ways. I think that the best usage case is to have it solidly on. it isn’t distracting in this way, and provides the best legibility for the key legends. When the LED is turned off, the legends are deep gray on black, in effect. The key caps, while on the subject, are double-shot ABS, which is something of a surpise at this price point. This means that the legends can’t wear off, being made from a translucent plastic that is directly bonded to the black plastic outside cap. This is more or less the gold standard method for key cap manufacture. Sweet.

While we’re on the topic of thoughtful features, the Drevo has a red and black braided USB cable. It looks a lot like my favorite guitar cables, which gives me some tender feelings toward the ‘board. The cable can be routed in the midde or either side, using a cable routing channel built into the underside of the unit. Because of its understated looks, this keyboard could probably make it in an office setting without setting of any alarm bells for your boss.

Yes, it could be wished that the key caps had a slightly more legible and professional font, but it’s far from the worst or most garish thing I’ve seen lately. With the LEDs either off or in a non-flashing mode, it looks all right.

The construction of the keyboard is solid, and everything fits together as you’d expect. There are rubber feet at all four corners, and the flip-up feet also have rubber cladding, so that the grip upon the work surface is still good when the inclination is in place. That’s a nice touch, and is not always found, even on more expensive units.

In Use:

The red switch is a linear model, with no tactile bump or click function. Featuring light resistance, the listed weight required to create a key press is 45 grams for the “legit” Cherry MX switches, but 50 or 55 (depending on the literature) for the Outemu. This is the same amount as on the popular brown switch type, and a little lighter than the blue switch, which has been the switch of choice for a lot of typists.

In comparing the feel of the red switch to that of a brown switch keyboard (this one featuring actual Cherry MX brown switches), the weight seems about the same. Because of the lack of tactile bump, there is a smooth feel to the keystroke on the red switch. This is more noticable in pressing a single key than in the act of touch typing, but it is a palpable difference. It shows that, yes, both switch types are doing what they are intended to do.

I have found that linear switches tend to yield a fairly quiet typing result. This has been borne out by my Cherry MX Black keyboard, which is one of the the quietest of my mechanicals. The black switch and the red switch, in design, are essentially the same. The only real difference is that the red switch has a lighter actuation force. Other than the lighter spring tension, it should feel the same. And it does.

Outemu has done a nice job in making a smooth switch that is fairly low effort, but solid enough under the fingers to keep from having a lot of errant key presses. Whereas the black switch keyboard I have can become a bit tiresome after a period of typing, this one should be less taxing. It is a keyboard that you can “float” quite well, in that you don’t have to press very hard, and once you learn the activation point of the switches, you don’t have to really bottom out very often. I am not terribly good at this, but it is said to be the most ergonomic way to type. I tend to smash the keys to the stops most of the time.

It is nice to not have to type “hard” to get the characters sent. It minimizes missing characters in a string, and allows you to work in a way that isn’t too taxing. I have found that I like the feel of the red switches more than I thought I would. In point of fact, I find it to be nearly the equal of the brown switch type, in my ability to enjoy the typing experience. That had not been my forecast, and I’d steered clear of the switch for a few years becuase of this misapprehension. I often find that things we think are true would benefit from actual testing.

The red switch is primarly marketed toward the gaming market, as it is supposed to be a “fast” switch for doing first person shooter games. Many typists spurn its advances. I was among them. I have now learned better. The red is a better switch than I had given it credit for in this regard. That’s nice for me, becuase I’m not really gaming at this point. I am, however, typing like a mad bastard.

The sound of the Tyrfing keyboard is about as unobtrusive as you’ll find in a true mechanical that isn’t using special silencing methods. If you’re able to type without bottoming out the keys hard, you can further limit the noise. So long as you don’t work in an ultra noise- averse enviornment, you should be fine. The vigor with which you press the keys will, of course, have some impact on how loud the presentation will be. This is true, even with membrane keyboards. If you type angry, there will be some noise.

I have not felt that the volume of the keyboard is an impediment to nearby coworkers in an open office setting, and no one has complained. It’s louder than a normal rubber dome keyboard, but the quality of the sound doesn’t contain any unpleasant components. There is no ringing or other harmonic noise from the key presses. Just a kind of wood-block sound as the keys hit and reset. A mild, industrious sound, to my ears.

The typing dynamics are normal for this key layout, and I had no problem locating anything. I didn’t have to squint at my hands at any point. That’s a plus. Typing is positive and feels nice. I am able to type quickly and accurately. As with most mechanicals, the qualitative elements of the typing experience are night and day above a rubber dome or scissor switch. I have found that there is no real learning curve for the red switch. You simply put your hands on the home row and get to work. That’s what we hope for, and so I will call this a win for Drevo and Outemu.

Final Verdict:

For under $40, they have created a useful and (mostly) attractive keyboard. The switch and build quality have nothing to apologize for. I believe it provides a high-value entrance to the market, and one that should work for a variety of tasks and surroundings. Because it doesn’t draw attention to itself, it took me a little time to appreciate the Tyrfing, but it is a grower. The more that I use it, the better it works, and the faster I can type. That’s a good outcome.

We live in an interesting era. I feel that a great typing experience is much closer to hand and affordable that it was, even five years ago. Some of the keyboards in the $35 to $60 range are really good now. Amazingly good.

For the money that I paid for my first mechanical, one could easily get three or four different mechanicals at these prices, deciding what form factor and switch type they liked by the process of A/B testing. That’s pretty cool. I’m not saying the the average typist should get a whole cartload of keyboards and winnow them down after deciding, but if you want to do GREAT SCIENCE, I’m all in favor of that. As, I suppose, you knew I would be.

Cheers, and happy typing.

Ease of Lathering: Very easy. This soap loads quickly into the brush, rivaling anything I’ve used. It always created plenty of lather for a full shave, and the performance of the lather was consistent. No failed lathers, no watery messes. The soap can tolerate quite a lot of water, and creates a lather that is both thick and voluminous. I would call this about as soft as anything that is called “soap”, at least as it stands coming out of the sample container. As delivered, it could have functioned in a tube. That’s how soft it was. This initially concerned me, as I was going to press it into the bottom of a bowl and lather it like a soap. Would it be used up way too fast? (more on this later)

Protection: Through the run of this soap, I’ve been using the Razorock Hawk razor, which is known to be incisive and require good protection. The Maggard’s soap always provided me with plenty of support, and I didn’t suffer any nicks, cuts, or irritation that could be blamed upon the soap. Thick and thin layers seemed to work equally well.

Residual Slickness: Auxiliary passes proved to be comfortable and safe with this soap. It also provided a nice face feel after the shave, never giving me the sense that it was drying out my skin or giving me any chemical irritation.

Scent: I like citrus scents, particularly orange. I find that this soap has a nice sweet orange scent. Not the pungent orange zest scent, but the sweeter type you might associate with orange candy, perhaps. I didn’t really catch any menthol spike in the scent, for me. I would say that the strength of the scent is present, but not strong. It doesn’t hang around much, to my nose, after the shave. Clearly not enough remains of the orange scent to interfere with your aftershave or cologne. Overall, a pleasant scent, but not strong or complex enough to make you swoon with joy or wrinkle your nose in disgust (unless you hate oranges, in which case…)

Production/Value: The Orange Menthol soap, as mentioned earlier, was very, very soft coming out of the tub. For me, I’d probably leave the cap off a full puck for several days to let it solidify just a touch. It doesn’t need blooming or a high-backbone brush, that’s for sure. I found that it worked great with a Plissoft synthetic, and that it took no real effort to load. That being said, my fears about it ablating too quickly proved to be unwarranted, as it hardened up (to some degree) being left out in the air between shaves, and also did not prove to need a great deal of product to create a great lather. Maggard’s offers this soap at a very fair price, considering it is an artisan soap made in small batches by hand. I believe that the soap maker behind Through the Fire Fine Craft soaps makes the soap for Maggard’s, but I could be wrong on that count. In any case, it has proven to be an excellent soap, and I would say that it is well worth your dollar, if one of the Maggard’s scents sounds alluring.

Notes: I have very few negative things to say about this soap. The scent is nice, its performance is excellent, and the price is reasonable. If I could make one critique, it is that the menthol content is not quite strong enough for my taste. I find that I only get the faintest hint of menthol cooling right at the end of the shave, even when I dither and let the face lathering go on longer than strictly necessary. Yes, there is menthol there, but unless your face is far more sensitive to it than mine, it’s almost not enough to warrant having the word in the title of the soap. For me, I’d double down on the menthol to give the soap a bit more kick. Everything else? Leave it like it is. Recommended.

Cheers, and happy shaving!

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It is my philosophy that life is too short to use a lousy keyboard. I will admit that, for most people, keyboards are not a large concern, and typically only enter their consciousness if they are either a) broken or b) astoundingly bad.

One does not have to go far, however, to find some astoundingly bad keyboards. They’re fairly common on the laptops you’ll find kicking around. Especially the business-class PCs that are often foisted upon us at work. Absurd key layouts, uneven actuation force, squeaky keys, friction-laden key travel, mushy feedback, flexing chassis, and more are to be found on the worst of the keyboards I’ll see in a day. Even on the better keyboards that might come with a modern computer, the chance is fairly slim that you’ll get one that really dances along with you when you start typing more than a few dozen words at a time.

If you are in the business of being at the computer and creating a lot of text, a keyboard you have to fight all the time can really be a drag. Your hands will get stiff if you’re having to hammer the keys to get the job done. If it’s too floppy, you’ll get a lot of errant key presses. Poor feedback can lead to a lot of mistakes, and generally slow you down at every turn. You’ll have to “gear down” just to get the words out. Not awesome.

Thus, we have mechanical keyboards. Not a new idea. In fact, it’s quite an old one. When the idea of keyboards to enter data into computers first arose, it was still very much the “analog era”. The theory was that, if you needed to send a signal, you had a mechanical switch. A keyboard, in essence, is just a large number of spring loaded switches. Even to this day, it is the same. They are all, if you want to get technical, mechanical devices. The differentiation is that we consider “true” mechanical switches to be individual, with their own mechanism under each key cap, rather than a gang of rubber domes beneath a bunch of scissor switches or plungers.

How it turns off and on: 

There are a great many ways to go about creating the switch mechanism for a keyboard, and an equal or greater number of ways to create the spring force that returns the switch to its original position and allows the typist to recognize when the key has been pressed.

One of the most reliable of the methods for creating a switch is to create a capacitive relay that opens and closes a circuit as the mechanism of the switch is enacted. Most mechanical switches use simpler and less expensive methods to accomplish their ends, typically having some device that presses a membrane at the bottom of the switch during the key’s travel. In the end, there’s still an actual “touch point”, a place where the circuit is cut or completed. Mechanical switches used in keyboards often have an expected life cycle of something like twenty to fifty million key presses. That’s scraping the bottom edge of eternity, for any normal person. Capacitive switches, because they don’t rely upon anything touching anything else, but rather a differential voltage, can last far, far longer. In theory, they can also accomplish their task with the very minimum of noise, vibration, and harshness introduced into the switch movement.

The capacitive switch is the type used in the Topre style key switch. This is the type of switch featured in the Realforce keyboard. This is one of the few implementations of this technology in keyboards today. Why? Expense, mostly. When a task can be more easily accomplished with a simpler, cheaper mechanism, that’s usually the way the industry goes.

Above the switch itself (insofar as the actual on/off mechanism is concerned), there is the device to create the resistance necessary to give us feedback and to return the key cap to its top position when we release tension. The norm in mechanical key switches is to use either a coiled or a leaf spring. Cherry MX switches and all their many copies, use a coiled spring, as do the IBM “buckling spring” switches. ALPS switches typically use a leaf spring.

As a reminder, the average keyboard uses a dome of thin rubber to provide the tactility and resistance. A plunger pushes down on this dome of rubber, which pops back when the key is released.

Topre: The Hybrid Switch

The Topre keys in the Realforce keyboard are, in many ways, a hybrid of rubber dome and spring-based resistance. Instead of using a large sheet of rubber domes on top of the circuit board, they use a discreet dome for each switch, with a light pressure spring encapsulated within the rubber dome. These are solidly mounted to the circuit board, with the key caps bearing upon them via a plunger from above. The deformation of the spring inside the mechanism enacts the capacitive switch. That is the more primary function, rather than to be a major source of resistance.

Some would argue that the Topre switches are not “true” mechanical switches, because they use rubber domes as part of their mechanism. I will leave that distincition to those who are more sanguine about long arguments than I am. For me, I’ll just say that they are an interesting and different design, both in theory and in practice.

Key Weighting: 

Topre key switches come in 35, 45, and 55 gram activation weights. Most of the keyboards feature the 45 gram switches, while some feature a mix of 35 and 45 gram switches, arrayed so that, at least in theory, the lighter switches are the ones under the fingers with less mechanical leverage upon the keys. The key switch that is featured on my keyboard is the 55 gram version.

I selected it because I have large hands, and I am known to type with a good amount of force. A slightly heavier actuation weight will sometimes serve to allow me to not have accidental key presses. It can also reduce the wear and tear on my hands from hard bottoming out on the keyboard under tray as much. I can’t compare and contrast the experience between this, the heaviest of the switches, and the lower weight ones at this time. I pretty much bottom the keys out all the time, regardless. That’s just how I’m used to typing.

Key Feel:

The Topre keyboard has a different feel that any other keyboard I’ve ever tried. It is very solid in feel, such that the key, when you begin pressing on it, is sort of any “all or nothing” actuation. Rather than some switches, like the Cherry MX series featuring tactility, they do not “roll in” or “bump”. Rather, you know, for sure, that the key is going to go down as soon as it “breaks” from its top position. I am on the fence about how best to describe them, in regard to tactility. Depending upon how you define “tactile”, they are either highly tactile switches, or they are completly front-loaded linear mechanisms, a simple on/off. I’m going with the former, I suppose.

Sound: 

The sound of the Topre switches has sometimes been described as a “thock”. I would say that, of the mechanical switches out there, they create the least noise. They should not annoy nearby coworkers, or get you in trouble with someone watching TV in the same room. Unless this person is super sensitive. Then, no keyboard will help you. The noise, to me, is a purposeful mutter. Primarily low-pitched in tone, the typing noise has no click or clack involved, though there is a characteristic sound. Probably more akin to a rubber dome keyboard, though with a somewhat more authoritative sound. It bespeaks a solidity of design and mounting, since there are no rattles, vibrations, and the like.

Keep in mind that a significant element of the sound of a keyboard is related to the keycaps and the harmonic resonance frequencies of the chassis. If you put the same set of keys in different keyboards, with different keycaps, there will be a good bit of change in the timbre of the switch noise. The Realforce 87U is built well, but it isn’t necessarily trying to emulate the massively overbuilt designs of yesteryear. It’s heavier than you might expect, but it isn’t going to allow you to fend off a brown bear attack (though those are somewhat uncommon in most cases). Thus, the chassis doesn’t create a lot of extraneous noise during the course of your typing.

Typing Dynamics: 

Let us, at last, get to the topic of typing dynamics. If I had a few adjectives to throw at this board, they would be fast and solid. The Topre switches are very positive in action, and it doesn’t take much time to get acclimated to them. After a few minutes, the keyboard sort of disappears, and you can just pay attention to what you’re typing. While this type of switch doesn’t provide the same mechanical hallmarks as some other technologies, it functions very, very well. I’ve typed for several hours on multiple occasions, and never found it to be overly tiring. If you tend to like a softer key feel and less mechanical effort, you may want to consider the lower weight versions of the switch. There is no real possibility of a partial keypress on the Topre. Do or do not. There is no try. As it were.

The Topre keys present as slightly higher tension than other switches that have the same measurable weight, because of their force curve. The solidity I mentioned comes from the very good keycap control (no key wiggle to speak of), and also from the fact that the switches return to their top position quickly, but without a lot of muttering. There is no friction, grit, or bind that I’ve been able to sense during the typing action.

What does all this lead to? Hmm. I find that I am able to type quite accurately with this keyboard, and that I do enjoy the typing experience. It lacks some of the joyous clatter that I’ve become used to, but the sound that it does create is quite purposeful and satisfying. If you want a really good keyboard, and sound level is an important consideration to you, this could be a great option. It is, however, the least “mechanical” feeling of the many switch types out there, in some ways. It feels good, but it is not trying to be anything that it is not. Think of it this way: Many of the clicky switch designs out there are trying, in their own way, to emulate the old IBM Model M keyboard. Unicomp is still basically making it. Those that are not going in that direction are basically trying to either a) give you some of that feel with les noise, or b) give you a linear switch that is far better for gaming than for typing.

Putting things into perspective: 

How, then, are we to classify the Topre switches, and the Realforce ‘board they are featured on? The Topre switch, perhaps, is better described as going altogether its own way, with no presumption of having to provide anything other than a quality typing experience. To me, they feel like the best of all possible rubber dome actions, in many ways. If rubber dome keyboards were like this, few would ever find reason to fault them.

Reasonable typing speed can be achieved with many keyboards. Some of them require a lot more practice and a lot more accuracy to achieve that speed without a ton of typographical errors (more than what you make simply because you can’t spell or fumble-finger stuff because your technique is iffy). Some limit your maximum speed because of oddities that will take you out of the typing momentum, or limit your total typing output because they are tiresome to use.

When I’m attuned to a good mechanical keyboard, I am able to type a little faster, a little longer, and with less frustration. In fact, on the best of them, I find reasons to type longer than I really need to. The Topre-equipped Realforce is one of those keyboards. I think that I probably type about as fast with this board as I can type with anything. It’s a very willing dance partner. Fatigue is minimal, and would be even less with 45g switches, I predict. Because of the inherent price of keyboards with Topre switches, I can’t in all good conscience and fiscal responsibility just buy up a large variety of different models to compare and contrast. Perhaps one day, I’ll get one with 45g switches, but it will almost certainly be in a different form factor. (Yes, you know I have one in mind already, and am simply biding my time!)

Does it have “the look”? 

The look of the keyboard is altogether conventional, but for the tenkey-less layout. It doesn’t have backlighting, fancy logos, weird fonts, or anything to draw attention to itself. It is not a showy ‘board. It is really the anti-gaming keyboard, not because it couldn’t acquit itself well in the realm of gaming (though it wouldn’t be my pick), but because it is, in all ways, understated. The average person would not look twice at this keyboard. In fact, they’d probably wonder why you had such an old-timey peripheral hooked up to your computer. I actually quite appreciate this. If you want to bling out your ‘board, I think that the Cherry key switches are the way to go. There are a million different options for replacement keycaps. There are wild RGB effects. There are all manner of other gizmos. I don’t think that’s the market for this keyboard at all, and I already have a gaming ‘board.

The intolerably long conclusion: 

So, conclusion time. This is a great keyboard. It’s a very expensive keyboard. If you are a hardcore typist who likes a very positive key feel, but doesn’t like loud clicking or a great deal of clatter, then this technology is something you want to look into. There are examples of the Topre switch in keyboards that cost significantly less than the Realforce, but I am given to understand that you do sacrifice some built quality with those models. If you like the idea of the switch type, but need a numeric keypad, there are full size keyboards that cost about the same as the 87U.

There is even a nominal gaming model. I don’t think the characteristics of this switch type really work to their best advantage in gaming, but some may disagree. In terms of key weighting, you must search yourself and decide if you prefer a somewhat stiff key feel, or if you would like one that you could use with minimum of effort. This same keyboard comes in 45g and 55g. The difference of ten grams doesn’t sound like very much, but it is certainly palpable, especially after long hours of typing.

In the end, this is a keyboard that will last a long time, one that will work best for a touch typist who enters thousands of words per day at the computer. Does the quality justify the price? I would say that it might be a stretch to say it does. There is, I think, a certain price that you’re paying for the “halo effect” of the switch type. The preference for key feel is also highly subjective, and what you’re accustomed to using will have a strong impact upon your initial experience. As I mentioned earlier, all keyboards take some level of familiarization to use them to best effect. The Topre, to my mind, has one of the easiest learning curves, as I was off to the races on the first night.

If noise level is not an issue, that opens up the field of contenders a bit, but the Topre still deserves consideration, if your budget will stretch that far. For me, I don’t believe that the Topre switch can quite match the typing pleasure of the buckling pring key switches on my Unicomp, but those switches are loud, even for people who like loud keyboards. They also require a determined hand. You need to get “over” the buckling spring keyboard. Jumping from a laptop keyboard to the big Unicomp is like you’re playing a different sport. It takes some getting used to. One more data point is that the Unicomp is about one third the cost, and it’s made in the USA.

Comparing the Topre to the Unicomp is not a terribly useful thing to do. They’re altogether different products, with different aims. The form factor question alone makes it questionable.

Who actually needs this? 

What is the market for these keyboards? Professional or dedicated typists who create hundreds of thousands of words per year, who have a more or less conventional touch typing form, and who need a solid, fast, but unobtrusive keyboard. Oh, and they’ll need to be willing to throw long green at the problem. Sound like you? Realforce sells through Amazon, and you can have one in a few short days.

Cheers, and happy typing.

The Dollar Store Shave

Posted: April 16, 2017 in Shaving Articles
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Shaving stuff is basically everywhere. Sometimes, even in the Dollar Store. Some time ago, I found some vaguely wet shave-like gear in my local dollar store. It was being marketed under the name “Wit and Wisdom”. In the byline, it also says “New York”. The listed scent is spiced cedar. The products were a brushless cream and a post shave balm.

First things first. These are products made in China. New York doesn’t seem to come into it at all. The importer is in Canada. So, the name and nominal point of origin are hokum. Which is okay. Any badging and labling has an element of smoke and mirrors to it. It is a rarity to have it any different.

So, then: the brushless cream. It’s 6.7 ounces for, you guessed it, one dollar. The ingredient list is, shall we say, not quite up to the artisan standard. It has Parabens, mineral oil, and a few other chemical-sounding ingredients. And it’s brushless, so there’s that.

I don’t have a strong feeling against mineral oil. It’s fallen out of favor in the artisan cosmetology industry, but I think it’s fine. As for Parabens, I think that they are probably resonably safe in small amounts, and so if I like a product otherwise, I will tolerate them.  (Looking at you, Arko balms.) I would prefer them to not be present, though.

For a dollar, one cannot be overly picky. So the proverb says, or very nearly.

I’ve used the soap several times. Often, when I just need to do a quick touchup that doesn’t become clear to me until well after I’ve cleaned up. I’ve also used it a few times to shave the hair off the nape of my neck. It has served its purpose well enough.

This is not a lathering product. It doesn’t feature several important ingredients that constitute a soap. It is not, therefore, in any way voluminous. It relies upon a slick, thin layer provided by the glycerin and mineral oil.

Protection is okay, but this thin layer is not the equal of a true shaving soap or cream. It will suffice, and one good thing about it is that it goes on quick and has somewhat positive moisturizing properties to the skin.

In fact, this stuff may have as much in common with skin cream as with shave soap. It will quickly begin to disappear into your skin, and excess amounts can, if the literature is to be believed, be just massaged in after the shave. I wash it off, as I don’t want bits of beard stubble hanging around on my face after the fact.

Slickness, because it’s basically an oil, is quite good. The razor glides just fine. I have never felt that there was an undue amount of “gloopiness” or the tendency of gumming up the razor, but it could be an issue if you shave really thick stubble down.

In all, it works reasonably well, especially considering the price. Is it a whole new world of amazing awesomeness? No. It’s passable, and pretty darned good for the price. Not too shabby for a quick shave, especially with a relatively mild razor. Using a Razorock Hawk? You might get a few weepers and nicks. That’s a lot to ask, protecting your skin from an Artist Club blade. Just sayin’.

The scent is basically just that of a skin cream. Neutral. Not strong or lasting. You have to use a lot of this stuff to get the shave done. I mean, the amount used for a two pass shave would probably shave you for ten days with a lathering cream. Thus, the economy begins to look slightly less tantalizing.

Post shave feel is…a bit oily. Your skin will feel like it has some mineral oil on it. Because it does.

Moving on to the shaving balm, also a dollar, carrying 6.1 ounces, it is a similar product with similar ingredients. It’s a somewhat runny moisture cream. It didn’t give me the hives, but it didn’t prove itself to be particularly good, either. It’s a dollar store product. It kind of acts that way.

Can you get good shaves from these products? Yeah. Pretty decent. They are probably as good as the stuff a lot of cartridge razor shavers use, and cheaper. They will do in a pinch, or for that emergency touch-up shave you don’t have time to dawdle while accomplishing. That said, any good shave cream, just swirled onto your wet face, will probably do as well or better.

In terms of shaves per dollar, there are more than a few “real” shave products that could meet or exceed the dollar store stuff. That, with having better ingredients, scent, and performance. I’d take the Italian Barber “Amici” soap and some normal moisturizer over this stuff, ten times out of ten. In a narrow usage case that sees you desperate for a shave and out “in the wild” where you have no other options, this stuff will do the trick. I’d recommend that you use it liberally, and don’t get to aggressive with your technique. This is not going to give you the leeway that you’d get with a really fine soap. It’ll do, though, and that’s what you should expect from things you’re getting at the dollar store.

Thus endeth the experiment.

Cheers, and happy shaving.

Fortitude_3_grande

Ease of Lathering: Quite Easy. The Soap Commander formula is harder than some of the other soaps you’ll find on the market today, and it takes a few more swirls to get a good load into the brush, but it is in no way difficult. If you have any patience and a reasonable brush of some sort, you’ll be fine.

Protection: Very Good. Once lathered, Soap Commander soaps provide a nice layer of protection. Not quite as voluminous as some, not quite as dense as others, it’s a great compromise that carries plenty of water, and can work in a thinner or thicker iteration, as you prefer.

Residual Slickness: Very Good. Very nice slickness, about as good as you could achieve with a vegan soap base. Also, really good face feel after the shave. No qualms here.

Scent: Fantastic! The few Soap Commander soaps I’ve tried have both been tremendous in terms of their scent, and have also had great staying power after the shave. Most soaps pretty much die off before you leave the shaving mirror. Not so with the Soap Commander. They retain a full, nuanced scent profile for hours. This would only be a negative if you had a plan for a conflicting aftershave balm or splash. The “Fortitude” scent is dark, warm, and masculine. Though scent is highly subjective, I find it intoxicating. One of my very favorites.

Production/Value: Soap Commander offers a larger amount of soap than most brands. (Six ounces, versus four or so for a lot of other companies.) They also have great labeling and thoughtfully large tubs to make lathering easier. I have no reservations about their value. Not the cheapest, but you get what you pay for here.

Notes: You could do a lot worse than a Soap Commander product. Though I have many soaps to use, and I try to rotate through them, I could be perfectly happy with using SC soap exclusively. Great scent, great soap base, well-sorted packaging. It’s the real deal. Highly recommended.

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Back in the day…

Let us, for a moment, cast our minds back to the 1980’s. The hair was big. The shoulder pads were impressive. The rise of the home computer was upon the world. Well-heeled citizens were able to pay a great deal of money for the honor of having an “actual” computer in their homes or business offices.

A few years prior, computing was wholly the province of big business, the military, and research divisions at universities. It was the era of great specialization in computing. Every one of those massive mainframe computers was a custom thing, almost built to spec. They often had their own bespoke operating system. They required a staff of people to keep them running. They were expensive beyond conception.

A matter of cost:

When computers slowly filtered into businesses and homes, they were not exactly cheap. The early IBMs cost as much as a sports car. Their keyboards would, in today’s money, cost a thousand dollars or more. Yeah. Think on that for a moment, my friends.

The economics of the age were such that all the peripherals were given a lot of development time, and were allotted significant amounts of material cost. Thus, they were built like tanks, with little to no engineered obsolescence included. They would persist for tens of millions of key presses per switch.

The Old Classics:

IBM typically made their own hardware in house in the early days. They would only sub contract out if the economics of tooling just didn’t work. Their buckling spring keyboards were and are considered benchmarks for computer peripherals. People still create custom adapters so that they can use these vintage ‘boards with their new computers. That’s how good they are.

Apple computers had a less cohesive strategy with regard to how they approached their keyboards, but most of their famous early models utilized switches made by ALPS, which was a Japanese company who made a whole range of different electronic switches (I believe that the still make switches for some applications to this day). The ALPS range was probably the second most lauded key switch type, behind the IBM.

Between the two, they were used in the vast bulk of the keyboards on the vast number of desks through the early nineties. Unlike the buckling spring technology in the IBM keyboards, ALPS key switches could be created in linear, tactile, and clicky styles with fairly small differences in their design. In a lot of ways, it was more the ALPS switch that served as the archetype for the dominant key switch of today, the Cherry MX series. In more than a few cases, the color scheme’s indications are even shared in common. Thus, it would be difficult to overstate the importance of these switches.

The Apple Extended  Keyboard:

I will confess that I have never been an Apple guy. I’ve used them, of course. The first personal computer I ever got to use was the Apple IIc, I believe. Green monochrome monitor. That’s about all I remember. I have been told that, in the kingdom of Apple keyboards, the model called the Apple Extended keyboard was considered the greatest of their products. It utilized the ALPS switch, and had many great things to commend it. I remember its charactaristing typing sound. A busy, industrious sound, without any “ping” or unpleasantness. Unlike the old modem sound in my roommate’s Apple, which would cause grown men to weep and beg for mercy.

From then to now: 

Beyond the AEK, I am under the impression that the quality of Apple’s keyboards went on a downturn. This was not novel to Apple. In general, cost cutting measures took a great toll on the quality of keyboards throughout the computer industry. The technology of choice, starting in the 90s, was the rubber dome switch. While this technology can and has been implemented with good results, it is much less expensive and far less complex to assemble. It lends itself to lowest common denominator build quality.

At this point, fast forwarding to the modern day, it is quite difficult to find a keyboard included with a PC or Mac that is anything better than passable. A modern Mac is an expensive piece of equipment, but when I’ve been in a position to use their new keyboard, I was not overly impressed. At all. To me, the cheap keyboard included on the Chromebooks I’ve owned were just as good. So, then. Even on premium offerings, you’ll likely be on your own to get something that really takes care of you.

Can we just…have awesome again?

In the last several years, we are seeing a renewed interest in good quality keyboards. Many of these are built for PCs, rather than Macs, with the key layout and badging for the PC user. I should indicate that it is fairly easy to make a Mac work with a PC keyboard. You just have to make sure that the key mapping is such that the modifier keys do the appropriate thing for your OS.

Both the gaming style and the business style mechanical keyboards tend to reflect the aesthetic sensibilities of the PC side of computing. The Mac user who wants an awesome keyboard is somewhat limited in terms of what is available, and what has some “Apple” feel to it.

Here we find the Matias keyboard entering the arena. Available in both PC and Mac layouts, it tries to have the feel of the Apple Extended, while being modeled after the keyboard that was included in the 90s EMac (remember the tinted, transparent plastic on the case, so you could see inside?). At least, that is the impression that a non Apple person brings to it. I could be a bit off on exactly what style is evocative of what era. I’m trying, folks, but I’m vaguely out of my depth in some of the Apple history stuff.

Matias has developed a switch that is a slightly-modified version of the ALPS switch. They were forced to do this when ALPS got out of the keyboard switch game many years ago. While not identical to the ALPS switch in design, sound, or feel, they are quite similar. Essentially, they are a modernized, slightly redesigned version of the latter-day, simplified ALPS switch.

With a Matias keyboard, there are three types of switch. One is a “quiet” switch, which is tactile force curve without an obvious click. A “light action” or “silent” switch, which is also tactile, but with a very light resistance. Finally, there’s the tactile pro switch, which is both tactile and clicky. That’s what we’ve got here.

We are in click city, right where we want to be.

Upon first exploration: 

I have the PC version of the keyboard, as I have no Apple stuff of my own. Unboxing the keyboard, I find that it is a moderate version of the full size form factor. 108 keys, full number pad, navigation cluster. In the old days, this would be a “space saver” design. The different models in the Matias line come in pearl white, gloss black, and silver. The PC version is gloss black.

I have come to find that gloss black is not my favorite when it comes to anything where it can gather dust or be touched by my grubby little hands. It looks great and Darth Vader-like…for about a minute, then it is scratched and dusty for the rest of time. A new ‘board has to offer me something special to entice me to buy it, should it come in said glossy black.

The finish on the keyboard was known to me when I ordered it, so I have nothing that I can complain about. I would like a matte finish version with the PC layout, though. That would be my pretty awesome. Actually, if we’re thinking about what our ‘druthers might be, I’ll say that I’d prefer a full aluminum top plate, with a brushed finish. That is not an option, so I take what can be had.

When first putting hands to the keyboard, I had a moment of doubt and fear.

There is a particular feel to this keyboard that I find a bit disconcerting. Here is how it manifests. The key caps on all the 1×1 (normal) keys have a lot of mechanical play in them. Thus, if you put your finger on the key top, then wiggle it around, there is probably half a millimeter of travel in all directions. Hmm. Not awesome.

Cherry switches tend to control the key caps much better, and thus feel more solid upon first interface with your hands. Then there’s Topre-switch keyboards, which have a solidity that I have not seen in any modern switch of any kind. But let us not cloud the issue with talk of Topre, as they are a thing unto themselves, to be dealt with in other articles.

Typing Feel: 

When I started typing, I noticed right away that the Matias ALPS-style switches had a feel that was quite unlike anything else I had tried. They are quite loud, but not as loud as a buckling spring. They are heavier than most switches, but not quite as heavy as, again, the buckling spring. Their sound is authoritative, low, and consistent across the switches.

Unlike the Cherry MX Blue or Green, they do not have a lot of high frequency “tizz”. Rather, their click and their bottom-out sound are far more “genuine” to my ears. I find the sound quite compelling, and to give me all the “feels” that I expect when I use a clicky mechanical switch. When up and running at a good clip, it kind of makes the sound of a large bag of pistachio hulls being shaken together. It’s one of those sounds that, the more I hear it, the better I like it. I just want to type faster, so that the sound will keep happening.

Give unto us thy judgement: 

Ah, you want the important stuff. I see. All right. I’ll play your game. My initial concern about the slop in the key caps was proven to not be reflected in the typing feel. There was no key friction or stick if I didn’t hit each key perfectly on-center, nor was there a sense of being unable to find myself in space.

Really, the key movement was one of those things that seemed like it would be an impediment, but proved to fade into nothing when the typing happened. Which is great. I don’t have a lot of experience with ALPS boards, and it is possible that many of them had this sort of feel. I don’t know. I imagine that some of that comes down to the key caps.

Switch action is quite different from any other switch in my collection. The closest in most metrics would be the buckling spring design used in my Unicomp Ultra Classic. This makes complete sense, as both ‘boards are, to all intents and purposes, homage boards to the golden age of keyboarding at the computer.

The Matias tactile switch has just the slightest amount of give at the very top of its travel, then the tactile bump comes, and the key accelerates downward, making its joyful clatter. The amount of tactile response is right up there with the best of any switch I’ve used. Very communicative. Very satisfying. In a lot of ways, the act of typing on the Matias is getting almost everything right. Well weighted, without feeling too stiff. Tactile, without feeling odd or rough. As a final thought here, I will say that there is no sense of grit, friction, or pushback to be found here. Just the tactile feel and the wonderful sound.

The Caveats: 

But…there’s always a but. I think that, for a lot of typists, they might find the effort on this ‘board to be a bit higher than they’re used to. I will say that I have been typing on it using a setup that is not entirely perfect, and that a good bit of the typing experience can be attributed to the ergonomics of your desk/chair/posture combination.

Still, if you’re used to a soft key feel, this might take a bit of getting used to. I would say that it is only a bit more effort than a Cherry MX Blue. Not as heavy as a buckling spring keyboard, and due to the small amount of softness at the top, there’s a feeling like the keys let you ease into their travel.

I am also not in love with the key caps. I think the legends are a little weird, and that the key caps could be of better quality. I’d like to see thicker, denser caps, as well as a font that, to me, was a little more aesthetically pleasing. I should remember, though, that some of these choices were made with a different aesthetic sense in mind. The slightly thin font for the key legends is evocative of the Apple Extended, without actually being that awful italic font. The legends are on the lower left, rather than upper left or center of the key top. The font does have a bit of that vintage Apple vibe. None of which really keys into my subconscious.

One can replace ALPS key caps, though the number of possible replacement manufacturers is quite small, compared to the Cherry MX style switches. Other than the new market, there are a few old ‘boards, like the Dell ATT 101 series, that have good quality ALPS key caps you might harvest. I am afraid that there may be some specialized keys that they don’t adequately replace, though, so you might have to look for a few custom keys to fill out the set, or deal with a few off-theme keys remaining.

If you’re touch typing, the look of the keyboard isn’t very important, but there is an element of aesthetics involved in really digging on a piece of hardware. I am shallow that way. I like them just a little better when they’re pretty.

Most of my quibbles are fairly small and somewhat beside the point. I will admit this. To my hands, I think I would rather type on one of these Mattias boards than I would most other mechanicals, and all rubber domes/scissor switch low profiles/etc..

Does it climb the podium?

As clicky tactile switches, they put the MX Blues on the shelf in a moment, unless you’re simply unable to expend the extra effort they require. I would say that they’re second only to the buckling spring switches in my Unicomp in terms of feel and joy, but they are a bit easier to acclimate to, as the Unicomp demands that you be on your game and type like you mean it.

Speed? Well, again, it is hard to tell. I think that it’s possible that this is one of the faster ‘boards that I have. Not as “go ahead, dude, don’t let me slow you down” as the Topre switch, not as, “I am flying, flying without wings” as the MX Brown switches, but fast and fun and great sounding.

On the computer that is currently sporting this ‘board, I have more or less decided that it has kicked the DasKeyboard that I had before it to the curb. That’s saying a little, as the Das is not exactly chopped liver. Especially considering I just re-capped the ‘board with a set of sweet PBT key caps. I just find that the Matias has more of what I’m looking for right now. That could change with different implementation, different day, etc., but I don’t think it will. I really feel that there’s some magic in this particular switch, and that it does what it does about as well as anything available.

Usage case:

This is not a gaming board. At all. It is also no good for open offices where it’ll make your coworkers want to kill you. It’s going to be great for the person who types a lot, likes the clack of the keys, and has the space to let ’em roar without drawing aggro from nearby organisms. Bonus points if you’re an Apple fan.

A word on quality control and part failure:

I have heard that there are some quality control questions about the Matias keyboards, but I haven’t encountered anything like that myself. In my experience, electromechanical things tend to break at a couple different intervals through their use. Trust me, I work around tech all day, every day, and I know from whence I speak.

First, no matter how well a product is made, there will be a level of attrition right at the beginning of a product’s life. In the first few days, there will be a small percentage of things that just don’t work. From there, you’ll lose a part here or there to iffy build quaity or quality control. Things like poorly done solder points, parts that didn’t quite get machined or formed correctly, or your “weakest link in the chain” element of the device failing. From there on, it’s down to abuse taking the rest, right up until the mean time between failures threshold begins to be reached with the least robust components in the system.

My particular Matias has easily survived its maiden voyage, and nothing really concerns me about how it’s acted so far. I don’t plan on beating it like a rental car, nor do I expect to put it through harsh climatic trials. The switches are rated for a duty cycle that would take me a great long time to even begin approaching, even if I used this keyboard to the exclusion of all others. Hey, I like it, but I’m not married to it. I will freely admit to having a wandering eye and a curious mind. It’s allowed.

In any case, I would say that, if the possibility of getting a lemon is foremost in your mind, make sure that you review the return policy at the outlet where you purchase it, and keep the box until you know that things are copacetic.

Is it worth it?

That is always a difficult question. I think, for the right person, it is. If you are a typist who likes a very tactile feel, and a keyboard with wonderful audio feedback, this could be love. There are a lot of really good keyboards at lower prices out there. The Unicomp, for one. I see that as perhaps the most compelling alternate choice. That, of course, is a PC-sourced ‘board, through and through. Nothing could be less Apple than the keyboard that came on IBMs, made on the same tooling it was in the ’80s. Cherry MX switch keyboards abound, and are typically less expensive. The new generation of inexpensive Cherry-clone equipped keyboards are even cheaper. The Matias is many times the price of a ‘board using Chinese-made clone switches. (Spoilers, those are darned good ‘boards.)

I would say that the direct competition in that range of “real” switches would be the Cherry MX Green switch. It is stiffer and has a stronger click than the blue switch. I think the Matias switch is cooler, but for someone who doesn’t favor the style of the Matias, or wants to do a lot of hot-rodding in terms of custom key caps and the like, the switch might not be enough of an incentive.

As with all of these things, if you can get your hands on the ‘board for a day, or even a few hours, a lot of the unknowns that I can’t answer for you will quickly clarify. This is a mostly subjective game. All the ‘boards have keys that send letters to the computer. It’s just how you want it to feel and sound and look as it does so.

Cheers, and happy typing!