Quisan Magicforce 60% Keyboard Review

Posted: May 21, 2017 in Uncategorized

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Details and Unboxing:

This keyboard was purchased from Amazon and delivered for less than $40. It is a Chinese made keyboard in a very small layout, featuring Outemu brand switches of the “brown” type. These have Cherry-compatible keycaps. Said caps are white with grey legends.

The keyboard construction has no bezel, so the key caps “float” above the exposed switches. The chassis is minimalist in nature and is very light. The whole device weighs very little, but seems structurally sound. When biased by gentle pressure, rigidity along the long axis of the keyboard is quite good. The chassis features an aluminum top plate with an anodized surface, while the lower is off-white plastic.

Badging on the keyboard is kept to a minimum. There is a small “Magicforce” logo on the right hand side in chrome relief.

The keycaps have a nice feel, although the contrast on the lettering could be better. When I pulled one of the key caps, I found that the thickness of their construction was fairly significant. The switches beneath looked essentially the same as a real Cherry switch.

Because of the minimalist key complement, there is a function layer that can be used to access secondary or tertiary functions for some keys. Thus, the number row can be used to access the F1-F12 functions by holding down the FN key, then tapping the key in question. Because of this, many of the keys have more legends on them than you may be used to. That, I suppose, is the tradeoff for the form factor, and is not limited to this keyboard in any way.

Overall, the white and silver presentation looks classy, but not in a self-conscious way. The detachable cable has a routing mechanism that forces the cord to exit in the center, back of the keyboard. Many keyboards with detachable cables allow multiple points of egress for the cable, but that will only be a concern for a small number of implementations. The cable itself is a vinyl-clad white unit with Mini USB to standard USB routing. The look of this keyboard would be quite at home in front of a Mac computer, I believe, as the color scheme and design aesthetic are somewhat akin to that brand. That said, the keyboard is set up as a PC device, with all the standard functions one would expect from that format.

Packaging was simple but solid, with a dense, small box. The box was high quality, in my estimation, and the information was provided by a slip cuff that went around it on the outside. Included in the box was the keyboard, the cable, and a mini-booklet with details of the purchase. Oh, and a plastic key puller. I’m getting quite a collection of those now.

I think that the Magicforce’s visual presentation doesn’t give any hint of cheapness or shoddy manufacture. Everything fits, seems sturdy, and functions. The bottom of the keyboard has rubber feet and rubber-clad riser feet on the back that move under enough resistance to feel well-designed. The overall size of the device means that, for a given gauge of plastic, it will feel more rigid. Simple leverage makes this a fact. Thus, without a lot of material or a heavy device, this little ‘board presents as rugged. Not too shabby.

A Little History:

In recent months, it has become easier and easier to find mechanical keyboards at prices that would have been impossible in years past. Up until recently, the mechanical keyboard shopper could look forward to spending upwards of $100 for a new mechanical ‘board. Sometimes a lot more than that, depending on the manufacturer and the key switch they selected.

While these premium priced ‘boards are still afoot, and still have their proponents (like me), a new wave of mechanicals has hit the market, and their prices are extremely attractive. How did this happen, and what does it portend for the market?

The Thing About Patents:

The dominant switch in the mechanical keyboard market has been the Cherry MX switch for a while now. Yes, there are buckling spring keyboards being made, but they’re only available from one company, Unicomp. And, they aren’t making any effort to cater to the users who want “new hotness” in terms of style and form factor. Matias makes an ALPS-type switch, but they’re expensive and targeted to a narrow market. Topre switches are wicked cool, but good luck finding a keyboard featuring that technology for anything less than a king’s ransom.

So, Cherry MX switches. That’s what all the “cool” keyboards use, and what all the aftermarket parts are created for.

Some time ago, Cherry’s patent ran out on their switch design. Subsequent to that, other companies were free to create duplicate or slightly redesigned versions of their switches. The market has seen several companies take up this challenge. Among them are Greetech, Gateron, Outemu, Zorro, Kailh, and others.

None of these models have been panned by the critics. In fact, some say that the Gaterons are better and smoother than the Cherry switches, perhaps due to some changes to the formulation of the plastic used on the slider mechanism.

All of the Cherry clone switches can be used as replacements on a PCB that is printed to take Cherry switches, as their pins are in the same place and they are the exact shape and size. All of them can utilize Cherry-style keycaps, as well. They have, in the main, kept up with the color-coding and weighting of the Cherry switches. This means that a brown switch from Gateron or Outemu will have manifestly similar typing feel to one made by any of the other companies. It may, in fact, be difficult to tell much of any difference in some of the switches. The weighting may be a bit heavier or lighter on some switches, and some of them may click louder than another, but the idea behind the color of the switch stays intact.

Keyboards using these knock-off switches are typically half or less than half the cost of the Cherry equivalent. While Cherry-equipped ‘boards are still over $100 in most situations, you can find Gateron equipped devices in the $60 range, and Outemu switch ‘boards for as little as $30.

What does the proliferation of the inexpensive mechanicals mean for the market? What does it mean for Cherry, the manufacturer of the more expensive switches?

Well, I am no strategist in this regard. I can’t tell you what market pressure does to business with any accuracy. Common sense does indicate that, if the quality of these devices proves to be similar to their more expensive competition, it will certainly have an impact. Cherry will have to either find a way to compete in a value proposition, or find ways to make their switches better at the price point they currently command. My sense is that the smart play for them would be to look into ways to justify their current price point. Perhaps an MX-compatible line of new switches that is smoother, longer-lived, and just better. If they are capable of such a thing, that’s what I’d go for. Let the upstart companies take the cheap keyboard market, and allow the luxury-price buyers feel that they’ve been able to buy something better. Let that feeling be borne out by clear and discernable improvement.

For the consumer, this development means that mechanical keyboards are within the reach of far more people. Someone who simply can’t afford the price of a premium keyboard, like a Realforce or a HHKB, can plunk down thirty or forty dollars and have a keyboard with real mechanical switches. In addition, they can have said keyboard in one of the new, interesting form factors that they may be itching to try.

It will really depend on whether the typing feel/sound of these inexpensive ‘boards delivers upon the promise of a mechanical keyboard or not. If the feels are still there, and the devices prove to be built well enough to survive the vagaries of being at a desktop and in use for a significant amount of time, I think that this inexpensive market will stick around.

If the price curve follows the launch strategies of a lot of these companies, they may be operating for little to no profict at this point, creating their place in the market by brand association. If this is the case, which it often is for Far East manufacturing, they will gradually get more expensive over the next year or so. There will be enough good reviews of their products, and enough brand recognition, that they will be able to overcome the reticence of the buying populace. They will have established trust, and that will allow them to dial in a bit of profit. I’d expect prices to climb ten or fifteen percent, if what I’ve seen in the past is borne out.

Then again, my career as a prognosticator has been a pretty rocky ride, so take any of my soothsaying with a grain of salt. Or a whole shaker of it.

The Functional Review:

The keyboard that I’ve got for review today is the Quisan Magicforce 68 key model. It has no backlighting, wireless, or anything fancy. As you may imagine from the key count, it is a small device, without quite a few blocks of keys you might be familiar with. The switch used in my version is the Outemu Brown switch. I understand that many of the least expensive of these new mechanicals use the Outemu switch. They are said to be “almost as good” as Cherry by most observers. Quisan makes several iterations of this keyboard, and they utilize a few different kinds of switches. The price of the keyboard fluctuates depending on their choice in this regard, with the least expensive being the Outemu.

Otemu brown switches are tactile, quiet switches. They do not feature a click in their travel, but this doesn’t assure an altogether silent typing experience, as the key caps themselves will make a noise when taken to their full travel, as well as a sound when the key resets to top center. Much of the noise can be dampened on this type of switch, if you install a small rubber O-ring on the key stem. I find that, the O-rings somewhat take away from the tactile feel of a mechanical, and though they are quite effective at making the keyboard quieter, I don’t enjoy typing on a ‘board thus equipped as much.

Brown switches typically yield a bit of a “clack” sound in use. There is no high-frequency component, so it will typically not be terribly annoying. Overall sound is low to moderate. Your officemates will be aware that you’re typing, but will likely not be motivated to plot your death. At least not because of the typing chatter. The stunt you pulled during the meeting last Thursday is a different matter. I’d watch my back. Just sayin’.

I’m quite familiar with the Cherry MX brown switch, as I have used a DasKeyboard thusly equipped for my primary work keyboard for years. I would say that the brown switch is one of the fastest of the switches I’ve tried, allowing fairly effortless typing at speed. Because of the lightness of the Cherry version, I have at times found that I will have to acclimate a bit. If I’ve been at a keyboard that forces very authoritative key presses before I go back to my desk, I’ll sometimes have mindfully ease up a little to get the best results. Using the Das, I’ve never found that my typing caused a lot of consternation among nearby colleagues. It’s just a sound. It’s actually a fairly calming and industrious sound, to me. Probably twenty percent louder than a standard membrane ‘board, with more “clack” than the “thunk” of a rubber dome.

For some time, the Brown switch has been my favorite among the Cherry offerings. I though it was right on in terms of feel and speed. Thus, I had to try one of the inexpensive keyboards with the same switch “idea”. (I will say that I’ve had some level of opinion drift in this of late, as I have warmed up to blue and red switches a lot more recently.)

Does the Outemu switch feel identical to the Cherry? I would say it does not. It feels slightly heavier, at least in this keyboard. There may be a bit more “grit” or roughness in the travel, but this is a fairly small distinction that would be hard to feel without A/B testing.

In terms of key feel, the tactile bump of the switch seems to manifest in a very similar way. It seems like it may be just a bit higher in the key travel than its exemplar. With the higher percieved weighting and the tactile event taking place closer to the top of the travel, I feel like the Outemu switch may have a slightly stronger tactile feel. Not a huge difference, but that’s what I have for you in that regard.

The key sound is always somewhat dictated by the compsition of the key caps and the structural resonance pattern of the keyboard chassis. Because the brown switches don’t have any auditory component to add, this is pretty much all chassis and key cap interaction. That said, they don’t sound out of character for a brown switch. The minimalist chassis does have a bit of a “ring” on some key presses toward the center of the ‘board, but it feels solid enough. Some of the stabilized keys, such as the backspace, do have a bit of stabilizer judder, such that they have a high-range component that the other keys lack. The spacebar will always sound a bit different from the other keys, but it is not unduly loud on this implementation.

It didn’t take me any real time to get comfortable with the typing mechanics of the Quisan. All the keys work, and the general dynamics of the typing experience are good. It feels agile and precise while touch typing, and has plenty of return force on the keys to feel like you can’t “overrun” the ‘board if you are a quick typist.

Because I’ve been typing on a lot of keyboards that have a higher activation force than the Cherry browns, the slightly stiffer key feel here with the Outemus is actually nice. I find that it improves the typing feel. I type somewhat hard, however, so your results may vary. Some people like a softer key feel, others want to have that sense of slight effort. It’s taste.

If you like the brown switches you’ve tried in the past, I think that the Outemu switch will probably feel like something you can deal with. There is definite key feedback, as one would expect from a mechanical keyboard. This is not some pale attempt at doing a thing. They’ve given you a mechanical keyboard. For less than $40. It’s quite something. I’m pleasantly surprised.

I’ve typed out everything up until this point in the narrative with the Quisan on the first day of its arrival. I have found it to be rewarding enough in use to suit my purposes. No difficulties have presented themselves in terms of the layout or the ergonomic feel of the keyboard. It being so small, you do have to figure out exactly where it needs to be on your desk, but it seems to remain in place well enough, despite its flea-like weight.

From here, I’m going to use the ‘board for a week or so to get you a more thorough understanding of how it wears in. Although I won’t be able to tell you if the mean time between failure that the key manufacturer states is in any way accurate, I’ll be able to make sure that it doesn’t start degenerating quickly. Mainly, I’ll just be able to refine my veiwpoint a little and make sure none of my early thoughts were wrong-headed.

In the Fullness of Time:

1) After the first day of typing, I can say that the form factor is pretty darned nice. For pure text typing, like one would do if you were writing papers, reports, posts, letters, fiction, etc., the smaller form factor is not a big deal. If you’re doing a lot of things that require the function row or the numeric keypad, your results may vary.

I like the looks of the ‘board. It just looks neat and tidy. The size of it is amusing every time I glance down. I’m having no problems with the ‘board moving around beneath my hands, and it feels perfectly solid. No give, bounce or wiggle when I’m typing. It should be noted I have pretty big hands, and I rip phonebooks in my off time. Thus, if there is a problem with chassis solidity, I might be the guy you want to bring in to check things out.

The key feel is quite good. As stated earlier, I do feel that the Outemu browns are higher effort than the “real” Cherry MX switches. They are also a little more tactile. They may not be quite as fast, but it’s close. Maybe too close to call. I can crank out the words. I just did a thousand words essentially in one burst, with no issues.

The sound is quite good. Not too loud, but nice and communicative. The acoustics of the open, slab style case aren’t proving to amplify the sound. I gave a close look to the key caps, and they’re actually quite thick, considering the price of this ‘board. I believe they are ABS, but they are better than a few keysets I’ve seen coming off of ‘boards that weigh in at more than $100, so I can’t complain.

The main element where there’s that tell-tale of cost cutting is that there are some squeeking sounds that come out of the board here and there. It seems that it is mainly the space bar and a few of the other stabilized keys. I will put a few drops of lubricant on the hinges for those keys to see if that quiets them down. That’ll be covered in the next progress report.

All in all, after a day, I can say that I could totally live with this keyboard. If I were doing the hipster thing and writing my novel in the coffee shop, this would allow me to do so unimpeded. At this form factor, it would easily slip into the backpack with my laptop and go along with me. It may not be the absolute final word in keyboards for all time and space, but it’s so much better than any laptop keyboard that it isn’t even a fair comparison. This is a real mechanical, and it does the mechanical keyboard things. At a price that I had to see to believe. More to come.

Further On Down The Road:

Day Two:

After finding that some of the squeaky larger keys were making the sound of the keyboard a little less than ideal on the first day of typing, I pulled the caps of the offending keys off and oiled the stabilizer inserts. After having given it a fair number of keystrokes to work the oil in, I have found that the sound of the spacebar and other keys that were having the original malady have much improved.

There is still just a bit of a resonance inside the chassis of the keyboard. The form that this takes is a very light “ring” sound when the typing action is taking place. At least, when I’m hammering on the ‘board. Other than perhaps taking the whole chassis apart and finding some way to damp the affected area, there is probably not much that can be done. Luckily, this is a very low level sound, and not much of a problem. Unless your surroundings are pretty quiet, you may not even notice. If you’re not heavy handed, the device might not even make that noise.

I do think that oiling the stabilizers on the keys so equipped is a good idea, and has improved the sound. The oil I used is called Super Lube, their high viscosity, high dialectric synthetic oil. It has PTFE in it, so it should provide long duration slickness. It’s food grade, non-volatile, and doesn’t have a smell. I’ve used it on any number of different things, and it always performs great. This has been no exception.

I stick with everything I said in the earlier part of the review. The keyboard performs well. The switches are a little heavier than their counterparts, but otherwise have a similar feel. It is a “fast” ‘board, as you can really get going if you have a lot to type. I continue to find the small form factor to be a non-issue for most situations. The key positioning and spacing all feel natural. I’ve actually really enjoyed typing on this keyboard, and I’m kind of sold on it.

It’s a little surprising, since so much of my keyboarding life has been with the full sized ‘boards. I have enjoyed the ten-keyless designs, but this is a sigificant amount smaller than that. You kind of have to see it in person and up close to really grasp how much smaller it is. Because there is no bezel or surround at all. it is exactly the size of the standard alpha block on a normal ‘board. That’s it, really. Just two additional columns of keys for the directional keys and a few formatting functions. That’s it. Everything else is where you’d expect it to be.

Because I’ve been enjoying the experience so much, I’ve been typing way more than I absolutely need to. I stayed up too late last night as a result, and that typically means that it’s a pretty good experience. Tiny keyboards? Kind of a convert. Cheap mechanicals? No longer nearly as skeptical. Dang.

Cheers, and happy typing!

(Post Script: Because I had some key caps hanging around, I replaced the modifier keys with black caps from my old Coolermaster Quickfire Rapid, as well as throwing on a red spacebar I had left over from yet another build. Thus equipped, it has a sort of custom look to it. Perhaps not as classy or as “Apple Chic” as it was, it feels more like a tuner’s ‘board now. No functional differences could be found after having done this, but I think the ‘board has more character now. Besides, the modifiers I took off of the Magicforce ended up as a great little pep-up set for another cheap keyboard I was hotrodding. Way too much fun.

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