Mechanical Keyboard Review: Velocifire TKL01 (Brown Switch)

Posted: July 6, 2017 in keyboarding
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In my first trip into the land of inexpensive mechanical keyboards, I found that the new generation of Cherry-clone ‘boards provide a lot of bang for the buck. They work well. They are sometimes hampered by a few strange design choices, but they can give you all or most of what you’d get from a “premium” keyboard. Never content to simply go with the majority answer, I needed to dig deeper. I needed to do more SCIENCE. I…ah…needed to spend more money.

Design Choices:

One of the most popular keyboards in the value-price sphere is the Velocifire. The tenkey-less goes for about $30, while the full size goes for around $40. They are somewhat less outlandish in design than their competitors. Unlike the bulk of these ‘boards, they do not use a “floating” key style atop an aluminum top plate.

This choice has some significant effects upon the way the ‘board presents and performs. It could be seen as a negative economy, doing away with the metal top plate and the floating key set. From a materials perspective, that may well be true. The metal plate will add some rigidity to the device. The floating keyset, however, may actually put the key caps and switches in a more vulnerable position. My sense is that the origins of having a bezel around the keys was to protect them.

The downside of having a metal top plate is often an increase in noise. Not just the specific noise that the switch of the keyboard makes, but the odd mechanical sounds and the sound of bottoming out. Metal tends to be a resonant material, allowing vibrations to ring out more than something like plastic would do. Thus, putting it into a structural spot where it’ll have something impact directly upon it or impart some vibration into it can cause the mechanical nature of the keyboard to be louder.

It’s possible that the increase in volume will not be a positive change. For some of us, we really like the loud ‘boards. Others are distracted or confounded by them. If we’re working in a noise-sensitive enviornment, we don’t want the keyboard to be officious. (Or do we? Evil laugh inserted here.)

The other choice that the Velocifire ‘board makes is to use the Zorro switchs. To be honest, this was the primary reason that I grabbed this ‘board. I hadn’t had experience with this switch, and science dictates that I must continue to explore until I have a broad understanding of the topic at hand. That’s the answer I’m going with, anyway.

In Practice:

The Velocifire is the quietest mechanical keyboard I have. I can’t point to a particular element of its design that brings this about, but it is no louder than a membrane keyboard. That will be a great boon to the noise-sensitive among us. Even typing hard, it really doesn’t have much of an acoustic signature.

The look and feel of the ‘board are fairly nice. The backlight has only off, medium, and full in terms of settings, but the teal blue is an interesting color, and it doesn’t look too funhouse-mirrors on the desk. With the backlight off, key legend visibility is about normal for this type of keyboard. That is to say that it is fine in normal light, but cryptic when the room around you is dim. The appearance of the ‘board is innocent enough when the backlight is turned off. The backlights aren’t particularly bright, even on full blast.

The typing feel is quite light. About as light as would be practical for most typing implementations. Brown-style switches are typically low effort, and the Zorros carry though with this. I would venture that they may be slightly lighter than the other switches of this type, but I wouldn’t swear to it. Typing action is smooth and quick, with low effort. The tactile feel is not very strong. The key presses are smooth, but going side-by-side with real Cherry MX Browns reveals their lack of sophistication. They are a little mushy, to be honest. This still allows for decent and comfortable typing, but if you prefer a more pronounced typing feel, the Zorro switches will dissapoint, as they are fairly vague.

The packaging was typical for this type of product. The device arrived at my location without issue and with no damage. It is not as minimalist as some competitors. I make no value judgement about that one way or another. In the end, we throw away the box as soon as we know the darned thing is going to work.

In Summary:

Again, this is a lot of value for the money. The Velocifier is perhaps the least “gearhead” of the cheap mechanicals. It’s quiet, looks normal, and has smooth, soft key feel. It’s possible that you could put this in front of the average keyboardist and their only question would be, “Where’s the number pad?”

There’s not much to adapt to, no loud sounds or heavy key resistance. The advantages of a mechanical switch keyboard are there, without many of the perceived disadvantages (cost, noise, effort, oddities of function or style).

The Zorro switches appear altogether servicable over the length of this test. I will hold this review for a few weeks to make sure no reliability concerns marr the early performance of this device. (Nothing untoward happened. I use the keyboard at work. It’s fine, and functional, just not terribly inspiring.)

In terms of feel, I do feel that the Zorro switches fall below the level of the Cherry and Outemu switches I’ve tried in the brown variant. That said, you may prefer the lighter and softer feel, as every typist has their own proclivities.

Usage Case:

This keyboard would serve as a great first mechanical, and should have broad appeal across different user preferences. It is mild mannered, functional, inexpensive, and quiet. Although it may not have quite the “thing” that a louder or higher effort ‘board might have, it more than makes up for any perceived lack of character in that it doesn’t have any real counter-indications.

If you are a typing snob, but don’t want to bring your expensive ‘board into danger, this one might be great for you. If you need a work keyboard for an office environment, this would do fine there. If you prefer to type lightly or have issues with hand fatigue, this keyboard will allow you to type with the minimum of effort.

The groups who would not like this keyboard include those who really must have a fairly stiff key feel to type accurately. Also, if typing simply isn’t typing for you if you aren’t making a hellish racket, this thing is going to be underwhelming for you. Finally, those who need really strong tactility are going to be a little disappointed with the brown switches (in any form or application), as they are not as tactile as some other switch types.

It’s a great time to be a keyboard afficionado. For barely more than a quality rubber dome keyboard, you can get something like the Velocifire, and be typing like a boss. Recommended.

Cheers, and happy typing!

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