Archive for the ‘keyboarding’ Category

As I’ve already reviewed the basics of the Magicforce 68 in an earlier article, I won’t go into great detail about the basic design. It’s a minimalist ‘board without going too far outside the realm of sanity. Light but solid, it is suited to taking along with you.

The big draw here is the switch, to be honest. Unless, of course, the backlight looms large in terms of your requirements.

The Magicforce line is one of the few that come in multiple different switch types, but the same chassis. The least expensive of the Magicforce ‘boards feature Outemu switches. These are in the $40 range (Spring 2017 for all prices quoted here). I found that the brown-switch equipped board of this type performed well. It felt just a little rough, and had a few squeaky keys, but was otherwise fine. It didn’t feature backlighting, but this didn’t prove to be a large concern for me.

For just a hair over $60, the same ‘board is available with Gateron backlit switches. For something like seven or eight dollars more than that, you can get the actual Cherry MX switches.

I had plenty of Cherry-switch ‘boards, but had not used any Gateron switches. Thus, I purchased the keyboard being reviewed today. The feeling around the ‘Net is that Gateron may well have outdone Cherry with their duplicates of said switch type. Some maintain that the Gaterons are smoother than the Cherry equivalent.

We shall see if that can be determined. We shall use Great Science to do so. Gird up thy loins, readers. Just sayin’.

Packaging:

The Gateron version of the Magicforce comes in the same box as the less expensive version. Two differences:

1) There is a key puller included.
2) There is a USB – B to Micro USB adapter, so you can plug your ‘board into stuff like tablets and phones. That is, in all actuality, a pretty cool value-added feature.

Other than that, it’s a solid, no frills box. No extra cash went into making it wrap-around printed or otherwise blinged out. That’s fine.

Unboxing:

Everything arrived in good condition. The keyboard is in good shape and all the keys work. I don’t seen any difference, qualitatively, with regard to the chassis. Same format, same feel. That is what I expected, but sometimes, a higher member of the “line” will have some subtle things going on. More chamfered edges. Something. It appears that we’re just paying for the more expensive switches in this case.

First Impressions:

The key caps on this keyboard may be just a hair thicker than the ones on the less expensive version. They are double-shot ABS, such that the legend on each key is illuminated by the backlight. This type of key tends to be more expensive. The double-shot process ensures that you’ll never wear the letters off the keytops, no matter how much you use them. It’s another piece of plastic, used to fill in the void in the white ABS of the primary component.

The font of the legend is that somewhat gamer-style block lettering that you’ll see all around. My suspicion is that there are only a handful of companies making the key caps, and that most of these Chinese-made ‘boards are using the same subcontractor. That’s okay. Economies of scale. I get it.

With the LED off, the legend is a sort of gray-on-white affair. It is legible enough and has decent contrast. There is but one color of LED here. That’s white. In this case, the white is fairly true to that spectru, with perhaps just a hint of blue. There are nine brightness values, from subtle to somewhat dazzling. I prefer two clicks up from “off” myself.

The typing dynamics, in a general way, are similar to the other Magicforce 68 that I have. All the keys are in the same location. The general force required to activate them is the same. I can’t directly compare them in certain ways, since one has a brown switch, while the other has red. Brown switches are tactile, whereas reds are linear.

That said, what does the early tale say? The red switches feel smoother. Smoother by a good bit. This is not surprising, as even Cherry MX Brown switches tend to have just a bit of friction to their movement. It appears to be a component of the switch design.

The noise the ‘board makes? Quite quiet, as you might expect a red switch ‘board to be. The chassis of this ‘board isn’t resonant, so it’s just the low clack of the keys as they hit the top plate. About the same sound as the brown switch model. Perhaps just slightly quieter. Certianly quieter than the red-switch model from Drevo. Actually, a whole different sound.

Unlike the less expensive version of this keyboard, I’m not sensing any “ping” or resonance when striking any of the keys. While that was not particularly loud in the other version, it was noticable with some of the keys around the right-center of the ‘board. I don’t have any real clues as to what that means. It could be that the sound is an element of that particular ‘board, because I don’t notice any structural differences from the outside. It could be a slight inconsisntency in the the bottom tray…something else. Without buying up a whole bunch of them, there’s no way to know. I can tell you that the brown-switch version did need a bit of lubrication on the stabilized keys to quiet down, and the Gateron-equipped version did not.

I find that I’m able to type well enough with this keyboard, without any real acclimation time. I don’t believe it’s any faster than the brown-equipped version. Time will tell. Does it feel like a red-switch ‘board? Yes. Does it work? Yes. More than that, I will only be able to determine after further study.

More on key feel:

The Gateron red switches are right on the verge of being too light. I have to really alter my typing a good bit to work with them. I find that I’m more likely to make a whole string of random key presses if I have some kind of technique breakdown. They are very smooth and buttery, but boy, you have to ease up in order for them to really work to their best effect.

After a bit of research, I realized why there is a significant differnce in the way this ‘board feels, when compared with the Drevo, also a red switch mechanical. Here’s the skinny: Outemu switches, like in the Drevo, are all heavier in resistance than Cherry MX switches, right across the board. Red switches from Outemu operate at 55 grams of force, which is significantly more than what I’m seeing here. With the combination of a super-smooth switch and one that is very light, I have to really take it easy with the Gaterons.

If I have been typing on a higher-effort ‘board, this one takes more than a little mental recalibration. Even after I’ve typed hundreds of words on the ‘board, I find that I’m more likely to make accidental key presses or the like.

For me, the resistance with the Outemu reds is dead-on for me, while these are so light that I have to be pretty careful. If you’re a fan of very light resistance, or you’re concerned that the volume of typing you do on a given day puts you into a spiral of fatigue and pain, this might be just the thing.

One final thing is that the repeats on the keys is set very fast by default. If left at this setting, using the backspace or delete key to make larger scale corrections is going to be challenging at best. As a gaming ‘board, I suppose this high cyclic rate could provide great advantages, but not so much for typists. The stock setting is up at 60 characters per second, which is very, very fast. There is a 40 and 20 character per second setting, which is instituted with the FN key, plus W, E, or R. (R being the highest setting). 20 characters per second appears to be what a normal keyboard would call for. Turning it down eliminated the confounding problem that I initially felt was a major drawback of this ‘board. What did I learn? Read the instructions, or at least try and intuit the feature set before belly aching.

Is it worth it?

That is more than a little debatable. A gaming usage case may find that tings like the adjustable repeat rate on keys would serve them well. The light keys may also help you in WASD games and the like. In the realm of gaming keyboards, this is still very inexpensive, and the form factor is really very cool.

The version of this keyboard that features Outemu keys and no backlight is a significant amount cheaper. A little more than $20. Again, that’s not a lot in the scheme of things, but the percentages between a $40 and $62 keyboard are fairly big.

 

I wrote the bulk of this review months ago, and my initial conclusion was that I wasn’t sure that the Gateron Red version of this ‘board was worth it. I had reservations, primarily about the typing feel. With the stock caps, I still have vague concerns in this regard, but there’s a second story here.

The Rest of the Story: 

I recapped this keyboard with Kannanic (also called Bossi) PBT key caps. They made a world of difference. Likely the largest difference I’ve ever experienced. Far better sound, far better feel. Yes, we’re now looking at a keyboard of significant cost, nearly a hundred bucks (I used two sets for a purple and gray color scheme). Even with this additional cost, totally worth it.

Recommendation: 

This, when capped with a nice set of PBT key caps, is my go-to, primo travel/small form factor keyboard. It’s the jam. If you need something small that will slip right into a backpack to take along, this here is your E-ticket ride.

Cheers, and Happy Typing.

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!

 

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!

 

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.

 

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.

61twFG1j2rL._SY355_

The tired old adage says that you get what you pay for. Well, sometimes you do, and sometimes you’re disappointed. In the end, if you fork over long green for a product, the expectation is that you are going to come away with something you’ll enjoy, something that will last. You hope that your investment will turn out to be a warranted and useful expenditure.

If we avail ourselves of the many resources that the modern era provides, it is possible to be a more informed consumer than at any time in history. If someone’s purchased a product we’re interested in, anywhere in the world, chances are that they may have shared their experiences. With common products, there’s absolutely no reason you can’t get a really good bead on what they’re like, and if they have fatal flaws. All it takes is a little time and access to the web.

Thus, our large purchases should, in a world of good and light, be low risk. Not altogether without risk, because this is the real world, and not everything is perfect, or what we expect. But mostly good.

I have more than a few high priced keyboards, some of them well documented here on this forum. I have a strong sense of what to expect when I plunk down big money for a keyboard. I can tell you about what to expect, as well. At least within some frame of reference, anyway. I can help you get what you pay for in that class of high-priced gear.

The situation becomes less clear when the amount of money being spent is far less. I found that, in the current atmosphere, I didn’t have a strong grasp on what one could expect for “average human” money. I understand that most people don’t have any interest in paying over a hundred dollars for a keyboard. Perhaps it’s not something that’s financially feasible for them, even if they’d love to do so. They need a decent keyboard, but they have to look at the bottom line. More likely, they just haven’t taken leave of their senses, as I have.

While keyboards featuring “real” mechanical switches are far less expensive than they once were, the form factors and feature sets of those ‘boards are not always exactly what a normal consumer is looking for. Even looking at spending $40 to $60 for a budget priced mechanical might put some people out of the running. I get that. There are more important things. If you’re having a tough time making the rent or putting food on the table, that’s an extravagance you can’t pursue.

Thus, I’m seeing if we can get a good typing experience, a good quality keyboard, for far less. Here, we are below even the cheapest mechanical designs, down into the territory of a simple peripheral.

The typical replacement keyboard of wired type is going for something like $8 to around $30, depending on brand and features (U.S. money, 2017). Many of them group around $15, give or take a few dollars.

These are straight up rubber dome keyboards, usually with full stroke keys, but some of them featuring laptop-style scissor switches instead. Those are becoming more and more popular. I don’t think it’s a great trend, but I’m not consulted on these things. Which is a shame. I have thoughts. Ah, well.

What I wanted to do was see if there was something that was “better” than what the run of the mill rubber dome keyboard could provide, while still being as affordable as possible. Less than even the cheapest mechanical.

What I found, after some poking around, was that there were some ‘boards being touted as “half mechanical” or “mechanical feel” designs. I found one that didn’t look so outlandish that I would be tempted to regurgitate into it, and ordered an example.

The model I picked was from a company called Masione. It didn’t seem to have a name, per se, but it does say “Gaming Keyboard” on the box. The Amazon listing goes something like “USB Connected Seven Color Backlit Gaming Keyboard with Mechanical Feel Switches.” That’s what we’ll go with. Yeah, the ad wizards were up all night coming up with that one. Very catchy. Rolls right off the tongue. The cost was around $22 dollars, all together. That’s rounding up. It’s not exactly a caviar budget item. Most should be able to swing that kind of money.

What it looks like:

As befits a gaming-inspired keyboard today, this one has LED backlighting, all manner of weird light shows using said lights, and some, ahem, interesting design elements going on. In the main, though, it looks like some of the space saver models from Dell that came out several years ago. You know the ones. They look like they did their darnedest to take every cubic centimeter of extra material off. The Masione is sort of like a garish, less-well-done version of that.

The box it came in was fairly well printed, with a full wrap of information. that information was accurate enough, though it didn’t go into extensive detail. It was described as having “mechanical touch plunger keys”, which was the primary point of interest for me.

How it works:

Though there is no mention of such language in the official literature included, the listing on Amazon called this model a “half mechanical” design.

I don’t believe that there is any logic in the idea of something being half mechanical. I don’t think it’s a state that one could find in a keyboard. Mechanical feel? Sure, I guess.

Here’s how the keyboard works. It is, underneath, a normal enough rubber dome keyboard. The sole component that imparts resistance and tactile feel to the key presses is a dome of rubber. The actuation point of the device is all the way down at the bottom of the stroke. If you don’t press the key all the way, you won’t see a character sent to the computer. The rubber dome has to collapse all the way to initiate the membrane switch below it.

Mechanical keyboards, in the main, have their actuation point at the half-way point of their travel, or a bit deeper in some circumstances. They also feature a resistance mechanism utilizing a sprint of some kind.

A normal rubber dome keyboard has an in-built stem that reaches down below the baseplate of the ‘board, acting directly upon the rubber dome. One of the issues with this design is that the plunger arm that is inbuilt into the bottom of the key cap will often have a lot of surface area that is a friction-bearing zone. This is necessary for key stabilization during the keypress. The negative thing is that, when “stuff” gets into the keyboard, it can easily get into this cylindrical channel and cause the keys to be very sticky or friction-laden. Because these little accidents often only affect a few keys, you’ll get very uneven resistance, with some keys requiring you to smash them down like a concert pianist during a crecendo. Not awesome. Even brand new, the plunger-on dome feeling can vary a lot between keys, and the effect of wear can make things get a lot worse.

Here’s where the Masione’s design comes in. It is a “dome and slider” mechanism. Instead of having the plunger be of the same, possibly not-ideal material that the keycaps are made out of (Likely ABS plastic), the key cap can sit upon a slider that’s built into the base plate. Once pushed onto that slider, the keycap can depress it as normal. The slider, though, can be made out of a plastic and with a design that maximizes stability, while reducing friction and the possiblity of being compromised with contaminants (like your Mountain Dew, Fred).

In the Masione’s case, it uses a slider that mimics the look of the Cherry MX key switch. That is to say, it has a faux switch housing built up from the base plate, and a slider that has a cross shaped top. This design rejects a lot of dust and debris, while being very stable. It also allows people to take the keys off easily and safely, so that cleaning the keyboard is not a terrible job. Finally, because the stems are compatible with all the thousands of key caps out there for the Cherry MX design, you can replace a broken key cap or customize the look of your ‘board, should you desire. (More on this later.)

Dome and slider keyboards have been around for quite a long time. I believe the 90s were the period when they were most prevalent, but the information on this design isn’t exhaustive. At least, my understanding of it is not. They were, typically, not ‘boards that songs were sung about. They were good to fair, for the most part.

Hands on:

The Masione keyboard has a few, ahem, design oddities. The first is a wildly oversize bottom row of keys. The space bar is almost three times the size of a normal model, if we measure from the base up toward the function row. It’s huge. This is the sort of thing that keyboards used to do a lot, but is rarely seen today. The Windows, Function, and Alt keys are likewise massive. What does that mean? it means that you had better not break them, because you won’t find a good replacement.

The next thing to be concerned about is the “big ass enter” key. Yep. One of those. Like it wasn’t sure whether it was an ISO or ANSI format. So it sort of went for both. This design was big in the early 90’s if I remember correctly. The downside? Tiny 1×1 backspace key. The single width backspace takes some time to get used to, and can be really infuriating while that learning curve is curving. You get a lot of this:

maadaem=====

(The big group of equals signs are failed taps at the backspace. This design helps you really steer into the skid.)

These design elements can take some getting used to, but are not outright dealbreakers. They’re deal…complicators.

The huge spacebar, other than imparting an odd sound to the key press, doesn’t really do much to impede your progress. I have found that, contrary to accepted touch typing mechanics, I hit the backspace with my ring finger on my right hand. It should be the pinky finger, but hey. I’m old. That would be a new trick. In any case, that’s a bit of a stretch from the home row, and requires pretty fine motor control. In the course of an evening, I was able to get it down pretty well, but it takes a little forebearance on the typist’s part.

Other than those things, it’s pretty much just like another keyboard you might find. It should be mentioned that there is a nice, heavy aluminum backplane to this keyboard, so that it is a good bit stiffer and more significant in feel than your average plastic fantastic you’d get with your PC.

The key action. That’s where everyone wants to go, right?

Key actuation force is quite light. That’s the first thing to notice. I would say that it is maybe a bit lighter than a Cherry MX Brown. They don’t feel the same, but the weighting is similar.

The keys don’t feel mushy, despite the light weight. There is a nice key control, and a certain level of initial resistance that makes the “give” come on with a sense of tactile response. Again, you can’t float type. You have to bottom out. That’s the technology. That said, because it’s light, and has a fairly “present” feel, it’s easy enough to type with some speed and accuracy. The typing feel is, I suppose, a pale imitation of the Topre switch. The feel is along the same vein. If you liked this feel, you’d dig Topre. Topre keyboards are about ten times as expensive. I’m not kidding. Maybe twelve or fourteen times as expensive, depending on the model.

The feel of the keys is siginficantly better than an of your garden variety rubber dome keyboards. A clear and easy to feel difference. Much more tactile, much less mushy. Generally a much more sorted-out feeling. There is a certain lack of positivity remaining, however. Because the bottom of the travel is touching the rubber dome against a membrane switch, it has a soft landing feel, a sort of padded sensation. For some, this might be their preference. It might decrease the amount of stress coming back into your fingers. On the other hand, there is a definitive, clear sense of a full key press on a mechanical switch, because the key cap is actually hitting the base plate. The “clack” part.

This is not a loud keyboard. I would say that it is approximately the same sound level as a Topre or a Cherry MX Black, if not just slightly less loud than the Cherry model. It has something of the “thock” sound that the Topre produces. Probably not quite as loud. In general, this is not a keyboard that will bug nearby folks with its noise. It just kind of mutters. The only key that really makes much noise is the space bar, but that’s a fairly low frequency sound, and I actually like that particular sound. I took it into work, however, and my nearest co-worker did not agree. At least when I was typing at 100wpm in his ear with it.

Compared directly to a mechanical:

The typing feel and action is pretty good on the Masione keyboard. In the kingdom of cheap membrane keyboards, it is something of a heroic aberration. For a percentage of typists, this will be the exact feel that they want. Light effort, soft landing, plenty of tactile response. Just enough sound that you can have a sense of the typing action taking place. No unpleasant sounds or feelings.

However, all is not perfect in Masione land. I find that the incidents of dropped keystrokes is far more prevalant than with a mechanical. Not because the keyboad malfunctions, but because the keys have to be pressed right to the stops, and any level of float or any lazy press on my part will not register. That’s just a limtation of the technology, and one of the reasons that we have a whole generation of computer users who are sued to typing really hard. They have to.

I could adapt, if this were my daily driver. Sure. No problem. I would just unleash the beast and type hard. I can do it. If I can adapt to the oddities of the layout, I can get the key press requirements down.

The Masione does an admirable job of trying to class up a fairly pedestrian technology. It hits a lot of marks. It does have a certain level of mechanical feel. In a more traditional layout, it would make an even larger case for itself. Even with its dubious design choices, it has a place in the market. I’d still take a MX Brown switch keyboard ten out of ten times, if money were not an object.

Usage Case:

If you want to get a better keyboard, but aren’t ready or able to spend a lot on the enterprise, this little guy will get you some distance toward a better typing experience. There would still be room to grow, room to explore, but you would have your foot wedged in the door to the promised land.

There could be a circumstance wherein you will need a servicable ‘board, but will be reticent to bring an expensive piece of equipment into the theater of operations, so to speak. For instance, you have a terrible keyboard at work, but they won’t buy you a new one. Without going out backward for the week, you could bring the Masione in, and at least have a tool that wouldn’t impede you at every turn.

So, as an inexpensive upgrade or a semi-perishable tool for rough conditions, this could really fit the bill.

Final Thoughts:

I’m indifferent to the gamer design elements on this keyboard. The backlight is reasonable when left in a single color, and can be shut off, should it prove distracting. The typing dynamics are good enough to use without risking a trip bummertown, though some inadequacies of the rubber dome technology persist.

This is a good keyboard. For the money, I don’t know that it would be easy to improve upon it. You’d almost have to comb through a local recycler to find a good used model to do so. That is with the caveat that there will be a bit of learning curve, due to the key placement and shape.

Spending another ten or twenty dollars would get you into a “real” mechanical keyboard that would be more my taste. If you dip into the price bracket of sub-$30, the only real contender is the Velocifire TKL01. It’s a better keyboard. It has its own faults, but it’s a real mechanical. I’d pick that, if for no other reason than because of its normal layout.

If you’re intrigued with the idea of this keyboard, I’d encourage you to give it a try. Even if it doesn’t end up being something that you’re head over heels about, it’s inexpensive enough that it can serve as an emergency spare, or be given to some friend or relative who could really use an upgrade. The Masione would be an upgrade for many of them. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Cheers, and happy typing.

71U0jyoD7tL._SY355_

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.