Posts Tagged ‘keyboards’

Suddenly, I’m A Keyboard Outfitter

Posted: November 11, 2017 in keyboarding
Tags:

Over the last few weeks, I’ve built three keyboards for my friends, and another one for myself. I’ve been instrumental in corrupting more than a few folks into buying their own mechanical keyboards, as well. Through my well-documented geekery, I’ve become the go-to guy in my circle of writer friends when anyone has a keyboard question. In another few days, I’ll building another custom-job for a friend. Things have developed that I can probably build up most any color, type, and shape of mechanical keyboard that the average human can think of. Well, maybe my game isn’t as strong on ergonomic ‘boards, but that’s generally true for most people.

How did I get here? Shrug. Not sure. It started with a broken key, I guess. I had a DasKeyboard that broke one of its keys, and I really only needed a single key to fix it. Of course, Das didn’t sell single keys. I would have to fully replace the whole key set if I wanted to have my…”L” key, it seems to me now. And…there were a lot of options. A. LOT.

Thus, I started looking around online to find what I could in terms of new key caps. That took me down into the weird other realm. I learned lots of stuff. I’ve shared much of it on this forum. The things that were fit to print, in any case. I purchased more keyboards and parts than any one human being would ever need. I watched videos about how it all worked. I read articles on Deskthority. Your boy set himself to learn all about that shit. And…kinda did.

I let a few friends try out a few ‘boards I had kicking around. I would say that at least 3/4ths of the people who have tried mechanical keyboards have enjoyed them. The bulk of those have either asked me to build them up something, or bought a board on their own.

What I noticed about the people for which mechanical keyboards weren’t particularly impressive was this: most of them used a form of ergonomic keyboard already. Either a Microsoft or Logitech, in the main. Thus, they had already understood that there was something better for them than the bog standard keyboards you see everywhere, which are awful. A small secondary group of the non-amazed simply can’t abide any kind of excess noise with their typing. Which is sad. And wrong. Also…sad.

Anyway, the interested outweighed the uninterested, and some people were actually over the moon to find out that they could get a keyboard that made that clicking sound, the sound of progress, and happiness, and the industrious noise that assured that all was right with the universe. Mostly.

The word of my deeds spread. You build a neat, sparkly keyboard for someone, they want to share it on Facebook. Others become stricken with jealousy. Pretty soon, it becomes a semi-steady thing, people hitting you up to build them something.

Pretty fun. At some point, I may have to tack on a service charge for my time, but right now, I’m just recouping cost for the parts. Let it never be said that I have an overabundance of business acumen. The only way that I can make a small fortune is to have started with a large fortune. Which is fine. I am clothed and sheltered. I have foot to eat. And keyboards that make a wonderful cacophony, should I wish them to. That will suffice.

And I am a keyboard outfitter, it seems. Look below for the pictures of the most recent ones I’ve built up.

Cheers, and Happy Typing.

Advertisements

Opening Salvo:

In the past, I’ve always been somewhat skeptical of Cherry MX Blue switches, as well as the clones of said switch. Not that I didn’t like them, but I just didn’t prefer them. Although they are the most popular of the MX style switches, and are well loved by peripherally-involved typists, the hard, weird core of keyboard arch-nerd-ery have sometimes been dismissive of them. “There are better switches!” goes the long and loud lament. “ALPS!” “Buckling Spring!” I get it. Non keyboard people, um, don’t. And that’s okay.

The Things That I Used To Do: 

For some time, my preference was for the brown switch. I still have a lot of good luck using the brown switch, and I believe that it does have its place. If you need a quieter ‘board, the brown will help you with that. I can always sit down and get a good result with the brown switch, without a lot of clumsiness or adaptation. I still use a DasKeyboard thusly equipped for my primary work keyboard. I’ve had it for 5 years, and though I’ve re-capped it, it’s otherwise stock and in just as fine a fettle as it ever was.

Yep. For a time, I was all about the Brown Switches. As I’ve tested more switch types, however, I’ve found that they are not the be-all-end-all. They’re a compromise, but they get the job done. Smooth enough. Quiet enough. Just enough actuation force that you won’t make an utter mess of things.

With the blue switches, I found that I didn’t have that same immediate sense of comfort. I liked them, but I would usually have to use them for a while to get used to their action. Not sure why. One thought about it is that I typically only used them when sitting in with someone else’s rig, and I just didn’t have enough mileage on them to get acclimated.

The Long and Crooked Road to Better: 

I tried putting o-rings on a blue-equipped keyboard, and that didn’t do anything good. Not at all. For me, the o-rings really hurt the typing feel with a Cherry MX type board. I’m sure someone likes them, but that person is not me, or anyone I’ve had try a ‘board so equipped.

After picking up some cheaper ‘boards featuring Outemu and Kailh switches, as well as stripping out the o-rings for my “real” Cherry switch keyboard, I found that I really began to warm up to the blue switch. The slight increase in weight from the brown switches seemed to help me be more accurate and have fewer accidental key presses. I acclimated to the sound, and it really grew on me.

Dress ‘Em Up: 

One thing, for me, became very clear. I liked all keyboards better with PBT caps on them, but with the blues, it made a big, big difference. Something about the sound and feel seemed to give the blue switches a big boost. Also worthy of mention would be the typewriter style keys, such as the ones made by Quisan. These, being built in a totally different manner, and having a lot of concentrated mass atop the keys, change their acoustics a lot. This takes a kind of “ping-y” keyboard sound and gives it a certain depth and fullness that even thick PBT conical caps do not confer. If you like that retro look, and can get used to the altered mechanics of a spherical key, they are also an option.

In terms of the variety of different blue switches, I like the Outemu best of all. I know, that’s weird. They’re the cut-rate brand. I just think that they have a neater sound, and the slightly heavier action seems to put them in the “just right” zone for me. The Kailh switches seem a bit smoother and a bit more subdued in terms of sound, but they are still really good. Strangely, my least favorite blue-equipped keyboard is my DasKeyboard with real Cherry switches and a beautiful set of bumblebee colored PBT caps. Ah, well. The amount of money spent doesn’t always equal the amount of enjoyment perceived.

Final Thoughts:

As a switch, apples to apples, I still think that the blue switch isn’t the equal of the Matias tactile pro (clicky). It doesn’t have that sense of absolute solidity of an IBM buckling spring. That said, if the blue switch is riding under some great PBT caps, that brings them up a notch or two. Not quite to the level of the Matias or the Unicomp, but those boards are louder, more expensive, and harder to customize. There are no cut rate models, short of finding an old one at a yard sale. You can order a blue switch keyboard from Amazon and have it in a couple days, for as little as thirty bucks or so. There are a million ways to customize them, as the market is flooded with stuff to work with for MX mount switches.

I know that I’ve talked some smack about the blue switch, and I’m here to say that I have changed my tune. They’re still too loud for some places you might deploy them, but they have a lot to commend them, and they’re a great value option for getting into mechanical keyboarding.

Cheers, and happy typing.

 

 

I work in the IT industry. I have to take care of over 500 desktop computers at any given time, if not more. Everything about the equipment that large organizations use on a day to day is based upon hitting a price point. The cheapest one that’ll get the job done, most specifically. The mice and keyboards? Five dollar parts that are made to beat up and throw away. Not great. Not even all the way to good. Firmly mediocre.

Now and then, though, you’ll find a mass market product that somehow does just a little better, lasts a little longer. Maybe, just maybe, it’s good enough that is survives a few extra generations after the other stuff goes to the great trash heap of history. This here Compaq keyboard is one of those.

Here’s the story. 

One day, I needed a keyboard when I was fixing a PC in a computer lab setting. “We’ve got this one,” the lab attendant told me. “No one knows where it came from.”

I found in my paws a really beaten-up old PS/2 keyboard that didn’t appear to be something that the organization had ever used. Ever. I flipped it over, and yep, it wasn’t one of ours. It had somehow been brought over from the Transit Authority. Probably after having been sold at auction to some oddball who forgets keyboards around town. No one knows.

In any case, there are a few specific things that PS/2 keyboards do really well. One of those is to interrupt an auto-login command that’s hard coded into the registry of a PC. USBs can do it, too, but the timing is very exacting, and it doesn’t always work like you’d hope. Thus, even in the age that spurns these older connections, we keep a few around, just in case. Most PCs don’t have the right connection for them now, so their era is quickly fading, but hey, this story starts probably six years ago. Yes. This ‘board was old and tired and beaten to a pulp six freaking years ago. Shrug.

I plugged the keyboard in and did the thing I was there to do. Taking care of business, as they say. I thought to myself, “Ima keep this sumbitch,” or something to that effect. I needn’t have worried that anyone would try to steal the old thing away from me, as it appeared to have been in close proximity to bench grinder. Like, touching it. And it was dirty and gross. But I liked the way it typed, and I kept it.

All these years later, and all these hours I’ve spent thinking about the dynamics of typing, and what really works, and this remains the best rubber dome keyboard I’ve used. The old HP I thought was good, back in my age of innocence? This blows it out of the water. It can’t quite claim to be as good as a Topre keyboard, but those things are not, to my mind, in the same category at all. Not a standard rubber dome by the longest stretch.

Even after all these years (this thing probably dates from the 90’s), the Compaq still has light, even, and communicative typing feel, with some level of tactility and predictable return force. A perfectly useful typing tool. Probably a bit better than some of the less useful mechanical switch types (such as the Cherry Black, which is far better for gaming than typing).

Now, you may look at the picture and think I’m overstating the state of mankiness that the keyboard evinced when I picked it up. Know that, during a recent cleaning jag, I fully disinfected and scrubbed the old Compaq. It’s currently the best it can possibly look. The key caps actually came out really well, and outside of the actual physical damage, the case is all right.

Now, other than the quality typing feel, there’s nothing whatsoever to commend the Compaq. It isn’t built heavily. It doesn’t have any luxury features. It probably came with a workstation in its day. Not even a server. I’ve had plenty of experience with Compaq server keyboards of that era, and they’re a different model.

So, a score for the ordinary average guys of the keyboard world, the best of the Standard Joes.

 

Cheers, and Happy Typing!

 

Review: Quisan Retro Keycaps

Posted: October 21, 2017 in keyboarding
Tags:

 

UntitledHere and there, you’ll see a mechanical keyboard with the old style, typewriter keys on them. Most of the time, these fetch a tidy price, and are considered a bit of a niche item.

Having tried a lot of the frequently-available key types on my mechanicals, I had never tried out a set of these round, metal-bound keys before. Buying a keyboard already thusly-equipped was certainly an option, but I had other plans.

Here’s what I did:

I purchased two identical keyboards, Eagletec KG010N models. I kept one of them bone stock, while I stripped the other of its stock keys and installed the Quisan aftermarket models. One thing to note here: the Quisan keys are not the cheapest caps in the world. Even through Amazon, they fetched about $30 for the set. The keyboard they were going on only cost $37, so the economies are a little out of the ordinary there.

That said, i couldn’t find any keyboard equipped with oldy-woldy keys for the aggregate price, so I call it a win.

Packaging:

Quisan, in my experience, doesn’t really waste a lot of the capital you give them on the package. Perfectly serviceable, but they know you’ll discard the box about nine seconds after getting it.

One really nice inclusion with the package is a layout board, which is a thick piece of plastic with cross-shaped protrusions cooresponding with the layout of a full-sized keyboard. This not only made it easier to apply the keys as delivered, it can be a tool for laying out a custom format at a later date. Trust me, fishing the keys out of a bag and trying to find the “7” key in amongst crap tons of loose caps isn’t fun.

All the keys came in good condition, as did the box.

Installation:

These keys are circular or oblong, but conform to the position and size of the standard key layout for a Cherry MX ‘board. Quisan employed ABS plastic for these caps. The external surround may be metal, but I suspect that it is plastic with a chrome applique. The legends purport to be double-shot, but I have reservations. I think they’re more likely laser ablated, as I seen no evidence of a double shot mold on the back side of the keys.

Installing the keys is fairly straightforward, although the round edges sometimes require a bit more careful effort to get lined up. It should be noted that the stems on these keys are rectangular, rather than being round. This doesn’t seem to have any direct impact on performance or fit. It didn’t impede my progress, nor did I encounter any confounding situations during the installation. Provided that your keyboard has a standard layout and key size, they should work.

In Use:

The popular conical, square edged keys gained their market share for a reason. For one, they are reasonably easy to produce. For another, they have well-delineated edges that make it easy to get your fingers into the right spots while typing.

They’re not the only way to do it, though. There are spherical keys, as well as these, the pure round syle. When you first put your hands onto a keyboard sporting this retro style key set, you might feel a little bit out of your element.

Quick typing is still possible, however. You just have to take a few minutes to get your bearings. I found that things settled down and started to get comfortable after a few hundred words. These keys aren’t dead-flat. There is a perceptible dish on each one, so that your fingers can still find their way home after zipping around.

Are these keys quite as easy to type on as the standard? Maybe not. Not at first. Any high-style piece will have small concessions that need to be made. I didn’t find that I had a massive uptick in mistakes or lack of efficiency, though.

Being higher above the switches than the average key cap, this set will increase the total height of the ‘board. They’ll also make it a bit more succeptible to impacts from the outside of the ‘board. I would say that placing these on your “traveler” keyboard may come with some concerns. For home, no worries.

I found that these keys yielded a change in the sound of the typing inputs. They still sound like the clicky blues that they are, but it is a bit less clacky, and carried a bit less of the high frequency tizz you’ll sometimes hear, especially from the Otemu brand. Still, they’re a lot louder than the normal office setting would approve of.

Downsides?

Well, I suppose that I must hit the space bar fairly hard, because I can feel the raised rim of the bar on my thumb every time. It isn’t painful, but it’s a feeling that lets me know that I’m hitting a hard corner. If I typed for several hours at a time on it, I can foresee that I might start to feel like things were getting less fun. The race between backside and hands being the first thing to give out, though, might mean that it would never rise to the level of real annoyance.

Final Thoughts:

Let us not fool ourselves. Getting a set of caps like this isn’t primarily for their perfect ergonomics. It isn’t for absolute comfort, either. It’s for the looks.

I got the white-face keys, and they look really sweet on the black-anodized brushed aluminum on my keyboard. Is there an element of being on the verge of hipsterism? Oh, yeah. Most definitely.

The good news, though, is that these key caps work pretty darned well, and can fit on any normal ANSI layout keyboard without much difficulty. You can have your style and still get some work done.

Even if you don’t have a mechanical keyboard kicking around, you can still get into the game with a cheap one and these keys for something like $70 and a few minutes’ work. My kind of party.

Cheers, and happy typing.

The IBM Model M is a vaunted, classic design. Perhaps the crown jewel in the pantheon of easily-had vintage keyboards. And, may I say, deservedly so.

Being the owner of a Unicomp Ultra Classic, I already knew what buckling spring keyboars with membrane switches felt like. I hadn’t, however, had a chance to really play with a classic one since they’d been standard fare in front of actual IBM computers. That’s a long time gone, y’all. The 80s. I was just a wee lad then. No more than, like 240 or so.

My friend, Dave, had a few old keyboards kicking around. He let me borrow them, and asked if I could tune them up and get them working again. I said, “Heck, yeah,” and off I went.

The Model M he gave me had no cord, and it looked a bit rough around the edges. Not filthy, but the keys were dirty, and the whole thing loked like it could benefit from a going over.

Dave let me know that his aspiration was to find a way to make the keyboard a high-visibility device for his father, whose vision isn’t what it used to be.

On the case, I researched how best to get this stuff going. And, not surprisingly, Unicomp had what I wanted. They had a cap set in bright white, with big, block legends, and they had replacement cords that would fit the plug design on the back. Credit card smoking, I was off to the races.

IBM keyboards of this era have two-piece key caps. The top part is thin PBT, while the interior piece, which has the slider element that sits over the coiled spring, is a thicker, beefier piece of PBT. Together, they’re quite a heavy plastic element, and lend something of the solid element that people love so much about these keyboards. It does make them a bit more laborious to take apart, but not too bad. A normal key puller works fine, it just has to work twice as much.

It took me perhaps an hour to install the new cable, test all the keys, and install the new key caps. Everything worked fine, and I quickly got down to typing. I can’t say there’s really any qualitative difference between the original IBM and the Unicomp. They feel and sound just about the same. The build, however, is a different story. The original M I have here, built in 1988, is a huge and heavy beast. I’m not going to say that the Unicomp is small or light, because it isn’t. The original, though, is bigger in all the dimensions, and dominates a desk surface. The fact that it works with absolutely no sense of wear after all these years might give you some clues. None of the switches stick in the slightest, or have a weird force curve. Everything feels just as tight as it must have on the day it left the factory.

The new key caps fit on without any problem, but for two stabilized keys on the numeric keypad. Those use a different stabilization technique, with a metal bar, rather than the conical stabilizer that became common in the later years. With a conical insert, I’m sure I could get those installed, as well. Also, the key set didn’t come with a space bar, which I think is fine, because the OEM spacebar still looks great and doesn’t detract from the looks, to my eyes.

What do we get out of it? Well, you get a keyboard that looks and functions almost like brand new, and one that has the cache of a vintage piece. Really, the only thing it lacks is Windows keys and a Menu button, but both of these things can be overcome with a few mouse clicks. The typing feel is just what you’d expect, with a stiff, solid action and great tactile feel. A typist’s keyboard. It’s good and loud, again, as one would expect.

If you don’t mind putting forth a little effort in the typing process, there’s a lot to be said for one of these old bad boys. They are essentially inestructible, and they are fantastic typing tools. Remember that the old ones will be PS/2, so you may need a USB adapter for them in the modern idiom. Other than that, not much bad can be said.

I would say that, if you can find one for cheap at a yardsale or recycling center, jump on it. Buying them off of Ebay is probably the most expensive way to do it, and you may be just as happy with a new-built ‘board. If you love the idea of the old “M”, but want something with zero miles on the odometer, look at Unicomp. They’ll sell you one, still built in the USA, for reasonable money, as these things go. All the feels, none of the worries about ancient hardware.

Cheers, and happy typing!

(Great thanks to my friend Dave who let me borrow this keyboard to do the review. Good luck getting it back, my friend! I’m fleeing the country with it!)

Much has been made of the wonder and beauty of the IBM model M keyboard. They are often held up as the best typist’s keyboard of all time.

And, for many, that’s exactly what they are. Or, at least, they are the best keyboard they’ve been able to use. Before the Model M, there was a similar set of keyboards that used the buckling spring technology that defines the Model M. These, the Model F keyboards, were employed in the XT and AT eras of the IBM PC. Thus, these are old keyboards, ones that take a bit of effort to find and get working today, all these many years later. Imagine any other element from the early to mid 80’s computers still being applicable to today’s tasks. Think of any? Yeah, there aren’t many afoot.

A Little History:

A guy named Richard Hunter Harris invented the buckling spring mechanism that was used on the Model F, then on the Model M. In the F, it was employed with a capactive switch below it, while the M made due with a membrane switch that required an actual physical action to employ. This changes both the sound and the feel of the keyboards, though they obviously have a strong familial resemblance.

The Model F is simply a little smoother, a little higher in pitch, and a little lighter. Just a bit. Still not a model for those who don’t want to put forth any effort.

The Model F came out in 1981, and was produced in some form up until 1994. That said, the Model F largely fell into obscurity after 1986, when the Model M came out. It was used in a lot of different keyboard types and applications, but the best known are probably the XT, the AT, and the 122 Key Terminal board.

The AT keyboard that I have for review is in great shape, and has no poorly-working keys. I can’t tell you if it differs from when it was new, but it doesn’t betray its age in any mechanical way.

The AT layout went with, not surprisingly, the PC AT era computers. These were predominanly 80286 PCs. The layout carries Function keys on the side, numbering from one to ten. No Windows keys, because that wasn’t yet a thing. Caps lock, Control, Alt, Escape, and a few other keys are in different places. There are no arrow keys. The space bar is the biggest thing you’ve ever seen.

The AT carried a 5-Pin DIN connection, and “spoke” the AT keyboard language. This means that it could take two-way communication from the PC, such that the Num Lock settings and so on could be set on the computer side. The somewhat more modern PS/2 keyboard interface (that purple, round connection that is largely disappearing now) talks this same language, so it is possible to adapt the AT keyboard to a modern computer.

Getting It Working:

I discovered that my current desktop computer didn’t have a PS/2 port after bringing a few old ‘boards home to try. Yep. It’s a fairly current, fairly high spec Dell XPS, and it doesn’t feel that it needs to bother with ancient connections that are not plug and play.

Hmm. I wondered if I could bridge the gap. Not being willing to be held away from my goals by a simple matter of incompatibility, I reared back my head and yelled, “To the Internet!”

After having taken a look around, I found that it wasn’t difficult to find an adapter that went from PS/2 to USB. At the same time, I also found a few adapaters from DIN to PS/2 (which, actually, was also called “mini DIN”). The big question in my mind was whether or not one adapter running into another adapter would work. I’d seen stuff like that fail. A lot.

Well, the good news is that everything went along swimmingly. The bad news is that it cost about $20 to get the two adapters. Thus, making it possible to use this ancient keyboard cost as much or more than a whole keyboard of no pedigree.

But…but…it was worth it. Oh, great shivering paroxysms of joy. It was worth it. (Er, spoiler alert.)

All the Feels:

So, let’s talk about where this thing ranks in terms of keyboards. Well, let me be frank. It’s pretty much the best thing I’ve ever had my grubby hands on. The sound, the feel, the almost unheralded sense of solidity you get with this mighty beast? Yeah. It’s amazing. Maybe ten or twelve percent better than a really good Model M. If you like buckling spring keyboards, or enjoy the higher-effort switches in the modern market, this thing is going to give you dreams of longing if you ever get to try it.

However, it isn’t perfect. The layout is odd in the current era. It lacks buttons. Other buttons are in odd-ball places. The Shift key on the left side has some binding issues. It has the Big Ass Enter Key and tiny backspace. The space bar is absurdly high effort. It’s even louder than a Model M. (For me, this is not a negative, unless I had to use it around other biological organisms. Not kidding, this would drive house pets to another room.) For a lot, some part of the typing experience may be a bit too high effort.

All that said, this is an amazing device. I think of it like a Vincent Black Lightning or something. It requires some things of the user. It has some drawbacks. It is also legendary and totally amazing at the thing that it does.

Final Thoughts:

The Model F is not going to be for everyone. They are harder to find and more difficult to employ in a modern world than the Model M, which can be had new from Unicomp, with USB interface. If you’ve tried an M and didn’t like it, the F won’t necessarily change your mind. On the other hand, if you are already a fan, this one will serve as kind of the epitome of that idea.

I’m sure that, when I was a young man, I had a chance to used these keyboards. I probably didn’t notice, because I didn’t touch type. That, and whatever IBM did was sort of just the expected business norm at that time. The world hadn’t moved on and become a sadder, cheaper place yet.

Could I use this ‘board as my daily driver? Yes. With caveats. At home, sure, and especially if I did a limited amount of typing on it per day. I can’t tell you for sure, but the higher effort nature of of the ‘board might begin to cause fatigue after hours of typing. All in all, the great things about the Model F far outweigh the shortfalls. It may be the ultimate clicky keyboard. Ever. If it isn’t, it’s certainly on the podium.

Cheers, and Happy Typing!

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.