KEYBOARD CHOICESForm Factor
. My favorite form factors are 60% and TKL. This time I opted for a TKL keyboard.Switch Type
. Cherry mx keyboards are not among my favorites. In general, I prefer Topre (especially the HHKB Pro 2 and RF 87ub 55g) and IBM capacitive buckling spring (such as found in the IBM Model F XT). Nevertheless, after trying various keyboards with Cherry mx blue, green, black, red, clear, and brown (ever so briefly), I decided to give mx browns another try.Stabilizers
. Among the Cherry mx keyboards I have tried, some had Cherry stabilizers and others had wire stabilizers (commonly called Costar stabilizers, although some people consider this a misnomer). While Cherry stabilizers make it easier to switch keycaps on the stabilized keys (usually Backspace, Enter, Left Shift, Right Shift, and the Spacebar), I prefer Costar stabilizers, which make the stabilized keys feel less mushy. Keyboard Brand
. The choice of keyboard brand was largely dictated by my choice of Costar stabilizers, which are found in at least some keyboards made by Cooler Master (CM), Filco, and WASD Keyboards. I had previously tried keyboards by Cooler Master and Filco. This time, I ruled out CM, because I could not find a TKL with mx browns in stock. In addition, CM TKL boards have a hardwired Fn key than does not send a scan code and therefore cannot be remapped in software. I prefer to define my own Fn key and its functions; this is possible with Filco TKL keyboards. However, I had already tried a Filco; moreover, they are quite expensive and they have fixed USB cables, whereas I prefer a detachable cable. This left WASD, which has a number of attractive features, including a micro-USB connector, DIP switches for various settings, red LED lock lights on the keyboard instead of under the keycaps, and a "barebones" (naked) option with no keycaps at a savings of 45 USD off the base price. I especially appreciated the barebones option, because I invariably end up replacing the stock keycaps on Cherry mx keyboards. Another reason for choosing WASD Keyboards is their excellent customer support -- I e-mailed them with several pre-sales questions, and they answered all of them promptly and thoughtfully.WASD V2 87 MX BROWN FEATURESSize and Weight
. The WASD V2 87 measures 363x142x30 mm (14.3x5.6x1.2 in) and weighs 907 g (2.0 lbs).OS Compatibility
. Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.Switch Availability
. Cherry mx black, blue, brown, clear, green, and red.PCB
: Single layer (the WASD CODE keyboard has a dual-layer PCB).Rollover
. N-key with PS/2; 6-key with USB (I did not test PS/2 rollover, but my tests on the MS site http://www.microsoft.com/appliedscience ... gDemo.aspx
showed that USB gave only 5-key rollover. In contrast, my RF 87ub 55g keyboard consistently registered 6-key rollover on USB). Price
. The base price of the barebones WASD keyboard is 95 USD, which includes Cherry mx blue switches as the standard. Cherry mx browns cost an extra 5 USD, bringing the total to a very reasonable price of 100 USD.Packaging and Contents
. The keyboard comes in a handsome black box with the company logo and WASD in red letters. It is not as plain as the brown box that houses a Realforce keyboard but not as fancy as the boxes used for the Kul ES-87 or CM Novatouch TKL. Inside, the keyboard is contained in a thin styrofoam sleeve, and a rear compartment in the box includes the micro-USB cable, a wire key puller tool, a passive USB to PS/2 adapter, and a brief User's Guide with a list of the DIP switch settings and Fn commands.Micro-USB Connector
. As shown in Fig. 1 below, the keyboard has a generously sized recessed area for the micro-USB connector (said to be longer lasting than a mini-USB connector). There is a decal showing the correct orientation of the USB plug, but I found this not as useful as simply looking at the connector itself.
The underside label (Fig. 1) indicates the Model Number, Cherry mx switch type, S/N, and the fact that the keyboard was made in Taiwan. Near the micro-USB connector is the void-warranty sticker concealing a screw that must be removed to open the case; this is something I do not appreciate. In contrast, the Realforce 87u has no such warranty-void sticker -- the case on the Realforce opens for easy cleaning by popping four tabs.DIP Switches
. (Fig. 1). Various combinations of DIP switch settings provide for such features as Mac mode, Dvorak layout, Colemak layout, CapsLock/Control, Scroll Lock/OS key lock, OS keys enabled/disabled, and Fn/Menu. As mentioned above, I was particularly grateful for the Fn/Menu option, which makes it possible to remap a Fn key in software. In my case, I remap Right Control = Fn and Menu = Right Control.Cable Management
. Fig. 2 shows that the underside of the case has a 5-way channel for cable management; some people may find this useful, but I prefer to have the connector flush-mounted to the rear of the case (rather than in a recessed area underneath) where it is more accessible. However, I like to have the cable attached either in the center or on the left (as I face the keyboard), and some keyboards might have a flush-mounted rear connector on the right, which would not work as well for my desktop setup.Legs and Anti-Skid Pads
. Flip-out legs (Fig. 2) on the bottom rear of the case are sturdy, but they lack rubberized feet. This is not an issue for me, because I put my keyboards on an oversized keyboard and mouse pad that prevents slipping. Moreover, there are anti-skid pads behind the legs that hold the keyboard in place when the feet are not extended. A feature not often seen on keyboard cases is a beveled base on the bottom front of the case with anti-skid pads on both sides of the bevel (this feature is also found on the RF 87u and Kul ES-87). This ensures that anti-skid pads are engaged when the keyboard is flat or when it is angled by the extendable legs.Top Case and Layout
. (Fig. 3). The top case is made of ABS plastic and has a slightly textured matte black finish. There are no logos or other markings on the case. The layout is standard TKL. I populated the mx brown switches using two sets of dye-sublimated PBT keycaps from Imsto. The "menu" key is my remapped Fn key (using a combination of the keyboard's DIP switches and Karabiner software for Mac OS X).LED Lock Indicators
. (Fig. 4). Another view of the top of the keyboard shows the red LED Caps Lock indicator illuminated. The Scroll Lock LED is to the right of the Caps Lock LED, but this is normally not illuminated under OS X. Some people complain that the pinhole LEDs are difficult to see, as the view can be blocked by the top row of navigation keys from some angles. However, I had no problem with this. I like the fact that the LEDs are red rather than blue or white, they are not too bright, and they are subtle unlabelled pinholes. I also prefer indicator LEDs to be on the case rather than under the keycaps so that I do not have to have windowed caps. Sound and Feel
. The WASD V2 87 sounds and feels better than any other Cherry mx keyboard I have tried thus far (this includes the following: CM QF Stealth mx green, Ducky Shine II mx brown, Filco MJ2 TKL Ninja mx blue, KC84 mx blue, Kul mx clear, Kul mx red, Leopold FC660M mx blue, Poker II mx blue, TEX Beetle mx blue, and Wyse 30 mx black).
I was particularly favorably impressed with the smooth and even feel of the stabilized keys, which also had a crisp response. The only exception was the Enter key, which felt a bit mushy to me, but not as mushy as other Cherry mx keyboards with Cherry stabilizers. Overall, this experience with the WASD V2 87 has convinced me that Costar-type wire stabilizers provide a much better typing experience than Cherry stabilizers do. Moreover, it is not difficult to get the knack of changing keycaps on Costar-stabilized keys.
Because I bottom out with every keystroke, all the keycaps make a sharp bottoming-out sound, which I tend to like. I tried various O-rings (black 50A-R, blue 40A-R, and red 40A-L), but I did not like the deadened sound or somewhat shorter key travel, so I have removed all the O-rings.
Various keycap sets worked well on the WASD V2 87, including vintage Dolch, vintage Wyse, Originative Olivetti, and new Leopold PBT. However, my current favorites for this keyboard are the blended sets of Imsto dye-sub PBT keycaps as shown in the Figures.CONCLUSION
. While this keyboard will not dislodge my current favorites, which include the HHKB Pro 2, RF 87ub 55g, and IBM Model F XT, overall I like the WASD V2 87 mx Brown better than any other Cherry mx keyboard I have tried. It would be even better if WASD and/or I can make the Enter key as crisp as the other stabilized keys -- given the excellent feel of the other stabilized keys, I suspect that this relatively minor issue is an anomaly that happened to affect my particular keyboard. The barebones version is a good value and a great idea for those who would replace stock keycaps anyway. On the other hand, WASD offers more keycap customization than any other vendor, although at present these are thin ABS with laser-etched legends. Features I especially appreciate include the red pinhole LED lock indicators, Costar-type wire stabilizers, detachable micro-USB cable, beveled case bottom with extra anti-skid pads, DIP switches with abundant useful settings, and a mappable Fn key. The Cherry mx brown switches also seem about right as far as Cherry mx switches go, but now I am thinking of revisiting Cherry mx reds.