XMIT Reviews: Topre Realforce R2 (PFU Limited Edition)

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XMIT
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05 Dec 2019, 04:08

This is a looooooong review of a really great keyboard...

Table Of Contents:
Full photo album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/84348724@ ... 2052445012
Post #1: Introduction, Description viewtopic.php?p=456419#p456419
Post #2: Packaging, Unboxing, What's Included? viewtopic.php?p=456420#p456420
Post #3: Design, Key Caps viewtopic.php?p=456421#p456421
Post #4: Disassembly, Customization viewtopic.php?p=456422#p456422
Post #5: Key Switches, Key Layout, Software viewtopic.php?p=456423#p456423
Post #6: Typing Experience, Comparisons viewtopic.php?p=456424#p456424
Post #7: KeebScore™, Closing Thoughts viewtopic.php?p=456425#p456425


ImageRealforce R2 PFU - 3/4 View by José Soltren, on Flickr

INTRODUCTION

Among the Deskthority crowd, Topre keyboards need no further introduction. Since the 1980s Topre keyboards have merged top notch rubber domes, capacitive sensing, and high quality dye sublimated key caps, into one of the stalwarts of the keyboard world. So why are they so rare in the US?

I first learned of the Topre Realforce keyboard around 2008, when, along with the Happy Hacking Keyboard, it was billed as a quieter, smoother, longer lasting alternative to most other keyboards on the market. But it took me many years to try one out. After all, why spend a nonrefundable $250 at EliteKeyboards.com, then the US reseller of Topre boards, when my $5 thrift store Model M was happily clacking and clanging away?

Since then I've come full circle: Topre keyboards, and their brethren (NiZ, Plum, and Royal Kludge electrostatic boards, the Happy Hacking Keyboard, and the Cooler Master Novatouch) are on my desk or in my bag more often than not. Two of my boards came straight from Japan: one from Amazon.co.jp ("Jamazon") via a Buyee proxy, and the other from Tsukumo by way of a friend's suitcase.

So, thus, it is with great pleasure that I bring you today's review of a REALFORCE R2, the latest and greatest in the Topre product lineup. Full disclosure: this board was graciously provided by Fujitsu for review free of charge. We'll explore the board, build it up, tear it down, and give it a KeebScore™. The numbers are just for fun, so, let's see how it does!

DESCRIPTION

ImageRealforce R2 PFU - Packaging by José Soltren, on Flickr

I'm reviewing a Topre REALFORCE R2 TKL, model number R2TLSA-USA-IV. Phew, what a mouthful! Here are its attributes, and what they all mean:

Ivory - color, as opposed to black. Off-white key caps and case with black legends.
TKL - Tenkeyless, 87 key.
US Layout - standard ANSI layout, as opposed to ISO (European) or JIS (Japanese).
Silent - this keyboard uses silencing rings to dampen upstroke and reduce noise.
APC - Actuation point changer. This keyboard uses native analog sensing and can set a different actuation point per key!
45g - dome weight. This is a "middle weight" dome. More importantly, the entire keyboard uses a uniform dome weight.
Win - Windows layout. Topre does offer a Mac layout but I was only able to find JIS Mac boards on their Japanese site!

ImageRealforce R2 PFU - Packaging, rear by José Soltren, on Flickr

This is a top of the line board made specifically for the US market. It is available for purchase directly from Fujitsu for $305 as of this writing, with a list price of $348:

https://fujitsuscannerstore.com/cg01000-290401/

Even by Topre keyboard standards, this is pricey! amazon.co.jp sells the board for ¥31,350 or about $289 as of this writing. You'd be hard pressed to beat $305 with a proxy!

So, what do you get when you buy a $300 keyboard, and what don't you get? If you already have a Realforce or are on the fence, is this a worthwhile upgrade? Why do the PFU Limited Edition boards command a $79 premium over the others? I'll answer these questions and more in the remainder of the review!
Last edited by XMIT on 05 Dec 2019, 04:16, edited 1 time in total.

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XMIT
[ XMIT ]

05 Dec 2019, 04:08

PACKAGING

ImageR2 Unboxing - inner box by José Soltren, on Flickr

The Realforce R2 comes packaged in a black cardboard box with a thin glossy cardboard overpack. This is an update from the utilitarian brown box that has protected generations of Realforce keyboards to date. Apart from one seal at either end, the box is easy to open. The fit between the inner and outer boxes is snug!

ImageR2 unboxing - inner box arrangement by José Soltren, on Flickr

A tug on the front of the inner box allows the lid to open, revealing a neatly packaged board with a wound cable, with some accessories in the box.

Packaging KeebScore™:
Listing of contents: 2 - a list of included items is printed on the side of the box.
Picture of the keyboard: 0 - the picture at the front of the box shows a JIS keyboard and doesn't show the color!
Rattle/Shake test: 0 - the keyboard and its accessories have a decent amount of play in the box.
Reusability: 1 - with repeated cycles the outer box will get somewhat damaged, but it's a high quality box.
Sturdiness: 2 - the boards arrived undamaged.

Total: 5/10 for Packaging.

UNBOXING

ImageR2 included by José Soltren, on Flickr

Once we're inside, the keyboard lifts right out, with accessories behind and under the keyboard.

Unboxing KeebScore™:
Tamper evidence mechanism: 1 - the outer packaging requires cutting a seal to open it, but the seal could be removed with a heat gun.
Tool free disassembly: 0 - a knife, scissors, or heat gun are needed to open the box.
Inner wrap: 2 - the keyboard is protected from water damage with an inner wrap, and this inner wrap can be removed tool free.
Ease of opening: 2 - everything is readily accessible.
Keyboard protection: 2 - the keyboard arrived flaw free.

Total: 7/10 for Unboxing.

WHAT'S INCLUDED?

We have a nice USB cable. It's a quality cable but it is not easy to remove. 1 point.

ImageR2 Ctrl/Caps Swap - after by José Soltren, on Flickr

For spare caps, we have a Ctrl/Caps Lock swap kit. I appreciate this greatly and use it every day!

But, for the price premium, I'd like to see some additional key caps in here. Some things I'd love to see in the box are:

- red Esc key;
- interesting WASD keys (more so for the Realforce RGB);
- macOS native modifiers.

2 points for spare key caps.

We do get a paper manual and a key cap puller, meaning that the Realforce R2 gets a KeebScore™ of 7/10 for What's Included.

We also get these "Key Spacer" sheets:

ImagePoron Urethane Foam Sheets by José Soltren, on Flickr

The idea is that, if you don't like 4mm travel, you can use these sheets to adjust the bottom out point! They come in two variants: "2mm" (measured 2.0mm) and "3mm" (measured 2.8mm).

ImageR2 travel sheet installation by José Soltren, on Flickr

These do shorten key travel somewhat, and, really silence the downstroke. I'd love to see a 1.0mm or even 0.5mm sheet for silencing without a significant travel reduction. As I type this, I have a 2.0mm sheet installed. It's almost eerily quiet but I certainly prefer more travel.

The sheets appear to be a Poron urethane foam with a PETE backing, laser cut. I don't see the characteristic rounding of die cuts.

Next up, let's take a closer look at the design of this R2 board, and how it differs from previous Realforce offerings.
Last edited by XMIT on 05 Dec 2019, 04:41, edited 2 times in total.

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XMIT
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05 Dec 2019, 04:09

Now that it's finally out of the box - what is life like with a Realforce R2?

ImageR2 keyboard - front top view by José Soltren, on Flickr

The Realforce R2 PFU is a slimmed down Realforce. I have mixed feelings about the updated design. I, personally, enjoyed the taller forehead and softer, rounded edges of the older Realforce design. There are some who say that the design was dated. I think it was timeless.

The only thing that I would change (that can be changed easily), would be to make the front edge of the board a rounded surface instead of a 45 degree bevel.

ImageR2 weight by José Soltren, on Flickr

This is a solid little board that weighs in at 1093 grams - about 2.4 pounds.

ImageR2 keyboard - rear view by José Soltren, on Flickr

As before, our cable routing options are excellent. We can choose to have the cable exit the rear of the board or either side. This gives plenty of flexibility regardless of your cable and desk setup.

We also see four rubber feet. These are rectangular. XMIT Keyboards always recommends that rubber feet be rounded or circular to avoid stress concentrators. The adhesive is quite good, but would it hold up to the daily stress of going in and out of a backpack?

There is a recess for what, in lower SKUs, must be a series of DIP switches for configuration.

If you're curious, the QR code contains the model and serial numbers: AHBZP8 A 190301671.

Finally, we see two flip up feet. They are sturdy and do the job. Viewing the keyboard from the side, we can see the profile, the foot angle, and the side cable exit.

ImageR2 side view by José Soltren, on Flickr

The side view is a little busy, with three separate surfaces, but it works.

I have my cable going straight out the rear. I do like the clean lines at the rear of the keyboard. Could we see a future version with audio ports or a USB hub here?

ImageR2 rear view by José Soltren, on Flickr

The torsional (twist) rigidity of the board is superb. It barely moves at all when I twist it. Upon shaking the board, I don't hear any loose parts rattling. Both of these contribute to a premium feel.

Let's see how the Realforce R2 PFU does for the design KeebScore™:

Twist test: 2. Top marks.
Rattle: 2. Top marks.
Detachable cable: 0. The cable is very much fixed into place. An aftermarket mod could add a USB socket, though.
Cable guides: 2. Top marks again!
Cable strain relief: 2. Strain relief is implicit, in how the cable is routed through the inner case.

Total Design KeebScore™: 8/10.

KEY CAPS

ImageR2 Ctrl/Caps swap by José Soltren, on Flickr

Key caps have been a strength for the Realforce product line and this continues with the R2.

One huge departure is the inclusion of a PBT spacebar!

ImageR2 Space bar comparison by José Soltren, on Flickr

No longer are we relegated to shiny, possibly yellowing spacebars in our $300 keyboards. Hallelujah!
I verified this independently with a "water test". Note how the PBT spacebar sinks readily, clanging at the bottom of this pot of water.

A strength of Realforce TKLs is the embedded numpad. This tradition continues, and is bolstered by legends for audio controls as well. They are readily visible from the front edge of the keyboard.

ImageR2 keyboard - front edge view by José Soltren, on Flickr

The dye sublimation on these boards is, by and large, excellent. I've not had my prior Realforces experience dye sublimation fade and creep when stored in a hot storage unit over the summer. But, I must admit, there were a couple of regressions.

ImageCaps Lock dye sub comparison by José Soltren, on Flickr

The swap in Caps Lock key is different (old on top, new on bottom). Granted, it doesn't need a lock LED any longer and it's smaller. But could we have stayed with the old legend style? The newer one looks crowded and strange.

ImageEnter dye sub comparison by José Soltren, on Flickr

What's with the dyesub on Enter - why is it so bold? It stands out like a sore thumb on the keyboard. (Old on top, new on bottom.)

ImageEnter mold comparison by José Soltren, on Flickr

Interestingly, these look like brand new molds. The old ones are at the bottom and the new ones are at the top. The keys might be a hair thicker. The sprue exit point is still at the back edge.

It begs the question: if we're cutting new molds, why not just go to MX mount? Why stay with Topre mount - what's the benefit? Sure, it's simple and secure, but is it a material choice thing - is it hard to make a good PBT Cherry MX mount cap? I'm sure Topre could make a small fortune selling their dyesub PBT keycaps in MX mount.

So, what's our KeebScore™ for the key caps?

Key removal force: 2. It's just about 1kg.
Printing: 2. Very good dyesub PBT, albeit with some things that need to be fixed.
Legends: 2. I really like the Topre font choice of a classic Helvetica. Though, I do miss the quaint two line "Back Space" glyph from before.
Material: 2. PBT is my favorite material and these have a great surface finish.
Thickness: 1. These are moderate thickness caps.

Total Key Cap KeebScore™: 9/10. Bravo!

Up next: disassembly.
Last edited by XMIT on 05 Dec 2019, 04:11, edited 1 time in total.

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XMIT
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05 Dec 2019, 04:09

DISASSEMBLY

In order to really review the key switches we need to start disassembling the board. Hold on to your screwdrivers, because in we go!

We start off by removing all the key caps using the enclosed key cap puller. This is pretty foolproof: grab the key by the corners and pull straight up. I use my handy dandy XMIT Keyboards key sorter to keep everything in order. Topre keyboards use internal stabilizers which make removing key caps a breeze.

The only key that merits special attention is the Space bar. For this one, I poke one finger under each side to break the stabilizers loose before pulling up. Don't lose the spring!

ImageDisassembly - key cap removal by José Soltren, on Flickr

There is exactly one screw that holds the case together. To open the keyboard, first remove this sticker and remove the screw. Ideally, use a hot air gun, such as a hair dryer, to soften the glue, and then use a nylon stick for removal. Not being careful will result in VOID text being left behind. I was not careful.

ImageDisassembly - warranty sticker by José Soltren, on Flickr

With the screw gone, undo these six top clips...

ImageDisassembly - top clips by José Soltren, on Flickr

...as well as these four front clips to release the case.

ImageDisasembly - front clips by José Soltren, on Flickr

The keyboard will split in two. Be careful not to stress the USB cable!

ImageDisassembly - open by José Soltren, on Flickr

Pull the USB cable to permit separation of the top case, bottom case, and inner assembly.

ImageDisassembly - cable release by José Soltren, on Flickr

With the case out of the way we can proceed with inspection and disassembly.

ImageKeyboard frame assembly by José Soltren, on Flickr

The rear PCB design of the R2. There is a central MCU, what looks like a JTAG header, and a fair amount of supporting circuitry.

ImagePCB overview by José Soltren, on Flickr

By comparison, the R1 PCB had fewer, larger components, and placed all the logic at the far edge of the board above the Function row. The R1 also had superior cabling: the cable casing was screwed to the plate frame, and the signal lines have a ferrite bead!

ImageRealforce R1 comparison by José Soltren, on Flickr

I did confirm that the R2 frame and USB shield are connected. Less than 1 ohm of resistance here.

ImageR2 grounding by José Soltren, on Flickr

The Realforce R1 and R2 use rather different case designs. They are not compatible with one another.

ImageR2 case incompatibility by José Soltren, on Flickr

The R2 has exceptional torsional rigidity. The tight fit between the plate and the bottom case, and these semicircular posts, are why.

ImageR2 case reinforcement. by José Soltren, on Flickr

Seen from the edge it is clear how the plate sits atop the bottom case with semicircular posts.

ImageR2 case reinforcement, side view by José Soltren, on Flickr

At the heart of the board we see this ARM chip:

ImageR2 MCU detail by José Soltren, on Flickr

Code: Select all

SPANSION
FMB
MB9BF324L
1833 B08
E2
ARM
Considering that SPANSION took over Fujitsu's chip manufacturing and microcontrollers before the acquisition by Cypress, it makes some sense that we see a Spansion part on the PCB. I found a data sheet here:

https://www.mouser.com/datasheet/2/100/ ... 078056.pdf

From the data sheet:

Code: Select all

32-bit Arm® Cortex®-M3 FM3 Microcontroller
Up to 72 MHz Frequency Operation
Neat! Plenty of power, but, won't work under QMK unless chibiOS support is added first.

https://docs.qmk.fm/#/compatible_microcontrollers
http://www.chibios.org/dokuwiki/doku.ph ... :platforms

It also looks like this PCB is common to some boards that use DIP switches, judging by the SW1 silkscreen.

ImageR2 DIP switch detail by José Soltren, on Flickr

There are many screws and all must be removed. No turning back now.

ImageR2 screws removed. by José Soltren, on Flickr

The underside of the stem frame. Note the classic Topre style stabilizers, and the grease. The sliders may be coated in the thinnest layer of oil already - it's unclear. It may just be mold release. If these are factory lubricated switches - that would be a really great piece of information to put on the box!

ImageR2 stem frame by José Soltren, on Flickr

Fortunately, the rubber sheets are mildly bonded to the PCB, so that 87 springs do not go flying when disassembled. Hurrah!

ImageR2 rubber and PCB by José Soltren, on Flickr

This board uses partial rubber sheets. The good news is that it makes it less tedious to replace the rubber sheet. The bad news is that if you want to replace a single dome, it may require some careful cutting. I sometimes put a heavier dome, specifically a BKE Redux, under my Esc key or Space bar.

Removing just one dome and spring, we can see a semicircular pad with white silk screen. A full dome reset was outside the scope of this review. But stay tuned, as my forthcoming Realforce RGB review will include a complete teardown including domes.

ImageR2 spring and dome detail by José Soltren, on Flickr

So, how does this board do for customization? Let's break out another KeebScore™!

Stabilizers: 2. Topre stabilizers are the best in the industry. Wobble free, bind free, integrated, and nothing to break. They're even factory lubricated.

Microcontroller: 0. Hacking this board requires some real effort. It's always nice when the controller is just on a breakout board, like the HHKB.

Ease of opening: 1. There was a screw and some tight clips. Not the easiest.

Ecosystem: 1. There are a ton of replacement domes available, as well as Cherry MX sliders. But the existing key caps and stems are proprietary. There is no good reason these can't just be MX mount. Plus, it's too early for us to see any interesting case options for the R2 boards.

Switch replacement: 0. Especially with the conical springs, which become a factor once the rubber mat is removed for the first time, Topre boards are among the most fiddly to customize. Budget three hours for a dome swap.

Customization KeebScore™: 4/10.
Last edited by XMIT on 05 Dec 2019, 04:12, edited 1 time in total.

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XMIT
[ XMIT ]

05 Dec 2019, 04:09

KEY SWITCHES
Topre keyboards are electrostatic capacitive keyboards. In this design a conical spring flattens when pressed. When it is flattened, it goes from being a cone to a disk. This alters the capacitance of the region of the PCB in the white circle, which we can sense using a microcontroller.

I found these videos to be really helpful in understanding the idea of capacitive sensing, or, "capsense":
The idea is that, by changing the capacitance, we change how quickly this switch responds to a pulse. We can measure that time to determine if a key is pressed, or even better, to determine how far it is pressed!

This board design really does not do well when exposed to water. The rubber sheets need to breathe air as their volume changes when keys are pressed. Thus, the rubber sheet has little channels that bring fluids right in to potentially rust prone springs.

ImageRealforce switch disassembly by José Soltren, on Flickr

There is a diagram on the back of the box that shows how everything fits together. I prefer this arrangement: side to side. From left to right we have: PCB, conical spring, rubber dome, slider, foam ring, upper housing.

ImageR2 conical spring detail by José Soltren, on Flickr

The conical spring provides almost no tactile feedback (maybe about a gram of force) and is responsible for actuating the capacitive sensor. In theory, a finger would work too!

I wonder what the spring material is. This looks like it could be a chromate plated spring steel. I'd love to see stainless steel springs here for longevity.

ImageR2 rubber dome top detail by José Soltren, on Flickr

Above that is the rubber dome. That's correct: Topre boards are rubber dome keyboards. It just so happens that these are some of the best rubber domes ever made. They are responsible for the keyboard's smooth typing feel.

ImageR2 slider and foam ring by José Soltren, on Flickr

Above this, we have the purple slider, with a black damping ring. The ring is a 0.5mm Poron urethane foam with a clear plastic backing. Interestingly, these are installed plastic side UP from the factory. The slider, without the ring, measures 8.20mm tall.

I still don't understand why this can't just be a Cherry MX style cross mount.

ImageR2 foam ring detail by José Soltren, on Flickr

These are nearly identical to the rings Hypersphere was selling not too long ago. I said earlier that these looked lasered, but I could be wrong. It's possible that these are die cut, but I don't see the characteristic rounded edges of a dull die. I don't see sintering either.

ImageR2 switch top housing by José Soltren, on Flickr

Finally, we have the key switch housing, which clips into the metal plate.

How do Topre switches fare? Let's run the KeebScore™:

Scratchiness: 2. These are about as smooth as they get. Mine seemed to need a couple of days to really wear in.
Tactility: 2. Topre tactility is quite good.
Wobble: 1. Quite good, but not the best I've tried - that title goes to NMB/HiTek "Space Invaders" which are *quite* stable. It would take some manufacturing magic to get rid of the remaining side to side play in the key stems.
Off center press: 2. I can't get these to bind no matter how hard I try.
Tactility to actuation: 2. With an adjustable set point you can get this wherever you want.

Key Switches KeebScore™: 9/10. That's about as high as something can realistically score!

KEY LAYOUT

ImageR2 in the afternoon sun by José Soltren, on Flickr

With the board assembled and basking in the bright sun of a December afternoon in Texas, we can have a look at the key layout and assign yet another KeebScore™.

Spacing of regions: 2. I LOVE the fact that there is a full 0.5u between the alphas and the Function row, and the nav cluster. Why can't all keyboards do this?

Layout: 2. Classic ANSI PC with an embedded numpad. Audio controls in a sane place. Fn key in a useful place with the ability to still type a Menu key. Although, in a perfect world, we wouldn't need to refer to the manual for some important Fn key combinations.

ImageManual Page 2/4 by José Soltren, on Flickr

Modifiers: 2. This is a huge improvement from prior Realforce boards: reasonably sized modifiers. No more 1u modifiers - good riddance! No more modifiers with a raised Windows logo - goodbye forever! Some of us use these keyboards with a Mac and this makes life much happier.

Rows and profiling: 2. I love the Topre profile. Let's take another look at it here:

ImageR2 side view by José Soltren, on Flickr

The strong slope of R4 brings those keys just a little closer.

Overall usability: 2. This is the gold standard.

Key Layout KeebScore™: 10/10.

SOFTWARE

The R2 keyboards feature Actuation Point Changer (APC) or backlighting. Customization for these is primarily through a Windows program. As a Mac user this was sad as I had to run a VM to use it. Boo!

I was able to download the software at http://www.realforce.co.jp/en/support/d ... index.html. After a painless download and install, we see the main UI screen.

ImageR2 software - APC setting by José Soltren, on Flickr

The APC tab enables configuring a different actuation height per key. Neat!

ImageR2 software - LED color setting by José Soltren, on Flickr

For those of us who hate the night vision and sleep habit ruining properties of blue LEDs, we have the LED indicator settings. Fantastic!
Of course, you can configure the LED color from the keyboard as well.

ImageR2 software - additional settings by José Soltren, on Flickr

There are some other options we can set as well, including swapping Caps Lock and Ctrl, updating the firmware (though there is none to update?), pulling up a Q&A (which 404s?), and restoring the keyboard to factory settings.

The software is great, but not being required to run it to have some basic keyboard features is even better. I'll do a more in depth review here when I tear into the Realforce R2 RGB.

Up next: Typing Experience, Comparisons
Last edited by XMIT on 05 Dec 2019, 04:12, edited 1 time in total.

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XMIT
[ XMIT ]

05 Dec 2019, 04:09

TYPING EXPERIENCE
(without damping pad)
(with damping pad)

The Realforce R2 is a typist's keyboard. In this dimension, it does not disappoint. The quiet thocks are deep, resonant, and satisfying. The upstroke damping makes the board especially friendly for an open office environment.

This board has uniform 45g weighting. The board is also available in an ergonomically weighted version. I've used the ergonomic weighting, and have to say, I really like it! It's great for typing - it really does give the pinkies a rest while giving the index and middle fingers some exercise, But, it's junk for gaming, as the WASD keys all have different weightings...

With the extreme reliability of PBT key caps and capacitive sensing, proven by the reliability of 38 year old IBM Model F keyboards, the biggest durability concern I have are the domes. Will they crack or harden in the coming years? I'd love to see some data from Topre showing just how well these rubber sheets age.

Off to the KeebScore™...

NKRO: 2. The board has full NKRO.
Key feel: 2. Topre rubber has a pleasant parabolic force curve. It doesn't feel like much when you press a single key slowly, but the resistance is pleasant at normal typing speeds.
Key sound: 2. The Topre thock is legendary, and alive and well in the R2.
Fatigue: 1. I find myself getting a little tired from extended typing sessions, particularly with the travel reducing pads.
Would I daily it? 2 - yes!

Typing Experience KeebScore™: 9/10. For comparison, an IBM Beamspring would net a 10/10 here.

COMPARISONS

So, how does the Topre keyboard compare to other boards, in case you're a little shy about handing over $300 to try one?

Compared to rubber dome mass market keyboards, like the Dell QuietKey: the Realforce R2 is smoother, quieter, has a more crisp tactile feel, and has higher quality key caps. This is a board that will outlast your computer and likely your desk.

Compared to the IBM Model M: it has a less pronounced tactility, similar key feel, and is much quieter.

Compared to Cherry MX Brown: Topre 45g are a bit heavier, and just different in that the tactile bump is spread out over more travel. There is less wobble and rattle.

Compared to "Nopre" knockoffs such as Plum, NiZ, Noppoo, Royal Kludge, etc.: this is where things start to get interesting. Sure, this board is more refined than some of those. It also costs 2-3x more. For the price you get slightly higher quality rubber domes (though I happen to really like 55g "Korean" silicone domes, which I measured at 40g), much nicer key caps, and damping. Still, with MX compatibility, those knockoffs are a real problem for Topre and Fujitsu at this price point.

Compared to the Novatouch: the taller sliders in this board give it a better key feel out of the box. The native ANSI layout makes key swaps easy after swapping in JTK or other sliders.
Last edited by XMIT on 05 Dec 2019, 05:07, edited 2 times in total.

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XMIT
[ XMIT ]

05 Dec 2019, 04:09

KEEBSCORE™

KeebScore™ 1.0:
Packaging: 5
Unboxing: 7
What's Included?: 7
Design: 8
Key Caps: 9
Key Switches: 9
Key Layout: 10
Typing Experience: 9
Customization: 4
Discretionary: 6 - this is a great turnkey board at a high price...

Special Bonuses:
+10 Capacitive sensing

Dealbreakers:
-10 sharp corner on leading edge

Total Score: 74

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Realforce R2 PFU is a fantastic keyboard. Out of the box it's just about perfect. That's great, because customizations are fairly limited.

This is a really high quality, really well made, quiet, pleasant, $300 keyboard. The feel is fantastic but not for everyone. I'd strongly suggest trying one out if you can!

If silencing is not a big factor, a non silenced Realforce R2 is currently $226 at https://fujitsuscannerstore.com/keyboards/. If money is no factor, or you know you have a noise sensitive environment, consider the quieter board.

At the $300 price point Topre and PFU/Fujitsu have two choices: either own the price point and make the board perfect, or drop the price.

Owning the price point would take a few tweaks:
- Include more key caps. Red Esc, WASD keys, Mac modifiers.
- Offer macOS and maybe Linux software choices.
- Do some serious copy editing on the manual and the Web site. (While I personally love the quirkiness of the Topre keyboard's Japanese origins, it limits its mass market appeal in the US.)
- Tweaking the packaging a little bit.
- Lubricate the keyboard at the factory.
- Consider Cherry MX mount.

Topre is a trend setter instead of a follower when it comes to switch and key design.

If you like what you read, or if this helped you in some way, please consider buying me a coffee! These painstaking reviews, including photography, teardowns, software evaluation, and research, take about 40 hours each. I'd love to be able to do keyboard work full time. Can keyboards support a family? Let's find out! https://paypal.me/xmitkeyboards.

While you're here, please support Deskthority as well. Your support helps to keep this site ad-free. https://www.paypal.me/TheWildDuck or donations.php.

If you have a keyboard you'd like for me to review, please contact me. I love doing this.

Phew, that about wraps up this review! Please give me your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for reading.

User avatar
ZedTheMan

05 Dec 2019, 04:59

Oh wow. That's probably the most thorough review I've seen of a keyboard, and my favorite when it comes to substance and layout. (Sorry Chyros, but then, those are videos rather than being more multimedia, like this).

XMIT, this was excellent and I look forward to seeing more!

kmnov2017

05 Dec 2019, 10:20

I still fail to see whats gone into it for pricing it at 300 USD. Realforce should hang their heads in shame for pricing a plastic cased rubber dome with 10 bucks in parts for 300 USD!!!

Who are they trying to fool!!!
Last edited by kmnov2017 on 05 Dec 2019, 13:22, edited 1 time in total.

andrewjoy

05 Dec 2019, 12:19

They need to sort that logo area out , it looks ugly !

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XMIT
[ XMIT ]

05 Dec 2019, 16:26

The logo area is a faux carbon fiber plastic inlay. I agree that it is somewhat busy.

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Muirium
µ

05 Dec 2019, 18:50

Being a Topre nut myself, and just as longwinded, I can well imagine how long this review took to write! Nice work. Gives a real sense of the whole experience of buying one of these and tearing it down with an eye to modding. Well, besides the spending $300 part!

I'm in two minds about the reborn Realforce. They've done a pretty nice job. It's still an absolute star of a keyboard, and hands down the best TKL in production today. The new case design doesn't put me off either, and does look a bit more current than the friendly retro roundness of the first generation. But with looks like this, it seems to me it should be metal. It's got that slab shape going on, and a lot of keyboards are metal topped these days. Like you, I still find the legends a bit kooky. But I prefer the 1.5-1.0-1.5u mod spacing of the old design, to a wall of finger identical 1.25s. Just like that extra space between the islands of the layout, it's all about seeing with your fingers so you don't need to double check. And yes, the Windows only software is a kick in the balls. Though maybe there's hope for firmware hacking with that micro controller. Real programmability, preferably by Unimap, is something else entirely!

Ultimately, TKL just isn't my layout. (Or fullsize, Elrick!) The Topre made for me was and will always be the HHKB. Which makes me wonder… where's the little fella heading, in its promised evolution, given what we see here?

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zslane

05 Dec 2019, 19:11

I can't see myself paying over $300 for a TKL, not even a Topre (which, moreover, can't take my MX-stemmed keycaps). My Realforce RGB boards were a much better value.

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XMIT
[ XMIT ]

05 Dec 2019, 19:59

Stay tuned for a Realforce RGB review.

I do have a pretty good cache of "Nopre" boards here, knockoff Chinese/Korean electrostatic capacitive boards using the same principle. I'll do a showdown between them at some point.

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Muirium
µ

05 Dec 2019, 20:13

Nopre vs. Topre showdown could be most informative. I'd concentrate on their feel, rather than multiply your efforts, replicating what you did here. They do have their pros (price and MX mount) but their cons take more explaining.


@Zslane: $300 is more than I've ever paid for a keyboard, and probably more than I ever will! Cheapskate? Yes. But bear in mind I have a beamspring and a Kishsaver! My trick is I hardly ever buy new. My HHKB Type-S was my most expensive brand new keyboard, and I got it at Japanese price.

Oh, I do also have an NIB SSK, still sitting pretty in its just as pretty box. That was NIB, if not exactly new. But I got it at Cindy price, which was still a good bit less than this.

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swampangel

05 Dec 2019, 21:05

Muirium wrote:
05 Dec 2019, 20:13
@Zslane: $300 is more than I've ever paid for a keyboard, and probably more than I ever will! Cheapskate? Yes.
Me too, but when I look at my rack of Alps boards that are "almost perfect, except" and tally up what's been spent on those ... :?

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Muirium
µ

05 Dec 2019, 21:18

Don't you know? The Alps vortex is a non-Euclidean space! No shelves can contain it!

That's what I like about Topre: they're (the closest thing there is to) the complete package, and they're made today. If you can forgive the price tag, you're golden.

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XMIT
[ XMIT ]

05 Dec 2019, 21:36

Feel is a tricky thing with the Nopre boards. The new NiZ key switch molds are pretty good, and such a vast improvement on the old ones that it's meaningless to even review those.

andrewjoy

06 Dec 2019, 11:21

zslane wrote:
05 Dec 2019, 19:11
I can't see myself paying over $300 for a TKL, not even a Topre (which, moreover, can't take my MX-stemmed keycaps). My Realforce RGB boards were a much better value.
Does the realforce RGB take MX caps ?

Sadly my poor novatouch is on its last legs ... usb keeps disconnecting will have to hard wire the USB lead to it .

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zslane

06 Dec 2019, 18:51

Yes, the Realforce RGB comes with MX-compatible sliders. I mean, that's the whole reason to buy it (instead of a conventional Topre board), IMO.

Example:
topre_space_cadet.jpg
topre_space_cadet.jpg (477.35 KiB) Viewed 2516 times

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Muirium
µ

06 Dec 2019, 19:19

Think of it as the Realforce MX. Bring your own caps, just as you always do with those.

What went wrong with your Novatouch anyway: the micro USB port? What have you been doing to that poor wee thing!

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XMIT
[ XMIT ]

06 Dec 2019, 19:41

As I said in the review: what puzzles me, is, why Topre mount at all? MX sliders clearly work well. Topre clearly cut brand new molds for the R2 boards. The PBT caps are nice enough that I'd use them on other boards. The MX ecosystem is there. Why stand on tradition? Perhaps the key removal force is a bit more consistent with Topre mount?

In the current product lineup there is no way to get RGB backlight *and* silenced. There is no technical reason for this. My RC930 has both and is great. I'm going to try adding these to my Realforce RGB since they work great in my Novatouch:

https://kbdfans.com/products/topre-keyb ... e-x-120pcs

Great damping with almost no travel penalty.

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Muirium
µ

06 Dec 2019, 20:11

I remember 002 saying he asked his Topre insider about who makes their caps and it’s something of a secret, like the keyboard people there aren’t in control of the caps they use. A very Japanese situation if you ask me!

Now, I do adore Topre caps. But yes the MX ecosystem and the ease of adapting Topre to take MX stems is too much now. They really should just transition, their own caps too.

Re: KBDfans. Are those just rings or are sliders included, by the way?

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XMIT
[ XMIT ]

06 Dec 2019, 23:07

Muirium wrote:
06 Dec 2019, 20:11
Re: KBDfans. Are those just rings or are sliders included, by the way?
The link I provided is just for rings.

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zslane

07 Dec 2019, 19:13

I've installed silencing rings in all my Realforce RGB and NovaTouch boards. I regard them as mandatory. It is a real pain in the butt to do, and I really wish they were standard on all Topre boards, but at least I only had to do it once (per board). And now I have what I consider to be my endgame boards. So lovely to type on!

andrewjoy

25 Jun 2020, 17:28

I just got this keyboard.

It is loverly but it just does not quite feel as smooth as a classic realforce i had on loan or even my novatouch.... i am guessing it takes a few days to break it.

Also , the case near the arrow cluster is slightly loose, this is a known issue as far as i know , anyone got any tips to fix it ?

I would also like some fancy mods and Esc key , anyone know a place to order them ?

HungerMechanic

26 Jun 2020, 00:24

XMIT wrote:
05 Dec 2019, 19:59
Stay tuned for a Realforce RGB review.

I do have a pretty good cache of "Nopre" boards here, knockoff Chinese/Korean electrostatic capacitive boards using the same principle. I'll do a showdown between them at some point.
Thank you so much for this detailed review. I recently reviewed my new ABKO K935P here:

https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=106707.0

I have often considered the R2 PFU edition. It is factory-silenced and 45G, so it should be perfect.

However, I am really annoyed at the stock keycaps on the black models. Black-on-black is just not going to cut it if it's your only choice. I would have happily accepted the Leopold blue/gray keycaps in their place. At least you can 9009 it with the KBDFans caps, but their molds are still wonky.

Also, I'm finding that I might prefer 35G uniform instead of 45G, and I think only Niz offers what I want in that category.

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XMIT
[ XMIT ]

26 Jun 2020, 19:10

andrewjoy wrote:
25 Jun 2020, 17:28
It is loverly but it just does not quite feel as smooth as a classic realforce i had on loan or even my novatouch.... i am guessing it takes a few days to break it.
Agreed. I wonder if these are new molds, and if the tolerances are just a hair off.

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XMIT
[ XMIT ]

26 Jun 2020, 19:11

HungerMechanic wrote:
26 Jun 2020, 00:24
XMIT wrote:
05 Dec 2019, 19:59
Stay tuned for a Realforce RGB review.

I do have a pretty good cache of "Nopre" boards here, knockoff Chinese/Korean electrostatic capacitive boards using the same principle. I'll do a showdown between them at some point.
Thank you so much for this detailed review. I recently reviewed my new ABKO K935P here:

https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=106707.0
Looks like the latest Nopre variant. Thanks for the review.

HungerMechanic

27 Jun 2020, 01:36

You're welcome. I think it's a kind of rebrand of the Niz Chopin, which is also waterproof, and likely using 45G versions of the 2019 Niz domes.

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