My first Topre experience:
Being a cheeky chap, I was willing to abuse Amazon's liberal return policy so I decided to order the Micro 82, a Niz Plum 75 % with 35 g switches, along with an ABKO P935 V2 TKL, instead featuring 45 g Niz switches. Now, I'd like to point out that this isn't necessarily a review of Niz switches or the Plum/P935. It isn't really a direct comparison between which is better over Niz or Topre switches/keyboard either. The purpose of this write-up is to help people decide which switches, and therefore keyboard to select, based on their prior experience/preference of switches. More on this shortly.
Initial impressions of the Niz Plum when compared to a HHKB Type-S first up. Yes, the actuation force is light (35 g). That's what one first notices. It does encourage a similarly relaxed typing experience as Topre. The key feel is pretty smooth but one struggles to detect the tactility. I have been known to be heavy-handed but since going down the electro-capacitive rabbit hole, a more relaxed typing style is something I'm working on - one of the reasons for my interest in these keyboards. This board is quiet. As quiet as a Type-S with a Bird Electron Dampening Mat too. A standout typing on this keyboard is the rounded front edge of the space bar. It looks a little odd but is quite pleasant. A contrast to the rest of the caps which feature sharper edges than most key caps I encounter. The quality of the keycaps is there. Not up to Topre standards but still, they're satisfactory. MX mount! A good advantage. I like the layout, 75 % is just right for me as a daily driver or as a portable board to take to work. Overall, this board makes a very good impression, even next to a JP Type-S. The most noticeable difference between the two is the difference in key feel and the quality of the key caps. I will discuss the key feel in more detail later.
Abko next. Very similar in every regard to the Niz Plum Micro 82. I have found a little whisper of information regarding the manufacturing of these boards that did indicate that the switches in this Abko P935 V2 are indeed the slightly weightier 45 g silenced variant of the Niz board's switches. I have read that Niz OEM these keyboards for Abko too. The caps being nearly identical, very similar build quality and the presence of Niz switches reinforces this. The most noticeable difference aesthetically is a more traditionally-shaped space bar on the P935, along with the form factor with it being a TKL. The extra 10 g weighting of the switch in this keyboard made no discernible difference to the tactility and overall key feel. The Micro 82 came with some 10 g springs you can throw under the caps to offer a little more weight. The P935 V2 had the same accoutrements, taking the 45 g to 55 g, but I found this made little change to the smooth, incredibly mild tactility. The typing experience wasn't as good on this keyboard due to poorly tuned and therefore rattly stabilisers. Easily remedied but the out of the box experience was so good with the Micro 82, it did infer some reasonably inconsequential QA curiosity in my mind with Niz made boards. Overall, another very nice keyboard that ticked many of my boxes.
Less money, more desirable features stock ...so, why did I return both of these keyboards? This comes down to something I've noticed about the discord surrounding Topre. Topre switches aren't quite Marmite (a very digital love/hate divide in the community for American folk). Most agree that they're well put together boards and offer a nice typing experience. The interesting point that I think I may have identified is where you subjectively rank Topre switches will likely infer how you will rate Niz's offerings. Since many looking at Niz boards view them as a Topre alternative but with more features stock or a lower price, etc., I'd wager it's worth attempting to defining what so many enjoy about Topre's key feel help a potential buyer make a decision. Niz switches are functionally similar but do feel quite different to Topre. In my opinion they actually feel different enough that a comparison can't be boiled down to better or worse. This isn't like deciding between Gateron Browns and Cherry Browns, maybe Red against Clears or something maybe? Maybe not, in any case, Topre and Niz feel different in the way they deliver their tactility.
Describing key feel is hard so I will try to do this with the aid of Microsoft's Paint (sorry). Topre 45 g stock switches have a gradual, rounded tactility. I have heard it described this way by several people and feel that it is accurate but to differentiate between the functionally similar Nopre Niz switch, we need a little more detail. The best I can do is to describe what I picture happening to the rubber domes when pressing a key. It feels like the initial resistance is slowly depressing the centre of the dome into itself, like an inverse black hole, until the base of the dome then collapses near enough half way through the key travel. This isn't necessarily what is happening; this is just the image that is conjured in my mind when experiencing the feedback through my fingers. Please see figure below. The only other switch that I have found that offers a similarly shaped tactility are Maxi Switch dome with sliders, albeit a lot stiffer.
Niz Nopre switches do not feel like this. Yes, they are smooth, but the tactility isn't as drawn out. 35 g, 45 g, 45 g + 10 g springs? The tactility is very subtle on all the variants I tried. It's quicker, more abrupt, even though it is light and ....gentle? Again venturing back into my noggin, the switches feel like they have a rubber collar that collapses neatly in half (again, this is not what is happening, just the pictures my brain paints). This light tactility happens near the top of the key travel too. The only other switch I could put close to Niz switches in feel is possibly Fujitsu's Libertouch. Please see the figure below for a visual depiction to help better illustrate what I'm attempting to describe.
Down to the crux of it then. "Typing on clouds," is a comment you will frequently come across when looking at reviews of Niz switches. I have seen many say they prefer Niz switches to Topre. "Better key feel," "More satisfying tactility," etc.. The build quality is comparable, the price is better for what you get stock and I feel that the features and form factors of the Niz offerings are what many would favour right now, so why shouldn't you buy one?
If you're looking at a Niz board as a Topre alternative, they are not. The switches may be functionally the same but the key feel is very different. How highly you rate the feel of a particular switch is subjective but how similar or different switches feel in comparison to one and other is not. So, the way to decide whether you should go for a Micro 82 over a Realforce TKL, or a Niz Plum Atom over a HHKB Type-S? Have you had a go of a Topre board before? Yes? How highly do you rate the key feel? Top-tier? I would wager you will be disappointed with Nopre boards. The key feel is not comparable in my humble opinion. However, if you think Topre switches simply feel nice but do not think they are at the apex of key feel, like many reviewers who have made similar remarks, you will likely prefer the feel of Niz electro-capacitive switches. I have been over a few reviews of Topre and Niz keyboards and spoken to a few people with experience of both to gauge where they rank each switch and this line seems to hold true. Topre your top-tier? Niz disappointment awaits. Topre just "nice"? You may very well prefer Nopre to Topre. *waitsforfirstcommenttoinstantlydisprovetheory*
If you've never had the pleasure of a Topre typing experience, well, I really can't help you much past what I have offered above. My comparisons to Maxi Switch and Libertouch are a tad tenuous and will likely be further outside the experience of someone who hasn't already tried out a Topre keyboard anyway.
I wrote this "review" for people who faced the choice that I have been trying to make over the past few weeks. I rate Topre, pretty up there. That Black HHKB that I first used really wasn't what I was after but the key feel made a big impression on me. Hopefully there will be some who will have found this informative so as to not have to abuse Amazon as I have done of late.
Bottom line, if you seek oneness with cup rubber, save up the pennies and get exactly what you want.
This is the first time I've attempted to contribute my thoughts in such a manner so feedback is very much welcome on my layout, writing style, keyboard language I use, etc.. Thanks for reading.