Nopre Electro-Capacitive Switches: A Good Topre Alternative? (Niz Plum/Abko)

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18 Apr 2021, 15:35

Having recently tried Topre for the first time, the typing experience quickly grew on me. I selected an all black HHKB Pro 2 with stock 45 g switches. The layout tested me a little, exacerbated by virtually invisible legends, and it reinforced a prior conclusion of mine; I need arrow keys - 65 % at a minimum - I had picked the wrong keyboard. A Realforce TKL was an obvious choice once I had returned the HHKB. However, I, like many others who travel down this road, found it hard to stomach the price tag; particularly if I was being denied my ISO Enter and familiar U.K. secondary legends. Boards with Topre switches limit your choice and will always put a dent in the bank account. Fortunately there is another company that make functionally the same switches as Topre. Enter, Niz's Electro-Capacitive switches.

My first Topre experience:
PXL_20210314_150530690.jpg (3.02 MiB) Viewed 641 times
With all the things I disliked about that HHKB, it made an impression on me and I wanted that Topre 45 g key feel in my life. However, I needed a different form factor though; 65 %, preferably 75 % given the choice, or a TKL maybe. Niz Plum 65 % and 75 % offerings aren't cheap but they are cheaper than a Realforce, Leopold or HHKB and offer additional functionality that typically push Topre boards even higher in price, such as full programmability, silenced switches and Bluetooth connectivity.

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.
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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.
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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.
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Less money, more desirable features stock, 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.
Topre Tactility (or what my brain pictures)
Topre Tactility (or what my brain pictures)
Topre Tactility.png (23.63 KiB) Viewed 641 times
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.
Niz Tactility (or what my brain pictures)
Niz Tactility (or what my brain pictures)
Niz Tactility.png (7.1 KiB) Viewed 641 times
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* :lol:

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.
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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.

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18 Apr 2021, 16:18

Decent writeup. Kinda got my ears pricked and ready to go with what you made of the HHKB JP, and now you've snatched it away! What do you make of the itty-bitty-every-so-cute spacebar? Not just the size of it but the shape and the feel? And what have you done to the layout to make it useable as a non-kana-convoluting-Japanese typist? Aaaand, seriously, how is that oddball stagger treating you? Are you okay? Do you need to lie down?

The diagrams are a bold move. I get what you're saying more that way. Though, I think you might be over-egging it on the "Niz" (rhymes with…) a little. A straight out smack like that reminds me of crunchy Acer switches. Not their actual force curve, but my mind's eye, or fingers, as you propose. They're the opposite to smooth and swinging Topre. If, ahem, "Niz" Nopre were as bad distinct as that, every single one of its advocates over the real deal needs their heads examined.

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[ XMIT ]

18 Apr 2021, 16:51

The 55g Nopre domes are vastly better.
Plum EC-87 55g Damped Korean Dome .png
Plum EC-87 55g Damped Korean Dome .png (60.35 KiB) Viewed 613 times

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18 Apr 2021, 17:21

Do you know, I never thought to look for force curves :lol: Such a better way of illustrating my point than MS Paint...

The JP HHKB was brilliant. A near perfect layout for what I had intended. Unfortunately that went back too. When I cracked it open to try and reseat some of the springs to get rid of some scratchiness, it appeared that a chocolate milkshake had been spilt inside it. It was second hand after all. No matter how much I fiddled with it I couldn't get rid of the scratchiness of some of the keys in the bottom left hand corner where I found the milkshake or whatever it was. I got paranoid that it was knackered and return that board too!
I loved the layout. The little space bar was great. I wished it were half a unit longer but changing the key to the right of it into a space too allowed me to accidentally hit once in a while and not regret it. Now I'm focussing in on my end-game Topre set-up. I'm still just trying to decide where to compromise.

I think I have MX jealousy. The variety of switches, caps, layouts, etc.. Topre limits you. I love the key feel though. That's part of why I was looking elsewhere. I want a 75 % U.K. ISO 45 g Silenced Topre keyboard in white. This does not exist as far as I'm aware. The JP Type-S is damn close. I'd wager I'd travel down that road again but for now I'm banking on a BFK entertaining me. With the possible addition of a Pro 2 Type-S, to accompany the Business 10 when I have to go back into the office.

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24 Apr 2021, 01:59

Wow, this is the most detailed review I have ever read about keyboard (or maybe anything actually), really nice work!

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24 Apr 2021, 12:43

Your write-up was a teeny-tiny bit meandering in places, and sometimes I got a bit confused by how the images relate to the text. But that's exactly how I write, too, and I enjoyed reading it. You report your personal experience and try to make it helpful to others. That's a great approach.

I never experienced typing on a Realforce or a HHKB keyboard. The closest I got are comparing two Leopold FC660C keyboards (one with BKE redux regular domes) with my son's 45g NIZ keyboard. This helped me understand what you wrote about the differences in tactility.

There is something (completely unrelated!) that surprised me about the tactility of Topre switches in the Leopold. A few years ago I moved to capacitive buckling spring switches (first a restored IBM AT and now Ellipses' reboot). I love their tactility, but their "aurality" does not agree with video conferences. For these I keep using the Leopold (BKE). Usually when I move between different switch types, my fingers take some time to adjust and there will be typing mistakes. Nothing of the sort happens when I switch between a Leopold Topre and capacitive buckling spring switches. For some reason, their tactility feels similar enough to me. Go figure.

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24 Apr 2021, 13:01

Now you see why I like Topre and Model F, and talk of them in the same breath. They're absolutely different, and yet somehow quite mysteriously connected. I find going to linears much more jarring than my frequent swaps between Kishsaver and HHKB. But what on Earth could be jarring about linears of all things? Well, it's their tactile void, evidently. I like it real noticeable, somehow sharp and light. It's the damnedest thing to analyse, yet it is what it is.

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24 Apr 2021, 15:02

Noticeable, sharp, and light. Well said!

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25 Apr 2021, 21:33

Thanks for the feedback guys!

It is curious to me how we all experience key feel. It is obviously subjective but I find it useful to identify people who enjoy certain switches in the same way that I do. It is also equally dangerous as I can then ask them shopping inspiration :lol:

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