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

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Go-Kart

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:
Spoiler:
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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 ...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.
Topre Tactility (or what my brain pictures)
Topre Tactility (or what my brain pictures)
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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)
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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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P.S.
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.

User avatar
Muirium
µ

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.

User avatar
XMIT
[ XMIT ]

18 Apr 2021, 16:51

The 55g Nopre domes are vastly better.

https://chart-studio.plotly.com/~haata/573
Plum EC-87 55g Damped Korean Dome .png
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User avatar
Go-Kart

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.

User avatar
Reshala

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!

User avatar
troglotype

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.

User avatar
Muirium
µ

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.

User avatar
troglotype

24 Apr 2021, 15:02

Noticeable, sharp, and light. Well said!

User avatar
Go-Kart

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:

User avatar
hellothere

15 Aug 2021, 19:56

Just wanted to share.

Several weeks ago, I purchased a Topre Realforce TKL with 55cN switches across the board; no variable weighting. It's one of my top 5 favorite KBs. Because of this review of the 935, the review from Chyros, and some other folks recommending it, I decided to buy a used Abko Hacker K935p TKL with a 45cN weighting. I bought it off ebay for $100 and the only damage is a small chip on the side of the case that's maybe 1mm or 2mm long and wide.

I will confirm with the other reviews that the 935 is a very nice KB. I'll also confirm that it has some similarity in feel to the Topre, but it's definitely not the same.

I do think that 45cN is too light for me, but it does allow me to type faster and/or make typing mistakes faster. The KB comes with a set of springs to change the weighting, but I really don't want to open up the case to change them. The KB has clips, not screws. The interesting thing to me is that the feel is a lot better than other 45cN weighted keyboards. It's more taut and has more resistance.

I am a little annoyed with the key wobble, but just a little. It's not like the caps settle at random angles. I'm not a fan of the spacebar and would like one that's got rounded/smoothed edges on both front and back (or north and south). (If anyone knows of a cheap spacebar that is rounded that does fit this KB, RSVP.)

A couple folks have noted that the key caps, themselves, feel nice. I think they're ... OK. I think I prefer the feel of vintage double-shot keycaps. I think that the PBT caps on Apple keyboards feel a bit nicer.

Chyros mentions that he likes the more bassy sound from the 935 than from the Topre. I think I can go with that, but I think both sound OK. The spacebar or spacebar stabilizer rattles a bit on the 935. I'm not going to ding that because I've dealt with much louder spacebars for the 5 or so years that I've owned mechanical keyboards.

I do like the 789/UIO/JKL/etc. numpad with legends on the front of the caps on the Realforce. I don't see a good reason for why they're not on the 935.

My conclusion is that the Topre is a much better keyboard, period, and is worth the $200ish w/shipping included. I think the 935 is an extremely nice keyboard and if you're a fan of light tactile with a nice sound, you'd like one of these. If you can get one for around that $100 price range, you'll be getting a good deal.

I'm going to keep the 935 and it'll probably be my daily driver on my second machine. Well, at least until I finish rebuilding one of the four+ Alps KBs I have.

User avatar
Elrick

17 Aug 2021, 05:47

troglotype wrote:
24 Apr 2021, 15:02
Noticeable, sharp, and light. Well said!
The NiZ Keyboard brand, especially the 45G models, are indeed the very best/cost-effective membrane-like keyboards.

If anyone loves their older style membrane keyboards, then these current Chinese manufacturers have delivered it today, in style.

65%, TKL and 108 layouts (from memory lol).

User avatar
hellothere

03 Sep 2021, 19:26

So, I bought a 965, which is the 55cN full-size version of the 935. I've had this keyboard for a bit more than two weeks. There were a couple odd things that made me wait to post anything about the keyboard. I eventually came up with an analogy: if the 935 is like typing on a feather pillow, the 965 is like typing on a memory foam pillow.

I think these switches could be classified in the "leave your preconceived notions at the door and just try them" category ... because I like the 935 more, even though I generally like somewhat stiffer switches. I had to switch back and forth from the 935 to the 965 a few times and eventually ended up using the 935 on my "main" computer and I didn't regret the decision.

Chyros mentioned something in one of his videos about how the feel on whatever keyboard he was testing made him modify his typing style because the switches were light and responsive. I can definitely say that about the 935. I also probably make more mistakes on the 935 which may or may not be an issue because I can type faster on it. As another example, I'm currently typing this on a keyboard that has SMK 2nd Generation blue switches, which some folks call Monterey switches. I not only have to type harder, but type at an almost 90 degree angle and try to hit the exact center of each key. That reduces my error rate by a lot, but it also reduces my typing speed and it forces my hands into a more unnatural typing position than they usually are. (Remember: I type with only four to five fingers because I'm not a real typist.)

So, 935 is a "don't miss," if you can find one. It looks like Abko is selling out at Amazon, so there might be a new keyboard model on the way.

Maybe I should get an HHKB to go with my Realforce ...

User avatar
Go-Kart

06 Sep 2021, 13:43

Good to get another take on these boards/switches.

I think I still largely feel the same as I did when I wrote the above. However, I was seeking that key feel, the HHKB feel that I had recently experienced prior to ordering the Nopre boards. I think now, having finally settled on my Type-S, and also cleaned up my technique/made it more relaxed, I'd look at the Abko boards more favourably. I thought that all EC switches should/would feel the same outside of switch weighting, so I think I was more disappointed with Niz switches than I otherwise would have been. I would be curious to have one on my desk again for a week or so since I've settled/found my end game switches; I'd wager I'd view Nopre in a new light.

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hellothere

08 Jan 2022, 16:40

So, I had been using the 935 for my daily driver on my "home use" computer for a couple weeks, then switched to a green Alps keyboard I had just restored (it's for sale). After my standard week of testing, I'm back to the 935.

I still like the 935. A lot.

My error rate while typing on this has decreased significantly and I'm rarely missing keys -- probably something to be said for muscle memory. However, I did find one other thing to complain about :).

I dplay with other operating systems, so I have to hit F11 at boot to get to my computer's boot selection screen. On most keyboards, the num lock, caps lock, and scroll lock lights will flash for a second, then num lock comes on. That's the time to start hitting the F11 key. The 935 doesn't have those lights. There's a blue LED under both the scroll lock and the caps lock that turn on when they're "in use" when you're already in the OS, but they don't flash at startup. It's a very small annoyance, though, as I can just start hitting F11 right after I turn the computer on. (In a perfect world, I'd like to move the caps lock and num lock keys to a row above the num pad and have LEDs in or under those caps. Hey, when I'm typing, I can't see the caps lock key.)

So, still my #2 keyboard. I've also gotten used to the spacebar.

JCMax

08 May 2022, 21:30

Is there anyone who has tried the Leopold FC660C and the HHKB JP?

I've heard some of the comparisons people have made to the Leopold and the HHKB, but never the HHKB JP. I'm curious how much of a difference the change in layout would make along with build quality, key feel, etc.

User avatar
Muirium
µ

09 May 2022, 13:43

Do you type Japanese? And how do you like your stagger?

Image

There's more weird going on in this little fella than just the outsized ISO Return key.

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Palatino

09 May 2022, 23:20

I was after a HHKB JP for a while, thinking it would be the ultimate. Glad I never got one though, as (a) I hadn’t noticed the stagger was different - though maybe I’d’ve got used to it; (b) I now love the regular HHKB’s backspace position, whereas the JP backspace is not only further away but single unit; (c) I thought it was vital to have dedicated arrow keys, but the regular HHKB’s shortcut arrows are fine once you’ve used it a bit; and (d) I noticed that I always I hit spacebar with my right thumb just under the gap between the N and M keys, which would miss the mark on the JP, and I’d have to cramp towards a new typing style. I owned a couple of FC660Cs, but sold them both as the keyfeel with the metal plate wasn’t as good as the HHKB, plus they had no Bluetooth (though I believe Hasu does a module for them), plus there’s only a certain number of Topre boards you can own before you question what you’re doing and whether it wouldn’t be better to get some fresh air etc.

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Muirium
µ

09 May 2022, 23:53

スペースバーとキー行オフセット軸の異常な向きは、日本語キーボードの涅槃のこの特定の標本に適応するのにかなりの困難を提示します。おそらく、一体感は実際には否定されています。

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Go-Kart

10 May 2022, 10:06

I did briefly own a HHKB JP. The stagger didn't bother me, and I found the space bar to be a brilliant way to anchor my right hand, refining my typing technique. The keyboard was returned to it's seller as it wasn't the condition described but I'm glad I didn't get too comfortable with for many of the reasons Palatino described above. Put simply, I find the stock HHKB layout to be superior.

As for Leopold boards, again, as Palatino has mentioned, having used an RF board and a BFK myself, the HHKB key feel is the definitive Topre key feel in my mind.

Keyboard Nirvana is subjective.

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Elrick

13 May 2022, 08:00

Palatino wrote:
09 May 2022, 23:20
plus there’s only a certain number of Topre boards you can own before you question what you’re doing and whether it wouldn’t be better to get some fresh air etc.
100% AGREED.

It applies for all keyboard-like addictions, that includes key-caps collecting too. Thus far have more than a few million key-caps in my possession, yet it brings me no joy or happiness, despite the initial purchase.

Have decided to buy other things instead, hence keep helping the Consumer Economy, from down under 8-) .

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Muirium
µ

13 May 2022, 10:50

Expecting quite the epic sales thread from you someday. Those little plastic things were made for loving!

(Mind, the same applies to my own hoard. I really should sell up as well, but it's hard to part. Even harder still to ship now too. :roll: )

User avatar
Elrick

14 May 2022, 10:59

Muirium wrote:
13 May 2022, 10:50
Expecting quite the epic sales thread from you someday. Those little plastic things were made for loving!
Suspect my Kids or Grandkids will do the selling, once I'm gone. Imagine the hoard of junk that's waiting for them, once I head off to Hell :evilgeek: .
Muirium wrote:
13 May 2022, 10:50
( Even harder still to ship now too. :roll: )
Insane pricing to send anything to America or Europe, especially now. Plus, the postal service isn't high on my trustworthy list of companies, here on Earth.

Quite a few of them swiped goods off me, during my 50 years of purchasing.

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wobbled

15 May 2022, 02:17

Elrick wrote:
14 May 2022, 10:59
Muirium wrote:
13 May 2022, 10:50
Expecting quite the epic sales thread from you someday. Those little plastic things were made for loving!
Suspect my Kids or Grandkids will do the selling, once I'm gone. Imagine the hoard of junk that's waiting for them, once I head off to Hell :evilgeek: .
Muirium wrote:
13 May 2022, 10:50
( Even harder still to ship now too. :roll: )
Insane pricing to send anything to America or Europe, especially now. Plus, the postal service isn't high on my trustworthy list of companies, here on Earth.

Quite a few of them swiped goods off me, during my 50 years of purchasing.
Well if you've got any Topre HiPro boards, HHKB HGs, or Pro 1s I'll start my swim to you now.

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Muirium
µ

15 May 2022, 12:47

The scene awaiting your arrival…
Spoiler:
Image
I mean, you’re gonna need a boat for the loot.

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wobbled

15 May 2022, 15:35

Muirium wrote:
15 May 2022, 12:47
The scene awaiting your arrival…
Spoiler:
Image
I mean, you’re gonna need a boat for the loot.
I have some ideas.
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