I ordered it from a fellow member Quarzac. Everything was going well; he shipped it from US, sent me USPS tracking codes, I saw the shipment moving and so forth. But then... Then it left the States and the tracking signal got lost. I waited for more than a month, but nothing. No sign of it. Finnish postal service couldn’t do anything about it and I wasn’t able to contact USPS either since they required all sorts of US addresses and whatnot in order for me to even send the damn enquiry! Well, I don’t want to go into that rant again but what eventually happened was that Quarzac refunded me the whole payment and he (hopefully) settled with USPS. Quarzac handled things very well but USPS... What a shame...
So now what? I was having a bit hard time getting a white ALPS board... Maybe there wasn’t that many available in Europe or I dunno... But then, in late August, I found a fellow member, a Belgian guy called Paranoid, selling a Nan Tan Computer NTC KB-6252EA equipped with the white ALPS and he was also selling a Tulip keyboard which happened to have ALPS compatible double shot keycaps! I just had to get both of them... Despite the fact that they were in some weirdo layouts like AZERTY or whatever...
NTC KB-6252EA and Tulip arrived in late August of 2012. Tulip wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. It was a rubber dome keyboard with slightly sharper tactile feel than most of the supermarket keyboards. But the double shot keycaps were thick and beautiful - just the way I like it. However, the big keycaps like Enter and Space had these weirdo plastic poles as stabilizers and they just couldn’t be fitted on NTC (nor Dell).
NTC is surprisingly light, especially for being a full size board. It’s just all plastic. It has XT/AT switch on the bottom. The keyboard is connected with a big 5-pin DIN connector. Paranoid was kind enough to throw in DIN->Mini-DIN adapter (aka AT->PS/2 adapter) That's about it when it comes to features of the keyboard. It could’ve been just about any bundled-in keyboard based on the looks of it. But the switches. The switches... Were... Well, they were disappointing... They were stiff, just the way they were on my Dell.
Now I was convinced that it wasn’t a feature of the switches. They weren’t supposed to be like this. I started reading about lubricating the switches. Choosing the right lubricant turned out to be much harder than I thought. Some lubricants apparently might destroy the PCB of the keyboard, some lubricants might destroy the plastics and so on. I ended up with a check list:
- NO acetone & methylene chloride
- NO petroleum based
- OK PTFE
I waited until the next day, letting it dry out, and then cleaned the board of the extra lithium and put back the keycaps. It was an exciting moment. How would the switches feel this time? And they felt... AWESOME! And they still do!
The sound of NTC KB-6252EA is very pleasing. It’s much lower pitched than the Cherry MX blues and especially now after lubricating, the sound is softer but not too silent. The sound is like more plastic when Cherry MX blue sound is more metallic. Now, after lubricating, the actuation point is much easier to detect and I’m not bottoming down all the time. However, there is one side-effect of my overly generous applying of lithium: couple of switches stopped clicking. Also, one thing to mention is that the stabilizers of the big-ass Enter key were difficult to put back in.
Next, it was Dell’s turn. The end result was just as great as it was on NTC. The feel was great and it still is. The stiffness is completely gone. One thing to mention though. The keycaps required A LOT of force to pull out. I actually broke the stem of the Caps Lock keycap while pulling it out so that the other half of the stem was left stuck in the switch slider!
The final conclusion. Dell is now one of my favorites. The keyboard build quality, the feel of the switches (after lubricating), availability and price - it’s all good! The NTC’s white ALPS after lubricating are excellent but the board itself is clearly in the lower end.. Bang for the buck is good but I’d rank it below Dell. The Tulip keycaps are solid gold!
My adventure in the ALPS was coming to an end. Except for one more thing... Matias Tactile Pro 4.0 ! Matias developed all new ALPS style clicky switch! There was absolutely no way I could let it pass!