Realforce 87U 55g Review
Hello everyone; welcome to Rhinofeed! Today we are going to review my first Topre keyboard, the Realforce 87UB55!
Included in the box you'll find a Japanese manual (no English), a metal key puller, a Ctrl key, and a Caps Lock key. I would recommend against using the metal keypuller, as I have heard it's very easy to scrape up your keycaps. Use a wire keypuller instead.
Let's talk about the best part first — the switches! These are Japanese Topre, or Electrostatic Capacitive, key switches. They utilize a conical spring with a rubber dome that provides a snappy yet cushioned key feel. Theoretically, over long periods of typing, this rubber dome allows your fingers to feel less stressed as you're typing. I think this is true, even though the weight of the switch is heavier than Cherry MX Red, Blue, and Brown switches (the most common / popular Cherry MX switches which have a force ranging from 45-50cN).
This particular Topre switch is 53.93 cN (55g). As a side note, there is a very slight difference between cN (centinewton) and Gram (gram-force) weighted keys. I'm not sure why different terminology is used, but here is a converter.
I hear you asking (more like yelling) in the background, "Well, Rhinofeed, if this keyboard uses a rubber dome, then why wouldn't you just buy a rubber dome keyboard for 5 bucks instead of spending half your paycheck on a keyboard?!" Good question, and if you can't find a place to try one out in person you'll just have to trust my judgement on this one. The added conical spring mechanism changes the sound and feel in a undeniable way. It's not mushy and slow like a typical rubber dome alone. It has the added feedback of a spring, which we all expect and enjoy when we type on a mechanical keyboard. Don't expect this to feel anything like a Cherry MX board though, it's more of a mix between spring feedback and cushion, with the positive feel.
On the initial down stroke, you first feel a smooth bump (not "sandy" like the MX Brown), but then you'll feel the cushion that the rubber dome provides as you bottom out. When you lift your finger, you'll feel and hear a nice snap of the switch that provides soothing audible feedback. All of this happens in the millisecond that you press a key.
What is my personal opinion? These switches are phenomenal for typists. I didn't have to spend a lot of time adjusting to them. I type very accurately, and I don't tire quickly. If you're working all day on the computer, I believe a Topre keyboard would be a great option for you. However, I haven't had a chance to try the 30 to 45 gram weighted version or the 45 gram version of this keyboard in order to to compare. I have tried the Happy Hacking Professional 2 (45 gram) and the Cooler Master Novatouch (45 gram) for about 5 minutes each, and my initial impression led me to this keyboard. Initial impressions could be deceptive, however.
BUILD QUALITY & FEATURES
The case is constructed of solid plastic and has a matte finish and a light texture. The texture hides fingerprints and dust pretty well. I'm always happy when a manufacturer avoids using glossy black plastic.
The Realforce weighs 41.06 oz (including the cable), and the dimensions are 14.4 x 6.6 x 1.5in (366 × 169 × 38 mm). To give you something to compare it with, the POK3R weighs 29.45 oz with the new metal case.
This keyboard has a Tenkeyless layout, which leaves space on your desk for a mouse. Without a numpad in the way, your right wrist doesn't have to be angled as much. This is better for ergonomics.
The switches are mounted to a steel plate which improves the structure, durability, and ultimately the feel of the keyboard.
Each corner of the case has a simple rounded edge.
In the top left corner you'll find the Realforce logo on a light gray label, which is inset into the case to give it that retro feel.
On the bottom you'll find height adjustment feet that do not include rubber for grip. However, the keyboard is sufficiently heavy that it doesn't move around.
There are four small rubber square feet placed at different angles on the case for when your keyboard's position is flat or angled.
A cable track is built into the case so that you can route the 5.25 ft. non-removable cable in three different directions: left, center, or right. Unfortunately the non-removable cable gets in the way when you transport the keyboard back and forth between home and office. The Happy Hacking Professional 2 has a smaller design and removable cable which is better suited for portable use, but it does not have 55g switches.
Lastly, you'll find 4 dip switches that provide extra features. You will need to unplug the keyboard and plug it back in after you've set these to your liking.
- DIP 1 swaps your left ctrl key with your caps lock key
- DIP 2 will disable your windows and context menu keys
- DIP 3 will disable the built-in numeric keypad so you can use scroll lock instead, if you prefer
- DIP 4 is firmware update mode
The LEDs on the Caps Lock, Left Ctrl, and Num Lock (also Scroll Lock) keys have a bright blue color, which I quite enjoy. The Left Ctrl LED is only used when you've enabled DIP 1. Both of the extra Caps Lock and Ctrl keys have LED windows.
The built-in numeric keypad (found on a secondary layer) outputs ALT codes for use with custom characters, a feature you don't usually find on a tenkeyless keyboard. I can enable Num Lock and then press ALT + 0151 (for example) on the built in keypad to get an em dash (—), or enter the appropriate code to get other characters from the extended character set (♠♥♦♣).
Straight up, these are my favorite stock keycaps on any keyboard to date. They are a high quality dark grey PBT plastic with a really nice textured surface. They are not as thick as the stock PBT keycaps found on the POK3R, but they are not paper thin. The texture is the biggest difference in feel.
The black lettering is dye-subliminated, which gives the keycaps a really cool stealth look. However, with black lettering on dark grey, the print is very hard to see. For all practical purposes, you have to be a touch typist to use this keyboard. If you're not a touch typist, Realforce has a white version with black lettering that is much easier to read.
It's not the end of the world, but they have used a ABS spacebar. Massdrop has released a version of this keyboard that includes a PBT spacebar, as well as the PBT spacebars on their own. I'm hoping they re-run both of those drops. Here is an invite link to Massdrop if you don't have an account.
Most Topre keyboards, aside from the Cooler Master Novatouch, require a different keycap stem that is not compatible with Cherry MX keycaps. Therefore, you won't be able to customize your keyboard with your collection of MX keycaps. To me, the stock keycaps are so good to begin with that this is not a big deal.
The Realforce 87U is a simple writing, typing machine. It's built like a tank with few extra features. You won't find programming, media keys, back-lighting, function layers, or removable cables, but the switches and incredible build quality make you ask, "Why do I need that stuff?"
This keyboard is aimed towards the professional typist. Paying such a high price for a keyboard if you're a light computer user is unnecessary. That being said… the Japanese Topre switch has won me over, and it's my new favorite keyboard.