The Realforce 87u is one of the best and prestigious keyboards in the world. This keyboard is sought after by many programmers, secretaries, and other professionals that spend most of their day typing. This keyboard uses the capacitive Topre switches which are arguably, the best key switches in the world. While this keyboard is often considered a mechanical, Topre switches are technically a hybrid switch. Part rubber dome, and part mechanical spring. For the sake of simplicity, Ill refer to this keyboard as mechanical. Now that we got that asside, lets talk about this keyboard. Like I said, the Realforce keyboards are considered one of the best keyboards in the world, mainly due to their key switches but also due to their build quality. The 87u in particular is a compact tenkeyless which is keyboard slang for a keyboard without a numpad. As the name implies, this keyboard has 87 keys. The version I got is the limited edition 87u with variable 35, 45, and 55 gram key weighting. The standard 87u comes equipped with 45 gram key weighting. Most people that own Realforce or HHKB keyboards usually start with an entry-level mechanical keyboard. This keyboard is very expensive starting at $300 while entry-level mechanical Cherry MX keyboards usually start a little over $100. This will be the third mechanical keyboard Ive had the pleasure to type on. How does this keyboard compare to Cherry MX keyboards? And is it worth the price?
The retail box of the 87u is surprisingly similar to the Leopold Tenkeyless. The packaging was modest. It just came with the keyboard, lavender WASD keys, a blank red ESC key, and a key puller tool. There was no manual or pamphlet. You would expect after paying $300 for a keyboard, youd get some literature to read. There was, however, some information on the box which tell you some of the presets. For example, you can turn a series of switches on the keyboard to disable the Caps Lock key. I left it stock and plugged it in. At first, I couldnt get it to work. The 87u is a USB keyboard but I had a PS/2 adaptor on my Leopold so I figured it would work the same way. It didnt. The Leopold needed the adaptor in order to get n-key rollover(NKR) which is a fancy way of saying you can press lots of keys at the same time and they would all register. I took the adapter off and plugged in the USB and surprisingly, NKR works. Ive tested this by hitting 10 keys(one for each finger and thumbs) at the same time and the keys registered. Cool! I immediately used the key puller and replaced the stock ESC key with the blank red one and the stock WSAD with the lavender ones. Even though Im not much of a gamer, I think they look great. They give the keyboard a nice contrast. Typing on them for the first time immediately reminded me of my Leopold. These Topre keys feel a bit like the Cherry MX browns.
This keyboard is solid. When I have this keyboard on my desk, it seems sturdier than my Leopold Browns. This keyboard feels a bit heavier and it also stays put better which is nice. I also notice that the keycaps dont chatter as much meaning there is less play when you brush your fingers over them. The legs are sturdy and level. The keycaps are made of PBT (Ploybutylene Terephthalate) which is a plastic that is resistant to wear and chemicals. One thing I instantly noticed about these key caps is the feel. They have somewhat of a rough feeling. Its a hard feeling to describe. I can best describe it as having skateboard tape on the keys. It definitely doesnt hurt. Its actually very pleasant to type on with the added grip. With my Leopold, the keys were suffering from Shiny Key Syndrome(SKS) and sometimes my fingers would slip. I havent had that problem yet on these key caps. I read they are more resistant to SKS.
Style Simplicity is good
Usually, style points arent really given to mechanical keyboards simply because they tend to be more traditional looking. That isnt to say its a bad thing. Simplicity is good. The 87u has a nice stealth look, at least the black version. The black lettered key caps makes it hard to read but they encourage you to learn the position of the keys and become a touch typist. I like the black lettering because I still havent memorized the symbols yet so having them acts like a cheat sheet. I love the red ESC and lavender WASD keys. The red ESC keycap seem to fit perfectly with the Realforce logo on the top left of the keyboard. The lavender WASD keycaps give the keyboard a nice contrast and its just fun. I think tenkeyless keyboards in general, look better than full-sized keyboards. The compact design gives it a minimalistic look and you dont really sacrifice any features. The only reason I would consider getting a full-sized keyboard over a tenkeyless is if I did lots of numerical entries, like payroll or math. A nice touch that negates this weakness is the Num Lock. When you enable the Num Lock, you can use J, K, L, ect as 1, 2, 3. Basically, you have a hidden numpad albeit on staggered keys.
Besides the extra numpad and sweet Topre key switches, the Realforce 87u is pretty plain. Its your standard tenkeyless keyboard without much in terms of features. Simplicity is the purpose. This keyboard is almost identical to the 86u in the sense that both have variable key weighting but the 87u has an extra Windows/Super/Meta key. Another minor thing that separates the 87u from the 86u is the addition of LED lights on the Num Lock, Caps Lock, and Ctrl keys. The LED is a bright blue which is pretty standard but a deep red wouldve been wicked cool to match the Realforce logo. Honestly, the Realforce 87u lacks features. Thats not necessarily a bad thing. If youve read my review on the Leopold Tenkeyless, I gave it high praise for its no-nonsense approach to typing. With tenkeyless keyboards, you will use all the keys without wasting any extra space. With most modern rubber-dome keyboard, you have lots of useless buttons and keys youll probably use once and never again. I mean, Ive had those keyboards in the past and I cant remember that last time I hit the mail button. Not to take too much from them, I did find media keys such as volume up/down useful and Ive mapped them to F9/F10 on my sound mixer.
The feel is one of the top factors when buying most mechanical keyboards and the Realforce 87u is high on that list. In my first impressions earlier, I described it as closely resembling the Cherry MX browns. This the best comparison to another key switch. After typing on it for a while, the character of these switches start to come alive. They are a completely different animal. These key switches are much more refined that the Browns. Its like driving a Subaru and an Audi. Both are very similar cars in a sense that both have AWD(at least on the quattro version). One is just a bit more luxurious. The Cherry MX browns feel great and I take nothing away from them. They are work horses. The Topre switches just feel better. Ive heard people describing the feeling as typing on wet clay tablets. Ive never done that and quite frankly, that sounds a bitВ ridiculous. Its a nice feeling but nothing so over-the-top orgasmic Though it is! Ha, Im just teasing. Anyways, the rough feeling I described earlier is attributed to the keycaps design and material, not the key-press. Dont let the word rough fool you. It certainly gives you confident traction but it doesnt hurt or take anything from the quality. This new keycap feeling has actually improved my accuracy on typeracer and,В subsequently, improved my speed. I believe the sound also plays a big role on how this keyboard feels. Take a chance to listen to some people typing on this keyboard. Ive listened to many people typing ferociously as if they were taking a typing test but try to find a video or sound clip of someone typing about 40-50 WPM. Most of my creative typing is done at that speed and I find the sound very calming. I can go up to 70-80 but the sound is completely different at that speed. At least for me. As most of you know, these switches make a distinct Plop sound. Besides the sound, the feeling can be best described as typing on little piano keys. The good ones, not those cheap electric keyboards with the lights. A firm but softer tactile feeling over the Browns.
This is a very expensive keyboard. This keyboard retails for $300 which is about half the cost of most peoples laptops and triple the cost of a basic tenkeyless. Does that mean its 3x better? Probably not, but as with most things at the top, you are paying for the best and that doesnt always scale well on paper. This keyboard is really meant for professionals and enthusiasts. It can be hard to justify spending that much money for a keyboard. Most people already have a hard time justifying $100 on a mechanical keyboard let alone $300. Keyboards are considered peripherals. Most people are reluctant spending that much money on an accessory when they could use that extra cash on a new monitor or something. I justify all my purchases by use. If I put it to good use, its my money to spend. Usually, if I dont use it anymore, I sell it. For you, it may be different. You may be a collector. Some people collect baseball cards, some people collect keyboards. Its your money. Although this was gifted to me, would I spend my own money on it? Yes. Most people spend 5+ hours on their computers a day. Is it really that ludicrous to spend $300 on a keyboard that will last you decades? Your call. One thing I want to point out is the price hike. It may be inflation or demand but this keyboard, at least the discontinued 86u, used to be $245 which is a sale in comparison. Oh well. There was a time where you could buy a bag of chips for a quarter. Such is life I suppose.
When I was looking to get this keyboard, another keyboard caught my eye which I think is worth mentioning. The HHKB Pro 2. This keyboard also has the Topre key switches but comes in a smaller form factor. I like the form factor but two things swayed me towards the Realforce over the HHKB Pro 2. Dedicated arrow keys and the position of the Caps Lock. I use my Caps Lock as a backspace and HHKB has the Ctrl in place of the Caps Lock. Both are great keyboards. On that note, stay tuned for a review on the HHKB Pro 2. If I had to describe this keyboard in 1 word, it would have to be Classy. This keyboard has a classic simple look, its inoffensive and its high quality. The keycaps are high quality, the switches are high quality, and the board is high quality. Going back to the car analogies, this car would have to be an Audi in my book. Capable and luxurious. Thank you for reading.
The Realforce 87U is one of the most prestigious keyboards in the world. They are sought after by their Topre keyswitches, build quality, stealthy good looks, and tenkeyless design. Keyboard designs are somewhat of a personal preference but the tenkeyless has always been a favorite of mine. The comfort of using this keyboard is a step above traditional mechanical keyboards. The biggest drawback of this keyboard is its price. This keyboard will lighten your wallet by 3 bills. Crazy to ordinary consumers and even to some geeks alike.