Keyboard Roundup: Filco Brown, Filco Red, and Realforce Topre

Posted by james on Sept. 1, 2011

I got my first mechanical keyboard years ago on a whim. I had been on the hunt for a better keyboard for years, and prior to this my favorite had been a non-mechanical Dell Quietkey. I ended up getting a Filco FKB104/EB direct from Japan (thanks my abroad friends) and loved it. It has cherry MX brown switches - non-clicky (ie. no noise), tactile (has a slight bump when pressing down). It's relatively quiet, very nice to use, and is a great all around keyboard.

Recently I've been wanting to try more, so I started looking. Then I ended up buying 3 new keyboards, one after the other, and here I sit now with 4 mechanical keyboards on my desk. First off - I used to be a very heavy typer. My typing on the Filco brown board was very loud since I would bottom out quite often. This created a lot of noise and is not ideal, but when I'm typing fast and not relaxing this is what happens. I've since become a lighter typer, but still not great.

Here's a roundup of what I've experienced.

Filco FKB104/EB (Cherry MX Brown)
This is my original mechanical keyboard. It's great - not too loud, has a slight tactile bump, and is very well built. This has been my main keyboard for years. The keys are very satin texture, barely noticeable, but after a few years the keys have worn down quite a bit. The print is rubbing off some keys, and they're all shiny and my fingers get stuck on them (I tend to glide my fingers across keys).

Das Keyboard Ultimate S (Cherry MX Blue, blank keys)
I thought I wanted MX blue switches. They're clicky (make noise), which gives great physical and audible feedback. However, they take quite a bit of force to press compared to the browns, and are way too loud. I used to think that bottoming-out on my browns board made noise. That is *nothing* compared to the noise from the blue switches. My wife vetoed this one - our baby needs to nap during the day, and this keyboard is not nap-friendly. Other than the feel, the keys were good (average texture), the build was decent, the shiny/glossy keyboard body is awful (*why* do they do this? Such an awful idea for something that you'll be touching all day long). The shape is annoyingly, but that's minor. The USB hub is nice.

Realforce 103UB variable-weight (Topre capacitive switches, black-on-black keys)
This was the most expensive keyboard on my list (at around $270 new). I got a good deal, so decided to try it out. The switches are so strange - they're rubber dome with a small spring inside. So basically they're rubber dome. The variable weight is noticeable - the pinky keys are much lighter than the center keys. They take a bit of force to start, then the resistance just drops out and your finger hits the board hard. There is almost no noise, but it ended up hurting my fingers. I had to adjust quite a bit to try to hit the keys reliably while not jamming my fingers into the board all the time. Not a very comfortable board at first. It's gotten better as time goes on, but it still seems to slow me down. However, this keyboard has the most amazing key texture (very rough, like formica/laminate), the best looks (black printing on black keys... just barely noticeable), and the feel of the keys is addictive. When I first sit down to type, they're very neat feeling and inviting. Then after a while it gets annoying.

Filco FKBN104MR/EB2 (Cherry MX red w/ PBT black engraved keys)
This is the opposite direction of the rest - instead of more feedback (like the MX blues) or firm feel (like the Topre's), this one is linear. There is no click, no bump, just a straight smooth push. No feedback whatsoever. During my search I thought linears were such an awful idea - who didn't want feedback? But after trying the others, I realized that I prioritized light switches over feedback, and that the feedback really didn't help as much as I thought. This one is almost too light - noticeably lighter than the browns board (maybe due to the lack of tactile bump). The stock keys I'm sure are the same as all Filco's stock keys. But the PBT black engraved keys that I also got - amazing! Almost the same feel as the Realforce's keys, which is amazing. They're very slippery, which for me is good. The engraving is very visible (which could be good or bad), but I can't feel them while typing (which is good). And being PBT hopefully they'll hold up much longer than ABS does (all other keys mentioned are ABS).

Winner - TBD. Will have to test these out a bit more.